We live in a very different world in 2004 than we did just twenty years ago, or, for that matter, even five years ago.
The Cold War is over, and the War on Terror has begun. Today we can see trends that weren’t apparent until recently, such as economic globalization, worldwide cable television networks, the astoundingly rapid spread of Internet access, and the near ubiquitous use of cell phones and other wireless technologies in villages that only a few years ago—or maybe still—had no running water.
However, one caveat to remember when considering this issue is that advanced nanotechnology might be invented somewhere in the developing world first! It’s quite possible that progress could occur faster in China, India, Singapore, Brazil, or somewhere else, instead of in the United States, Europe, or Japan.
If this happens, then the decision of whether or how to share it with the "rest of the world" takes on a different aspect.
And another thing — what gives us, the minority who were lucky enough to be born in the developed world, the right to decide about the lives of those billions who make up the majority of our species?
Such questions must be asked. In fact, they are beginning to be asked. The recent aggressive imposition of United States will on two nations in the Middle East, the introduction of the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption, the direct challenge from the US to multilateral institutions — all this is making people around the world ask serious questions about governance.
Today, people far from America's shores do indeed pay for the consequences of US actions. The citizens of Iraq are the obvious example, living in a land where a vile dictatorship was removed only for a military occupation and unspeakable violence to be unleashed in its place. The would-be voters of downtown Baghdad might like a say in whether their country would be better off with US forces gone.
These quotes are from a September 22 column in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
Everyone from Madrid to Bali is now drawn into the "war on terror" declared by President Bush. We might believe that war is being badly mishandled—that US actions are aggravating the threat rather than reducing it—and that we or our neighbours will eventually pay the price for those errors. We might fear that the Bush policy is inflaming al-Qaida, making it more not less likely to strike in our towns and cities, but right now we cannot do anything to change that policy.
Are we approaching a time when some form of global plebiscite will make sense? Perhaps an actual vote of all the world’s citizens on questions of planetary importance is too radical, or at least too unworkable, but some new mechanism for making such decisions seems inevitable. The question is, how will it be determined: how fairly and how peacefully?