The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World
The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World

The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World

Feb 12, 2013

As more people become prosperous and interstate conflicts diminish, there is a convergence between East and West, says Kishore Mahbubani. Now we have to change our mindset accordingly and act as one united world on issues such as climate change. One important step is to reform the UN.


JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to thank you all for joining us as we welcome Kishore Mahbubani back to our Public Affairs programs.

Even though it has been only a few months since Kishore last spoke here, I, along with many others, have been looking forward to his return. If you're wondering why, the answer is quite simple.With each visit, his insights, while often provocative, are nonetheless habitually wise and always teach us a bit more about Asia's geopolitical landscape and international politics. Invariably, his astute analysis enables us to learn a little bit more about what's happening in his part of the world and, even more importantly, what we should be paying attention to.

Through the years, whether serving in his country's ministry of foreign affairs or as UN ambassador, Kishore has studiously observed the growing influence of the East, especially in relation to established powers of the West. He has written a number of articles on this subject, along with a few memorable books. Time and again, he has alerted us about the growing influence of China, while also focusing our attention on how the West and East will, in the years ahead, have to share the global stage.

This theme, now expanded and fine-tuned, appears in his new book entitled The Great Convergence: Asia, The West, and the Logic of the World. In it, Kishore writes of his optimism in seeing a world that is changing dramatically, becoming more integrated, more interconnected, more economically successful, and with it the potential for East and West to occupy one worlda world, he says, where more countries than ever will have a voice in the global debate.

But as global circumstances change, so will the challenges. Kishore has never been shy in confronting us about our beliefs or how we see the world. So this time, when he calls upon us to rethink ways for improving the global order, he takes into consideration the need to resolve major geographical fault lines, and points us in the right direction by offering three recommendations for moving forward.

• First, he says we need to increase the amount of global conversations.

• Second, we need to bring an end to anachronistic policies.

• The third and last is to engage in the development of a global ethic.

Now, this last suggestion, the one that points to the need to find values that all human beings share, to work together to find that common good that unites us all, just so happens to be the theme for the Carnegie Council's 2014 Centennial Celebration. Accordingly, this is a perfect segue for me to suggest that if it piques your interest and you want to learn more about the search for a global ethic, please visit our website at and participate in the discussion.

A converging world needs individuals who understand these issues, people who have interdisciplinary insights to recognize and respect perspectives other than their own. This morning we are fortunate to have as our speaker someone who embodies these traits. Please join me in welcoming the veteran global thinkeryes, you guessed, the one and only Kishore Mahbubani.



You know, after such a generous introduction, it can only go downhill now. Thank you very much, Joanne, for those wonderful words, and thank all of you for coming again. I was just here a few months ago. I guess you must all be gluttons for punishment. I must say that Joanne gave a really brilliant summary of the book. I will supplement it by telling you a little bit more about why I wrote this book at this time, because the key message I have for all of you is actually a very simple message: The world really has been transformed dramatically. For many people in the world, the last 20 years have been among the best 20 years that their countries have experienced in 300 years.

A lot of this good news, sadly, is not percolating into the West. It is sort of strange that on the one hand you have in the West, as you know, rising levels of pessimism, and, in the rest of the world, rising levels of optimism. That has become a very unexpected situation of the world.

Just to describe the book, let me do it in three parts. The first part, let me share with you more details on the good news and then speak in the second part about some of the global challenges that we face, and thirdly, talk a little bit more about the solutions that we have on how to make the global order an even better place.

On the good news, it is actually quite stunning how much good news we have. The first and most important piece of good news is that since statistics have been kept, the number of people dying in interstate conflicts is the lowest it has ever been. It used to be in 1950 about 500,000 people who died each year in interstate conflicts, and now it is down to 30,000, and it is still going down.

You may not believe this if you turn on your television set and you watch scenes of Syria or Mali and you think, "Gee, the world is falling apart." Actually, those are ironically only the huge exceptions. But if you look at it globally in terms of the world and what's happening, clearly, interstate conflict is becoming a sunset industry. Wars are becoming a sunset industry. And, fortunately for me, I wrote the book after Steven Pinker's book came out, The Better Angels of Our Nature [Editor's note: Check out Steven Pinker's discussion with Robert D. Kaplan at Carnegie Council entitled Is the World Becoming More Peaceful?]. If you have any doubts, just read his book. The statistics are all there, and he explains what is there. You can read Andrew Mack, and he also gives all these data on how conflicts are dying out. That is a huge shift forward in human history.

Then on the other hand, we have always worried about global poverty. Here the remarkable thing is that the UN established some millennium development goals in the year 2000, what they call MDGs. Many of them will not be attained. But one MDG that we will successfully succeed in meeting is the halving of global poverty by 2015. Now, that is quite remarkable. In fact, from what I gather, actually, when the data comes out, we will actually overshoot the target.

Even the National Intelligence Council of the United States of America, which as you know is by nature an inherently conservative organization, has said in its latest report that global poverty will be eliminated by 2030. That shows you how much the human condition is improving.

At the same time, while people at the bottom are rising, there is now an explosion of global middle classes. In fact the number of people experiencing the kinds of middle-class living standards that probably everyone in this room has gotten used to was confined to a very small minority of the global population. Now it is exploding.

Just to give you one statistic to illustrate how much it is growing, in Asia right now there are 500 million who enjoy what you might call middle-class living standards. By 2020, which, is only seven years from now, the number is going to grow from 500 million to 1.75 billion, an increase of three-and-a-half times in seven years.

We have never, ever seen this kind of change in human history, this kind of massive upliftment of people all over the world. Once you begin to see the data, you begin to understand why there is so much optimism in the rest of the world. Paradoxically, at a time when you have this overwhelming pessimism in the West about the state of the world, the rest of the world, the 88 percent who live outside the West, are actually saying, "We have never had better times in our history."

But, of course, there also will be, as the world changes, a lot of challenges. One of the reasons many people in Asia and elsewhere, in Africa, in Latin America, are doing much better is that they are all plugging in to what I call the open interdependent global economy. They are all participating in it. As a result, as I tried to explain in the book, we actually in many ways are creating one world in many dimensions. The economic dimension is one world. In the technological dimension, we are becoming interlinked through Internet, phones, and everything.

But as a result of creating one world, we have also created a massive challenge. To explain that massive challenge, I use a very simple analogy. I say that in the past, before the contemporary era of modern globalization, when 7 billion people were living in 193 separate countries, it was like living on 193 different boats. You had each boat with a captain and crew taking care of the boat and rules to make sure the boats didn't collide. That's what the 1945 rules-based order was all about. It has worked in many ways. It has helped to reduce wars, and so on.

But today, as a result of the dramatic transformation of the world, the 7 billion people no longer live in 193 separate boats. They live in 193 separate cabins on the same boat. But the tragedy about this global boat is that you have captains and crews taking care of each cabin, and no captain or crew taking care of the global boat as a whole.

If you really want to understand why we are not meeting many of the rising global challenges, it is precisely because we are sailing on the same boat and not having anyone taking care of the boat as a whole.

This, by the way, may turn out very well to be not a metaphor but a literal description of our world. You could see this, by the way, very clearly in 2008-2009. I am sure you remember the dark days after Lehman Brothers when everyone thought that the global economy was dead and going off a cliff, everything was over. Quite remarkably, at that moment of global crisis, one of the most remarkable things that happened was that probably the most unilateral president that America has had in a long time, George W. Bush, he was the one actually who convened the first G20 leaders meeting. Why did he do that? Because he could see clearly that unless all the major countries in the world came together to solve the problem, we would not fix the global economy. At the end of the day, it actually worked.

At a subsequent meeting in London chaired by Gordon Brown, the G20 leaders came together. They all said, "Yes, we are in the same boat together. We have to work together. Let's stimulate the global economy together," over $1.2 trillion. Everyone participated and we solved the crisis.

So in a crisis, people rush up to the bridge of the boat and take care of it. Sadly, when the crisis disappears, they go back into their cabins. That's why, as you know, subsequent G20 leaders' meetings, all of them have failed, because the leaders go back and say, "I'm going to be elected by my cabin and not by the boat as a whole. I'm going to put my cabin's interests first."

That I see as a major challenge for the world, because when all the major global challenges you face are engulfing the boat as a whole, and you have leaders who are not taking care of it, that is going to obviously create problems for the world. That's why, again, I wrote this book.

Just to give you examples, we all worry about global warming, right? As you know, global warming cannot be solved by any country on its ownnot the United States, not China, not India. We all have to come together and work together to solve the global warming problem. But that, again, requires a change in mindset, an awareness that we have to come together.

If tomorrow another major pandemic breaks outas you know, pandemics don't carry passports. They travel across borders effortlessly, and they will come to the most affluent and the poorest countries at the same time. Again, you cannot solve it if you don't come together.

The tragedy of our times, by the way, is that the real circumstances of the world have actually effectively eroded sovereignty. As you know, all nations want to preserve their sovereignty and territorial integrity. And yet their sovereignty has been eroded every day by global warming, by global financial crises, by pandemics, by terrorist attacksyou name it.

So what we have to do now is to change the mindset of all the policy-makers and make them aware that in this new world, frankly, you have to have new global solutions to global problems.

That brings me to the third part on the solutions that we have to do.

The first and most obvious thing that we need to do obviously is to change our mindset and realize why we have to come together and cooperate in this new world. One of the things I found, quite interestingly, as I was doing some research on the book, was a speech that Bill Clinton gave in 2003 at Yale. He was clearly ahead of his time.

He was, of course, addressing it in a slightly different way but also making the same point about why we need to strengthen a rules-based order. What he said in 2003 at Yale was that if America believes that it will always be number one, then fine; it should carry on doing what it's doing, maybe act unilaterally. It doesn't matter because America will always be number one.

But then he added, "But if we conceive of the possibility of us becoming number two, then surely it is in America's national interest to create a rules-based order that will then constrain the next number one." That is a perfectly sensible national interest for America.

The remarkable thing is that even though he said in 2003, that hasn't been discussed or mentioned by anyone in America.

I also have come to discover that it is actually almost impossible in America to have a discussion of America as number two. I will tell you, the confirmation came, of all places, in Davos. I describe this in the book. In January 2011, I was asked to chair a forum on the future of American power. There were two Republican senators, Corker and Chambliss; a Democratic congresswoman, Nita Lowey, from Yale; and Michael Froman, the deputy national security advisor. As chairman I asked the first question, obvious question: "What do you see as the future of American power?" They said, "Oh, we'll be number one, we'll be number one, we'll be number one." So I said, "Yes, okay."

Then I added my second question. I said, "I've seen some IMF [International Monetary Fund] statistics that say that possibly within the next five to ten years, American might have the second-largest economy in the world." I can tell you, their responses were absolutely shocking to me, because I discovered that none of them could have any words, no politician can have any words coming out of their mouth saying "when America becomes number two" or "if America becomes number two." You cannot say it.

The smartest guy was clearly Senator Corker. He said to me, "I can do the math too. I can see where you're taking us, but I'm not going there." [Laughter] I quote his response verbatim in the book. He could see what was happening.

What is stunning is that so few people are aware that, not only in PPP [purchase power parity] terms, the American share of the global GNP was 25 percent in 1980s and China's share was 2.2 percent. China's share was less than 10 percent that of the United States in 1980.

In 2017, which is only three to four years from now, the IMF has projected that the United States's share will go down from 25 percent to 17.6 percent, and China's share will rise from 2.2 percent to 18.2 percent. So in PPP terms, it will happen in three to four years.

This is unstoppable. It is absolutely unstoppable. Once the Chinese mind has been opened after having slept for a couple of hundred years, you cannot close it up again. China and India and all will keep progressing. So it will be a different world.

In this different world, the one plea that I make especially to Western audiences is that now is the time to rethink your old policies. I think one of the most fundamental mistakes that Western countries have made in recent times is that they have, somewhat unthinkingly, carried on with an old policy of keeping multilateral institutions weak, because the assumption was that the West was so strong, so dominant, it didn't need multilateral institutions, and therefore it kept them weak.

I actually think, in this new world, where the West clearly is going to become a minority, 12 percent, in a resurgent world, it is actually in the national long-term interest of all Western countries, including the United States of America, to now work toward strengthening, rather than weakening, multilateral institutions. I know at the end of the day I do talk, as Joanne says, about ethical considerations, but I begin by saying it is in your rational self-interest to do this.

To illustrate this, let me give you three examples of what I mean.

First, the West has successfully driven the policy of what is called zero growth in the UN budgets. As a result of zero growth in UN budgets, the United Nations and all institutions have been strangled, and their natural growth has not been allowed to take place.What is crazy is that you may think, okay, it doesn't matter if we strangle the UN secretariat in New York because it is just a talk shop anyway; it doesn't matter. But the remarkable thing is that that zero budget growth policy is also applied to important specialized agencies of the United Nations which actually are doing remarkably good work.

To give you two examples, take the World Health Organization [WHO]. At a time that we worry about new waves of pandemics comingand I grant to you that new pandemics will come; there is nothing you can do to stop ityou should therefore, in preparation for that, be strengthening the World Health Organization, because only the World Health Organization enjoys the legitimacy to make intrusive inspections into countries. They will not allow any American health agency to do that. They will not allow the Gates Foundation to do that. They will only allow the WHO to do that.

Here one of the silliest things we have done is that organizations like the WHO can only grow on the basis of what is called assessed contributions that come from countries, not voluntary contributions, because voluntary contributions go up and down. About 20 years ago, 75 percent of the WHO budget came from assessed contribution and 25 percent came from voluntary contributions. After 20 years you have the reverse, and the voluntary contributions have gone up to 75 percent and assessed contributions have come down to 25 percent.That effectively strangles the WHO because then it cannot make long-term plans on how to grow its special expertise, and so on.

What is even crazier is at a time when you worry so much about nuclear proliferation, we talk about the dangers of Iran and so on, you have an agency called the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] that is the only one to enjoy the legitimacy again to make inspections of countries and nuclear facilities. That agency has also suffered from a zero budget growth policy. In fact I discovered it firsthand because the IAEA appointed a commission of eminent persons under SDIO [Strategic Defense Initiative Organization] to investigate how the IAEA could be strengthened. I was a member of the commission. I know Ernesto [Zedillo] and I were equally shocked and said, "What's going on here? Why are you strangling the regular budget of the IAEA? You should be increasing the regular budget of the IAEA at a time when there is a potential renaissance coming in the world."

These are examples of manifestly stupid policies that we have in the world that we've got to stop, because in a small, interdependent world we will need more and more of these specialized institutions to do a better job for the rest of the world.

At the same time, we also have to reform other institutions. Of course, in this city, you have one of the most powerful international organizations of all time, the UN Security Council. It is the only body that can make decisions that are mandatory on all nation-states.

There are five permanent members [P5] and ten elected members of the UN Security Council. The five permanent members have the veto and the ten do not. They have set up something called the Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council Reform in 1993. After 20 years it has achieved nothing. Someone said, "Maybe we should change the name of the Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council Reform to Never-Ending Working Group on Security Council Reform, because there has been no change whatsoever."

I think that is very dangerous. I actually say in the book if the P5 believe that they can continue to remain there forever, they will discover that they may retain their seats but lose their legitimacy. I think it is good to entrench the great powers of the day in the UN Security Council, give them the veto powers, but it should be the great powers of today or the great powers of tomorrow and not the great powers of yesterday. Just because you won World War II in 1945 doesn't mean that it qualifies you to become a permanent member of the Security Council.

I have actually come up with a new formula. I will just mention it very briefly in the hope that you will break the logjam on Security Council reform. So I propose what I call a seven-seven-seven formula: seven permanent seats, seven semi-permanent seats, and seven elected seats to replace the current 15-member council. The allocation of the permanent membership and semi-permanent membership will be based mathematically on a country's share of the global GNP, on a country's share of the global population. You average it out and you have a sense of the country's position in the global order. So the seven permanent members will be the usual United States, China, Russia; then I suggest you have single seat for the European Union because it has common foreign policy; and then Brazil, India, and Nigeria by the criteria that I gave.

But I also propose another 28 seats for semi-permanent membership. The reason I do that is that the fundamental reason why there has been no Security Council reform over the last 20 years is that for every country that is trying to get a new permanent membership seat, there is a neighbor nearby that says, "Why not me?" So for every Brazil there is an Argentina and Mexico saying, "Why not me?" For every India there is a Pakistan saying, "Why not me?" For every Japan there is South Korea saying, "Why not me?"

In the case of Europe, when I was here as ambassador at a time when everybody was pushing so hard for Germany and Japan to become permanent members of the UN Security Council, I remember the Italian ambassador saying, almost very proudly, "Why are you only pushing for Germany and Japan? We, Italy, we lost World War II also." [Laughter]

So you can see that that is why it happens.

Under the formula of semi-permanent membership seats, you have the next 28 most powerful countries who automatically get rotated back into the Security Council every four terms. So this gives an incentive for what I call the near-losers to also win something in this formula. So they don't just have a vested interest to oppose change because they, too, get a slice of the benefits in this new formula.

At the same time, of course, the smallest states also, in my view, benefitand I said this at a speech that I gave at the Forum of Small States at the Singapore Mission yesterdaythat they will no longer now have to compete with the middle powers for a seat on the UN Security Council. So it is a much more level playing field for them. So the win-win-win formula, the seven-seven-seven formula.

If you do get the chance, if you see a UN ambassadorI am glad there are a couple hereplease ask them, "What do you think of the seven-seven-seven formula?" Get the word out.

Finally, even as you reform the UN Security Council, as Joanne mentioned in her introduction, it is also important to revive the UN General Assembly. Frankly, to go back to my analogy of the boat, if you are now all living on the same boat in fairly what I call crowded spaces, it is important that we understand each other better.

As you know, the best way to generate understanding is to create an open forum where we can all participate equally. Frankly, what the world essentially needs is some kind of global parliament. It is very difficult, it's just in the nature of things that it's very difficult to create something new and from scratch, because countries have all kinds of reasons for opposing this.

But we do have an existing UN General Assembly, which again has been sidelined and marginalized. Let me say this again, somewhat provocatively, but it is unfortunately a fact: There has been a Western policy to marginalize the UN General Assembly.

Now I am saying that it is actually in Western interests to no longer marginalize the UN General Assembly, because you actually want to have a very deep dialogue with the rest of the world where you understand what their concerns are and you share your point of view. Then you try to develop what I call a global ethic at the end of the day, where we actually come together and agree on a set of global shared values that will enable us to function together in the small, little world that we have created for ourselves in this century.

As Joanne said, at the end of the day I am an optimist. I believe that it can be done, that actually most people in most parts of the world just want to have the same kind of comfortable, peaceful, prosperous lives that many in the West have. They share the same set of common material aspirations, but the common material aspirations lead subsequently to an understanding of why we have to work together to achieve those material aspirations.

I think it is these common goals that 7 billion people are developing in the world today that give me tremendous room for optimism that the good news that I've described over the last 20 years will continue over the next 20 years. But that will only happen if you buy a copy of my book and spread the message.

Thank you very much.


QUESTION: I am the ambassador of Lichtenstein to the United Nations. Welcome back, Kishore. It's great to see you. Thanks a lot for your talk. There are three questions I want to ask you.

The figures you gave on victims of armed conflict are interesting, but maybe they're not the only figures, because you have emphasized very strongly the term "interstate conflict." Of course, 90 percent of the conflicts we have today are not interstate conflicts but conflicts within states. So I wonder if you have a figure for us on military expenditure. I would be very surprised if that has come down the same way as the numbers of victims have indicated. Of course, the other trend we see in warfare is the disproportionate number of civilians that become casualties, which of course is a very, very negative trend.

I quite liked your metaphor about the big boat with 193 cabins, where I have my own. But I wonder, if you take the issue of climate change that you have mentioned, whether that really applies, because on the issue of climate change, there are some of us who could go under, literally, and others that won't. So I'm not sure if we're really in the same boat. I think that is the problem in that debate, because some of us even think, "Well, maybe short term it's not all that bad for me." There is some research and some findings that indicate that some countries, in a very short-term way of thinking, would perhaps even benefit from climate change, while others go under.

That's not the G20 type of leadership where everybody says, "Okay, we're going to go under together unless we assemble on the bridge and find a solution." I think these are the situations where we will always find a solution if it is clear that everybody will suffer otherwise. But here we do not all suffer otherwise the same way, and it's mostly the small ones that suffer. So what do we do in such a situation?

Finally, I very much like the way you talked about the zero growth policy at the UN and elsewhere, but I think there is an important factor. The zero growth policy is damaging in particular because it leads to complete intransparency in budgetary matters. Of course, it is not true that expenditure has not grown; it just comes from other sources. So there is no money spent, but there is no transparency on where the money comes from and where it goes to. So that is the way it is most damaging.

But I think the flip side, or an important element of that, is also that a country like China today pays, I think, about 3 percent of their regular budget. How does that work compared to the figures that you have given on the growth of the leading economies in the world?

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Thank you. Those are excellent questions. If you don't mind, I will give very quick, brief responses.

The first one, on the deaths. Interestingly, there was an exchange of letters in the Financial Times a few weeks ago. Someone tried to make the mythI call it an urban myththat actually more people are dying in non-interstate conflict, more civilians are dying and all that. Go read the letters written by Steven Pinker in the Financial Times. He answers both questions convincingly. It is not just people dying in interstate conflicts that is going down; it is people dying in violence of any kind that is going down. Again, I am not the authority. Go read Steven Pinker. The data is all publicly available. So it is a fact that violence is diminishing in human society.

The second point about global warming is absolutely right. But we cannot predict for sure who is going to win and who is going to lose. Anyone who thinks, "Oh, I'm going to be a winner in global warming and therefore I'm not going to do anything about it." I think that they're crazy. We never quite know what's going to happen. If a city like New York City can suffer as you just did recently, you have a sense that everybody is vulnerable.

It is important for us to understand that if we are on the same boatand that is why I want to use that analogy over and over againthen, frankly, it doesn't matter whether you are on the top deck of the boat or the bottom deck of the boat. When the boat does down, you all go down. I sometimes like to say, when people argue about how to fix this problem, it is a bit like people trying to reorganize the deck chairs on the Titanic as it is sinking. We have all got to understand that we have to come together.

On global warming, I actually think that all of us have got to make a sacrifice, but it has got to be an equitable form of sacrifice where richer countries do a bit more and the poorer countries also have to do something. At the end of the day, I am also still optimistic that such a formula can be worked out.

Finally, on the zero budget growth, I am glad you emphasized that point. Actually, I do think that countries like China and India, as their share of the global GNP rises, they will have to take on a greater share of global responsibilities. One of the things they will have to do is frankly pay more of the UN budget. I agree with you on that.

QUESTION: I am Dan Rose, friend and admirer of Kishore Mahbubani.

Kishore, when I was a schoolboy, there was a famous graffiti exchange at Yale Law School where someone had written, "God is dead," and underneath it someone else had replied, "God is not dead; he is just an underachiever."

The United Nations has been a dramatic underachiever, unable even to deal with international piracy, let alone problems like North Korea. Will these structural changes you are suggesting for the UN and other international organizations permit them to cease being underachievers?

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: You are absolutely right that the UN has been underachieving, absolutely. But the question is, why is it underachieving?

Dan, you run organizations. You know that if you have a corporation or a branch of a company that is underachieving, the most important thing you have to do is to find the right person, the right man or woman to run that unit. If you get the strongest possible leader for that unit, you get the strongest possible performance.

You know, if the United Nations has been underachievingand I agree with you it has been underachievingclearly, the solution then is to pick the most dynamic, the strongest personality, to run the United Nations. That's what the world should be doing, right?

But do you know how UN secretaries-general are selected? I want to phrase my remarks very, very carefully, but I think you get the message. The selection process is actually done by the five permanent members. In his memoirs, John Bolton actually quotes a conversation he had with Condoleezza Rice, and says down there, it's in print, "Both Condi and I agreed that we did not want a strong individual to run the United Nations."

So if the qualification for running the UN secretariat is that you must be "not strong," how can you possibly get anything less than underachievement?

This has to be true of all the other organizations, too. If you want the organizations like World Health Organization, the IAEA, to run themselves well, we should look for strong individuals. But every time you get a strong individual, like Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA, the United States tried to remove him because they didn't want someone with the kind of backbone that he had.

In the book I tell the story about WHO. They had a wonderful director-general for many years. But he became too strong and too good, and he was removed.

In fact this policy change happened way back in the 1960s, because it was Dag Hammarskjöld who showed the world what a strong secretary-general could do. Subsequently after that, the United States and Soviet Union disagreed on everything in the Cold War, but one thing they both agreed upon was that we want a weak secretary-general like Kurt Waldheim; we don't want a strong secretary-general.

I think that policy has got to change.

QUESTION: David Musher.

You've covered a lot of points. I would just like to focus in on one area where you started your talk. You painted a very rosy picture about the development of the middle class in Asia and presumably also in Africa.

It seems to me that this is something that happened in Europe and in the West in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th century. What is going to prevent the occurrence of what happened in the West during the second half of the 19th century and the 20th century?

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: A very, very good question.

I have a wonderful chart inside here, I don't know what page, where I actually show the correlation. On the top chart you see the number of people dying from conflicts going down. This is how it goes down over the last 50-60 years. Below that there is another chart that shows the number of free trade agreements being signed in the world, and it's going up. It is almost like there's a direct correlation between global trade going up and conflicts coming down. So interdependence is one reason why conflicts are diminishing.

Now, whenever I say that, everyone says, "Kishore, haven't you heard of Norman Angell, who wrote this famous book in 1909 saying that war was finished; the world is becoming smaller and interdependent; and lo and behold, World War I happened and many people died? Why don't you think World War I may not happen again?"

Well, my answer to that is that the world has actually changed a lot in that last 100 years or so. The zeitgeist in 1911 was the complete opposite of the zeitgeist in 2011. What's the difference? In 1911, some of the brightest young people in Great Britain, when they saw war was coming, they said, "Great. Let's go and fight." So the young men from Oxford and Cambridge signed up and said, "We're going to have a fine time going to war." War was fine and dandy. As you know, Britain lost millions of its youth in World War I because everyone thought war was an honorable thing to do.

Today you go around the world and find for me any young people anywhere who say, "I'm going to go to war and enjoy myself fighting." I think that there are a few exceptions here and there, but the new middle classes that are emerging in China and India, you ask their parentsand this is another thing I point out in the bookI see that one of the common global aspirations that the world is developing is that any family, whether it is in Brazil or South Africa or Mumbai or Shanghai, you ask the parents where they want their children to go, and they say, "We want to get them to Harvard or Yale or Columbia or Princeton."

This set of common aspirationsthey want the same kind of good life that you've had here. Believe me, the kind of instinct towards war that you had with 1911 has been eradicated by 2011. That's why I am quite confident that the kinds of conflicts you saw at that time will not happen again.

QUESTION: Warren Hoge, International Peace Institute.

Kishore, you are aware, of course, that the Obama administration has announced that in the second term they will pivot to Asia. They may have difficulty doing that because the Middle East doesn't look like it's ready to be pivoted against.

But that aside, how do you feel as an Asian about the United States's pivot to Asia? Is it good for Asia? Is it good for the United State?

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Warren, you are right that they originally used the word "pivot," but I am sure you are aware that they have now withdrawn. They have dropped using the word "pivot" and they tried to find something more neutral. They said they are "rebalancing." So the United States is rebalancing towards Asia.

Frankly, I am glad you mentioned the point about resources, because actually what is happening is that while the Asian share of American military presence is going to rise, it is going to rise because the total amount is coming down because the United States is cutting down its military commitments elsewhere.

I have actually just published an article which should be coming out this week, I think, in a journal called the American Review, which actually is published in Australia.The title of the article is, "To Pivot, Poison, or Make Peace." I argue that at the end of the day it is actually in America's interest to try to bring about peace in the region.

For example, as you know, in the short term I can tell you honestly I am worried about what's happening within China and Japan. I don't think they will go to war, but there is a very dangerous game-playing, brinksmanship, that is going on with the two of them. The danger of brinksmanship is that accidents can happen.

But that is where I say the United States can play a constructive role in terms of trying to eradicate the differences between the two of them. And the good news is that the United States is doing it. A few weeks ago a four-person delegation, including Joseph Nye, I think Stephen Hadley, and two others, went to Tokyo and Beijing to speak and to try to calm the waters.

So I think the United States can play a constructive role in that region, and it is also in the American national interest to do that. So, on balance, I am optimistic that the United States will do the right thing in East Asia.

QUESTION: On the ship that you so eloquently describe, perhaps the biggest club on that ship is the European Union. What is your forecast over the next 10 years? Will the European Union weaken or will it get stronger?

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: There is an Arab proverbI don't think I should be saying this at the endthat he who speaks about the future lies even when he tells the truth. I actually expect and I hope that the European Union will become stronger. In fact in this book I have a lot of praise for the European Union because I say that the biggest achievement of the European Union is not just its economic achievement. The biggest achievement of the European Union is that you don't just have zero wars between any two European Union member states; you have zero prospect of war.

So even when they've had differences and difficulties, the danger of France and the UK going to war is zero. The danger of Germany and France going to war is zero. So the zero prospect of war that the European Union has achieved is something that can and should be replicated in the rest of the world.

But on the economic side of the European Union, I must say that I have been going to Davos over the last few years, and I remember in January 2011 there was so much doom and gloom about the European Union, and there was a real fear that the European Union would fall apart as a result of Greek problems and so on.

I think what has happened in the last two years is that all the European leaders walked to the edge of the cliff. I think they were just about to drop Greece over the cliff. Then they realizedhang on a second. If we throw Greece off the cliff, a few of us might also be pulled along. So it was the danger of the entire Union being damaged that made them decide, okay, let's pull Greece back now. Even though the German voters were very unhappy that the lazy Greeks on the beaches were spending German taxpayers' money, they made a political decision that this is the correct thing to do.

I think, by the way, just as you know, when you have a crisis like this, you can never tell right away what the results are. But a decade later, you can tell clearly what happened.

For example, in Asia, we lived through the Asian financial crisis, which was as bad as the 2008-2009 financial crisis we went through, and I can tell you that the reason why virtually no Asian state suffered in the 2008-2009 financial crisis was because they learned some powerful lessons in the 1997-1998 financial crisis, and they prepared themselves for another big storm. When the big storm came, they were ready.

As you know, in the year when China's GDP was supposed to grow at minus 40 percent, as somebody predicted, China grew at plus 9 percent.

So in a crisis you actually learn lots of lessons, and therefore, you then subsequently do the right thing. So I actually believe that this crisis has been quite a jolt to the Europeans. I think as a result of this they will work harder to keep the European Union together and keep it going.

JOANNE MYERS: As always, it was wonderful to have you here. We welcome you back anytime. Thank you, Kishore.

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MAR 26, 2009 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 23.1 (Spring 2009): Roundtable: Can Democracies Go It Alone?: The Dangers of Democratic Delusions [Full Text]

A "League of Democracies," according to Mahbubani, will divide the world at the very time that a new global consensus needs to be created to ...

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