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The unification of Europe has advanced to the point that the European Union, with a consolidated foreign policy, is now a global power. The wisdom of U.S. policy since the second World War of support for the integration of Europe (despite obvious economic competition) is confirmed, since the United States is now joined by another powerful democracy with a major stake in global stability. Heretofore, the United States has been frustrated by the disinclination of European governments, whether through NATO or the European Union, to share the burden beyond their immediate region. The United States is no longer the only "reluctant sheriff."

China will have been able to attain superpower status only if successful in the transition to democracy. For that reason China, notwithstanding its profound cultural dissimilarity to the United States and the European Union, should prove more partner than adversary.

In 2050 the great bulk of international transactions are effected electronically between individuals, organizations, and companies without respect to governments. Financial and cross-currency operations are especially hard to track. The nationality of most giant global corporations is unclear, and individuals relocate frequently across national boundaries. Multinational non-governmental organizations pursuing a wide variety of environmental, social, economic, and political purposes are well-funded and powerful. In the industrialized world, but to far less extent in the developing world, there is interdependence approaching homogeneity among manufacturers, service industries, communications and transport companies, in education, medicine, and other professions.

Under these circumstances, the authority of national governments has been circumscribed. For example, the difficulty of tracing cross-border economic transactions and currency movements complicates the implementation of fiscal and monetary policy, to put it mildly. By 2050, most governmental regulation of economic activity has been supplanted by international agreements and organizations, in which it is not always easy to obtain the cooperation (often absolutely essential) of smaller countries. In fact, a new breed of sophisticated diplomatic experts must manage the heavy agenda of international discussion and negotiation, as well as staff international regulatory authorities.

But the greatest problems at mid-twenty-first century stem from the contrast between the developed ("globalized") world and the less developed (essentially "unglobalized") world, which comprises most of Africa and parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Central America. In the less developed countries, the paucity of skilled human resources and the still relatively inhospitable business climate restrict investment. Poverty and high population density breed malnutrition, instability, ethnic conflict and refugee movements. The migration of people from poor to rich societies, legal (because of the demand for labor) as well as illegal, has aggravated the social tensions from immigration already evident in the 1990’s in Western Europe and North America. Cultivation and trade in narcotics has increased, not abated, during the twenty-first century.

The earth’s environment has continued seriously to deteriorate from deforestation, the depletion of fisheries and the refusal of the developing world to share in the economic costs of reversing global warming. Human population pressure has sharply affected biodiversity; for example, the extinction of major species of African wildlife (reinforced by growing insecurity of travel) has caused the loss of important tourist revenue to East and Southern Africa.

Effective communication between the global powers and developing governments is crucial to addressing the sobering problems suggested above, and to accelerating economic development so as to facilitate wider participation in the global economy. American (and European) diplomats must as before be expert in cross-cultural communication but also trained in relevant technologies. Ambassadors must be leaders able to coordinate the contribution of non-governmental organizations, business corporations, and private citizens as well as governments in seeking common objectives.

HUS, DIPLOMACY WILL CONTINUE to be central to achieving United States purposes in the twenty-first century. But the quality of American national leadership will be the most important single factor, as it was in 1950. Superb leadership at the middle of the twentieth century equipped the United States for a long, arduous, and ultimately victorious struggle in the Cold War.

With the turn of the century, American leadership in international matters is less certain. The United States is not fully exerting the role it could and should exert — in its own self-interest and in the world’s interest. If, in the two decades before us, the American political system can produce another generation of competent, decisive leaders, capable of convincing the American public and Congress that the United States must be fully engaged internationally and must allocate substantial resources to support the political and economic development of the poor countries, then world conditions at mid-twenty-first century need not look so bleak as has been outlined above. But that is a large “if.”

Unfortunately, even the finest leadership will lack the means to ensure that nuclear, chemical and biological weapons not fall into the hands of disaffected zealots.  

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    A distinguished veteran of the career U.S. Foreign Service and a board member of this journal’s parent organization, Bill Harrop served as Ambassador to Guinea, Kenya, Seychelles, Zaïre, and Israel. He was Inspector General of the State Department and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. He retired from government service in 1993 and is now associated with a private fundation, as well as lecturing and writing on foreign policy and diplomacy.


1. Frank Carlucci, Warren Christopher, Carla Hills, Max Kampelman, Ralph Larsen, Donald McHenry, Sam Nunn, Phil Odeen, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Robert Strauss, Cyrus Vance and John Whitehead: “Equipped for the Future—Managing U.S. Foreign Affairs in the twenty-first Century”, The Henry L Stimson Center, Washington, October, 1998

2. “The International Affairs Budget”, United States Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, October 1995.

3. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce

4. “The End of History ?”, Francis Fukuyama, the quarterly journal National Interest , Summer 1989.

5. The U.S. Bureau of the Census projects that, between 1998 and 2050, the population of Africa will grow from 760 million to 2 billion while the continent of Europe declines from approximately 500 million to 400 million.

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