The past century has seen two world wars and an extended cold war between East and West. The fall of the Berlin Wall, which marked the end of the Cold War era gave rise to the hope that the new century would be one of peace and prosperity. So far that is in some doubt, but there are trends indicating that these lofty goals might be achieved.
China's economy, backed by huge exports to the United States and Europe, led the developing world in 2004 with a growth rate of about nine percent. Some analysts say by the middle of this century China will compete with the world’s strongest economies.
"I think that the center of the economic world is going to be in China," says Larraine Segil, an international business consultant, author and lecturer at the California Institute of Technology. "I think that Europe and Americas will be hugely involved in China so that their economies will be greatly facilitated by what is happening in China."
Larraine Segil says economically strong China will seek global political influence. Indeed, on New Year’s Day, Chinese President Hu Jintao called for a larger role for his country in world affairs in 2005, emphasizing that China is interested in a better future for mankind as a whole. But some analysts predict China’s further development as well as its global influence will be hindered by its lack of freedom at home.
Michael Backman, an international authority on corporate Asia, recently wrote: "Converting China from a paddy field to a factory does not threaten the leadership's political power. But the next stage of economic development: forming an ideas-based, creative, services-oriented economy will present a direct threat to the leadership. So it is unlikely to happen any time soon."
Lack of freedom, terror, civil strife, poverty and disease are among the common problems in the world today. Analysts note they beset mostly countries that have resisted political and economic freedoms: almost all of Africa, large parts of Asia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caribbean rim. Thomas Barnett, a senior strategic researcher at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, says leaving those parts of the world "alone," as some people suggest, would only make their problems worse and the world less secure because of the terrorism they breed.
"We need to stop terrorist activities, illegal movement of arms, or money, or people, the smuggling of people, copyright infringement -–those kinds of things. And the reason why you need to keep a lid on those sort of bad flows is that there are positive flows that do have to occur," says Mr. Barnett. Some of these positive flows in his opinion are legal migrations of people from overpopulated areas to under-populated ones, the flow of oil out of the Middle East and direct foreign investment from Europe and the United States in developing Asia. But they are hindered by terrorism. For that reason, says Mr. Barnett, this century may see more U-S military interventions like the one in Iraq.
Lorraine Segil says what happens in the next six months in Iraq will shape the coming decades in the Middle East. She agrees that the use of American military power is inevitable in some cases, but adds there is another important trend shaping the world today: a rise of various formal and informal alliances across national borders. "The Chinese economy has exploded and it has exploded because of the alliances that they have made with businesses in Taiwan, in Germany, in the US – all over the world," says Ms Segil. Alliances that cross national borders have a great potential to improve life in the third world. For example, she suggests, African leaders could reduce famine and disease in their countries if they allowed private groups to connect with similar organizations in other parts of the world.
Ann Florini, a senior analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington and author of the book, "The Coming Democracy: New Rules for Running a New World," agrees. She believes a wide range of transnational issues, from terrorism to environmental disasters to the global economy can be managed more effectively by non-governmental institutions, citizens movements and private corporations than by large international organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
"NGO-s particularly in northern countries have had in some cases a very significant influence on global rules. They have had campaigns on poor-country debt. They have had campaigns on land mines," says Ms Florini. "In those kinds of campaigns they’ve shown that they can have a significant influence in getting governments to consider a broader public interest." Ann Florini says rich countries also must help create a world order with a greater sharing of wealth and political power. That coupled with freedom could lead to a century of peace and prosperity.