As the world has proceeded from the “oil crisis” of 1973-1974 to the confrontation between the beneficiaries and the victims of the existing international order, which is the overriding issue looming up in 1976, it has become obvious—if it was not obvious before—that we stand at a watershed in world history. What is at issue is the validity, or at least the acceptability to the majority of the world’s inhabitants, of the economic system which has dominated the world since the great outward thrust of the industrialized West a century ago.
But if the issue is straightforward enough in absolute terms, it is a good deal less straightforward in practice. Anyone can see why the Third World countries, with 70 percent of the world’s population, reject a system which awards 70 percent of the world’s income to the other 30 percent of its inhabitants. The real question is whether their proposals for a “new international economic order” are viable, and whether they have the strength and resolution to carry these proposals through.
No one supposes that the rich nations are simply going to capitulate to the demands of the poor nations, but no one supposes, either, that the views and interests of the poor nations can simply be ignored, as they were ignored in 1944 and 1945 when the present economic system was put together. On the other hand, those who reject the whole idea of a “new international economic order” as utopian and impracticable have still to show how it is possible to make concessions to the developing countries sufficient to satisfy their demands, and yet maintain the existing system intact.
It is hardly necessary to add that there are other complications, too. The Third World is certainly not a single homogeneous bloc, but neither are the advanced industrial nations. Though the developing countries have held together so far a great deal better than many observers predicted, it is still too early to say that they will succeed in maintaining their solidarity; but the same is true of the rich Western countries, whose interests conflict at least as sharply as those of the poor.
It is not merely a question of defections and the breakdown of existing alignments. There is also the possibility of the formation of new fronts, or new economic blocs, cutting across the present dividing lines. Furthermore, no assessment which leaves out the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries is likely to get us very far. The role of the communist countries is hard to define, but it cannot simply be ignored. As a writer who is not a Marxist recently pointed out, Moscow may turn out in many respects to be the best bet for Asians, and there is a “real possibility” that China may emerge as “one of the great bridging nations between the industrialized and non-industrialized worlds.”
All these are considerations which any realistic assessment of the current situation must take into account. It is far …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.