Global Lesson: `Survival is Indivisible'

PERSPECTIVES

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IT was one of those moments that fairly crackled with symbolism. For two days the discussion at the Aspen Institute's Wye Center had ranged across the spectrum of global issues: environmental degradation, third-world population pressures, resource development, literacy, education, ethics. At the conference table sat a polyglot assortment of journalists, parliamentarians, religious leaders, and international development specialists, brought together by a recently formed international organization called the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival. Now, on the final morning, all eyes turned to a man who, having flown 26 sleepless hours from Crimea to reach the conference, had so far said little: Nikolai Lutsenko, the first deputy information director at the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. Here's how he began:

O East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Til Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;

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But there is neither East nor West, Border nor Breed nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth.

The words are by Rudyard Kipling - ``the British poet,'' said the good-humored Mr. Lutsenko with a knowing grin, ``whom we once called a bard of colonialism and imperialism, but whom nevertheless I respected even in those days.'' Here was a representative of official atheism quoting with approval a line about ``God's great Judgment Seat.'' Here, from that pillar of East-West tensions, was a plea for a world with ``neither East nor West.''

Mere buncombe and weasel-words to lull the West into dropping its guard? So the cynics would say. But too much has happened in Mikhail Gorbachev's Russia this last year - in promoting arms-control efforts, in permitting international travel, in cracking the police-state ethos, in restoring religious worship - to warrant unremitting cynicism. Skepticism, yes: Gorbachev won't be there forever, and the tradition of unpunishedtyranny does not die easily. But the Bush administration is willing to extend a measure of trust. It has expanded its Soviet foreign-policy agenda, adding to the four-part, Reagan-era agenda (covering arms control, human rights, regional conflicts, and cultural exchanges) a fifth item on ``transnational issues'' of mutual interest: drugs, terrorism, the environment, and natural disasters like last December's earthquake in Armenia.

All this was there as Lutsenko spoke, freighting his words with high meaning. It became clear that he was adding to the ``transnational issues'' one which for decades the international development community has held dear: the need to take ``mankind's material and intellectual resources,'' as he said, and channel them ``to solve global problems'' such as ``the shortage of food, the growth of population, literacy, [and] environmental degradation.''

This is the ultimate in cooperation: the two superpowers working together not only in self-interested efforts to improve their own well-being, but with a generous, humanitarian impulse to resolve third-world problems. Lutsenko put it simply. ``Survival is indivisible,'' he said. ``East and West, North and South, regardless of social systems and ideology, must join together in a formal commitment to survival and development.''

That's not exactly what Kipling said. But given the next century's need to rise above the superpower struggle and reach outward toward `the ends of the earth,'' he probably wouldn't mind the rewrite.

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