The main driving force in world politics

Iran and Afghanistan have been a rich source of lessons discovered too late and learned too suddenly. They have taught the American people and (with the usual time lag) the US government that there are violence problems to which there are no military solutions; that, given this Soviet regime, detente can only be the continuation of tension by other means; that Soviet behavior around the world has to be linked to the SALT treaty; that our military forces are not nearly mobile or flexible enough; and that we are really going to have to do something about our energy dependence.

But the most important learning of all, which was neglected by the three administrations of the 1970s, is still missing from the 1980 electoral debate. It is this: Dynamic and often violent change in developing nations is now the main driving force in world politics.

Animation, agitation, turbulence, and terror inside developing countries are driving those older, seemingly more stable relationships, our Atlantic and Pacific alliances, and the US-Soviet standoff. We don't encounter the Soviets in Berlin or even the Mediterranean these days; we meet them in the politics of Angola and Ethiopia and Southeast Asia and Cuba -- and Afghanistan.

Yet for more than a dozen years we have devalued development, assigned a low priority to relations with the third world, scratched our presidential and congressional heads each year to decide whether two-thirds of an interdependent world deserves our cooperation.

The Nixon and early Carter doctrines were close first cousins; they both called for withdrawal of support from "less developed" friends in an arc that reached from South Korea through Southeast Asia to Israel. They both focused on big-power geopolitics without realizing that disruptive change in the rest of the world might set the big powers at each other's throats.

Jimmy Carter's campaign rhetoric, in 1976, was eloquent in advocating more attention to poverty and hunger and cultural identity in the developing nations, and in urging expanded world trade and aid to enable them to pass without violence through the tough transition to modern life.

But, once in office, the Carter administration never got around to tackling the dilemmas of development, never got around to reviving the still moribund dialogue with the world's "South," never got around to the global issues which candidate Carter had so clearly defined, in 1976, as "world order politics." Now it turns out that "world order politics" is another name for the security of the United States.

Where we were active in the 1970s on the third world front we were too often hyperactive. In Iran we sold the Shah modern industries, urban development plans, and sophisticated weapons. He was a great customer, who always asked, "Why not the best?"

The revolution in Iran helps us understand that plans for pell-mell development and massive military aid can provoke a triple collision. Full-speed modernization often collides, not only with those who think its economic outcomes are unfair but also with those who think its social fallout is a threat to ancient customs and cultural identity.

At first the partisans of fairness and the defenders of tradition make common cause. A year ago the mullahs and the left-wing students were to be seen in unlikely pairs on the streets of Tehran (and on our television screens), shouting in a single voice for tradition and fairness, setting fire to tanks and automobiles, those quintessential symbols of high-powered modernity. Later, the politics of fairness and of tradition are bound to collide with each other; that chapter of Iranian history is only just beginning.

It is not that rapid modernization cannot be reconciled with cultural tradition and economic fairness. Japan raced into the postindustrial era while remaining strikingly Japanese. An economics of equity and a fierce sense of cultural identity have been the handmaidens of rapid growth in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Israel; in all these cases, strong and universal systems of education seem to have been the basis for "growth with fairness." The People's Republic of China is experimenting with yet another development model that encompasses social fairness and immemorial usage.

In other countries where modernization has taken hold -- Brazil, Mexico, and India are the biggest -- the modern sectors are impressive on the GNP index, but the rush to copy the West has bypassed huge pockets of poverty and deep well-springs of cultural and religious tradition. Their triple collisions loom ahead of them.

We have a long way to go in working with, not just "aiding," our friends in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to avert violence as the end-product of development. And the first step is to decide that the triple collision of modernization is not something we can turn to some other time, after we have confronted the Soviets and shored up our alliances.

We have to confront the Soviets and shore up our alliances. But part of the strategy for doing so must be to focus directly on the peoples whose dynamism and turbulence are drawing us into those confrontations with the Soviet Union, and driving those wedges between the US and its allies.

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