HERE have all the giants gone?
That question comes into vogue every few years when the political leadership of the major powers seems to get stuck in neutral, or even reverse.
The question is back today because of prolonged indecision over Bosnia in the United States and Europe; a weakened coalition in Tokyo; and what amounts to a succession vacuum in Moscow and Beijing, where Boris Yeltsin and Deng Xiaoping half-rule in absentia.
Each of these scenes of indecision is doing damage. The Bosnian crisis undermines progress toward an orderly world. It erodes Washington's long exercised world leadership. It has also blotted the UN's record as a peacekeeper. Deterioration of Tokyo's already weak government prolongs that nation's economic doldrums and affects other economies. Uncertainty over who will make decisions in Moscow and Beijing makes control of weapons of mass destruction more difficult. It also raises the specter of hard-line successors.
Does this mean the world is heading for a period of backsliding? Not likely.
In Europe and the US, current difficulties stem in part from electoral politics, and are likely to be solved by elections. France's Jacques Chirac is leading the Western Big Three at the moment in part because he is newly elected with a strong mandate. Bill Clinton and John Major face uphill election battles next year.
Despite their caution, there is mounting evidence that public opinion in the US may support a tougher policy (even if it risks casualties) aimed at forcing a territorial agreement to end the war in Bosnia. And public opinion in Europe and America has not given up on the UN, seeking only to repair its flaws.
In the last half of this century the lament for vanished giants often focused on the passing of Churchill, Roosevelt, and de Gaulle.
It would be ironic if attention to those giants of World War II led us to forget a more recent cycle of courageous leaders: Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Frederik de Klerk, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and even the now-maligned Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.
There is no reason to believe those politicians-turned-leaders were an aberration. The public should demand no less from the politicians now at the helm.