World Divide: Haves and Have-Nots

Our political lexicon has trouble keeping up with the tides of history.

In Kyoto, the advanced countries tried with little success to bring along the "third world" in a plan to control global warming. But there are no longer three worlds. The communist second world has dissolved. What remains is the division between developed countries - led by the United States, the European Community, and Japan - and the less-developed countries, led by India, China, and Brazil.

The disappearance of the East-West axis brings into better focus the neglected reality of the North-South axis, which is basically a division between haves and have-nots. Except for the oil-rich haves, and except, at least until recently, for the fast-growing Asian Pacific Rim nations.

During the half century of the cold war, the "third world" provided arenas for proxy East-West ideological conflict, from Ethiopia to Nicaragua, from Angola to Vietnam.

Now, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been barnstorming around Africa, selling human rights to countries, many without viable governments to control ethnic slaughter.

IN Kyoto, the major polluters, starting with the US with 4 percent of the world's population and 20 percent of its greenhouse gases, were disappointed at being unable to sell the less-polluting countries on the idea of buying and trading pollution credits - licenses to pollute.

"We have reached a fundamentally new stage in the development of human civilization requiring a better understanding of our connections to God's Earth and to each other." So said Vice President Al Gore in his flowery speech in Kyoto.

That kind of language may resonate among American and European environmentalists, but it cannot mean much in the wide expanses of Africa and Asia, where people struggle for a minimal level of subsistence and pin their hopes on economic development.

If Kyoto has shown anything, it is that the advanced countries have a price to pay for all those years when their East-West fixation left them insufficiently attentive to the gap between North and South.

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.