It would be too easy to peer into 1999 and see a world beset by stubborn, nearly unsolvable problems. But it's more useful, and perhaps ultimately more accurate, to recognize that years represent waymarks toward larger global epochs. Current turbulence is forcing mankind toward solutions.
Two prime examples:
Global economic problems. The crisis precipitated by Asia's monetary meltdown and deepened by Russia's credit collapse still generates tremors. But signs of recovery are sprouting in South Korea and Thailand, as those countries rebuild their financial systems. Russia's problems are ongoing, and intermeshed with political uncertainty - as are Indonesia's. They'll require patience and steadfast attention from the world's financial fix-it men.
Brazil's economic reforms, too, are important to world economic health. And Japan's rise from recession is crucial.
Long-range, the destination is a global system less vulnerable to sudden downturn. Sounder banking systems, freer trade, governments less prone to corruption and cronyism, more-reliable social safety nets - these and other elements will help solidify that system. Fundamental in all cases is broad cooperation among nations, with a still-buoyant US and Europe playing lead roles.
War and peace. The Middle East peace process is on hold as Israel chooses a new leader. But diplomatic efforts to bridge the region's deep-set differences must continue. Most important, peacemakers in the region, in Washington, and elsewhere must clearly explain the benefits - individual, international, and economic - inherent in a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
In the Balkans, the US and Europe have to stay an often frustrating course, building on the Dayton accord in Bosnia and heading off open war in Serbia's Kosovo province. Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, like Iraq's Saddam Hussein, may need to be convinced the use of force is more than an empty threat. Meanwhile, the mediating, peacekeeping missions of the United Nations must not be pushed into the background as dissension rumbles in the Security Council.
A world system for resolving conflict is needed more than ever as the cold-war years recede. Cooperation for the good of mankind must supercede rekindled nationalism. As with global economics, it's not a distant ideal. It's a pragmatic necessity.