|United Nations University - Work in Progress Newsletter - Volume 13, Number 1, 1990|
Contrary to some predictions that humankind is approaching the end of history - as we move into the last decade of the last century of this millennium - the interaction of a number of powerful forces is pushing our planet towards a post-technocratic, post-industrial civilization which could herald a new and exciting era.
History's next chapter is being shaped by many encouraging events, including: the new detente and the concession by the military superpowers of the futility of the arms race; the startling new political dynamics in Europe; the emergence of new economies; the collapse of many authoritarian regimes; the potential of technological advances for coping with the new dimensions of chronic problems; and the increasing interchange of cultures and ethnicities. All of these ongoing processes hold out hope of human societies aspiring to higher standards of living, both morally and materially.
But at the same time, there are some distressing counterparts to these hopeful trends. The global population is growing by millions each month; by the latest UN estimate, the world will have an additional one billion new inhabitants by the year 2000 And always, the fastest growth rate is in the-world's poorest and hungriest places. Concurrently, economic imbalances continue to widen the gap between the North and the South. Ethnic, cultural, religious and ideological conflicts are degenerating into bloody violence in developed and developing countries alike. Industrial progress is not yet reconciled with global ecology; and technology is exacerbating the inequality in world wealth between the one billion "haves" and the four billion "have-nots." In the face of all this, international organizations are showing their fatigue in trying to cope with rapid global changes.
Thus, in spite of the spring breezes boosting Europe's optimism, there may be ultimately no really final victory to celebrate, beyond the fall of some temporary political and ideological walls. Humankind, it appears, is heading neither for an Eden nor a Shangri-La. Rather, we are entering an era, at once frightening and promising, in which all peoples the world over are being challenged to discover better ways to live more closely together, in harmony with nature, and sharing responsibilities for managing global changes.
This ebb and flow of global counterforces are placing particularly taxing demands on the international intellectual community. For the United Nations University, this is particularly evident among those scholars and scientists involved in its research agenda for the 1990s. The menu of new topics for research being offered them challenges their different scientific approaches, schools of thought, and cultural backgrounds.
The current political and economic trends in Europe lead back to a cluster of fundamental questions about the role of the state in society. This is stimulating the search for concepts and forms of governance suitable not only for advanced nations, but also for emerging states. Questions are also being raised about governance at the international level. For example, what is an appropriate framework for multilateral relations and collective responsibilities for the global commons - those realms of the air, the land and the sea shared by all humankind.
Another cluster of problems on the 1990 agenda embraces the role and directions of science and technology, which have become key determinants of affluence or poverty in our world. Throughout history, the acquisition of land, labour, and natural resources was typically achieved through military conquest or migration, and military force was used to ensure dominance. In recent decades, the focus of dominance has shifted to the acquisition and control of new knowledge as a means of controlling land, labour and natural resources. Thus, science and technology are now frequently becoming the major battlefields in a new form of cold war.
Another vital challenge to scholarship in the decade ahead is the daily welfare of a burgeoning global population. The human community is growing at a faster rate than previously expected - and mostly in the poorest regions of the world. International migrations, "diasporas," and resultant urban concentrations are ascendant trends with dramatic impact on human welfare, political stability and international relations. As a consequence, modern civilization is being challenged to find better ways to cope with basic social needs, particularly in large urban settings.
Perhaps the crucial turning point for civilization in our time will be the reconciliation of industrial development with nature. Economic progress based on two centuries of uncontrolled industrial production with little or no heed to the finiteness of natural resources is reaching the limits of growth.
To recycle the immense industrial build-up and adjust it to the requirements of sustainable development is an enormous task - but it is increasingly within reach of the powerful means being made available by advances in modern science and technology. This demands the collaboration of scientists, scholars, policy-makers, artists, philosophers, and entrepreneurs the world over.
As part of this collaboration, WORK IN PROGRESS will seek to promote broad ranging, co-operative intellectual interchange to highlight the work of the international community of scholars of the UNU. It, therefore, aims (1) to help improve understanding of new trends, and explore the linkages between events; (2) to anticipate what lies over the horizon; and (3) to discuss innovative approaches and alternative solutions to global problems. WORK IN PROGRESS thus will be a forum to reflect the thinking of scholars involved, as well as interested, in UNU research.
This edition of WORK IN PROGRESS focuses particularly on some of the dramatic events of the past year, in Eastern and Central Europe and throughout the world. It attempts to sample some of the thinking presently going on at the UNU about the shaping of our world might be taking as we approach the close of the 20th century. Also included are the ideas of some observers who, while not formally linked to a UNU project, are kindred intellectual spririts - helping to give broader meaning to the Charter definition of the University as an "international community of scholars." - Editor
Our apologies to readers for the missing Vol. 12, Nos. 2 and 3.
Unfortunately, a reduced staff made it difficult to publish on time and still
maintain quality. Some of our difficulties, have been overcome, and we hope to
keep to schedule from now on. We ask for your