The Burden of Responsibility
No. 1 2002 December

Helmut Schmidt — Chancellor of West Germany, 1974-1982. The
article is based on a speech he gave at the InterAction Council in
Berlin in June 2002.

Helmut Schmidt

Let us imagine that some foreign terrorists abduct two fully
occupied wide-body passenger aircraft and crash them into the
banking center in Frankfurt and into the Parliament building in
Berlin, thereby killing a thousand people. What in such a case
would be the psychological and political reaction in the German
nation? Or if it happened in Paris or in London? Or in Tokyo or in
Beijing? Or in Moscow? Or in Cairo or Mecca or Islamabad? Or in
Lagos/Nigeria or in Rio de Janeiro? What in such case would be the
reactions in those nations? And what would the respective
governments do?

Once we try to imagine the impact of such a colossal crime on
any of our own nations and try to imagine the reactions of our own
governments, we will probably derive some understanding for the
American nation’s psychological and domestic political situation,
which obviously does at present dominate the American foreign

Clash of Civilizations

The strategies of the U.S. are criticized by quite a few (and I,
for one, am among the critics). But among my worries there is also
the concern that quite many people (and many Muslims in particular)
are blindly criticizing America and quite harshly. They are thereby
contributing to the possibility of a so-called clash of

One cannot exclude the possibility that such an impact might
cause a considerable negative change in the global political
situation. Obviously all governments concerned are aware of the
conceivable eventualities.

But the job of a “global tour d’horizon” ought not to
exclusively concentrate on the consequences of September 11,
however grave they may turn out to be. Instead, I will try to
sketch out some of the other present factors which, foreseeably,
will have a heavy bearing on global developments over the next one
or two decades.

At first there is the population explosion in Asia, Africa and
Latin America, which has no precedent in the 19th or any earlier
century. One hundred years ago we numbered one and a half billion
human beings; we have since quadrupled our numbers to more than 6
billion. And within a few decades we will reach 9 billion. Already
today, there is only one quarter of the space left, that had been
available per person a hundred years ago. The space per person will
shrink further and the growing density of population in those three
continents will make the maintenance of social order, justice and
peace ever more difficult.

Global warming will continue. The key factor of our burning
coal, petrol and gas is indisputable; but as yet it is not
calculable quantity-wise. Our globe has seen ice-periods and warm
periods for millions of years. We do not as yet have reliable
forecasts as to the climatic and physical living conditions in
various parts of the globe, but we do know that they will change.
We do know, for example, that the level of the oceans will rise and
will force millions of humans to move who today live only a few
feet above sea levels.

Population explosion plus climatic changes and shrinking living
space on the Earth, will cause many more conflicts and wars – both
inside individual states and between states in Africa and Asia,
possibly also in Latin America. They will result in growing numbers
of people being killed and in growing pressure of migration. We
have been witnessing the gruesome examples in Ruanda, in Somalia
and in other African countries, in South-West Asia, also in the
Middle East. In almost all such conflicts ethnic and religious and
also ideological factors do and will play an instigating role.

Most of the attempts to quell these armed conflicts by military
intervention from the outside will at best have a temporary effect
– like the militarily underpinned Western protectorates on the
Balkan Peninsula – but they cannot of course eliminate the
underlying causes.

In regard of the underlying cause of birth rates that are too
high in global terms, one could theoretically dampen the population
explosion. But with the noteworthy exception of China and India,
most governments do not pay much attention to that. The same goes
for most spiritual leaders of the great religions of Islam,
Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism. The same is true, more or less,
of all official development aid (ODA), whether by donor states or
by the World Bank.

In regard of the underlying cause of global warming, we cannot
influence the physics of the Earth; but we can diminish our
additive human contribution to the foreseen greenhouse effect. In
this field, moreover, at present the perspectives are globally not
encouraging, due to the repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol by

A Ruthless Capitalist Ideology

A global tour d’horizon must of course take account of the
continuing ongoing so-called economic globalization. During the
last two decades the number of those human beings has almost
doubled, whose lives are, directly or indirectly, under strong
influence of the global markets – in the main due to the opening of
China and of almost 30 states which hitherto had been dominated by
the Soviet Union.

On top of that we are witnessing some major qualitative leaps.
Satellites, computers, television and the Internet have brought
about a globalization of instantaneous information (and also some
misinformation). This has led to the globalization of almost all
technologies. Most advanced scientific and technological know-how
nowadays is available all over the world. At the same time
instantaneous information plus a rather rapid process of financial
liberalization in many countries has led to a globalization of
financial markets, including of very short-term capital.

As a consequence of these three qualitative catalysts, a quickly
growing number of private enterprises and corporations in the
industries of banking, of information and of manufacturing, and
also in commerce have globalized their activities, including the
spreading of a rather ruthless and extremely greedy capitalist
ideology. This qualitative phenomenon is inviting the criticisms of
the anti-globalization movement and its transnational
non-governmental organizations.

When we ask ourselves: Who is winning under globalization and
who is losing?, the answer is threefold.

The winners so far are almost all of the highly developed
industrialized countries: the U.S., Canada, the European Union,
Japan and Australia.

Among the developing countries the winners are mainly those who
have been or still are being governed by economically enlightened
governments, but governed in a strictly authoritarian way. China is
the outstanding example, along with a few of the smaller
oil-exporting countries. One might as well point to the formerly
so-called four little tigers: Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and
South Korea.

The U.S., the European Union and Japan still today are very
egoistic sinners. They preach free trade but they never seem to
obey their own sermon, instead they are indulging as deeply as ever
before in protecting their own farmers, steel makers and so on. On
top of that many developing countries have been persuaded to open
their economies for foreign short-term credits and short-term
money, to liberalize their current account, thereby opening their
countries to all kinds of speculation from the outside and also
getting deeply into foreign indebtedness.

The South-East Asian credit and currency crisis more than five
years ago should have taught a lesson to the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Most of their rescue operations – from
Indonesia to Mexico, including even Russia! – have to a lesser
degree bailed out the recipient developing countries but to a
greater degree they have benefitted private Western financial
institutions, which thereby received the backlog of interest due
and dividends and got most of their money back.

There is a parallel between NATO and the IMF. Since the Soviet
threat has disappeared a decade ago, NATO is searching for a new
enemy. Likewise the IMF. Since the Bretton Woods System of fixed
parities between currencies was abandoned three decades ago, the
IMF has searched for a new mission, digressing deeply into the
socio-economic policies of sovereign states and into the field of
the World Bank as well.

It seems about time to redefine the tasks of the IMF (and for
that purpose it would be helpful if the 12 states of Euro-land
would bundle their shares and their voting rights in the IMF,
because the influence of the largest shareholder hitherto has been
far too big). The enormous current volume of transnational flows of
capital and of money, the wave of psychotic speculation, the
spreading of the ridiculous ideology of shareholder value plus the
manifold fraudulent manipulations to boost share prices, also the
mergermania in the fields of private financial institutions, all
that calls for better monitoring and regulation.

It might be a good idea to give the IMF the major mission to
develop a new concept for fair order and stability in the
globalized financial markets. Almost all of our states and
economies do need better and internationally compatible standards
for financial systems, for regulations and monitoring, and
compatible codes for banks, funds, insurances, etc. The IMF ought
not to be regarded as an ever ready lender of last resort all over
the globe. Instead its major role should be in monitoring, in
providing transparency and in stabilizing the globalized financial
markets. It is my impression that the present management of the IMF
is indeed moving in that direction.

The Dollar Is a Threat to Security

It is important to mention the fact that the two largest
economies are not in good financial shape. The U.S. is sucking in
foreign capital in the order of about $400 to $500 billion every
year; that is the net amount by which capital imports overshoot
American capital exports. Or in other words: The annual deficit in
the American current account steadily increases the foreign
indebtedness of the American economy. Or in yet other words: To the
order of $400 to $500 billion annually the impressive growth rates
of the American economy are financed by foreigners; this capital,
owned by foreigners, is not available for their domestic economy.
At present this situation is a great advantage for America; but it
implies some dangers, that is a threat to future dollar exchange
rates and thereby to stable global currency relations and to the
stability of all globalized financial markets.

The case of Japan is quite different. Japan is the greatest net
exporter of capital. But the Japanese banking system is in a shaky
situation. And the domestic debt of the government has reached such
a high volume that – if Japan was a European country – Japan could
not be admitted to participation in the common European

In about three decades’ time China will have reached a share in
global trade that meets the order of magnitude of the share of
foreign trade of the European Union or of the U.S.A. By that time
we will have three world currencies: The American dollar, the Euro
and the Chinese yuan. There might then evolve a sort of an
triangular equilibrium. But for the time being the looming
volatility of the dollar does require attention. Both the American
and the Japanese governments are not only burdened with financial
responsibility vis-a-vis their own nation and economy but as well
vis-a-vis the global economy.

Regarding the World Bank and official development aid (O.D.A.)
as a whole, financial transfers alone will never overcome poverty
and misery in great parts of Africa, also in parts of Latin America
and Asia, except under two conditions: Only if the governments make
planned parenthood practicable. Otherwise the growth of population
in many places is outpacing the growth of the gross national

The other condition is the reduction of military expenditure. In
many poor developing countries, the military’s share of GNP is six,
seven or even ten times greater than the total amount of O.D.A.
that the country does receive. And in quite a few cases parts of
the received development aid are only a disguise for the financing
of the purchase of weapons from the donor country. There still is a
lot of idealism on the side of many donor countries but also a lot
of interference and selfish meddling.

All over the globe, including the developing countries, the
emphasis of most governments on strong military capabilities is
still unchanged, despite the end of the Cold War. Arms trade and
traffic, the proliferation of conventional means of warfare,
particularly of small firearms all over the globe, is going on as
ever before. It is today easier than ever for organized terrorism
and for organized crime to get hold of almost any kind of

The Dangers of War

It is true that we have seen reductions of forces and weapons in
most parts of Europe and in Russia. Presidents George Bush and
Vladimir Putin have to some degree lived up to their obligations
under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which for three decades their
predecessors had neglected, by agreeing to dismantle (not to
destroy!) several thousands of their superfluous nuclear weapons.
This agreement is more of a psychological than of factual

But then the acute conflict in Kashmir reminds us of the fact
that both India and Pakistan do possess rockets with nuclear
warheads. One can only hope that outside mediation – possibly by
Moscow and Beijing or by Washington – will help to dampen the
danger. And the fear!

The tensions across the Taiwan Strait recently appear to have
mellowed somewhat, due to prudence on either side. The East Timor
conflict appears to be solved for the time being. The danger of
North Korea provoking a war does appear to me to have been
overemphasized by Washington. Pyongyang does make threatening
gestures from time to time, but quite obviously this utterly poor
country has nothing to gain by war; the assistance by the Soviet
Union has ended and the assistance by China is not much more than

By the way: few people outside the U.S. accept the wisdom of the
phrase of an “axis of evil,” reaching from North Korea via Iran to
Iraq. The three of them have little in common and have almost no
connection between them.

The greatest dangers of war appear presently in the Middle East.
The conflict between Israel and her immediate neighbors in
Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, with terrorist activities on
all sides, has dangerously escalated in recent months. It can
eventually burst out into open warfare. Already for years it has
been fuelling anger and emotions in Israel and in many Arab
countries, particularly among the younger generations. They
understandably resent the Israelian forces of occupation on the
West Bank and in Gaza. And quite a few want to totally eliminate
the state of Israel.

Of course, Israel does rely on the backing of the U.S. The U.S.
has friendly relations with Israel and also with Saudi Arabia and
Egypt and some other Arab states. Therefore, and also due to the
American military and technological and financial leverage
Washington is in a unique position to mediate. But for decades
American policies in the Middle East have not been very consistent,
nor are they rigorous. The repetition of public threats against
Iraq in the American media and the quest for a removal of Saddam by
military force is not helpful either – except for the motivation of
Islamist extremists and terrorists.

It is noteworthy that the former war against Iraq, called Desert
Storm, had been triggered by Saddam’s attempt to conquer a
neighboring sovereign state, and that the war was authorized by a
valid decision of the UN Security Council. Also the war in
Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and their wilful Taliban-hosts is
based on a Security Council decision.

But, on the other hand, the military intervention in Kosovo by
NATO and the U.S.A. and the bombing of Belgrade was a clear
violation of the UN’s Charter. Such violation should not be
repeated. The UN Charter permits the use of military force against
another state in case of self-defense against attack – and
otherwise only and exclusively in case of a valid decision by the
Security Council.

Murder and other violent acts of terrorism for political
purposes have been with us for millennia. Terrorism has been
carried out by legitimate princes or by their opponents, by tyrants
and dictators, by guerillas and partisans, also by commanders of
regular troops, by occupational forces as well as by resistance
fighters against them, by revolutionaries and by suppressed
minorities. Presently we are witness to several transnational
terrorist activities across borders of sovereign states, from
Manhattan and Washington D.C. to the Middle East, from the Basque
region in Spain to Northern Ireland, also in India, in some African
regions and as well in Chechnya or on the Balkan Peninsula. We
Germans had to endure organized murderous terrorism,
transnationally assisted, from the early seventies onwards, over
almost two decades.

Most of all the various national, transnational and
international terrorist activities are differing in their
psychological and political origins. One therefore needs quite
different methods and means to fight terrorists, dependent on the
specific circumstances in each case. One can fight Al-Qaeda and the
Taliban in Afghanistan by military operations. But if, for
instance, one would detect clandestine Al-Qaeda pockets inside
other states, the governments of which are not successful in
eliminating it, you will be utterly reluctant to interfere from the
outside with military means or by warfare. One as well cannot fight
the IRA in London by military warfare against Northern Ireland.

I do know from my own experience that a government, which has to
fight murderous terrorists, must not lay open its plans, its
preparations and all of its current activities, because such
openness would offer better calculability to the terrorists and
thereby would be self-defeating. But, on the other hand, one has to
establish a high degree of confidence between oneself and those
whose active cooperation is indispensable.

Having said that I would add: The political and administrative
cooperation of the world powers — China and Russia, of almost all
the European states, of many states in Asia and in the Middle East
with America and its fight against Al-Qaeda is in the
worldinterest. But this so-called anti-terrorist coalition will not
be maintained for ever; it will dwindle the earlier the longer
America’s further plans remain unclear. Many people say: “September
11 has changed the world.” I don’t think this to be correct, but
obviously it has deeply changed the perspectives under which the
Americans do perceive the world outside. They had been told and did
believe their country to be the one and only superpower, but,
despite all their power, for the first time in their national
history they had to suffer from a violent attack on their own

The Unilateralism of a Great Power

During the Clinton administration the term “rogue states” had
become fashionable. Already then did a new defense agreement with
Japan and in 1998 the solemn declaration of a “New NATO” convey the
impression that people in Washington were eager to create
instruments for policing the globe. At that time one had to
consider the possibilities of a new Cold War, this time against
China, and as well of a geographic extension of the military
purpose of the formerly purely defensive Atlantic Alliance.

The visits which George W. Bush has paid to various European
capitals including Moscow were intended to assuage other nations’
concerns, all of Bush’s speeches were well done and also well
received. But speeches are one thing, the reality today is: America
is tending towards taking foreign political and strategic decisions

History tells us that unilateralism of a great power is by no
means a new phenomenon. It also is not new in America; the
isolationist Monroe Doctrine, which dominated America’s foreign
policy during the XIX century, has in a way been a forerunner. The
isolationist desire not be bothered by other states and by events
outside one’s borders is still strong today, in many quarters of
America, also in Congress. After World War I the nation rejected
the League of Nations which had been created in the main by Woodrow
Wilson, who believed in an attitude of liberal and solicitous
internationalism. By contrast this internationalism did prevail
after the end of World War II. We do thankfully remember the
creation of the U.N., the IMF, World Bank, development aid, the
Marshall Plan etc., altogether an all embracing, well-meaning and
relatively unselfish effort, aiming at a multilateral order of the

All these three basic trends, isolationism, internationalism and
unilateralism have always co-existed in America, sometimes one of
them, at other times another one did prevail. Most people in Asia,
Africa, Latin America and Europe would of course prefer American
internationalism or multilateralism. They will try to influence
America in that direction. My guess is that we will have to live
with a considerable degree of American unilateralism for quite a

If one looks at the engagement between the U.S.A. and NATO, on
the one hand, and Russia, on the other, it could appear as if
America thereby was extending its strategic influence into the
East. Together with new American military presence in some Central
Asian states it could irritate the Chinese leadership. Therefore
Vladimir Putin will have to pay cautious and friendly attention to
his Chinese neighbors. My impression is that Moscow understands its
recent agreements as a medium-term move to gain some strategic
alleviation and thereby increase the room for domestic changes. If
that assumption is correct neither China nor India or Pakistan need
to worry.

Over the longer run, I still do expect to see three world
powers: besides the U.S.A. also China and Russia. Perhaps in
approaching the middle of this century, India will join as No. 4
and possibly also Brazil. It is also conceivable that the European
Union by that time will have emerged as an operational entity and
thereby as a world power.

As regards China, the economic and technological progress over
the last twenty years is almost unbelievable. I first went to China
at the time of the horrible cultural revolution and if I compare my
impressions in the middle 1970s with what I see today, then the
achievements appear as almost incredible. If we consider the
dignified age of the Chinese civilization, about four millennia of
history, as well as China’s weakness and humiliations in the XIX
century and until the middle of the XX century, then the sudden
burst of vitality is phenomenal. Of course China does still have
enormous problems inside her borders. The government will have to
concentrate on them (I think any Japanese fear of China has little
rational legitimacy. Japan’s relations with China – and as well
with Korea and other Asian nations depend in the main on Japan

As regards Russia, her domestic economic and social problems,
inherited structural, constitutional and cultural problems are not
smaller than those of China. But the enormous territory will,
differing from China or India and others, prevent any
overpopulation. The modernization of Russia may take one or more
generations. It seems though that in recent years there is more
progress under way than ever during former decades. Today Russia’s
importance to the world is not so much a consequence of its
military and space and nuclear capabilities but more so of its long
borders in Europe and in Asia, its vast territory and of course the
hitherto unexploited riches of minerals and fossile fuel in

Islan and The West

When we were younger, some of us may have read Arnold Toynbee
(or even Oswald Spengler’s “Decline of the West”); rather recently
many of us will have noticed Samuel Huntington’s theses on the
“Clash of Civilizations.” But it seems to be a fact that only very,
very few leaders do know about a religion other than their own and
about other religiously molded cultures or civilizations. This is
at least true for Christians. I do not know about relations and
tensions between Buddhism and Confucianism, or between Hinduism and
Islam. But I do have understanding that there does exist a
considerable, dangerous gap of knowledge and of understanding
between Islam and the West as a whole (whether Western Christians
or just nominal Christians or Jews or non-believers).

Given this Western lack of knowledge in regard of the various
Islamic civilizations and their different histories, it is easy to
mistake the activities of some Islamic extremists to be typical for
the world religion of Islam. At least some important facts ought to
be understood.

First: The Koran and Islamic traditions do not distinguish
between religious authority and political authority. The same is
true of the Thora or the Old Testament, but in the course of more
than a milliennium Christians and also Jews have come to accept a
rather clear divide between the realm of the church or of the
synagogue and, on the other hand, the realm of the political
authority, be it formerly the hereditary emperor or king and
nowadays the elected government. By contrast, in many Islamic
countries such divide is not established as yet; Iran is the
outstanding example.

Second: Who is to blame in countries that do owe their borders
only to the chances of Western colonial conquest and do owe their
existence as a state not to a long history of evolution but only to
the fact that the colonial rule, two or three generations ago, was
either voluntarily abandoned or – in most cases – was forced to
leave by uprisings. That goes for Indonesia, for India or Pakistan,
for Bangladesh, and for most states with Islamic majorities or
considerable Islamic minorities.

Third: In many states of Arab Islamic populations there does
exist an Arab identity but hardly a national one. There are great
distinctions between an Islamic state of considerable historical
legitimacy (like, for example, Iran) and, on the other hand, a
state, which is the artificial creation of the victorious European
powers who after World War I divided the Ottoman empire between
themselves – Iraq is one of those.