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Former world leaders play prognosticators at Watson event

Contributing Writer
Thursday, April 15, 2010

On Wednesday night, a panel of three former world leaders confronted a challenging task — “to present in 10 minutes what will happen to the world,” in the words of panelist Romano Prodi, former Italian prime minister and professor-at-large at the Watson Institute for International Studies.

The forum “The World in 2030: Tomorrow’s Scenarios, Today’s Responsibilities” featured Prodi; Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile and professor-at-large at the Watson Institute; and Alfred Gusenbauer, former chancellor of Austria and a visiting professor at the Watson Institute.

The panelists — whom Michael Kennedy, director of the Watson Institute, introduced as the “awesome threesome” — tackled a series of divergent subjects with a focus on trends of globalization before a large and diverse audience in MacMillan 117. The topics the speakers discussed included immigration, the need for reformed international institutions, the possibility of an international currency and the current state of the world economy.

The three world leaders built on and refuted each other’s points between shared chuckles.
They frequently compared the current state of global affairs to the World War II era. “I’m enthusiastic about dealing with these challenges, because I think it’s true that we have to create a new world today. The only difference with 1945 is that we want to create this world without a world war,” Gusenbauer said. “A new major war would lead to the extermination of mankind.”

“It is so much easier to draft the charter of the United Nations,” Lagos said, “when you have no United Nations at all.”

“How are we going to create a new world for these new scenarios when you already have an existing world?” he asked, arguing that the reformation of institutions will be a difficult challenge.

“I think the solution for the world is the Europeanization of the world,” Gusenbauer said, because the European Union promotes a smaller-scale model of open trade, free movement of people and financial support for member states.

The speakers also addressed concerns related to sustainability during the forum. “Today we worry about emissions. Tomorrow we will worry about how much water is available for human beings in the planet,” Lagos said.

“Sometimes, or very often, it’s not important to have an agreement on a topic globally,” Gusenbauer said, “because you might not be able to reach it. Sometimes it’s more important to start processes that lead to a certain change.”

“We hoped for world peace every year, for 40 years,” Prodi said. “You have to find an agreement for the Middle East in a short time, because otherwise this will bring you unbearable consequences.”

“Now, we can see most of the elements that are going to shape the future. You could say, even, that the future is now,” Lagos said. But there are always “unforeseen” events, he said, referring to the economic crisis.

“We are not out of the economic crisis … and the optimism that is dispersing now is too much,” Prodi said. “In 10 years, we can have two billion new consumers. This is the only way out without inflation or without a war.”

With careful gestures, Prodi outlined economic and demographic trends to illustrate points including China’s increased prominence and the role of immigration.

“Five percent of the total population will migrate from one country to another,” Prodi said.
“No kids, no immigration, no future,” Gusenbauer said.

Following a question posed at the event’s end by Begum Ersan ’13 on the cultural conflicts produced by immigration, Gusenbauer said that “integration is a very, very challenging issue, especially with populations that, at least for a certain time, are not accustomed to migration.”

Kumud Ghimire ’13 considered the panelists’ treatment of immigration “very biased” and based on a “Western notion of the effects of migration.”

The three speakers and Kennedy emphasized the importance of universities in this process of change. “We can’t simply declare the future unknowable and rest comfortable in tradition, especially in a university,” Kennedy said.

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