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Stanford Report, October 22, 2003

Scholars weigh in on implications of U.S. power at Alumni Homecoming event

One panelist asserts American tolerence is a 'threat to other cultures'; another calls globalization a double-edged sword


Globalization was supposed to be a kind of Manifest Destiny -- without God's blessing, said political scientist David Brady, as he launched a faculty panel on the implications of U.S. power last Friday morning by paraphrasing Robert Wright, author of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.

"America, with all its power, was to be the driving force. The collapse of the Soviet Union was supposed to have yielded an era where free markets, liberty and democracy would make for more wealth, less inequality and better climates."

Law and business Professor Joseph Grundfest, left, and biological sciences Professor Stephen Schneider spoke Friday at a Reunion Homecoming Roundtable Forum titled “"Power of Influence, Influence of Power."” Schneider called global warming the “"shadow" of globalization, a problem the world must collectively solve. Photo: L.A. Cicero

"What happened?" Brady, the panel's moderator, asked faculty members gathered for the President's Roundtable Forum, "Power of Influence; Influence of Power," a 90-minute discussion about the ethical, moral and environmental implications of U.S. military, economic and political power. More than 1,000 alumni and guests attended the event at Memorial Auditorium as part of Reunion Homecoming Weekend, which brought 7,800 alumni and friends to campus Oct. 16-19.

Globalization has been a double-edged sword that has created interdependency along with wealth, said panelist Judith Goldstein, professor of political science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). "We didn't understand that our welfare was going to be so intrinsically tied up with the welfare of others," she said. And while there are more democracies in the world than there were 10 years ago, "democracies did not necessarily lead to policies we're proud of," she said. Globalization has brought things to people in uneven ways, without the safety nets that took generations to evolve in the United States, she said. "The U.S. has brought democracy, but it hasn't brought social welfare."

Part of the problem is that tolerance and assimilation, two values that create a common thread among Americans, are profoundly threatening in other parts of the world, said Joseph Grundfest, professor of law and business and a senior fellow at SIEPR. "We cannot be as tolerant a people as we are without being a threat to other cultures."

Assistant Professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, law, discussed the flaws in the assumptions underpinning the United Nations, including that the UN Security Council could keep the peace and that making something illegal would be a deterrent to governments. There also was an assumption that the major threat to the world community would come from conflict between nation-states, he said.

The UN Security Council is hamstrung by the veto requirement, so it sometimes fails to act as it should, he said. Additionally, nation-states face domestic political constraints that make them fail to live up to their responsibilities under international law, he said.

Cuellar read from a declassified State Department memo cautioning that calling the killing in Rwanda "genocide" might commit the United States to "actually doing something." It is hard to hold even our own government accountable, because information pertaining to national security and foreign policy is secret, he noted. International law won't work very well to achieve its goals unless we see changes in domestic policies, he said.

Stephen Schneider, professor of biological sciences and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for International Studies, called global warming the "shadow" of globalization -- a problem the world must work collectively to solve, yet must act on locally.

Discussion of global warming is ultimately more a value judgment about how we take risks than it is about science, he said. Compounding the problem is the way that the U.S. media delivers information, he said. Media use a bipartisan political reporting model, but in reporting science "there never are just two sides, there are multiple sides," he said.

"It's easy to see how some people are confused," Schneider said. "Three hundred scientists spend three years writing a report that has been through three rounds of peer review and, in order to be balanced, you go find the six guys funded by OPEC and the fossil fuel industry to say it ain't so."

Schneider also criticized the U.S. refusal to enter into the Kyoto Protocol on an unequal basis with the developing world. "They want to level the playing field, but we forget we've had a 100-year head start," he said. Good governance will require getting people to recognize the importance of taking responsibility for our wastes and that we are in a preferential position, he said.

"It's not all negative," he noted. "Endangered species have come back, we've banned DDT. All of that happened in a capitalist system, in a market system, because we valued those side effects."