Where we have been - and where we will go

Independent Decade
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The volume of foreign

exchange traded in London has quadrupled from $115 billion each day in 1986 to $464 billion today. It has expanded much more rapidly than world trade, which has grown from $2,090 billion to $5,200 billion. As deregulation and liberalisation have become the new orthodoxy, financial markets have exploded around the world. London has been a beneficiary of that process, as the world's premier currency exchange. But the EU is planning a single currency, and Britain may not be part of it. Will the pound still exist in 2006?

There were twelve members of the European Community ten years ago. Now it is called the European Union and has 15 members. Ten years from now, it will probably have grown to include Cyprus, Malta, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic and, quite possibly, Slovakia and Slovenia. We could be part of a 20-state megalith, stretching from the Atlantic to the Carpathians with nearly 450 million citizens. But depending on political events in Britain, it is conceivable that the EU may have lost a member state by then. In ten years time, will we still be members?

The world was full of nuclear weapons ten years ago. Cruise missiles had been recently deployed in Europe, and disarmament was a big issue. Since then agreements between Washington and Moscow have removed short- range and medium range weapons, and cut long range weapons to a fraction of their levels at the height of the Cold War. Nuclear war in Europe seems unthinkable. But other nations have moved ahead with plans to acquire nuclear weapons, notably in the Middle East. In ten years' time, will there be no nuclear weapons - or new nuclear powers?

There were two superpowers in 1986: the United States of America, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The latter has gone; the former is now the sole superpower. But the US is finding it hard to get to grips with life after the Cold War, and to define its new role. Some in the US want the country to retrench, and get on with its own problems. The cost of military strength is rising exponentially. Russia is regrouping. And other countries, like China, are gaining in influence and military power. Will America still be the sole superpower in ten years' time?

There were 4.9 billion people in the world ten years ago. Now, there are about 5.8 billion. Of that, 3.5 billion live in Asia. The population of China alone rose from 1.1 billion to 1.2 billion, that of India from 0.8 billion to 1 billion. But the fastest rate of change is in Africa, which will go from 0.5 billion a decade ago to a billion in 2006. Europe accounts for 0.7 billion people, and that will barely change between now and 2006. By 2006, it is estimated that there will be 6.7 billion people in the world.

There were two Germanies ten years ago: the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the Federal German Republic (West Germany). Some people (notably Margaret Thatcher) preferred it that way. But now there is one, the biggest state in the European Union. Helmut Kohl was Chancellor in 1986; he still is, a man who sees his country's future as a member of the European Union. It is economically powerful, but politically weak, and struggling to come to terms with unity. In the next ten years, will the new Germany emerge as the dominant state in Europe?

There were 41 major conflicts underway 10 years ago. That represented a steady increase in the number of wars since 1800. But we had reached the top of the gradient, both in terms of the numbers of wars, and their potential destructiveness. In the last decade, for the first time since Napoleon, we have been going downhill. Now, there are 30 major conflicts underway, with warfare increasingly a matter of local strife - however bloody that may be. But peace is still elusive in Bosnia, in the Middle East, in Northern Ireland. Will we go back to war?

In 1986 the paramount leader of China was Deng Xiaoping, aged 82. In 1996, the paramount leader of China is Deng Xiaoping aged 92. Some things don't change. But many things in China have changed in the last ten years. The prosperity and freedoms of urban Chinese (in all things but politics) have grown hugely. More is likely to change in near future. President Jiang Zemin is positioned to take over power when Deng dies; but the memory of Tiannanmen Square, when democracy was crushed just seven years ago, is still vivid. Can China change peacefully?

The cost of a transatlantic telephone call has halved in ten years, from pounds 3 to pounds 1.48 for a five minute phone call from the UK to the US. Communication has transformed the world in a decade. In 1986 there were 410 million telephone lines in the world; now there are 690 million. New technology keeps the momentum up: in 1986 there were 700,000 mobile phones in the world; now there are 87 million. Ten years ago there were 2,308 connections to the Internet; in 1996 there are 13 million, and growing. How many Internet

connections in 2006?

There were 159 UN members in 1986. Since then, the number has skyrocketed: there were 185 UN members as of February 1996. Some are old countries that have joined the UN; most are new nations emerging from the break-up of multinational states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Eritrea, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have all emerged (or re-emerged) in the last decade. Will nationalism create more new nations out of old?