Courtesy Reuters

"In Larger Freedom": Decision Time at the UN

OUR SHARED VULNERABILITY

Ask a New York investment banker who walks past Ground Zero every day on her way to work what today's biggest threat is. Then ask an illiterate 12-year-old orphan in Malawi who lost his parents to AIDS. You will get two very different answers. Invite an Indonesian fisherman mourning the loss of his entire family and the destruction of his village from the recent, devastating tsunami to tell you what he fears most. Then ask a villager in Darfur, stalked by murderous militias and fearful of bombing raids. Their answers, too, are likely to diverge.

Different perceptions of what is a threat are often the biggest obstacles to international cooperation. But I believe that in the twenty-first century they should not be allowed to lead the world's governments to pursue very different priorities or to work at cross-purposes. Today's threats are deeply interconnected, and they feed off of one another. The misery of people caught in unresolved civil conflicts or of populations mired in extreme poverty, for example, may increase their attraction to terrorism. The mass rape of women that occurs too often in today's conflicts makes the spread of HIV and AIDS all the more likely.

In fact, all of us are vulnerable to what we think of as dangers that threaten only other people. Millions more of sub-Saharan Africa's inhabitants would plunge below the poverty line if a nuclear terrorist attack against a financial center in the United States caused a massive downturn in the global economy. By the same token, millions of Americans could quickly become infected if, naturally or through malicious intent, a new disease were to break out in a country with poor health care and be carried across the world by unwitting air travelers before it was identified.

No nation can defend itself against these threats entirely on its own. Dealing with today's challenges -- from ensuring that deadly weapons do not fall into dangerous hands to combating global climate change, from

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