A Shared Moment of Trust
One night recently I was driving down a two lane highway at about 60 miles an hour. A car approached from the opposite direction at about the same speed. As we passed each other, I caught the other driver’s eye for only a second.
I wondered whether he might be thinking, as I was, how dependent we were on each other at that moment. I was relying on him not to fall asleep, not to be distracted by a cell phone conversation, not to cross over into my lane and bring my life suddenly to an end. And though we were strangers to each other, he relied upon me in just the same way.
Multiplied a million times over, I believe that is the way the world works. At some level we all depend upon one another to act in a way that avoids mutual destruction. Sometimes that dependence requires us simply to refrain from doing something — like crossing over the double yellow line. And sometimes it requires us to act cooperatively — as in the case of profound threats to our health or safety.
One familiar example of a serious problem that could not have been solved — or could not have been solved as promptly — without worldwide cooperation is the SARS epidemic. In 2003, SARS claimed 700 lives and threatened to spread around the world. The virus had to be quickly identified and controlled. That was too big an undertaking for any one country, but scientists from five nations were able — working together — to identify the virus in record time. Doctors around the world then brought the outbreak quickly under control.
Another area in which international cooperation is essential is terrorism. In the continuing struggle against this lethal threat, we cannot prevail without cooperation among the law enforcement agencies. intelligence services, and sometimes the military establishments of countries around the world. The daily news from Iraq and Afghanistan underscores just how much even America, the super power, needs such help.
Americans are a people who value their freedom to do what they want to do, when and how they want to do it. But we cannot escape the reality that in ways large and small, we live in an interdependent world. Only the unwise would say that an individual or a nation can go it alone.
Warren Christopher was U.S. Secretary of State from 1993 to 1997. As President Carter’s Deputy Secretary of State, he helped normalize relations with China, win ratification of the Panama Canal treaties, and gain release of the American hostages in Iran. A native of North Dakota, Christopher now lives near Los Angeles.