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DUTCH JOURNALIST Mara Hvistendahl comes to the conclusion in her book Unnatural Selection that mankind today is missing 160 million women. Most of these missing females are not victims of neglect. Choosing boys over girls was a conscious choice that deprived girls of their right to life in their mothers' wombs. They were selected out of existence by ultrasound technology and abortion.

I am talking mainly about the developing countries of Asia, but they are not the only ones. In many societies, sons are the guarantors of a higher social status, whereby not necessarily among poor people. In India, as Ms. Hvistendahl writes, it was families of well-educated city-dwellers who initially gave preference to boys. Developed countries regarded this gender selection with approval - after all, the fewer the women, the smaller the population in those very places where its growth is so alarming.

THE CURRENT ECONOMIC DOWNTURN, like others before it, has shattered many dreams. But this is the first to have devastated so many people at once, regardless of class or social status - from pauper to prince. Thanks, globalization.

Well, globalization is not entirely to blame. A crisis like the present one has never befallen such an affluent society, one that has become accustomed to prosperity and opportunities on a mass scale.

Despite the tensions of the Cold War (or possibly thanks to them), the decades of postwar stability generated an unprecedented surge in technology and consumption. Ordinary Europeans and Americans had been breathing the illusory air of the "end of history" long before Francis Fukuyama made his famous prophecy.

The industrial age unwittingly gave birth to its own gravedigger in the form of a bloated, top-heavy financial and banking sector whose loans were crucial to sustain the manufacturing and consumption boom. In the early stages of the current downturn, some noted economists claimed that it heralded a war pitting corporations against banks. Guided by the inertia of the status quo, the elites sided with the banks, pumping them with money to prop them up. But it was not long before the specter of a new wave of instability began to loom over the global economy.

The world's population will reach 7 billion by October 31, 2011. Though the UN and other international institutions will in various ways hail the development, it is an open secret that the population growth constantly bothers members of the global elite. David Rockefeller eloquently summarized their fears when he said: “The negative impact of population growth on all of our planetary ecosystems is becoming appallingly evident”. The grim global picture may not be taken at face value since consequences can be  dire if action proceeds on its basis.

The Irrational Mankind

Population reports project that there are going to be 7 billion of us on this planet by October 31, 2011. No doubt, international institutions – from the UN to lightweights – will be dishing out nicely worded statements on the occasion, but it takes no effort to sense the undercurrent of displeasure constantly rising among a large fraction of world's political elite. Clearly, many of the players in this league are convinced that the proportions of the global community with which they have no tendency to identify have exceeded a kind of limits, and some would not even credit the majority of its members with being, in the full sense, humans.

ON MAY 17, Henry Kissinger's latest book On China reached the American bookshops. This is a book about China but the panoramic thinking of the "last of the Mohicans" of international politics extended beyond China, a starting point for the man whose vast experience and an absolute relevance of whose ideas about what is going on in the world leaves one duly impressed.

Those who talk to him invariably say that his skill to draw on historical lessons when talking about current developments dwarfs many of the modernist models and theories: he laments that "contemporary politicians have very little sense of history. For them the Vietnam war is unimaginably far behind us, the Korean war has no relevance anymore, even though that conflict is very far from over and at any minute has the capability of going from cold to hot."

In an interview which can be described as a preview of his latest book he answered the question of what he thought about President Obama's gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan with what he had told President Nixon about American pullout from Vietnam: "I wrote a memorandum to Nixon which said that in the beginning of the withdrawal it will be like salted peanuts; the more you eat, the more you want... once you start a drawdown, the road from there is inexorable. I never found an answer when Le Due Tho was taunting me in the negotiations that if you could not handle Vietnam with half-a-million people, what makes you think you can end it with progressively fewer?... We will find the same challenge in Afghanistan."

One of the paradoxes we are witnessing these days is that financial embarrassments hit the world's richest countries. The US Administration has no money for social security payments, while Brussels struggles to mobilize sufficient funds to keep its debt-ridden economies – Greece and Portugal – afloat and faces the prospects of bailing out Italy. Still, Obama has difficulty convincing the Republicans to authorize massive money-printing and to up the debt ceiling, and Brussels will hardly be able to arm-twist Berlin and Paris into acting as donors again, this time – in the interests of Italy, the third-largest European economy whose sovereign debt has swelled to the proportions of 120% of national GDP.

A Western journalist boorishly asked Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, former head of Russia's Kalmykia and acting president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) who was giving a press conference in the wake of a tour of Libya, whether he had asked for NATO permit to cross into the country. Asking the media man if parents or anyone else had taught him the ill manners would have been a legitimate, though undiplomatic response, but Ilyumzhinov chose to reply with his ordinary politeness and simply explained that FIDE president had no reasons to notify NATO or any other group of his travel plans. Skipping the portion of the event that could spiral into debates, Ilyumzhinov conveyed the clear message that the Libyan leadership was open to immediate talks with NATO and the Benghazi rebels.

IN RESPONSE to my lamenting about how difficult it is to choose a topic for an article at New Year, a historian I know said with a shrewd wink: "Write about New Year 'in reverse.'" Anticipating my bewilderment, he went on to say that he has long used this kind of exercise; he chooses a recent date and, reading it in reverse, tries to reinstate what was happening in world history at that distant time.

I found the suggestion intriguing; indeed, why not picture what was going on at New Year "in reverse," in other words in 1102 A.D.

That year King Henry I became embroiled in a fierce confrontation with the barons in England. Henry did not have any chance of ascending to the throne. On his death bed, his father did not bequeath him any of his dominions, either in Normandy, or in England, but left him only a round sum of five thousand pounds. All the land went to his brothers. Nevertheless, Henry made advantageous use of the money he inherited by buying the Cotentin Peninsula and Avranches in northwestern France from his brothers. In this way, he became a duke and gained an immediate advantage in the political struggle.

The ongoing crisis of global governance naturally turnes the spotlight on the role and potential of the UN. The collapse of the bipolar system, the unipolar world inability, the mounting pressure of global challenges, the lingering financial crisis altogether created a climate of heightened expectations around the UN. While broad consensus exists on the need for the reform - controversy persists virtually over the reform’s every practical aspect.

AMID THE CRISIS OF GLOBAL GOVERNANCE the UN invites new approaches to its role and potential. In fact, collapse of the bipolar system, the obvious inadequacy of the unipolar world and the financial and economic crisis heated up the hopes and expectations pinned on the UN reform. It has been generally agreed that the UN should be reformed yet there is no agreement on how to proceed.

The range of opinions is impressive: from skeptical to obviously enthusiastic. What else if not the UN? So far, however, its future mission remains vague.

The majority is convinced that the UN should pass decisions related to global challenges such as hunger, climate change, WMD, human rights violations, etc and act upon them.

The sustainable development issue and the financial and economic turmoil, however, create contexts which shed a different light on what the UN can and should do. The recent crisis, for example, created a fast changing environment in which countries had to move equally fast to set up a compact group able to adequately respond to the emerging challenges. The UN, however, failed to come up with impressive recommendations on how to reform the world financial and economic system.