Top Stories from the Editorial/Opinion pages of the International Herald Tribune, 
Friday, July 11, 1997 

Mars Mission Demonstrates Who Has Power on Earth


By Barry Buzan and Gerald Segal International Herald Tribune 
LONDON - Why does it matter that a vehicle made on Earth can be made to trundle around on Mars? Most answers either wax lyrical about uplifting the human spirit or try to persuade us that there are many spin-offs from the technology devised for such missions. These explanations are partially correct, but they are far from the whole story. Going to Mars also tells us a great deal about where we stand at the end of the millennium. 

 This moment is not just about the ticking of the clock. It is about filling the planet, for the first time in human existence, and about beginning to look further afield. We should all be awed that it is in our lifetime that humans began exploring other planets. 

 This exploration, like that of other continents in earlier ages, reveals a great deal about where power lies and who has the confidence to use it. 

Historians still marvel that the great Chinese civilizations never ''discovered'' America, while the less grand but more inventive and ambitious Europeans ''discovered'' distant places and planted great empires. The triumph of Western science and notions of progress will continue to shape the 21st century long after European empires have died. 

 Hence the importance, in terms of the contemporary balance of power, of the fact that an American-made buggy is roving around Mars. Its landing on the Fourth of July - U.S. Independence Day - tells us who is the world's greatest power. Only the United States has the scientific and engineering power to undertake such an operation. It is a beacon of American dominance. The Mars mission also demonstrates which power is sufficiently confident in progress that it can raise its sights beyond our planet. 

 Consider the contrast with other putative great powers. The Mir space station is an equally potent symbol of a faded Russian power. Mir stays manned only because the United States sees a purpose in propping up Russia's former prowess and is keen to integrate Russian scientists into Western projects. 

 Europeans contribute to the scientific and engineering success of the Mars Pathfinder project, but they are bit players. Europe's Ariane rocket program is a commercial success, but its complexity and innovation are far less than that required for the Mars mission. European astronauts go up in U.S. space shuttles, but there is little prospect of the reverse taking place. 

 Even China has trouble getting its commercial space program to work. The best and the brightest of Chinese scientists study in the United States - and over 90 percent do not return. China's political system and society are still too inimical to the free thought and iconoclasm that make for good science. 

 Although aspects of scientific success suggest there is an increasingly globalized international community, cutting-edge science is still primarily an advantage of the Atlantic world. Genetic engineering, biotechnology and space research may all need state support, but success also requires support for a liberal, enquiring and skeptical mind. 

 The triumph of the Mars mission, the inherent triumph of Western ideas and the explicit triumph of the United States also say something about where future power will lie. In an increasingly postindustrial world, progress will come from an innovative mind. Aspiring rival powers know that unless the next Mars buggy has a Chinese, Russian or European flag, they will not be a match for America's winning combination of science, technology and self-belief. 

 

Mr. Buzan is a professor of international studies at the University of Westminster and Mr. Segal is a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Their book, ''Anticipating the Future,'' will be published later this year. They contributed this comment to the Herald Tribune.