Top Stories from the Editorial/Opinion pages of the International
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
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
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