Now when I am getting on in age (well, I am only 66), I sometimes find it educational for myself to reflect on what has happened in my own lifetime. What was to be expected and what took me by surprise?

I grew up in Norway at the height of the Cold War, a western-created abstract concept more than a reality. The ‘war’ between the West and the Soviet Union, and later also China and other members of the Non-aligned Movement, was a struggle for economic and political power and leadership, less about moral and ethical issues, democracy and human rights. The West got away with it, and now most people believe the world has become a better place. Perhaps it has, in many ways, but certainly not in all, especially not if one is at the bottom of the ladder in countries outside the West itself, perhaps even USA.

Inequality has grown tremendously in my life-time, especially the most recent decades, after equality before that had improved much in welfare states and elsewhere. But we have better access to information than before; we know more about each other through phones and the Internet, but that was to be expected.

And the main thing: who would have guessed that the Soviet Union would collapse? And who would have been able to foresee reunification of the two Germanys. Nobody, well, in hindsight, maybe some Germans did, in what was then known as Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD), and perhaps a few in Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR).

I remember that when my cousin, as a young teenager, two years my senior said she was certain that Germany would rise up again, my father thought such talk was just from a young woman who, even in Norway in those days, per definition had little understanding of politics. Now, it turns out that she was right, and my Realpolitik father was wrong, yes, about Germany and, indeed, about women understanding politics and getting into political leadership posts, too. Soon, USA may have its first president, and the United Nations may have a woman at the helm, too. Pakistani, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have all had women in the most powerful posts.

When the Soviet Union fell, it had to do more with poor international economic success for the Soviet Union rather than political failure. It was outmanoeuvred by the ruthless Western capitalist system, which had created more material wealth than the communist system – although that may have had to do with the international and local circumstances at the time, not because capitalism is objectively superior. In any case, it did happen, and it happened very fast when glasnost and perestroika let the taboos go.

Who would have expected the Warsaw Pact to be dissolved as soon as in 1991? And who would then not have expected NATO (now with 28 member states) to be dissolved, too, as it should have been? Instead, NATO has become more aggressive, also operating outside its 1947 defence mandate and geographical area of Western Europe and North America. Unfortunately, NATO is becoming a monster that in the longer run may be a threat to world peace, indeed if the members really will increase their military spending to two percent of their GDP, as NATO recommends. NATO has no business operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Arab World, or anywhere else outside its own lands.

After the end of the Soviet Union, things began well, with Russia having good dialogue with the West, and the former Soviet Republics forming the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), not quite unlike what Britain did after the end of the colonial era. But now, 25 years hence, the West has formulated confrontational policies towards Russia, including major sanctions due to Russia’s formal expansion in its southern sphere of interest; and the West keeps up its propaganda of including more former Soviet Republics into its sphere of interest, inviting future new members of NATO and the European Union (EU). True, Russia could have acted differently, too. But I mostly blame the West for the sad state of affairs.

There is rearmament in our world today, not disarmament, even including in the field of nuclear weapons. The world’s military budgets are 600 times higher than what the whole of the United Nations have for peaceful cooperation and development, says the International Peace Bureau (IPB) in Geneva. And there are blurred lines between development, humanitarian and military activities.

I feel less optimism for world peace now than when I was a young secondary school and university student. I also find that there is lack of major peace organisations in most countries, especially in developing countries. All over the world, I would expect young people to engage themselves against militarisation in general, indeed against storage and further development of weapons of mass destruction. In the West, many youngsters, who soon become politicians in posts of responsibility, seem to accept this thinking, without deeper reflection.

When more than 125 million people live in desperate poverty, and more than 60 million of them are uprooted and fleeing, then every sane person in our world should be sad and worried – based on religious belief or humanistic conviction, well, just common sense of concern for one’s neighbour. In Pakistan, millions of children are out-of-school. Only ten percent of the world’s military budgets would go far towards reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, set for 2030.

Idealism doesn’t always have to be realistic, only right, and it should be intrinsic in all young people’s minds. No, I don’t say that all young people have become as selfish as my older generation have become, too. But I say that too many think about themselves first and only, about own education, materialism, new PCs, the latest iPhones, and more, rather than education and equality for all.

At the same time, we have nobody else to rely on for change and progress than the young people. And then I should ask, too, what did we who are older now do wrong and misguided many of the young people? We had an overoptimistic belief in technology and technocratic solutions, with less emphasis on moral and ethical foundations. Instead of saying less religion, we should have said more of it, not as a political tool, but as the basis for doing what is good and right, on which we could build better political ideologies and praxis.

In many social fields, though, I believe changes happened faster in my lifetime than I had thought when I was young. I would have had difficulties foreseeing an African-American as president in USA. Well, as for genes and upbringing, Barrack Obama is as much European-American as he is African-American. When Kofi Annan was mentioned as a candidate for Secretary General of the United Nations in 1996, I thought it would be impossible, and that time I even lived in East Africa myself. I also thought his background from within the UN in human resources and administration, plus in peacekeeping, was also not quite the right background to take on the world’s heaviest political mantel. I was wrong. He did win the selection/election and he turned out to be one of the best chiefs the UN has ever had from 1997-2006.

Next year, we will probably see a woman, maybe Helen Clark, former Prime Minister from New Zealand. No, I don’t think anyone from Eastern Europe is likely to win, although it is said to be their turn. The Eastern European politicians do not yet have quite enough of the democratic thinking and experience needed to win. But I could be wrong.

I have already mentioned that women have come into top political positions, and Hillary Clinton said just the other day that as USA’s next president half of her cabinet would be made up of women. They are late as compared to Pakistan!

The West’s moral and economic leadership is declining, and the West is contributing to speeding up by its own refugee and immigration policies; it is an upper-class type of thinking: we don’t dislike you, but stay away from our castles. Other continents may take on much of the West’s values, and they may challenge the West for not living up to its own said ideals. That I did not foresee when I was young, but I don’t fear if others will lead either – as we were taught to do that time.

I regret that I am not going to be around in fifty years from now, because, after all, I believe the world will be better then. In environmental fields, we have done quite well in my time, as was to be expected.

But my generation failed in so many other fields and the young people of today are a ‘semi-lost generation’, especially in military fields and unequal global and national development; it is their children who will have to correct it.

Let us hope that nobody has by ignorance or craziness has pushed the nuclear button. No, I don’t believe that terrorism is a real threat to civilisation and democracy. If the powerful are inclusive and open, there will be few who want to attack us in war or terrorism. I think we have made it more a type of mirage in our minds, and by own default made it grows, similar to the way we made the Cold War to be a the threat we focused so much of our energy on – when we must always remember to build peace and development for all God’s children everywhere.

 The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com