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Robert McNamara

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ROBERT McNAMARA has had four careers: Harvard professor, Ford Motor Company executive, secretary of defense, and president of the World Bank. But as he bounds up the curving staircase to his room at the River Club here, taking the steps two at a time, you might peg him for a fifth career - as athlete. Upstairs, as he turns his attention to the agenda for the 21st century, his mind proves equally athletic. He speaks with the rapid-fire vitality of a thinker seized by the subject and impelled by its urgency. Not surprisingly for a man with his background in defense and development issues, he singles out two central items for his agenda.

The first is the nuclear threat, which is the subject of his new book, ``Blundering into Disaster: Surviving the First Century of the Nuclear Age.''

``After all,'' he says, ``if we can't survive as a civilized world, then there's no time to work on any other subject.''

The other item he describes as ``the population problem - not as a density problem, but rather as an imbalance of population growth rates on the one hand and social and economic rates of advance on the other.''

It is a problem, he says, that is ``going to cause very, very serious economic, social, political, and perhaps even military problems'' for the 21st century.

Ranked below these two ``high leverage'' issues, he says, are three others:

East-West political tensions, which he argues are ``distorting our allocation of economic resources.''

A loss of some of the traditional moral values of American democracy.

The need for new forms of institutions fitted to a changing world.

On this last point, Mr. McNamara does not expect to see the development of a world government. But he notes that ``in 50 to 100 years from now, we [in the United States] will find it's in our interest to transfer from national sovereignty to international institutions certain of the powers that we exercise now as a nation-state.''

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