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What Could Lurk Ahead in 1992

HISTORY, it turns out, hasn't ended yet. Rather, since the political ice-age of the cold war started to thaw, melting glaciers of previously blocked historical processes have started to scour out new shapes in the political map of the world.

It's a bit of a topsy-turvy roller coaster ride, this experience of history in fast-forward mode. But hold on to your seats! There's good news out there as well as the bad. First, the whole world is NOT about to turn into a giant Yugoslavia. There is enough structure and reason left from the old world that we can avoid that. Second, the challenge of bringing sound economic development to formerly communist areas can - if it is appropriately met - stimulate economic growth throughout the capitalist world.

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But what about the next 52 weeks? Here, in a lighthearted spirit, is a checklist of possible predictions for 1992:

* That misnamed common-"wealth." As President Yeltsin tries to cope, ethnic Russians will stream back to their former motherland. Will well-conceived outside aid cushion their economy's free fall? For most, the answer in 1992 will still be "nyet." In the Russian east, the lure of Siberian resources and a cash-sweet deal over Japan's long-occupied islands could pave the way for a "co-prosperity zone in Asia" far more lucrative, and longer-lasting, than previous Japanese rulers dreamed of.

* Son of the Great Game. Through the 1920s, the prime contenders in the vast Muslim swathe through central Asia were the British (from India), the Russians, and the Chinese. Then borders became unnaturally frozen. Who will the contenders in the 1990s version of the Great Game be? Most big powers won't hurry to get involved, though there's oil in some of "them thar" deserts. Rather, the players in GG-2 will be the neighboring Muslim powers - Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

* Formerly Soviet nukes. Don't expect their "ingathering" into Russia to be easy. The Ukrainians, Kazakhs, and others have long figured out that these devices grab the attention of the world's rich countries. They will be tough bargainers - and we will be the audience. Then, how can we assure gainful employment for all those thousands of formerly Soviet nuclear engineers? Here's an idea: Hire them to come and clean up some of our nuclear waste sites in the United States.

* Remaining icons of the cold war. Amazingly, there are still some of them out there. And though their potential to make global trouble is trivial stacked up against those formerly Soviet nukes, they make life terrible for millions of their own people. By the end of 1992, Zaire's Mobutu, North Korea's Kim Il Sung, and Cuba's Castro will all likely be history - though Kim is engaged in an interesting reconciliation with South Korea.

* Election fever. Big votes are are coming up in 1992 for, among others, Israel's Yitzhak Shamir, Britain's John Major, and the US's George Bush. One safe prediction: These are three elections the world's rising Muslim tide won't capture. Two more predictions: the Brits will get their first chance in years to see what Labour can do in government, and President Bush will make it in by a hairsbreadth.

* Europa uber alles. That same German titan will already be dominating "the deutsche mark zone" in central Europe by the end of 1992. Will the whole of Western Europe have become a German satellite as well? Britain, France, and Italy will discover they have a lot in common - and their main vehicle for reining in Berlin will be the European Community.

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* South Africa. By the end of the year, will the new president be mired in scandals arising from past activities of First Lady Winnie Mandela? Will the white supremacist backlash have established shadow administrations in some "white homelands?"

* Iraq, China, Yugoslavia. The saddest places to be in 1992, as blocked political processes continue to take a heavy toll of human lives and fundamental freedoms.

Does this seem too gloomy? Maybe, but the challenges envisioned above can be met. Is there anybody around who would still rather be poised on the knife-edge of planet-wide nuclear war?

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