The rapidly growing disparity in incomes and living standards between the rich countries and the poor is a striking feature of life today. In a world which is being brought ever closer together by the revolutions in transport and communications, this situation must be a cause of grave concern. In fact, few would dispute that, with the associated problem of growing poverty in the South, it is now the most pressing global issue that the world faces as we approach the end of the present century. This is especially so now that the East-West conflict has drawn to a close and is no longer on the international agenda.
In trying to understand the immense and seemingly unbridgeable economic gap that now separates the countries of the North from those of the South, I have found it useful to bear in mind a number of historical facts. These include: the relatively recent origin of the gap when viewed in the perspective of history, having its roots in development only over the past two hundred years or so; the part played by almost arbitrary circumstance in planting the seeds from which the gap has sprouted; the contrasting roles of positive and negative 'spread effects' in determining which countries would stand on either side of the divide and, finally, the explosive widening of that divide which has taken place in the few decades since the end of World War Two, when compared with all that took place before.
Over the years, much has been written on these disturbing issues of the widening North-South income gap and the growing spread of poverty in the countries of the South. There is, however, one aspect that I have long felt should be more fully brought into the picture if we are to understand adequately the dynamics of the increasing income gap and the contradictions which it poses. I refer here to the role of the international system which sets the framework for economic relations among states. While this aspect has not been entirely neglected in the literature, it is seldom given the emphasis it deserves. It is around this aspect, therefore, that the discussion in this book primarily revolves, as it examines the interplay between the ability of states to influence the nature of the system and to benefit from it, and as it recounts, in particular, the efforts of the countries of the South over the past half-century, unavailing as it turns out, to bring about, through negotiation, dialogue and international debate, changes in a system they considered unjust and heavily stacked against them. What we have witnessed so far suggests that, in these matters, negotiation and dialogue have only a limited role to play when pitted against the realities of power. Nevertheless, given the dire consequences for all concerned of the continuation of current trends, we can only hope that reason will in the end prevail, and that somehow a more accommodating international system will finally take shape before it is too late to avoid tragedy.
It is now my hope that the analysis and conclusions contained in what follows will help all those interested in the future of North-South relations to understand better the role that the international system has played in sustaining the rapidly increasing economic divide that separates the North from the South, and that this in turn will help foster awareness and stimulate action to reverse present tendencies. ............................