Author, peace-keeper, refugee worker, human rights activist and now political candidate for the Indian Parliament, Shashi Tharoor straddles several worlds of experience.
Chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Shashi Tharoor was the official candidate of India for the succession to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, and came a close second out of seven contenders in the race. His career began in 1978, when he joined the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, and included key responsibilities in peace-keeping after the Cold War and as a senior adviser to the Secretary-General, as well as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.
Dr. Tharoor is also the award-winning author of nine books, as well as hundreds of articles, op-eds and book reviews in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek and The Times of India. He has served for two years as a Contributing Editor and occasional columnist for Newsweek International. Since April 2001 he has authored a fortnightly column in The Hindu and since January 2007 in The Times of India.
Born in London in 1956, Dr. Tharoor was educated in India and the United States, completing a Ph. D. in 1978 at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he received the Robert B. Stewart Prize for Best Student. At Fletcher, Shashi Tharoor helped found and was the first Editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs, a journal now in its 31st year. A compelling and effective speaker, he is fluent in English and French.
In January 1998, Dr. Tharoor was named a "Global Leader of Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is the recipient of several awards, including a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was named to India’s highest honour for Overseas Indians, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, in 2004. He serves on the Board of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the board of trustees of the Aspen Institute India, and the Advisory Boards of the World Policy Journal, the Virtue Foundation and the human rights organization Breakthrough. He is also a Fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities.
Shashi Tharoor: A second and perhaps parallel major theme is that of globalization. And it’s paradoxic that globalization in many ways is knitting us all together, while fear of terror is driving us all apart. And both of these are happening at the same time in the world – the forces of convergence and divergence prevailing in the 21st . . . first decade of the 21st century at exactly the same time. And I think the tension between those two, to me, is profoundly important. I’m not a great believer in the clash of civilizations and all that. I think the great flaw in that theory is it assumes the existence of ________ civilizations, and I don’t think there are any. I think all civilizations are deeply divided within themselves, and are deeply inter-penetrating each other in ways that mean that there really is a much more human civilization than say a pure Islamic civilization, or a Christian civili . . . or a Judeo-Christian civilization or whatever. But the . . . the . . . the whole notion of this clash is, I think, underscored by this phenomenon of convergence and disruption taking place at the same time in . . . in our present era. So when I . . . When I . . . when I look beyond the headlines of the day to the broader patterns of the stories around the world, that’s what I see – is a struggle between globalization and terror; between convergence and disruption; in a sense between co-existence and the putting up of barriers.
Question: What are the arguments for and against globalization?
Shashi Tharoor: Well to argue for or against is almost suggesting we have no choice in the matter. I mean we are looking at a world in which globalization is truly a reality. You can’t un-invent the computer chip. You can’t un-invent the satellite phone. You can’t un-invent the various ways in which human beings as well as their finances, their . . . their . . . their lifestyles are connected with a speed that was unimaginable a few decades ago. So to that degree, globalization is merely a term that reflects the real interdependence of human civilization at this point in our existence. And so the argument for it is that it’s there. It’s something we have to live with and adjust to. The argument against it, I think, is not against globalization itself, but against those it leaves out. The argument is that the magic of the market is all very well, but it will not appeal to those who cannot afford to enter the marketplace. And so we do need a globalized world in which the poor – the people who can’t actually get onto the train of globalization – get an assist, get lifted up. Where the train stops at every station and not just in the . . . in the big, fancy capitals of the globalized world where we don’t have oases of prosperity, but an all-inclusive globalization that actually pulls people out of poverty everywhere – in Africa as much as in rural India, as much as in China. All of that, I think, is . . . is . . . is . . . is still lacking. And so the critics of globalization are critics, in my view, of its lack of inclusiveness rather than of its . . . its very existence; which in my view is something we really can’t wish away.
Question: Are global institutions up to the challenges of globalization?
Shashi Tharoor: Well the challenges of globalization are many and varied. So to suggest that any institution is up to meeting all those challenges would be futile, because obviously the challenges are vast. And the best that institutions can do is to be agile enough to respond to them. But the fact that we have these institutions is very important; because it’s very clear that without global institutions, we would not be able to respond effectively at all.
Recorded on: 9/18/07