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The Weapon of Time and Strength of Numbers

The Weapon of Time and Strength of Numbers

Monday, 26 April, 2021 - 05:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The weight of every country used to be measured by the size of their armies or their navies that used to lay claim to the seas. One had to pay attention to the number of fighters and cannons.

The story today is different. Countries are measured by the vitality of their economy. Their ability to produce, market products, compete and advance. There is no point in having a strong army that is not backed by a strong and prosperous economy that can provide its needs to modernize itself.

The factors of power have changed. A small prosperous country can draw the world’s attention, while a vast country, which lives under the rubble of outdated ideas that fear the test of time and numbers, cannot.

The previous decades provide the best example. Japan does not boast an exceptional army and its constitution insists that it derive lessons from the adventures of the past. However, Japan turned into a major player on the international scene when it built a vital economy and invested in educating its people to allow them to become part of the age and the innovation that is necessary to seize opportunities, contracts and the prominent positions in markets.

The same can be said of Germany that did not respond to its time under the rubble of World War II by sparking a new war. Rather, it replied with factories, universities and laboratories. The numbers of its economy allowed Angela Merkel to play the role of the conductor of the French-Germany train of the European Union.

The Soviet Union was not killed by an American or Atlantic bomb. It was killed in the battle of time and numbers. It collapsed when it lost the war of time and when the gap in the technological race that separates it from the United States widened. This was also accompanied by a costly arms race. You must be ready to pay the price when the weapon of time moves to the hands of your rivals. The loss of time means aging and falling into stagnation.

And so it was that the Soviet Union was killed in another battle, that of numbers. It did not dare stare at itself in the mirror. The “comrades” occasionally fudged the numbers of the Union’s industrial and agricultural output in order to maintain the party and country’s image. This manipulation turned out to be deadly.

Pity the countries that insist on turning to outdated ideas. Countries that waste their resources on wars that deepen their stay in the past, poverty and loss. Countries that waste their historic legacy and opportunities of the future by refusing to stare into the mirror and face the truth. The conviction that the time has changed is the first step towards limiting losses. Mistaken are those who believe that time repeats itself and that the current age is a repetition of the previous decade.

It is true that time continues to pass as it always has, but the reality is that the successive scientific and technological revolutions have given its flow a different pace and spirit. The truth is that this world, which is running on a fast motor, does not like taking a break to catch its breath. It is constantly motivated and has a voracious appetite. It is hungry for the new, the different and the newest and always wants more.

Gone are the days of stagnant images that do not move or change. The current time gives the impression that it is faster than the previous one. It is forging ahead at an unprecedented pace. This applies to airplanes, ships, products and ideas. The world is untiring and never sleeps. People go to sleep while labs and factories continue to wage their wars of progress, providing services and making life less difficult.

Numbers have the final say in the end. Never have numbers been so important and decisive. They are the final verdict issued by the court against a person, factory, idea or policy. Emotional or charged rhetoric no longer has the same impact that it used to. People are quick to test every statement by the numbers they produce.

Reserving a decent spot in the global village depends on belonging to the current moment of the age of development and the world. The test is simple and decisive. The ability to stand in front of the mirror, properly manage time and give out real numbers. These are decisive factors. Resorting to delusions does not exempt one from the harshness of the numbers.

China is a prime example of how to best benefit from the time and arm oneself with the numbers. It became adept at dealing with the battle of time during the past four decades. The numbers today are raising fears that the world will soon slide into the “Chinese age”.

This shift in China’s position is a major development in history on par with the collapse of the Berlin Wall or the rise and fall or empires. The statements of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave me a moment for pause. He defended his country’s right to set its own example and path. He said that democracy is not Coca-Cola. He meant that his country does not feel obligated to wear western dress when it comes to the economy and the way it lives.

His statements would not have made an impact had his country been ignoring the importance of time and numbers and were sleeping on the pillow of delusions. Successful governments are the ones that transform the map into a workshop, that light the flame of hope, attract potentials and dare to confront the numbers.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s experience in the past five years has been extraordinary. It is obvious that Vision 2030 is a major leap forward in the Kingdom, which has effectively joined the battle of time and numbers amid a deep change in its society. It is no secret that the Middle East will not become a normal place to live before delusions of elimination are dashed and the language of transformation, advancement and the building of institutions prevails.

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