The world - particularly parts of Eastern Europe - has realigned drastically in the past 16 months. The changes have come without major battles and without organized effort by world leaders. Now the United States must find its role in the changing world, and educators and administrators can influence the course of the future.

A consultant and assistant to three U.S. presidents called education "America's most important economic tool . . . the most important trade program . . . the most important jobs program."Stephen Studdert's remarks came during his keynote speech Friday at the annual convention of the Utah School Boards Association. The man who has served as a consultant to Presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush was discussing the role of education amid global politics. He also offered insights into changes in former Soviet bloc countries and the Persian Gulf.

Reunification of Germany, democratization of Eastern European countries and changes in the Soviet Union have come about because of "individuals who wanted to make a difference. It's individuals who principally make a difference in our own country."

But education has to keep up with the changes, though its system is "antiquated. Its technology is disgracefully behind private industry. We must realize that as we try to bring schools into the 20th century, we are nine years from the 21st century."

American industry, he said, is "rapidly restructuring" to meet world needs. "Should education do any less? It's a global marketplace and it's being redefined every day. America's economic health and prosperity is inseparably linked to trade . . . education and training."

Studdert also offered insights into world politics, gleaned from his experience with the White House and with Studdert Group Ltd., his international strategic communication company. Among his observations:

- Military might aside, the Soviet Union is no longer a superpower. It may collapse "under the weight of its own economic cataclysm. There's no short-term fix for the Soviet Union. There's not enough grain. No convertible currency." Its poor credit rating means it may not be able to get loans.

- The United States faces huge competition in world trade from countries that were formerly no challenge, like Asian countries and Latin American countries that are now generally democratic.

- In the Persian Gulf, there are "lots of indications Saddam Hussein may blind on the 16th." The international forces, on the other hand, likely won't attack on the 16th. But "unfortunately, the odds are overwhelming, as of this hour, that there will be a military confrontation.

"What we're talking about in reality is preserving the economy of the world as we know it," Studdert said, adding that at least 80 small, "fragile" countries that import oil would face extreme economic distress if Iraq controlled the supply. Those 80, he said, all owe sizeable debts to the United States.

The time is right, however, for confrontation. In just months, according to Studdert, Saddam will have "poor quality but nonetheless nuclear-grade weapons." Japan's contribution to the Persian Gulf effort and its conduct, he said, is "grossly inadequate" since Japan imports 70 percent of its energy, most of it gulf oil.

- Congressional incumbents spent $178 million to get re-elected, while their opponents spent far less. "I suggest that for far too many of them," he said, "the only thing they stand for is re-election."

- The "budget reduction package" was, in fact, a tax increase. And the budget deficit "will not get dealt with until Congress puts aside its self-serving personal agendas."