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Guest Thinkers

How To Run The World

In the global quest for superpower status, who represents you? Delphi Fellow Parag Khanna argues that in the future, we will all be diplomats.

“We’ve been lulled into this complacency in the last couple of hundred years that you’re only practicing diplomacy if you’re from a government or a foreign ministry. That is not at all the case.”

What’s the Big Idea?

If you still think of diplomacy as something that happens in smoky backrooms, it’s hard to envision a world in which “the second oldest profession” can coexist with the transparency created by the Internet. The belief that foreign affairs must be shrouded in a protective veil of secrecy has long meant that advancements in information technology are met with anxiety by the international relations community.

Such hand-wringing is misguided, says Big Think Fellow Parag Khanna, a former U.S. foreign policy adviser and author of How to Run The World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance. Just as the telegraph did not put an end to diplomacy, neither will Wikileaks. The lingering power alignments of the 20th century may or may not be destroyed by the overwhelming trend towards interconnectedness. But they will be democratized.

Khanna predicts that in the future, the real superpowers aren’t going to be countries. Instead, we’ll see the emergence of an entirely new structure: alliances comprised of universities, companies, non-profits, humanitarian agencies, sub-state units like city governments, and churches, all united around a common interest or vision. Policy wonks who race to predict whether it will be China, India, or Brazil that finally unseats the U.S. as the dominant world power are missing the point.

What’s the Significance?

Community organizations and NGOs are already hugely important players in global diplomacy. Mega-diplomacy would mean bringing individual groups together — forging new coalitions among “the .gov world, the .com world, the .org world, and the .edu world… so it’s not just about the United Nations” or the G20, but about building a consensus across a broad range of voices. These coalitions will ultimately supplant nation-states as the primary actors on the world stage, says Khanna. And while they must govern globally, they should act locally.

“The force that I’m arguing for is what I call human will. Why do we wait for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to allow for there to be an intervention in Darfur for example to prevent the genocide there? There is a local organization, a regional body called the African Union. It has its own peacekeeping force.” The best way to get things done is to “empower the people who can actually seize their own future.”

If mega-diplomacy is used intelligently, “we’ll be pushing global resources to the local level,” and skillful negotiation will become increasingly vital. “That is going to get us much closer to the kind of world we want to live in.”


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