Question: What is “mega-diplomacy”?
Parag Khanna: Mega diplomacy is a reminder that diplomacy has always been about anyone who has the status, the prestige, the resources, the authority to be involved in negotiations on an international, on a global level. Diplomacy is, as the joke goes, the second oldest profession. It long predates the idea of the State, the Westphalian system, but 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. Diplomacy is as old as human history. It is the oldest institution that we have across societies. Now that we’re moving into a post Westphalian world, a world which is populated where the authoritative actors are not just governments. They are companies. They are humanitarian agencies. They are NGOs. They are universities. They are religious groups and churches. They are private mercenary armies. They are even sub-state units like cities and city governments and mayors. All of these are very important players in global diplomacy today, so mega diplomacy is about the diplomacy of bringing those together into new coalitions, so it’s not just about the United Nations and the bilateral relations between the United States and Russia or China. It’s about far, a far greater set of players, so mega diplomacy is really about the new coalitions that emerge across the dot gov world, the dotcom world, the dot org world, the dot edu world. That is mega diplomacy.
Question: What major shifts have enabled the rise of mega-diplomacy?
Parag Khanna: The first is most certainly the creation and expansion of the global economy through globalization after particularly the post World War II period. You had enormous rise in global trade, the diffusion of power and economic interests all over the world, the rise of multinational corporations and so forth. It’s important to remember that that happened before the end of the Cold War, but that is the second factor of course, the end of the Cold War and the diffusion of power then, political power in this sense across the world to new rising powers and so forth that we witnessed.
We talk now about Russia, China, India, Brazil and others being these powers on the world stage, so the diffusion of power too has enabled this sort of multi-polar, multi-civilizational sort of landscape. Part of that has also been the rise of new cities. The fact that the world is urbanizing and powerful cities, city states many of them called like Singapore or Dubai and others that really have their own voice on the world stage, some are countries, some are not quite countries. They too are becoming part of the diplomatic mix and then of course there is the technological revolution. There is the power of the internet and communications technologies to allow any actor whether it is again a university or a humanitarian group or a religious group to reach out across the world and form their own connections and that is what gives rise to this new global mega diplomacy, which really transcends the state.
Question: What does it mean to “govern globally, act locally”?
Parag Khanna: Govern globally, act locally—what that means is that we have global governance—we have a vast thicket of international norms and rules and codes and laws and institutions—but the only way to implement them, whether it’s our policies on climate change or on human rights or on security and conflict areas the only way to implement them is to act locally, to govern locally, to implement that vision of global governance on a local level and that I believe will only happen if we empower local forces. I believe that when we talk about these global codes we’re always saying we need the political will to push that through. The force that I'm arguing for is what I call human will, empower the humans, empower the people who can actually seize their own future, who can actually build towards those goals and those norms, so there are very obvious concrete examples of that.
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 local, regional body called the African Union. It has its own peacekeeping force. The United States, the European Union and others should be giving much more support to that local group whose peacekeepers are already in the region, who know the context and the terrain to go in and conduct an intervention. The fact that China and Russia will always be blocking the UN Security Council Resolution is no reason not to support the local forces.
The same thing goes for human rights. In fact, it’s very difficult for the United Nations to censure or to criticize one of its member states because of course respect for sovereignty is one of the principles on which the United Nations is built and therefore it becomes an ironic situation trying to promote human rights through the United Nations. Instead there should be much more support for local groups and there are groups like International Bridges of Justice, Human Rights Watch and others. They conduct their relations directly with the actors on the ground. They support local NGOs. They work with local police forces. They train local judges. They train media. They do all of the things on the local level that build human rights from the bottom up and there is countless examples of how if we use mega diplomacy smartly we’ll be pushing global resources to the local level. We’ll be governing globally, but acting locally and that is going to get us much closer to the kind of world we want to live in.
Question: With the diffusion of power and responsibility, how can actors ensure accountability?
Parag Khanna: Accountability is a central question in mega diplomacy. Traditional forms of accountability whether it is democracy within a country or sanctions among countries really do fall short in terms of capturing this amazingly diverse set of activities that are encompassed today within mega diplomacy, so there are a couple of things that need to happen:
One factor that has always been a part of accountability, but is something that isn’t legal and therefore is very soft and hard to understand is shame. Shame has been an enormously powerful force actually in changing norms and in changing policies. Shame has been a factor in slavery. It has been a part of reducing consumption of tobacco in western societies. It has had a lot of influence around the world, so shame is going to be a part of mega diplomacy because of the role of technology and communications in mega diplomacy, so I don’t think we should forget that that factor is there.
The second factor though is not just accountability, but mutual accountability. It’s the expectations and the promises that are set and made among different coalitions, so when an NGO contracts with a government and with a company to implement human rights standards in a corporate supply chain that means that they’ve created a set of expectations even though this is not a democratic process. It’s a closed network involving non-state groups, corporations and government actors and yet they’ve negotiated. They’ve made a partnership. They’ve signed an agreement and those mutual expectations and obligations are there and there is a monitoring that comes along with it, so rather than just one monitoring everyone such as a government that may in fact be corrupt and unaccountable you now have mutual accountability. You have three different sets of actors that are monitoring each other, so to me even though it’s not democratic in the traditional sense you have more accountability through this mutual kind of process and I think that, in a way, mega diplomacy represents a system that will be more accountable rather than less.
Question: What does WikiLeaks really mean for the future of diplomacy?
Parag Khanna: Wiki Leaks has been a fascinating phenomenon in terms of its relationship to diplomacy. One of the things that you often heard in the last few months since the Wiki Leaks scandal broke is this is the end of diplomacy and it’s funny because in this book I talk about all of the times in the last 200 years that people have proclaimed the end of diplomacy. When the first cable came into Whitehall in the 19th century in London Lord Palmerston said this is the end of diplomacy and there have been figures, very prominent figures such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security advisor who said, “In the age of mass media and with correspondence to the New York Times all over the world I just need a subscription to the New York Times.” “I really don’t need the entire foreign service and the cables that they write.”
So the end of diplomacy has been proclaimed so many times and it has been in the Wiki Leaks situation as well. I think that is nonsense. Diplomacy has existed since the beginning of time. It always adapts to technology. In a way Wiki Leaks represents the empowerment of information, the spread of information, even sensitive, secret information. The legality of that is certainly very, very questionable and hotly in debate, but diplomacy is about who has access to that information, what are they doing with it, what does it show about the relationships among these different actors and now you have the United States government pursuing an non-state group, a sort of a diffuse entity known as anonymous that is publishing the Wiki Leaks, so you have this cat and mouse thing going on between a state and non-state actor. You have many new players getting that information and doing things with it, so I think that Wiki Leaks really shows the evolution of diplomacy in many ways and certainly not the end of it.
#1 - Be Proactive
Parag Khanna: Very often diplomats are just going through the motions. They’re taking the assignments that they are given and they conduct them in a very rote sort of way. We need to inspire and encourage a certain amount of innovation and that means incentives. Diplomats should really have to achieve something original in their role, create a new program, forge new relationships, really change a policy in order to get promoted, so I think being proactive is really a key step.
#2 - Begin With the End in Mind
Parag Khanna: Don’t just conduct negotiations for the sake of conducting them. What is the goal and that usually means setting a shorter time horizon rather than a longer one, not what are we going to achieve by the year 2030. It’s what are we going to achieve next year. Have concrete successes in the short term and then build on them.
#3 - Put First Things First
Parag Khanna: Often you have people in diplomatic institutions like the State Department basically trying to hoard portfolios. It’s how many different things can I be part of, how many fingers can I have in different pies. I think everyone should really have to focus on a core task. You found that secretaries of state are often doing Iraq on Monday, Palestine on Tuesday, North Korea on Wednesday, Afghanistan on Thursday and Brazil on Friday. That is no way to run a global or grand strategy. You really have to prioritize and also deputize and empower people below you to be constantly working on something and have a much more horizontal sort of architecture.
#4 - Think Win/Win
Parag Khanna: Very often in diplomacy you are representing yourself against the other. Therefore, you have a zero sum kind of mentality. That is not appropriate actually for diplomacy, which is supposed to be about reconciliation, compromise and finding common interests. In every situation that a diplomat faces they should be trying to figure out how can we maximize the benefit for everyone, so a good example of that is the role of China in Africa. You often hear Americans saying this is a new colonialism and China is pillaging and stealing Africa’s resources, but what if America were to come in and say now African governments have this wealth from Chinese investment, how can they make the most of that wealth to develop their own society? So the money that we are not giving or not investing in Africa, but that is now coming from China can still be used to Africa’s benefit with American help. That is win/win.
#5 - Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Parag Khanna: This is particularly difficult for diplomats who again whose job it is to represent themselves to a foreign audience, so they come in and they lecture about American interests for example. In fact, the best way to build stronger ties with a foreign society, even a foreign government is to first understand what they want, what are their interests, what is their position and then respond accordingly, so we’ve seen a raft of American policies and programs. Take for example many of the Arabic language TV and radio stations launched in the aftermath of the Iraq war. A lot of those were quite tone deaf. They were not received well. They weren’t speaking to the Arab people. They weren’t addressing their interests or concerns in any way. Why not first go and understand what it is that they want and then produce programming accordingly? That is the right way to win hearts and minds, first to listen, then to speak.
#6 - Synergize
Parag Khanna: Diplomacy is hopelessly divided into silos, human rights here, environment here and democracy here and so on down the line. In fact, we need to synergize much more. A lot of these things are kind of common problems, common agendas. On the ground in a place like Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq these things are not really all that distinguishable from each other. We know that there is a poor education system because there is instability, poor healthcare because of poverty and so forth. All of these issues need to be much more integrated, but the interagency process doesn’t really exist in the US government or in many other governments. It’s usually just a fictitious umbrella that brings together different groups that are really still in silos and kind of fighting turf wars, so synergizing means actually saying what are the resources that each agency can bring to bear together to solve a common problem that looks nothing in reality like it does on paper.
#7 - Sharpen the Saw
Parag Khanna: Diplomats are generalists and I think that is a very good thing to have broad awareness of a great range of issues, but they can learn a lot more if they come out of the box or step outside the wire. Instead of hanging out so much with themselves and embassies they need to network much more in local society. They also need to network much more with experts whether it’s NGOs or businesses that are on the ground in a given country, so rather than embassy here, corporate office here, NGO headquarter here they should really be integrated much more and sharpening the saw is about learning the other skills, seeing what they’re doing and finding common agendas and activities that can be conducted across them. That is how you can get much more bang for your buck in diplomacy.
Question: How can we spur on the next global renaissance?
Parag Khanna: I believe that we’re in a period that does resemble the high Middle Ages. That was a time of great commercial expansion. That was when the royal families and merchant houses of Europe were financing great exploratory voyages. The Silk Road was being built across Eurasia. The first global, at least in the sense of Eurasian trading system was being developed. There were innovations, compass, the double entry bookkeeping, gun powder, a variety of things, so this was a time of great change in a way and that eventually did culminate in the renaissance.
So how is it that we would get from here to there today? I think that similarly we would want to leverage the technological revolution that is underway and that of course means the Internet. It means mobile phones. We will soon, very soon, 5 years, 10 years from now live in a world where every single human being either has a mobile phone or has access to a mobile phone at the family or the village level. That is a tremendous connectivity and empowerment, and it really speaks to the renaissance in the sense of the flourishing of the local, the flourishing of vernaculars, the ability of each person to speak with their own voice and to connect to others, so I really think there is a potential in the current technological revolution to achieve another renaissance.
Another core component of it is psychological. Moving-things like global consciousness, creating capitalism. The awareness that- the mutual awareness that so many people have of each other and of people around the world is an amazing driving force in what could become a global renaissance rather than one that is just about stabilizing the western world or creating a new diplomatic order. There is something much more deep that can happen as a result of the technological revolution and the psychological revolution. If you put those two together I think we know what to do and it’s just a matter of doing it, that would allow us to get to this next renaissance much more quickly than I think we will right now.
Question: What will the world look like during this new renaissance?
Parag Khanna: Right now we’re facing a perfect storm of crises. We feel that we are in the midst of global chaos. There is financial instability. There are resource competitions going on around the world. There is a sense of vulnerability among the poor because of food and resource price spikes and things like this, so clearly this is not a stable environment where every local community feels like they are able to provide for themselves, whether it is a nation or whether it is a village.
So I think that if we were in a new renaissance I think it would look like one where at the community level, where at the provincial level, at the state level there would be a much greater sense of stability, not necessarily of self reliance, but a sense that through the connections that exist in a world of mega diplomacy, in a world of technology that one can get what one needs whether it is through foreign aid groups, whether it is through their own agricultural growth, whether it is through corporate supply chains the sense that one is resilient. The sense that one can fend for one’s self, provide for one’s self. That sense of stability would be the greatest indication to me that we have achieved a new renaissance and it won’t be a new renaissance just of nation states. It will be a new renaissance among a whole different set of communities. It will be religious groups feeling like they are not at war with the State either where they are based or with other states. It will be a sense that tribal communities or indigenous peoples will not be oppressed by the states that they are in. It will be a sense that virtual communities in a way can thrive, their identities can flourish in a transnational way. There will be a very different, very diverse set of identities that will be out there, but they will feel that they can coexist in this way because they can all be stable in and of themselves, but they can all relate to each other and connect to each other.