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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.

More from the Big Idea for Monday, January 31 2011


Govern Globally, Act Locally

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