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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.

More from the Big Idea for Monday, November 19 2012

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