How to Run the World

By Elizabeth Dovell

The future of the world has been thrown into flux by a variety of factors. A still-struggling economy, crises relating to health and poverty, the struggle against terrorism, and the sweeping arm of revolution across the Middle East and North Africa are some of the circumstances being dealt with by world leaders. These global issues led Parag Khanna, a fellow at The New American Foundation and the author of How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance, to question the system currently in place and discuss the need to change the diplomatic status quo.

At a World Policy Institute Political Salon last Tuesday, Khanna discussed the key points of his new book. How To Run the World introduces his concept of "mega-diplomacy": a formula for improved global governance that employs every capable aspect of countries in order to tackle the world’s most dire issues. The global community must scrutinize the way it conducts diplomatic affairs and reconsider its own competency, Khanna claims.

Because state diplomacy is not always the most effective model in dealing with turbulent countries, Khanna says, mega-diplomacy incorporates philanthropy, educational institutions, and non-governmental organizations to create a better mechanism to handle global affairs and maintain healthy international relations. In order to achieve maximum diplomatic potential, it is necessary to examine who else, besides government, is impacting the global atmosphere. In fact, governments often look to NGOs to provide expert advice on pressing issues. The U.S. State Department recently announced its Civilian Response Corps program, upon which the federal government calls for groups of employees capable of assisting in areas such as information technology and conflict prevention.

In emphasizing “running” the world as opposed to “ruling” it, Khanna explains that diplomacy—“running”—is the best governmental process, with diplomats acting as the managers of global affairs. Diplomatic success also depends on the cooperation of both public and private sectors. “The State Department is not the sum total of America’s global footprint,” said Khanna. With all the power invested in today’s CEOs, Khanna argues that they should be as aware of international affairs as diplomats and high-ranking government officials. Additionally, diplomatic success rests on the need to decentralize power and reform bureaucratic institutions. The United Nations should focus on strengthening its regional bodies so they can solve their own problems through this delegation of power.

Offering a less orthodox alternative to the traditional definition of globalization, Khanna theorizes that the era of the nation is over. Rather, he explains, the world lives in an era of the city. “In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable,” he writes in his book, “cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world will be built.” We are no longer a unipolar world, nor are we a state-based world: “Good nation building is really good city building,” Khanna said. 

Khanna maintains that rethinking the current global framework and restructuring it for success is the best way forward. In a world that is changing rapidly, the tools we use to run it should change, too.

Elizabeth Dovell is a former research assistant at the World Policy Institute.

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