Interview with Parag Khanna
An Interview with Parag Khanna
One of the most original thinkers on global strategy and technology discusses the future of the nation state, the focus of British foreign policy and how good can emerge from crisis
Q. Is the nation state dead?
A. If you look at the patterns of activity in the world - travel, commerce - it is between cities. Once you harmonise regulations and open borders, those who control borders matter less. Sovereignty matters less. As a result of state action, cities have been given centre stage. They are going to take full advantage of it and become ever more autonomous actors.
There isn't necessarily anything wrong with the state. But we have moved from a world of about 60 to 70 states after the Second World War to more than 200 today. They are not all going to be equally successful. Most of the post-colonial world is made up of fragile states with no legitimacy. So we have to ask which states work and which don't. Those that are failing will need to be co-governed by different sets of actors - domestic, corporate and international.
The world is going through a systems change - a once in a thousand year event - driven by technology. Apple is sitting on a billion dollars, and it doesn't have any debts, unlike
Q. So big cities can break away from their hinterland?
A. Much as I love
Q. What does that mean for
I spend a lot of time with people from the Foreign Office and
At any given time, this country can only focus on a maximum of 10 countries and try to have a meaningful impact on how they reach their decisions, domestically or internationally.
Q. That's very small. What countries are those?
A. It varies. The list includes: other core European countries like
Q. You didn't put America on the list?
A. The US-British relationship is based on a mutual interpenetration, demographically and commercially. But the British people should understand that their dependence on
Q. What changes will emerge from our current crisis?
A. Over the past 10 years our environment has been characterised by lack of trust - particularly in politicians. That has a chance of being corrected. Not because we will suddenly start trusting each other. On the contrary, we will take the very intrusive steps that will allow us to verify what others are doing. And, therefore, trust will be based on data and not just on whim. There will be new accounting standards and mutual oversight and monitoring of government regulators. It will take time. Eventually we will get there.
Q. Do you mean more information will stop us making the same old mistakes?
A. The biggest mistake we can make is great power conflict. We have repeated it every century, and we will absolutely repeat that mistake, probably in the next couple of decades.
Q. Conflict between America and
A. It will be more complex, as all great power conflicts are. If you make a list of all the countries that America tries to label as rogue states and another list of every country that
Q. What about financial crisis?
A. There will always be bubbles. Lots of people are saying we are returning to a tech bubble right now. Property in many emerging markets is already a bubble, and there are bubbles of currencies, such as the Brazilian real. The question is which bubbles have macro, systemic global impact like the US housing bubble. If there is a housing bubble in
Q. Can campaign groups change the world?
A. When you look at certain issues - climate change or the anti-slavery movement - these things don't have their origins in far-sighted decision-making by government. There is a tremendous role for public pressure. We have always existed in this multi-actor milieu in which norms are not prescribed by governments alone. So it is all to the good, even if it is a chaotic marketplace of ideas.
Q. Do you believe in the super-empowered individual as a motor of change?
A. This term is overused.
A. She is just a head of government who takes her job seriously. She is the right woman at the right time.
The real super-empowered individual in
Q. Is it right for the
A. What we are seeing now is the 1990s happening all over again, with an internal set of states rather than an external set of states. In the 1990s, post-Soviet regimes went through a process of Europeanisation. Under EU influence there was wholesale eradication of old laws, lustration, bringing in new laws, new governments - all of what political scientists call upward compliance. Now the target countries of this process just happen to have been members of the EU for decades.
A. I'm not going to say it's all OK. But democracy has delivered the buck-passing of the Greek governments. If that's what you mean by democracy, I'll take technocracy over populist democracy any day of the week.
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