Dickens Revisited, "End Of History" To Endless Strife
Instead of global stability, the end of the Cold War has ushered in an age of high-tech changes and social turmoil. New tales of two cities for the 21st Century.
BUENOS AIRES — When Francis Fukuyama wrote his revolutionary article "The End of History" in 1988, communism was collapsing and the historic ideological clash between the political Left and Right seemed to be fading away. The dawn of a new era seemed inevitable.
Instead, 28 years later, we might call ours a Dickensian era, one "of two cities," where the spring of hope lives alongside a winter of despair.
Duality seems to be constant, though not necessarily consistent, in our globalized world. Ours is a world marked by cohabitations and impositions, interdependence and local autonomies, by symmetrical and asymmetrical patterns.
And as such, the Dickensian comparison can be made: We have two worlds (rather than two cities), the Westphalian world of nation states and the hypertechnical, interconnected world of the 21st century, that live side by side.
And therein lies the tension, and challenge. Today a leap in global governance is needed in the face of an ongoing technological revolution. The rising power of new communication technologies, which link people with massive amounts of information, will make the 21st century one of surprises, ambiguity and instability. But, yes, also one of great opportunities.
Continuous innovation and an increasingly interconnected global population will present peoples and governments with complicated challenges. The nation state has already ceded part of its authority and influence in world affairs. With the increase of non-state actors and private and individual networks, state power is being challenged from above and below, respectively by supra-national and local currents.
In our time, power is increasingly in networks not hierarchies, and one must learn to interact with a growing body of regional and international entities and leaders. Many sectors of the state apparatus, especially foreign ministries, are currently suffering from a reduction of their decisive role in global affairs. But since there is no replacing diplomacy for now, they continue to exercise leadership, through coordination.
There are also worrying signs of degradation, as traditional, Westphalian-type conflicts erupt alongside new, asymmetrical threats. Expect to see more wars inside states than between them, and more conflicts involving non-state actors. These will emerge and spread like epidemics, as will the kind of inequality that weakens institutions, erodes social fabrics and threatens the very existence of states.
It seems as if the world were caught in an argument between the worst of the old ideas and the latest advances. We are in a kind of non-polar situation: Power has been distributed among a vast range of state and non-state actors, all potentially able to exert influence.
In this world of greater autonomy, cooperation is possible and necessary, and our need is to forge a shared agenda, global in its scope and with sustainable development as its road map.
As internal and external domains permeate each other, sovereignty becomes relative and yields territory to connectivity. As Parag Khanna observes in his book Connectography, with millions of kilometers of cables, tubes, rail tracks and roads being built compared to just 500,000 kilometers of land frontiers around the world, connectivity may well become the new sovereignty.
Now this interconnected and interdependent world presents us with challenges and moral dilemmas: How do we safeguard certain principles in the face of the requirements of growth and development? How does one balance the national interest with the undoubted need for humanitarian interventions in faraway lands? How should global governance be used to attain national objectives? How can we establish an agenda to make international systems truly representative? And how can we work for peace, development and a measure of stability that might just manage to turn our winter of despair into a new spring of hope?
*Ricardo E. Lagorio is a longtime member of the Argentine Foreign Service.