Anne-Marie Slaughter on Adapting Foreign Policy in a Changing World

January 19, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter
, Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University

Fred Katayama
, Anchor, Thomson Reuters; Director, Japan Society

Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter visited Japan Society to talk about the rebalancing of global power relationships since the 1980s, when the United States and the Soviet Union were the world's two superpowers, and the 1990s, when the United States held sway as the world's sole hyperpower.

Today, if you look at military, economic and social power combined, America remains the world's only superpower, said Professor Slaughter, who served as Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department in 2009-11. "But it's certainly not the only major power that can make things happen on the world stage."

The Billiard-Ball World
By conventional measures, nine countries can be counted as major powers today: the U.S., the EU, which "is still the largest economy in the world," Japan, China, Russia, India, Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa. "This is the way that most people would talk about the changing world. This is the conventional explanation. This is how we do foreign policy. We think about states," she continued.

"Any of you who have taken courses in international relations, this is the way we learned international relations. Arnold Wolfers has talked about states crashing into each other as billiard balls. And of course the salient view of billiard balls is they are opaque. You don't look inside them."

It's the world of the Cuban missile crisis—a world depicted quite accurately in the movie Thirteen Days, which gave the impression that the U.S. and the USSR were the "only two states in the world."

Pressure being brought to bear on Iran by the U.S., by the EU, by Japan and South Korea—that's the billiard-ball world. North Korea is "the ultimate opaque state." The UN General Assembly, described by the EU's foreign policy chief as "speed dating for diplomats," is "the absolute epitome of the billiard-ball world."

A New View: The Lego World
In recent years, a new world has emerged that's become increasingly important in understanding global relations. It doesn't replace the billiard-ball world, but exists alongside it. This new world represents a "shift from government actors to social actors," a shift towards a world of "Lego states," Professor Slaughter said.

Picture midtown Manhattan as the UN General Assembly meets in September at UN Headquarters beside the East River, she continued. Across town, the leaders who convene at the Clinton Global Initiative include many of the same heads of state who are appearing at the UN. They talk about many of the same issues: corruption, global crime networks, clean water, food security, education and health.

"The difference is you have a head of state, and of course you have former President Clinton himself, but next to that head of state will be a CEO, the head of an NGO—you might have Helene Gayle from CARE, or the head of Amnesty International, or any of the large NGOs—and alongside a corporate actor; you will then have somebody from a university or a think tank, you may have people from church groups, or the head of a foundation."

How Social Actors Are Changing World Politics
Illustrating the profound impact of these social actors is the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Professor Slaughter said. The ICBL, which won a Nobel in 1997, is a network of NGOs in over 90 countries. Supported by the academic community and many other groups, it pushed states to enact a treaty addressing landmine issues. The U.S. isn't a party to the treaty, yet "we spend a fair amount of time in government talking about how the U.S. can ultimately come into compliance with the treaty." The accord has "changed the entire notion of whether it's legitimate or not and when it's legitimate to deploy landmines."

In contrast to the ICBL, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was launched through a governmental, rather than private, initiative. Five American agencies—the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services, the Center for Disease Control and USAID—sought to spur a market for clean, efficient cookstoves that would cut carbon emissions, promote global health, and increase security, especially for women who must gather wood in areas torn by violence. The five reached out, agency to agency, to their counterparts abroad, including the Netherlands, Peru and Germany, and then to big corporations like Dow Corning, Morgan Stanley and Shell, as well as the UN Foundation and other NGOs.

Kiva, a San Francisco-based NGO through which ordinary individuals can lend money for microcredit programs to help people in poverty, is an example of a private, bottom-up initiative. Another is GlobalGiving, an NGO in Washington, D.C., that lets individuals make donations to specific projects identified by the organization. Like USAID, these bodies provide foreign assistance, but unlike USAID they are private institutions.

In Nairobi, four young developers created a software platform, Ushahidi, as a response to election-time violence in Kenya. The platform allowed people to send texts about incidents of violence or fraud that they were witnessing. It's since become a global crisis-mapping platform. "Right after the Haiti earthquake, my office in the State Department reached out to Ushahidi and got them to customize their platform for use in Haiti so that people all over the country could text in what they were seeing and whether or not people needed help, which was hugely important," Professor Slaughter said.

"In all these cases, you are actually building from the bottom up, you are doing things locally, and then taking them globally."

Power Over, Power With and the Power of Collaboration
When power is seen as hierarchical, "you are the top of the ladder and you tell everybody below you what to do, and if you are at the top you have the power to do that. That is how every corporation is structured. That is certainly how governments are structured," Professor Slaughter commented.

By contrast, when power is exercised in a web, it is power with, not power over. "It's the fact that you can bring so many with you that creates your power," as with the social movements of the Arab Spring. This is genuine power, but "you cannot command in a web. What you do instead is to mobilize." The point is "to let other people know what is the problem, how you might solve it. It's to raise their consciousness." It's also to "connect others to each other and to a common purpose"—again, social movements are a prime example.

Another mode of exercising power in a web is to engage in dialogue—specifically, dialogue with an open mind. "In 'power with,' you can only get others to come with you if you are willing to change your preferences. If I want to persuade you of something, and you figure out very quickly that I am not going to change my own mind, that it is really a one-way dialogue—I'm going to tell you what you should think, but you are going to come back at me and I am not going to budge—you are not going to listen to me. You will only really engage in a dialogue with me if I you think I am listening to you and I am changing my thinking when I listen to you."

"The last way to think about power comes out of power with, but I think it's actually greater than that," Professor Slaughter added. "Think about the movements in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Syria. There is no revolutionary cell directing those movements. This is not the Bolshevik Revolution. There are leaders, there are people who are organizers, and they are in contact with each other, but there are many, many relatively small groups" that together have "an undeniable power."

"For leadership, it's not about having power; it's about knowing how to unlock the power of others and to guide it. That is an essence of 'power with,' but when you put it at this scale it's really what I call the power of collaboration."

Leadership and the Power of Collaboration
The question is how to "orchestrate, facilitate, encourage all these different kinds of partnerships" to deal with the range of global problems, from nuclear proliferation, terrorism and the state of the global economy to climate change, global pandemics and resource scarcity. On "many of them you need to empower many more actors. States cannot address them," Professor Slaughter said:

• "Don't just do something. Stand there." Whether you head a government agency or manage an NGO, there are likely to be things happening outside your immediate purview that you don't even know about. A U.S. ambassador to Country X may not know what the Treasury Department is doing in Country X. Stop, look, find out.

• "Connect, but not too much." With an ecosystem, a power grid, evolutionary biology, "you do not want everything totally interdependent."

• "Small is beautiful." "Twelve people can actually come together and spark each other's brains and work effectively together. Twenty-five, not really."

• "Portals and plug-ins everywhere." The open government movement relies on crowd sourcing and the open computing model. "Think about how do you get monitors for a treaty. You make it public," and with some training, "anybody with a cell phone can actually monitor" corruption, treaty compliance, environmental compliance.

• "Self-organization is better." Governments can foster top-down actions like the clean cookstoves movement, "but ultimately they are not nearly as powerful as these self-organized networks that gain a life of their own." As a pioneer in developing the field of human security, Japan has many resources to offer in this realm, Professor Slaughter said. "It's not a big jump from thinking about human security to thinking about developing strategies for different segments of society," whether based on age, gender or subsections of the business community such as entrepreneurs.


Moderator Fred Katayama of Thomson Reuters led off the Q&A:

Japan's links between government and the corporate world are strong, but the world of Japanese NGOs is in its infancy. How do you see Japan developing as a leader in this networked age?

An important threshold concern is to make sure that when government brings a big corporation to the table, "it's really in that corporation's interest, that it's not just providing charity or doing what the government wants," Professor Slaughter remarked.

Can you talk about the impact of demographics on Japan's GDP as compared with say China's?

"There is certainly a point below which if you shrink it's definitely a bad thing," Professor Slaughter responded. "But within natural ebbs and flows—and richer countries have fewer children; they put more into those children—it is not at all clear to me that having a billion people to feed, to provide jobs for, to provide energy for, to house—all the things that the state is expected to provide—is necessarily a plus in a world, and this is critical, where we are going to pay much more attention to how we use resources."

"I think Japan is pioneering how you live with a smaller population, and many of those ways are much more sustainable."

Will Japan gain a seat on the Security Council? Will it be a niche player, perhaps sustainability-themed like Norway, or will it play a bigger role?

"I don't think you want to talk about Japan, India, Australia and the U.S. sort of flanking China.... I do think you want to think very hard about regional institutions, about working multilaterally and about making sure our alliances are strong. In all of those areas Japan is central. We spend more time on China, but China is a problem, and this is true with Europe too. Who do we turn to first? We turn to Japan."

Members of the audience asked:

As the first woman occupying your post in the State Department, have you experienced changes in the leadership inside the department?

"When I talk about these two different models—the web and the ladder—there are two audiences that respond very strongly right away," she said. Women are one, and "the other audience that gets it instantly is anybody under 35.... They live connected, they live in a horizontal world."

Will the U.S.-Japanese relationship become more important as China emerges more?

"To the extent Japan is networked with China," the former can play an important interlocutory role, "because the U.S. and China inevitably will butt heads," Professor Slaughter replied.

—Katherine Hyde

Topics:  Policy

Calendar of Events

September 2020

S M T W Th F S
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      
All content © 2020, Japan Society, unless otherwise noted. |
333 East 47th Street New York, NY 10017 Phone: 212.832.1155 |
Credits | Press | Contact Us | Privacy Policy