This blog is republished here as part of our special holiday selection.
Jonah natural gas field near Pinedale, WY, US. Photo: World Resources/flickr.
CAMBRIDGE – When President Richard Nixon proclaimed in the early 1970’s that he wanted to secure national energy independence, the United States imported a quarter of its oil. By the decade’s end, after an Arab oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution, domestic production was in decline, Americans were importing half their petroleum needs at 15 times the price, and it was widely believed that the country was running out of natural gas.
Energy shocks contributed to a lethal combination of stagnant economic growth and inflation, and every US president since Nixon likewise has proclaimed energy independence as a goal. But few people took those promises seriously. » More
Many countries are holding elections in 2012, but governments are struggling to keep up with their peoples' expectations (Photo: david drexler/flickr)
NEW YORK – A surprising number of elections and political transitions is scheduled to occur over the coming months. An incomplete list includes Russia, China, France, the United States, Egypt, Mexico, and South Korea.
At first glance, these countries have little in common. Some are well-established democracies; some are authoritarian systems; and others are somewhere in between. Yet, for all of their differences, these governments – and the individuals who will lead them – face many of the same challenges. Three stand out.
The first is that no country is entirely its own master. In today’s world, no country enjoys total autonomy or independence. To one degree or another, all depend on access to foreign markets to sell their manufactured goods, agricultural products, resources, or services – or to supply them. None can eliminate economic competition with others over access to third-country markets. Many countries require capital inflows to finance investment or official debt. Global supply and demand largely set oil and gas prices. Economic interdependence and the vulnerability associated with it is an inescapable fact of contemporary life. » More
As expressed over the first four weeks of our Editorial Plan, we at the ISN believe that increased global interconnectivity – on the social, economic, political and technological levels – has resulted in fundamental structural changes to the international system. In turn, the problems that arise from this interdependence now often transcend the geopolitical and strategic capabilities of nation-states and demand from us new forms of cooperation and governance. But with no one ultimately and officially in charge, how do we regulate the global commons or manage our financial flows to maximum effect? How should we combat transnational crime and international terrorism, or even ‘fight’ pandemics and climate change? “Leaving things primarily to state sovereignty, anarchy and chance is not a wise response to our new global reality,” Knight et al rightfully observe. But while everyone agrees that we can only address these kinds of problems through cooperation and collective management at a global level, there is a significant debate over just how we should politically organize ourselves to deal with the structural changes we are collectively experiencing.
There are those who believe that normative or rights-based global interdependence and citizenship is a superior organizing principle to political collectivization, which can lead to anti-democratic forms of “outsourced responsibility.” They argue that instead of building transnational political structures and practices, which can potentially be opaque and self-interested, it is better to create a more flexible ‘world society’ of common values. Not surprisingly, opponents of this approach argue that respecting, protecting and building cosmopolitan diversity is all well and good but it is not enough to overcome structural inequality. Only developing and implementing more formal global governance architectures will do that, which means pressing ahead with the “transnationalization” of the world – of its political behaviors and practices, of its economic practices, and of its norms and laws. Their suggestions range from the modest (sovereignty-yielding neoliberal cooperation) to a more comprehensive post-Great Sheriff global system. This week we will mull over the debate between these two types of global interdependence advocates, starting with those who believe global governance is both unavoidable and good. Those who disagree will be our focus later in the week, as will an anticipatory look at global multilateralism, which will be our focus next week.