We met with Anne-Marie Slaughter in her office at Princeton University in April. Though her new book focuses on the United States, the conversation covered issues of interest to any country: the emerging power of international networks; the role of the state in a more ambiguous, multilateral environment; and the ways in which business and individual actions might have to shift accordingly.
S+B: Your work portrays the “new world order” as governance through networks, a circumstance where neither government nor business is as centralized as it used to be, where work is accomplished through alliances instead of hierarchical authority, and where power and leadership are more open-ended and participative. When did you first see this model emerging?
SLAUGHTER: In the early 1990s, when I was studying the differences between liberal and non-liberal democracies. Liberal democracies are countries with a strong rule of law and constitutional protections; non-liberal countries either have elected leaders who put themselves above the law or dictatorships of various kinds.
When I looked closely at relations among liberal democracies, I saw that they had many more transgovernmental networks of government officials than their non-liberal counterparts. For example, the judges of OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries will often be in regular contact with one another, and so will immigration officers and environmental officials. They regularly share information and work on common projects. Even when their elected leaders disagree, these networks continue to operate. The problems they’re dealing with spill across international borders; they have to reach out to their counterparts in other nations.
That little tail in my research started wagging the dog, because the more I looked at networks, the more important they seemed to be. Although political scientists had noticed the existence of transgovernmental networks in some fields back in the 1970s, no academics saw them as a major shift in the nature of government. People actually working in government, however, knew that something important had happened. Financial regulators knew that central bankers were talking; the securities commissioners and antitrust regulators were aware that each other’s networks existed. I realized that this represented a new paradigm.
It took 10 years to write A New World Order. I had two children along the way; I did a million other things; I wrote many other articles. But one reason it took so long was that the new world of networked governance was multiplying faster than I could write about it. Every time I sat down to finish the draft, there would be a whole new raft of examples to include.
In 1996, when I thought I would never get the book done, I wrote an article for Foreign Affairs called “The Real New World Order.” I was optimistic enough to describe these networks as a kind of panacea. In the future, I thought, international organizations like the World Trade Organization and the United Nations would be much less important, and we would not need new ones. Instead, global problems would be solved by these new transgovernmental networks. Businesses were operating this way; nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] were going this way. And this thesis got a lot of attention.
S+B: How has your thinking changed since then?
SLAUGHTER: I now see that these networks are not panaceas. Sure, they’re more effective at getting things done than the old formal system. But we’re not using these networks intelligently. They have big disadvantages as well as advantages, and the real challenge is to figure out when they are valuable and when they are not. If these are the building blocks of governance in the 21st century, then anyone who’s thinking about how to solve global problems should learn to use them effectively.