The digital age is the age of metaphors. When we go ‘online’, we go everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. When we connect to the ‘web’, we interact with virtual communities that are ever present and never present, and as we try to navigate our way through ‘cyberspace’ we often encounter ‘firewalls’ that prevent our access to information. We are also all members of a myriad of intersecting ‘networks’ that we can neither visualize nor touch. It is therefore fitting that Anne-Marie Slaughter begins her investigation of contemporary diplomacy with two metaphors—those of the chessboard and of the web. According to Slaughter, the chessboard metaphor has long since encouraged diplomats to view diplomacy as a strategic battle of wits in which policy-makers analyse the actions of powerful states while anticipating the counteractions of other states. Yet equally important nowadays is the metaphor of the web, which encourages diplomats to view the world as consisting of a vast infrastructure of networks which connect individuals, groups and organizations. These networks pay little attention to traditional diplomatic concepts, such as boundaries and sovereignty, and thrive on relationships and innovation. Importantly, Slaughter does not advocate that policy-makers employ one metaphor at the expense of the other, but that they simultaneously apply both in order to fulfil their foreign policy goals. Viewing the world as consisting solely of unitary states ignores the networks that connect citizens, institutions and organizations as well as the interdependence that binds the fate of nations. Similarly, viewing the world merely as a web of networks ignores traditional diplomatic levers. As Slaughter summarizes, policy-makers need to see in ‘stereo’ (pp. 66–75). The first part of Slaughter's book is dedicated to explaining the logic of networks and analysing their characteristics. To do so, Slaughter draws insight from numerous disciplines ranging from political theory to computer science, biology, nanotechnology and social psychology (pp. 42–65). It is the breadth of her analysis that offers policy-makers a robust understanding of how networks operate and why they have come to dominate contemporary life. Next, Slaughter begins to weave together the chessboard and the web to exemplify how they can complement one another. As she herself remarks, policy-makers are good at creating coalitions to force the hands of other states. They are not, however, as adept at creating or leveraging networks of individuals and organizations geared towards achieving similar goals (pp. 74–5). In the second part of the book, Slaughter distinguishes between different types of networks and the manner in which they can be used to specific ends. Resilience networks, for instance, may help nations face crises, whereas task networks may help streamline processes (pp. 80–134). Here, again, Slaughter offers a host of examples which is what makes this book so relevant. Slaughter's case-studies range from the US military to cities facing climate change, individuals collaborating online after natural disasters and scientists outsourcing research projects to online publics. Slaughter then addresses the notion of network power. Her book has a moral argument at its core, one which states that diplomacy is not merely about power and interests but about people—about ensuring their well-being and creating environments in which they can flourish. Herein lies the power of the network: in its ability to connect communities, to stimulate conversations and to propose innovative solutions to ‘wicked’ problems (pp. 61–82). In summary, Slaughter's book is both a guide for diplomats and a vision for the future of diplomacy. The web therefore emerges as more than a metaphor but as a new grand strategy to guide foreign policy-making. While her account focuses primarily on US foreign policy, its lessons and insights are applicable to many states. The only domain in which Slaughter fails to address a substantial challenge is that of privacy rights. She seems to have an innate trust in the social media companies that facilitate many of the networks now comprising the web. Yet the more networked the world becomes, and the more the web deals with sensitive issues, the more the power of US tech giants will need to be checked. Diplomats will need to a find way to lead the charge for digital rights—one that incorporates the chessboard and the web. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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