by Parag Khanna, author of How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance (Random House, 2011)
The past decade—from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the global financial meltdown—has taught us the dangers of interdependence and that outsourcing leadership is a recipe for disaster. Some now fear a breakdown of our global order, but isn’t it scarier to realize that the present order has already been broken for years? It’s the kind of moment the philosopher Karl Popper had in mind when he argued that tearing down our existing order and constructing a new one from scratch might lead to a more workable system.
How bad is it? Well, today the powers that are expected to keep the peace sell the most weapons, the banks that are supposed to encourage saving promote living beyond one’s means, and food arrives to hungry people after they’ve died. We are hurtling toward a perfect storm of energy consumption, population growth, and food and water scarcity that will spare no one, rich or poor. Our ever- growing list of crises includes financial instability, HIV/AIDS, terrorism, failed states, and more. Any one of these can magnify another, creating a downward spiral for individual nations and regions. Within just twenty years we could see proxy skirmishes escalate into major war between America and China, more weak states crumbling, conflicts over submerged oil and gas resources at sea, drought- starved refugees streaming out of central Africa, and sinking Pacific islands.