Washington is just beginning to grasp the implications of a world system in which small, ambiguous groups can alter the course of history
Feisal Omar / Reuters
When will America start to learn how to deal with the
dynamic players that shape so many world events? A decade after 9/11 heralded
the arrival of transnational terrorism on America's doorstep, policymakers have
paid a lot of attention to that particular threat -- but they've displayed a
remarkable poverty of the imagination in absorbing that power in today's world
is wielded by an array of important actors, and not just by traditional states.
The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is prompting all kinds of reflection and remembrance, and for those who follow foreign and security policy it's an occasion to process just how much international affairs is guided by what experts call, for lack of a more clear understanding, "non-state actors."
Anne-Marie Slaughter, writing here at The Atlantic, calls for a "new foreign policy frontier." She has been one of the more vocal thinkers urging decision-makers and the academy to grapple with a world where oil companies and tech giants, religious leaders and jihadist movements, vie with diplomats and generals to influence the course of events.
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I wrote about this failure to absorb the sea change in my most recent Internationalist column in The Boston Globe. There's small but growing chorus of important thinkers -- some in the academy, some in government, some in think tanks, who understand the shift in the nature of power away from a solely state-dominated order, but they have yet to shift the course of foreign policy orthodoxy. Hopefully, that change will come soon.