Global Governance Afterthoughts with Parag Khanna

Photo Courtesy of Khanna

This interview was done for

In this series we interview thought leaders on the big concepts in the week’s news. Below we examine the G8 and global governance issues with Parag Khanna.

Parag Khanna spends most of his days on a plane, whizzing around from one global capital to another, and getting into the nitty gritty of countries in remote corners of the world.  He’s penned two books that look at the messiness of global politics, The Second World, a discussion about the “middle” countries that are forming their own alliances, and How to Run the World, which tackles global governance and the new players leaving a global footprint.  He serves as a Senior Research Fellow at New America Foundation, where he led the Global Governance Initiative till recently.

We caught up with Khanna to get his thoughts on the recent G8 Summit in Camp David and more broadly, global governance.

Dowser: TIME did a breakdown of some of the topics that would make this G8 Summit a heavy hitter, ‘the most interesting in a decade,’ as they put it. On the table was European economics, helping farmers in Africa, Syrian dissent, retreat from Afghanistan, and a missing Putin (who couldn’t make it to Camp David). Do you think it was one of the ‘most interesting’ G8s in the past decade?
Not really. Just because the world is turbulent and exciting, it doesn’t mean that diplomatic summits are. We should keep our attention on the places where things are happening – Syria, Afghanistan, Russia, etc. – and only pay attention to summits if they actually achieve something. In this case, it doesn’t look like much.

The Guardian reported, ‘In reality, the summit was largely a disappointment for the developing world.’ A TIME reporter also said, Helping poor farmers in Africa is tough when every extra cent may be needed to bail out Europe. How do we make these summits more productive for the developing world?
The G8 has long been giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Aid budgets have been slashed drastically since the financial crisis. So increased food aid and schemes for African farmers, while very important and a good idea, are no longer part of a comprehensive development assistance approach. That is unfortunate. It’s not summits that need to be more productive for Africans, but policy. The policies have to shift towards cutting internal (European) farm subsidies, for example, and supporting more agricultural productivity and supply chains in Africa.

There are so many global governance meetings – G20/ G8/ BRICS, etc. Are any of these productive and fruitful? What do you see as a productive form of global governance? Is there a particular platform that you’ve been impressed with?
The sum of all these summits is a constant global dialogue and conversation which is cross-cutting if not comprehensive. That’s an important development in itself, but it doesn’t solve problems. I would like to see these meetings be much less about “agreement” and much more about sharing best practices and lessons, and then watching those spread. I am impressed with the development of regional development banks, as a good example of concrete financing mechanisms for development in emerging regions.

Summits are known for pledges. But the frustration is that, after the commitments, the money is not dispensed quickly enough. Sometimes, its years before aid money is actually granted from the donors. How do we get global governance structures to have more concrete, tangible results that they’re held accountable to?
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a great example of such a failure. The focus has been on pledges and goals, not on actions and delivery. We should not have to wait to measure accountability, but demand it in real-time. Success has to be measured by immediate investments in finance, technology, and other kinds of capital that are actually delivered to those who need it. The World Bank did rapidly expand its support to poor countries hurt by rising food prices in recent years. That was an important move.

Does the location of these summits hold significance? Much has been said/written that the vast majority of these meetings are held in the North, not South – what impact does it have? Any?
I think we place too much importance on the location, even if these are rotating. There are many meetings going on in and across the South too, for example between Latin American and Arab leaders and businessmen, or Indian and African. These are extremely important drivers of globalization today and receive too little attention.

Do you find any difference between those that have public and private sector present such as the WEF vs. G8 which is just public sector? Are the former more dynamic or illustrative of the modern world?

I believe all important global events and summits should be multi-stakeholder the way the WEF is, but with more emphasis on immediate actions and constant pursuit of an agenda than the WEF does. There is no global problem today than can be solved without public and private actors.

What one change do you think would have a strong impact in global governance?
The greatest change would be if we focused organizations on functional lines irrespective of whether their members or participants are governments or companies or NGOs. I believe in an “all hands on deck” approach. Anyone who can contribute should be encouraged.


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