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The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World

Sidestepping the statist realpolitik metaphor of a chessboard used to describe the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union as delineated by Thomas Schelling in his manuscript “The Strategy of Conflict”, Anne-Marie Slaughter offers an alternate picture where instead of viewing diplomacy as a strategic battle of wits, policymakers should vouch for an “open society, open government, and an open international system” as a means to eradicate problems ranging from climate change to terrorism. For a long time now, geopolitics has been depicted as a classic two-by-two matrix game, i.e. a chessboard of contending countries caught in a zero-sum paradox. Although the contention still holds; however, according to Anne-Marie Slaughter- former director of policy planning at the State Department and the current president of the New America think tank- it does not trap the unpredictability of the globalised world.

In the contemporary scenario, it is important to note that the process of globalisation has transformed the world into a global village inclusive of large interconnected networks like various terrorist flanks, social media and finance and trade flows that according to Slaughter seem to bypass the chessboard by applying their profound impact over political scenarios. Although various strategies adopted by many stakeholders across the chessboard are not only understood but are also predicted on a day to day basis; however, in a world of fluid networks and incredible connectivity, absolutely no systems exist that could provide appropriate guidance to policymakers as to how they should navigate the world of the web and customize interfaces to find solutions to global challenges by integrating all stakeholders.

Long a predominant similitude for contemplating geopolitics, the “chessboard” centres fundamentally around the military, monetary, and strategic rivalry between states. On the other hand the “web,” considers cooperation and interdependencies among a much more tumultuous biological system of on-screen characters. Throughout her book, Slaughter focuses on “networks” which she defines as frameworks of interconnected parts including individuals, organisations and even threats. Based on this definition, she contends that these networks serve to be more active instruments for understanding all the major issues and difficulties of the current age inclusive of environmental degeneration, the spread of epidemics and human trafficking that transcend artificial borders and institutional traditions.

While she constructs her book in light of the judgment that the web is progressively more imperative than the chessboard, she doesn’t enjoy the in vogue recommendation that states are losing their importance as primary actors; instead, she welcomes perusers to dissect a world “where states still exist and exercise control, however next to each other with corporate, community, and criminal on-screen characters enmeshed in a web of systems.” Similarly, her rhetoric does not undermine the role of power politics but rather that it progressively exists together with a more decentralised and kinetic arrangement of networks. “The Chessboard and the Web” tries to establish a working relationship between power and interdependence in the present-day context.

Applying her logic of the “web” on American politics, Slaughter cites the example of the US commitment to climate change. When President Donald Trump implicitly stated that USA would no longer be a part of the Paris climate accord hatched in 2015, he endured relentless criticism from all sides. Critics went as far as to state that the Trump administration had made the worst blunder since the Iraq war and that such a move had created a space for other actors in the international political system to redesign the world’s power structure. Due to the state-centric nature of international relations, the power of the “web” was never anticipated whereby more than a hundred mayors, governors and business pioneers submitted their pledge to the United Nations conferring them to meet the US Greenhouse gas emission targets under the agreement. This coalition does not seem to be a coincidental reaction to a bold national choice; rather, it is symbolic of an undeniably potent “city-to-city diplomacy.” Such an example gives more weight to Slaughter’s argument that suggests that local leaders are ready to take advantage of global networks to deal with local issues.

As extrapolated before, “The Chessboard and the Web” advocates a retreat of world politics from a highly state-centric view to what Slaughter alludes to as a ‘people-based order.’ According to her, the ramifications of such a retreat are that the characterising decision of the current age resides between open and closed societies instead of between authoritarian regimes and vote based systems and that to be successful in a highly networked world, various stakeholders need to sift through the idea of open societies. Here it is important also to understand that by open societies Slaughter does not imply the free movement of ideas, trade and people but a profound responsibility regarding transparency based on investment, straightforwardness, and self-rule.

While this might be instinctively alluring, the book tends to overlook the potential dangers and pitfalls of such a receptiveness. Although as per Slaughter’s logic, the utilisation of open systems has empowered a large number of stakeholders to accomplish their objectives from dynamic campaigners to psychological militant cells a promise of transparency will further empower numerous types of actors who will use the power of the open network to further their own ends. If for instance, an administration needs to close down a bootleg mafia, the financing of fear-based oppression and the utilisation of online networking to isolate social orders, this would undermine the very notion of openness that the book advocates in the first place. Moreover, although the role of non-state actors in the open societies is widely discussed; however, slaughter has no answer to such pertinent questions. The liberal supposition that receptiveness encourages dynamic change and advancement is never a long way from the pages of The Chessboard and the Web which will disappoint a few perusers.

Nevertheless, Anne-Marie Slaughter should be hailed as a trailblazer for coming up with a policy prescription or a remedy subject to the fundamental investigation of the underlying global order which in turn supports it. On the off chance that policymakers do not agree with Slaughter’s logic of the networked world which we live in, all the strategies that she has put forth will fail to be noticed. While the fundamental preface of the book did not sound so convincing; however, Slaughter’s eagerness to challenge customary wisdoms and guide the most contemporary of patterns were quite inspirational. “The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World” is a must read for people looking for a cure to the present wave of scholarship trumpeting the ‘return of history’ in international relations.

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