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I recently hosted a CFR roundtable with Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and chief executive officer of New America to discuss, among other topics, her new book The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World. In the book, which was released a few weeks ago, Slaughter writes that foreign policy is not merely a chessboard or grand game of strategy between countries, as it traditionally has been seen. She argues that foreign policy can also be viewed as a web of networks made up of countries, corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and individuals. Global politics should be viewed as a series of networks built on relationships, connections, and openness. Slaughter contends that we are moving toward a networked age where "all humanity is connected beneath the surface like the giant colonies of aspen trees in Colorado that are actually all one organism."
During our discussion, Slaughter also invoked a metaphor suggested by feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan's well-known book, In a Different Voice, contrasting leadership as a ladder (from the top-down) and leadership as a web (from the center-out). Since women are often underrepresented in traditional positions of power, women have often, as a practical matter, led from the center and utilized networks in innovative ways.
For example, as I have written about before, women and women's groups around the world, such as Sisters Against Violent Extremism or Women Without Walls Initiative, are in positions to counter extremism within their communities, as they often have insights into which community members are at risk of being radicalized and have the ability to advance counter narratives to violent extremism. Oftentimes, women involved in these groups are mothers and have a finger on the pulse of which teenagers are susceptible to radicalization before young people head fully down that path. Along those lines, Slaughter notes, "If you think of [our] mother's generation [,] those networks were often the way women got things done in communities whe[re] they didn’t have direct power."
Slaughter also points to the European Union (EU) as a model of a collection of networks among nations. When new countries join the EU, departments of the host government become connected to its EU counterparts, which creates a web of networks. Human rights organizations frequently follow this model as well. Even when they lack power in the traditional sense, human rights NGOs can also use their networks to influence politics and decision-making. The implications of Slaughter's approach are vast for reconceiving leadership, governance, and power.