As the citizens of nations across every global region are slowly noticing, we too have entered an era of seismic changes in global power structures. In the past there had been the shrinkage of colonial empires, the building and rebuilding of infant nations and eventually, the worldwide strife between two massive hegemonic powers. When one of those powers, the Soviet Union, crumbled, it led Francis Fukuyama to claim famously—or infamously—in The End of History that the rest of history would simply be a process of democratizing the rest of the world. In the same essay, he dismissed the gravity of religions fundamentalism in a few sentences, yet this was not his most glaring oversight. In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that history will be shaped increasingly by organizations amassing power and acting independently of national governments, and these non-state actors do not always behave harmoniously.
Today, transnational organizations—corporations, nonprofits, hacktivist groups, special interests, ethnic-nationalist movements and religious organizations— have unprecedented power in shaping history. Today, ExxonMobil has an annual revenue larger that the GDP of the majority of countries in the world.
In Haiti, the Irish-owned, Jamaica-based telecom company Digicel unilaterally built over 50 schools, in addition to enabling reconstruction programs in way unparalleled by any organization (including the Haitian government) by getting Haitians to use digital funds through mobile banking rather than through banks. Still, the decentralization of power in changing the material world has not always been positive; in multiple regions of the world, banks and news websites have been brought down by groups acting independently of national governments, bringing the day to day life to a grinding halt in some cases.
With so much power transferring to non-state actors, the ability to cause wide-scale damage and the ability to build infrastructure and capacity will no longer be held primarily by governments. It is increasingly unlikely that New Deal style government programs will be the main shaping forces in the world. Due to decreasing costs in technology and the widening frontier of cyberspace, it is also increasingly likely that anonymous, hard-to-find, or false-flag attackers will ignite or exacerbate tensions between states, as exemplified by the recent events in North-East Asia (also here and here). In this new reality which offers us new, unbounded potential to grow and which simultaneously threatens us with unforeseen and unpredictable dangers, old power structures must acknowledge the changes around them and adapt.
In time, governments of sovereign nations must account for the reality that every type of power is becoming increasingly decentralized, and they must consciously direct their energies toward tempering and regulating the changes brought about by smaller organizations rather than trying to implement changes directly. In a world such as this, the governments of sovereign nations, whether they realize it or not, are being forced to rethink their roles or risk becoming irrelevant.