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28 June 2011

The Afghan Badlands and Wikipedia

David Miliband on a decade of "asymmetric decay".

By Harry Conrad Cockburn

Speaking last night, David Miliband outlined the reasons why he believes the last decade has been the most traumatic for the west since the 1930s.

At an event organised by Intelligence Squared, titled Ten Years after 9/11: The World Remade, the former foreign secretary gave a breakdown of what he described as the “degeneration” of old power structures, and stressed the importance of recognising the need for coherent global interdependence.

Miliband argued that over the past decade, three key features of the international stage have been eroded: Firstly, the historic dominance of the United States; secondly, the shift in the balance of power as a result of this, and thirdly, the deterioration of shared sovereignty in the European Union.

He described America as “a reluctant empire” that has had an increasing focus on internal affairs since Bill Clinton ended his second term. No cogent enemies have raised the US ire other than disparate groups inhabiting the Afghan “Badlands”, these semi-independent factions being taken on by the American government in an al-Qaeda instigated “detour” of foreign policy. Miliband likened the sum of individual acts of anarchy against the west to the domination of Microsoft’s failed online encyclopaedia by the publicly edited Wikipedia, a relationship he termed “asymmetric decay”.

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He highlighted what he called a “fundamental divide between politicians and academics over how to create an interdependent world”. Some prefer to cling to the cosy notion of the nation-state, Miliband said, while progressive groups expound the virtues of shared sovereignty and a recognition of the increasing role of the individual.

“When we talk about the balance of power we have to talk about people not just states,” he said. “The west is going to have to rediscover the joys of multilateralism.”