By PARAG KHANNA
The United States, founded in struggle against empire in the age of nationalism, must forge a sense of national interdependence in the age of globalisation. A democratic initiative seeks to make the day after 9/11 the springboard of an effort of imaginative renewal – not simply in America, but worldwide.
On 12 September 2003 in the home of the American Philosophical Society, several hundred Americans gathered to formally mark the impact globalisation has had on their lives. The date was declared “Interdependence Day”, a day which may be as significant for the 21st century as 4 July, America’s Independence Day, has been since the 18th century. For the event’s organisers (the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland), Interdependence Day is intended to be crucially different from 4 July. Where Americans alone celebrate the latter, the idea of interdependence unites all peoples across national boundaries in a common human destiny. At the same time, there is an element of deep continuity: for Americans in particular will have to struggle as hard to realise the promise of interdependence as they did for independence. Interdependence Day is a positive rather than negative phenomenon. It does not define itself in opposition to the current George W. Bush administration or its policies, such as the National Security Strategy which several writers have analysed in openDemocracy. This can be demonstrated in two ways. First, the movement to establish such a day in the national calendar (though not, clearly, the precise date) predates the 2000 American election and aims to extend far beyond it into the future. Second, the movement aspires to be not simply an American but a global one. The reality of global interdependence has been emerging for decades, first in the economic, then in the political and social spheres. As global integration deepens, the idea of marking a day when every nation recognises its interdependence with the rest of the world serves to anchor a cause which already has a receptive audience worldwide. The day after But in that case, why choose 12 September? And why Philadelphia? 11 September 2003 marked the second anniversary of the day Americans experienced a shocking atrocity which also revealed their inescapable interdependence with the peoples of the world. As such, it is a date appropriate for remembrance and mourning. 12 September, however, can become the day Americans affirm and renew their commitment to that same interdependence which ultimately brings far more benefits and opportunities than dangers. Over two hundred years ago in Philadelphia, America’s founders asserted their independence, and now Americans of a new generation have returned there to revise and expand this most fundamental principle. Despite the events of 9/11, America remains the most powerful nation in history, with the capacity to use its power to stimulate positive change towards freedom and fairness around the world. This is the essence of interdependence: the world shares both globalisation’s virtues (such as better technology and communications, trade and cultural exchange) but also its vices (such as terrorism and disease). In the age of globalisation, isolation is impossible. 12 September is an apt way to symbolise the transition, one that is occurring globally in a myriad of contexts, from independence to interdependence. For Americans, independence alone no longer guarantees security, despite the vast oceans to their east and west; nor does it guarantee prosperity, despite their high levels of production. Today and in the future, American security depends on the democratic stability and trustworthiness of governments in the Middle East and elsewhere, and its wealth on increasing spending power in the markets of Asia. Thus America’s stake in the deepening of global interdependence is great, and in many ways, it is up to America to shape it for the betterment of all. Though Americans often speak of the impact of globalisation on their lives, they realise too seldom the opportunities it provides to improve the world both in their own interests and in those of other peoples. This is the challenge of interdependence: politically, to promote true democratic participation; economically, to create fair access and opportunity; and culturally, to develop shared understandings and learn to respect differences. From America to the world It has been remarked that even the United Nations does not adequately capture the spirit of interdependence. After all, its Millennium Declaration, which begins with the phrase “We the peoples,” should in fact read “We the governments.” Interdependence, by contrast, emphasises that people’s individual actions – spending and consumption habits, travel preferences and voting behavior, for example – significantly affect the lives of other individuals around the globe, both directly and indirectly. Thus Interdependence Day is not about the solidarity of one nation under one flag, but of all individuals irrespective of geography or nationality. The problems of the day know no borders, nor should the solutions. As the Declaration of Interdependence itself proclaims, we must pledge “to foster democratic policies and institutions expressing and protecting our human commonality; and at the same time, to nurture free spaces in which our distinctive religious, ethnic and cultural identities may flourish and our equally worthy lives may be lived in dignity, protected from political, economic and cultural hegemony of every kind.” Recognising the inherently transnational nature of interdependence, Interdependence Day’s organisers are already seeking partners to host similar events around the world next year, on 12 September 2004. 11 September will forever be remembered as a day of tragedy which bound America and the world in the sense of a common fate; 12 September can become a day of affirmation and renewal that builds on this shared reality.