Introducing Planetary Politics

A Note from Our Director
Blog Post
red-feniks /
Nov. 30, 2022

Global power is changing. Geopolitics is no longer simply about the size of a nation’s army, gross domestic product, currencies, or even cultural influence. Emerging technologies are redefining how we think about sovereignty and citizenship even as corporations and nations fight over the trajectory of the digital future. At the same time, the tug of war over the pace and scale of the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy is exacerbating international rivalries. And, the clock is ticking, as the impact of global warming on local populations and politics threatens to worsen instability.

We are witnessing a paradigm shift in a system of institutions that for generations has rested on the primacy of nation-states as the world builders. No nation, corporation, or community has the capacity to single-handedly cope with all the volatility the transition to a new industrial base will entail. Institutions built and dominated by the military victors of WWII are even less well equipped to meet the moment. From the UN Security Council to the IMF and World Bank, it is clear that the multilateral system needs retooling. Some parts may need recalibrating to ensure greater equity and inclusion. Other parts may need to be deleted altogether. Tinkering at the edges of institutional reform, however, is unlikely to be sufficient.

Today, policy responses to 21st-century challenges often come with baked-in 20th-century assumptions about the nature of inter-state politics and particularly great power competition that can often block and obscure potential solutions. In the United States and globally, profound demographic, environmental, and technological shifts are simultaneously fueling inequality and inequity. Our collective inability to keep up is creating dangerous gaps between those empowered to govern and those who are governed. It is also exacerbating tensions between the Global South and Global North at a time when collective action and cooperation are urgently needed. These dynamics are shredding many of the conventions and customs that have been essential for effective diplomacy.

For the foreseeable future, how we adapt to a hotter planet where we are more connected by digital technology than ever before will determine the course of our world order. In an era when human industry is quite literally changing the shape of the planet, the existential challenges we face will not be easily overcome. Increasingly, power is distributed and highly reliant on interdependent systems. Winners and losers in this new paradigm will be measured foremost by their ability to adapt in time to survive. We need to start thinking about and talking about power differently if we want to thrive, not just survive. The goal of New America’s Planetary Politics initiative is to get that conversation started.

A Call to Action

The Planetary Politics initiative seeks to serve as an incubator for emerging thought leaders and an engine for driving the conversation about how the climate emergency and rapid digital transformation is forcing us all to reimagine what a sustainable way of life looks like. Our primary objective is to shift the foundation for global governance and international cooperation onto a footing where it becomes possible to identify guiding principles for stewardship of human capital and planetary resources.

Put simply, we want to influence the trajectory of U.S. foreign policy and national security. For too long, Washington has been stuck in the same stale mindset, and it shows. Mired in fractious domestic politics and battered by the foundational flaws in the global institutions it helped build after WWII, the United States has lost its way and so has the foreign policy and national security establishment. The UN is dysfunctional. The World Trade Organization is, at best, an afterthought. And the World Bank is out of touch. The United States is struggling to exercise leadership in a world being remade by a new industrial revolution seeded by technological transformation, climate change, and the resulting diffusion of global power.

New America’s Planetary Politics initiative is a call to action for reimagining a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable global order. As our world becomes hotter, wetter, and more fractured and complex, the time to build new global institutions that put people at the center of today’s planetary politics — in preparation for tomorrow — is now.

The initiative is organized under two primary workstreams:

Our Digital Futures work will showcase new thinking and elevate new voices on the topics of tech diplomacy, cyberpolitics, and map new pathways to global governance of the digital domain.

Our Power Reimagined work will engage New America’s partners around the world and invite contributions from emerging leaders in the public, private, and non-governmental sectors on how the Global South and Global North can build a new consensus together on what constitutes good stewardship of a people- and planet-centered future.

Stay tuned and follow along as we chart a new path forward.