Center for American Progress

We Should Consider New Ways of Understanding Power in Today’s World
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We Should Consider New Ways of Understanding Power in Today’s World

The fact that WikiLeaks is probably a bigger national security news story than any other should give us pause. It suggests that we should consider new ways of understanding power in today’s world and how to begin to work with it effectively instead of reactively.

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Beneath the surface of the furor over the latest WikiLeaks releases of classified government documents are the outlines of a new understanding of power and how it works in the world today. Power is being redefined. It is now redistributed among a broader range of actors. Once the preserve of global elites and institutions, power is now more “open source,” with fewer barriers to entry and subject to more than just military or economic forces.

Clearly this data dump by a handful of individuals at WikiLeaks poses a threat to the conduct of American foreign policy in important ways. Yet the government’s immediate response reveals that one important aspect of this leak of information to unauthorized individuals may be being overlooked. The leak has prompted perhaps tens of thousands of government workers to react in investigations and try to put the genie back into the bottle. This is not even remotely possible because there’s no longer a bottle.

Laws were broken by those who facilitated this massive leak of information, and WikiLeaks does not seem to have exercised the care that major newspapers have in how they have reported on the information contained in the leaked documents. But one big story that should not be missed is what these leaks—and perhaps more importantly, the reactions to them—tell us about geopolitics today.

The world has changed, but our foreign policy remains trapped in the 20th century. This leaves us vulnerable to new types of security threats. The fact that WikiLeaks is probably a bigger national security news story than any other, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, should give us pause. It suggests that we should consider new ways of understanding power in today’s world and how to begin to work with it effectively instead of reactively.

For more on this topic please see:

  • Power Shift by Brian Katulis and Susan Thistlethwaite

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