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April, 2007:

Key Questions

Despite the resounding silence that has met this blog, I am still confident that there is something important here. My family just returned from a short trip to Vietnam and Thailand, where we visited two somewhat similar nations in the midst of finding a satisfactory path to development and sound government. Both – given the recent coup in Thailand – are autocratic in some sense, but still attentive to public opinion and public welfare. Despite very different ideological labels, they both face very similar problems in terms of economic competitiveness, living in the shadow of China, rapid population explosion with a large proportion of young people, sectarian strife of various forms, environmental collapse despite relatively rich and fertile land, but with strong economic growth and rising expectations.

So what does this have to do with Expat Nation, you may ask? The connection and interdependence these nations have in a global economy is quite obvious. Vietnam only a few decades ago was perceived as firmly “Communist”. Now, like China, there are few indications that ideology matters at all to governance, although there is scant support for democracy. Finding a satisfactory relationship to global institutions of trade, finance, health oversight, and environmental protection seem to be very much on the minds of government leaders. The question is – where are the global institutions? Behind the curtains, all anyone can find is a bumbling Wizard of Oz.

Which brings me to some of the key premises of Expat Nation. Globalization of the economy has not been followed by globalization of governance. While the UN shows occasional promise as a means to develop such institutional frameworks, it is sadly much too slow and wedded to nationalist interests and constraints. Somehow, before the earth devolves into an overheated planet governed by “cowboy” states like the US, China, and Russia, we need much stronger institutions to serve our needs.

Whose needs? This is where Expat Nation diverges from more conventional Cosmopolitan and Internationalist thought. Realism requires that such institutions emerge from a coherent set of grassroots interests. Who benefits most from strong international institutions? Who is rich enough to have a long-term horizon, with genuine concern for preserving the global environment and commonwealth? Who is engaged in daily interaction with the nationalist interests of countries like Vietnam and Thailand, but dependent on win-win resolutions? Who is developing a new culture of tolerance, secularism, diversity, human rights, and equal opportunity?

Obviously there are many non-expats with these priorities; there are also millions of expats with strong nationalist beliefs and interests. But the underlying conjecture of Expat Nation is that there is a growing cohort of expats and like-minded individuals around the world who would opt-in to a stronger association if one existed. The mission of Expat Nation is to define such an association, to chart a path from here to there.

Along the way, Expat Nation will have to answer several key questions. First, who are we? Who can join; what will membership entail; what obligations and responsibilities will be inherent in participation? In the beginning, a place where flaky idealists and college students debate global governance may be enough. Ultimately, however, power will only accrue if the organization has money, influence, and a track record of progress on the problems of “nter-nation building.” These will require a commitment and responsibility that will rival the identity of nation state citizens. Second, why Expat Nation instead of existing channels for global cooperation and organization? The best way to answer this question will be through the success (or failure) of Expat Nation. Third, how will Expat Nation succeed beyond the gadfly stage, when it becomes the focus of counter-efforts from nationalists, governments, and Realists who don’t believe that any restraints or collaboration among global interests will be helpful in the long run? More important, how will Expat Nation survive subversion and hostile intentions, from well-funded constituencies that benefit from the status quo laissez faire environment?

I certainly do not know the answer to these and further questions. Right now it feels like whistling in the wind. I will be happy if a year from now real people are engaged in meaningful debate about Expat Nation, what it should stand for, and how to build a new identity that is something to be proud of in today’s world.