The Problem and Promise of Focality in World Affairs

In this essay, Southeast Asia Forum director Donald K. Emmerson makes the following argument:

Increasingly in world affairs, insecurity bred of complexity and uncertainty is eliciting focality:  the concentration of power and prowess in the hands of a limited number of actors—not so few as to lack any claim to legitimacy, yet not so numerous as to lack the ability to respond to urgent challenges in a timely fashion. As a zone of policy opportunity, focality is both promising and problematic: In the face of a crisis, a few authorized deciders can take steps that are necessary but controversial, achieving a productive trade-off between effectiveness and representation. There is also a “natural” focality that can encourage pragmatism among formerly partisan incumbents who face the need to govern. But they may not be able to agree, and even if they can, they risk being targeted—for elitism, unaccountability, incompetence, self-dealing, and intransigence, among other sins—by those who reject their authority to act. 

The essay is scheduled to appear in the August 2011 inaugural issue of Strategic Review: The Indonesian Journal of Leadership, Policy, and World Affairs, an English-language journal of world affairs based in Jakarta, Indonesia, and is posted here with the publisher's permission.