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Grand explanations of how to understand the complex twenty-first-century world have all fallen short -- until now. In The Second World, Parag Khanna takes readers on a thrilling global tour, one that shows how America’s dominant moment has been suddenly replaced by a geopolitical marketplace wherein the European Union and China compete with the United States to shape world order on their own terms.
This contest is hottest and most decisive in the Second World: pivotal regions in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and East Asia. Khanna explores the evolution of geopolitics through the recent histories of such underreported, fascinating, and complicated countries as Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Libya, Vietnam, and Malaysia -- nations whose resources will ultimately determine the fate of the three superpowers, but whose futures are perennially uncertain as they struggle to rise into the first world or avoid falling into the third.
Informed, witty, and armed with a traveler’s intuition for blending into diverse cultures, Khanna mixes copious research with deep reportage to remake the map of the world. He depicts second-world societies from the inside out, observing how globalization divides them into winners and losers along political, economic, and cultural lines -- and shows how China, Europe, and America use their unique imperial gravities to pull the second-world countries into their orbits. Along the way, Khanna also explains how Arabism and Islamism compete for the Arab soul, reveals how Iran and Saudi Arabia play the superpowers against one another, unmasks Singapore’s inspirational role in East Asia, and psychoanalyzes the second-world leaders whose decisions are reshaping the balance of power. He captures the most elusive formula in international affairs: how to think like a country.
In the twenty-first century, globalization is the main battlefield of geopolitics, and America itself runs the risk of descending into the second world if it does not renew itself and redefine its role in the world.
Comparable in scope and boldness to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man and Samuel P. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Parag Khanna’s The Second World will be the definitive guide to world politics for years to come.
The New York Times
Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2008
In the 21st century the empires strike back. The United States, the European Union and China dare not call themselves imperial powers, Parag Khanna argues in “The Second World,” his sweeping, often audacious survey of contemporary geopolitics, but they are busy reshaping the globe to suit their interests. The game is afoot, with the natural resources and potential wealth of countries like Ukraine, Turkey and Brazil as the prize.
Mr. Khanna... strides the world in seven-league boots, armed with a powerful thesis: in the postcolonial, post-cold-war era, three superpowers have emerged with a ravenous appetite for energy and natural resources. Restlessly, they look to the second-tier economies of Latin America, the former Soviet bloc, the Middle East and Asia for partners or patsies.
No shots will be fired. Instead the three imperial rivals will woo and coerce, relying on distinct styles. The United States offers military protection, along with the promise of democracy and human rights. The European Union dangles the prospect of membership in, or affiliation with, the world’s most successful economic club, provided that applicants undertake specific reforms. China talks trade, investment and infrastructure projects, with no annoying demands for political reform in its would-be client states.
“To a large extent, the future of the second world hinges on how it relates to the three superpowers,” Mr. Khanna writes, “and the future of the superpowers depends on how they manage the second world.”
Like a geopolitical tour guide, he moves at lightning speed across the scattered countries of the second world to assess the prospects of, say, Russia or Malaysia, and to see how the superpowers are faring in their courtship rituals.
Russia will be much smaller, its dwindling population “spread so thinly across a territory so vast that it no longer even makes demographic sense as a country.” The allure of European Union membership has already drawn Eastern Europe into the union’s orbit, while China controls vast swaths of Central Asia, almost by default.
Malaysia’s future looks bright. Playing a shrewd second-world game, it cultivates good relations with both the United States and China (just as elusive Kazahkstan has made sure that its oil pipelines run north, south, east and west), while channeling oil revenues into diversifying its economy and building its infrastructure.
Malaysia makes a stark contrast to Indonesia, “a sprawling, waterborne golf course in which a mix of foreign companies and countries claim ownership of different holes,” Mr. Khanna writes. He has a knack for reducing a country to a phrase. Taiwan is “a stateless economic node,” with a relationship to China he describes as “mutual colonization.”
“The Second World” is rewarding simply as a primer on contemporary geopolitics. Anyone curious about the lay of the land in Algeria or Tajikistan can get answers, and a dash of local color, in Mr. Khanna’s succinct chapters, which envelop the reader in a whirlwind of facts and figures, some eye-opening, others merely perplexing.
“Elderly couples learn to tango at night by the illuminated Ming-era city walls,” Mr. Khanna observes of Beijing.
This is fascinating, or perhaps not. Like Arthur Frommer with an economics degree, Mr. Khanna loves to set a scene in 10 words or fewer, getting a few carts carrying bales of mint into the picture frame as he strolls through a Moroccan medina. He seasons the narrative with brief quotations from anonymous taxi drivers, journalists and government officials, each allowed one culturally relevant action, like the engineering student who comments on Egypt’s leadership crisis “while devouring a plate of kebabs.”
Mr. Khanna is not averse to the bland “time will tell” summation either, and on occasion the crystal ball becomes cloudy. “It is hard to overestimate the fluidity of the early-21st-century landscape,” Mr. Khanna writes sagely.
Mr. Khanna, who was born in India but raised in the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Germany, takes a dim view of India’s future, bets on Chile as the South American country most likely to advance to first-world status and predicts, quite calmly, the dissolution of Iraq.
“Iraq has been terminated before, and history will do so again,” he writes. “In the long term, the region could be the better for it.”
Among the superpowers, the big loser could be the United States, which Mr. Khanna describes in contemptuous terms. His admiration for the European Union, which has skillfully concentrated on the long-term transformation and stabilization of prospective partners, knows no bounds. China also wins his admiration, despite its human-rights record. In general, Mr. Khanna, who argues that democracy is a luxury that wealthy nations can afford, more than tolerates the enlightened despotism of countries like Singapore and Malaysia.
The United States, by contrast, is described as naïve and arrogant, a musclebound superpower searching for a brain. The State Department, he writes, is run like “the world’s largest travel agency.” With its special envoys and troubleshooters rushing around the planet to put out brush fires, the United States practices a “diplomacy by dilettantism” unworthy of a great power.
In his polemical conclusion Mr. Khanna becomes a little unhinged in his analysis of the ills afflicting the United States, which, by his description, should collapse sometime in the middle of next month. He works himself into a lather over the popularity of police car chases on television, football and “wasteful motor sports.”
“American socioeconomic attitudes would be laughable if they were not so scary,” he writes.
A prime example of imperial overstretch, the United States faces a highly uncertain future, Mr. Khanna argues, somewhat more coherently, with economic decline and waning international influence distinct possibilities. From a position of world dominance, it must readjust to a fluid international order in which it is “merely one of several competing vendors or brands on the catwalk of credibility.” You sense that Mr. Khanna will enjoy the show. -- William Grimes
The Washington Post
Sunday, Mar. 23, 2008
To most Americans, small is not beautiful. We like being Number One. We take pride in a military that is second to none. We boast that Wall Street drives the world's financial markets (even if it's downward); that American scientists win more Nobel Prizes than anyone else; that our universities draw scholars and students from around the globe; that our symphony orchestras match Europe's best; and, of course, that Hollywood films suspend disbelief everywhere.
Is it possible, though, that Pax Americana has come to an end? If so, should we seek less ambitious goals abroad and rely less on military means to achieve them?
India-born and Washington-based, Parag Khanna says yes and yes. In this fact-filled volume full of pithy observations and summaries, he identifies "three relatively equal centers of influence: Washington, Brussels, and Beijing." He is not the first to argue that the European Union and China have become our competitors for global influence; the point was made years ago by, among others, Charles Kupchan in The End of the American Era. Nonetheless, Khanna's study is noteworthy, primarily for his analysis of "the second world": some 100 transitional countries, such as Brazil, Ukraine and Iran, that do not qualify either as rich advanced industrial states or as least developed nations.
By Khanna's account, "the race to win the second world is on." And so he visited many of these transitional places to see for himself which way they are leaning in the new contest among the three main centers of power. From Mexico to Uzbekistan and points in between, Khanna reports conversations about politics and economics with officials, scholars and the inevitable taxi drivers. In Central Asia, his interlocutors see Chinese influence on the rise; in Central and Eastern Europe, they see the growing power of the European Union.
By contrast, America's impact is less in evidence almost everywhere, Khanna observes, partly because our foreign aid budget is relatively small; as a result, the United States can still punish adversaries militarily, but its ability or willingness to reward allies and thus shape their behavior is rather limited. Our main flaw, however, is that we have not adjusted our mindset to the post-Cold War era. While we pursue a "global war" on terror, for example, the leaders of many other nations think we face a terrorist "challenge" that calls for a carefully calibrated economic and diplomatic -- as well as military -- response. "Strong arms and strongmen cannot mask America's relative decline," Khanna argues, "since they are the chief symbols of it."
In addition to stressing that American power has declined, Khanna also says we're not very smart at using the power we still have. China impresses the second world with its astonishing economic progress and political fortitude. The European Union impresses with its ability to build consensus among both its members and its eager applicants. Oversimplifying a complex issue, Khanna contends that the United States "no longer seems to know what it wants" because its foreign policy elite "is utterly divorced from citizens' concerns": "Leaders are keen for the United States to fight more wars, push for free trade, and allow mass immigration, while the majority of Americans want fewer military interventions, less foreign aid, immigration restrictions, and some form of protectionism for American jobs and industries."
Khanna correctly calls attention to our growing inability to convince or cajole even as we continue to warn and intimidate. What he does not offer is a discussion of the leadership deficit that may be at the heart of America's putative decline. All of his travels that form the basis of the book took place in the last few years, at a time when Washington has often substituted lecturing for leadership. While the anti-Americanism he observes is therefore real enough, it is arguably more a reaction to the Bush administration's foreign policy and we-know-everything-better-than-anyone-else mindset than to the reality and promise of America.
In Second Chance, Zbigniew Brzezinski's insightful study published last year, the former national security adviser suggested that the United States could bounce back and regain lost ground if new leaders emerge who are mature enough to accept global diversity, and who treat foreign friends with circumspection and adversaries with a modicum of tolerance. If this were to happen in the next few years, Khanna's book would become obsolete. If it does not happen, the book will be among those that warned, correctly, of the ending of the American era. -- Charles Gati
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
Sunday, Mar. 30, 2008
After the collapse of Communism, the “new world order” quickly disintegrated into the new world disorder, as pent-up nationalism erupted, most dramatically in the Balkans. The nationalistic volcano subsided, replaced by fears about the “clash of civilizations,” which meant the West against the rest, and primarily Islam. After 9/11, the “ism” of concern became “terrorism,” and our book shelves groan under the weight of policy prescriptions from public officials, academics, journalists and even former spies.
Now, a young, well-traveled, multilingual foreign-policy scholar, Parag Khanna, suggests in “The Second World” that we are on the cusp of a new new world order -- “a multipolar and multicivilizational world of three distinct superpowers competing on a planet of shrinking resources.” The three are the United States, the European Union and China. The contest now is primarily for the world’s limited resources, and it will be waged in Khanna’s second world. “From Eastern Europe to Central Asia, from South America across the Arab world and into Southeast Asia, the race to win the second world is on.”
His is not an apocalyptic scenario. Indeed, he agrees with the view that increasing globalization leads to decreasing chances of war. And since each of the new empires has nuclear weapons, “economic power is more important than military power.” Thus, the competition will be won through “soft power,” effective diplomacy and attractive social models (the liberal democracy of the United States and European Union versus China’s mixed structures).
But is the European Union a superpower? Yes, its economy and population are larger than those of the United States, and more countries are trying to get in. But it cannot be said yet whether such a diverse gathering of nations will be able to agree on a common foreign policy -- Spain and other union members disagree on how to handle Hugo Chavez -- or whether Paris and London are ready to surrender foreign policy to Brussels.
There can be little doubt, however, that China will be a superpower. It does not have to conquer the world militarily, just buy it. In Venezuela, China is now the largest source of foreign investment, and has offered to build homes and a fiber-optic network. Argentina’s economic recovery is heavily dependent on agricultural exports -- to China. In Egypt, China is investing in everything from the Suez Canal and cement factories to electronics companies and convention centers. In Jordan, it has built four of the country’s five new dams, “with remarkable efficiency,” Khanna writes.
China has some advantages when it comes to competing with the United States and the European Union, which are not all that laudatory, but which Khanna glosses over. It has no law prohibiting its companies from paying bribes in order to get contracts; anecdotal stories abound about the amounts of money handed out in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as the Middle East and Africa. (The same is true for Japanese and Korean companies.) Nor is there a human rights lobby in China, or a free press, to take the country’s leaders to task for supporting corrupt, dictatorial regimes -- Zimbabwe, Sudan, Syria and Uzbekistan among them.
Still, if the United States is going to compete successfully, the next administration must undertake some deep-seated fixes at the State Department. In the Arab world, Khanna notes, Chinese diplomats “show deference to local culture by learning Arabic and even taking Arabic names.” America will not become more diplomatically competitive by cutting the State Department further, as many conservatives would like. Already, America’s image and standing in the world have been weakened immensely by closing American libraries and consulates, or putting them behind forbidding security barriers (and also, of course, by the administration’s rendition and torture policies). The diplomatic ranks need to grow; there are more musicians in America’s military bands than there are foreign service officers, and the generals and admirals who head the various commands, like the Central Command or Centcom in Florida, have more aides and advisers than the country has ambassadors and assistant secretaries of state.
The notion that the United States will not be the world’s only superpower, that it will have to share power with Europe and China, will horrify many Americans. Conservatives believe the nation’s self-interest is best served by using its military power to remain on top; liberals are just as committed to keeping America No. 1 in the name of “humanitarian intervention.” But there may be real benefits to the United States, as well as to other democracies, from a tripartite world order.
Khanna is full of praise for the European Union’s development aid programs, which he says are directed to building public institutions like courts. But the Europeans, like the Americans, often put as much emphasis on getting credit for their help as they do on actually making a difference; it remains to be seen whether European programs will become overly bureaucratic and, like American projects, spend too much on consultants and economic studies. American taxpayers should be delighted, in any case, to let Europe bear more of the development burden.
...Yet he tries to do too much in this book. A more accurate title might be “Around the World in 400 Pages.”
Khanna mentions about 100 countries, some in only a sentence or a few paragraphs, as if to prove that he has indeed visited that many places. The section on Latin America is overly long; a look at Mexico, Brazil and, briefly, Venezuela would have sufficed. And it is hard to understand why he devotes so much attention to Malaysia, except when one notes that he was a visiting fellow at a public policy institute in neighboring Singapore. On the other hand, his chapters on Kazakhstan and on Egypt, which he describes as “a country ripe for revolution,” both make the book worth buying.
By trying to cover so many bases, Khanna dilutes his most important arguments. Russia, he observes for example, “has no divine right to continue in its present form.” This says considerably more than it seems to at first. The country’s vast eastern section is being gobbled up by China through investment and immigration.
Khanna is obviously not shy about making bold statements. He disputes the popular view that India will emerge as a check to China. “India is big but not yet important,” he writes. “It could also be argued that China is a freer country than democratic India.” By that, Khanna means, literacy is higher and the poverty rate lower in China; it has more Internet connections and cellphones; and it is easier to start a business in China than in India.
In similar grand fashion, he states that Iran is at once “an authoritarian regime and perhaps the most democratic country in the region.” And “Islam and democracy are certainly more compatible than authoritarianism and democracy.” Iraq will cease to exist, he declares flatly (though he offers no prescription for what the next administration should do there). A Kurdish state, meanwhile, is inevitable. Closer to home, Khanna has this provocative thought: The United States should offer Mexico the same deal it wants the Europeans to offer Turkey: inclusion, citizenship, open migration, enormous subsidies and language rights. One wonders what the presidential candidates might say about that.
-- Raymond Bonner
Additional Praise for The Second World
“A savvy, streetwise primer on dozens of individual countries that adds up to a coherent theory of global politics.”
-- Robert D. Kaplan, author of Eastward to Tartary and Warrior Politics
“A panoramic overview that boldly addresses the dilemmas of the world that our next president will confront.”
-- Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor
"Parag Khanna's fascinating book takes us on an epic journey around the multipolar world, elegantly combining historical analysis, political theory, and eye-witness reports to shed light on the battle for primacy between the world's new empires."
-- Mark Leonard, Executive Director, European Council on Foreign Relations
"Khanna, a widely recognized expert on global politics, offers an study of the 21st century's emerging "geopolitical marketplace" dominated by three "first world" superpowers, the U.S., Europe and China... The final pages of his book warn eloquently of the risks of imperial overstretch combined with declining economic dominance and deteriorating quality of life. By themselves those pages are worth the price of a book that from beginning to end inspires reflection."
-- Publishers Weekly