CLR INTERVIEW: Parag Khanna was born in India and raised in the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Germany. He is Director of the Global Governance Initiative and Senior Research Fellow in the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. His new book is The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order. Below is Parag’s interview with the California Literary Review.
- The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order
- Random House, 496 pp.
What is “The Second World” from the title of your book?
The “second world” is a swath of the world’s most strategic countries around the world that are located between or on the peripheries of the three dominant empires: America, the European Union, and China. These countries include: Ukraine, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others. Second world countries are the emerging markets, but we have to understand them more than just economically: they now hold the majority of the world’s reserves and a growing share of the total global economy, but they are also endowed with natural resources and are pursuing political agendas on their own. In every second world country I have heard people talk about how they will no longer be listening to the US but doing things “our own way.”
Europe is often portrayed in the U.S. as having an unsustainable socialist economy that will soon collapse under its own weight. You see it in a very different light.
Every day on the news we hear about how our own medicare and social security systems are under great stress and may collapse, so I’m dubious about such characterizations of Europe. At least their system works now and has for decades. Europeans are for more efficient in public management with far lower inequality – America has a great deal to learn from them.
Your view of Russia and its future is something I had never heard before. Would you talk a little about that?
There are two very different views on Russia today, pitting those who view its recent short-term resurgence as heralding its return as a superpower (or at least an energy superpower) versus those who see the underlying instability in almost all aspects of its governance and economy. It has poor technology, a crippled infrastructure, a dying and sick population, an authoritarian government, and a great deal more weaknesses which will prevent it from ever becoming a superpower again. It continues to face widespread unrest in its south, while it’s de-populating eastern zones are increasingly Chinese populated. It simply isn’t logical to look at Russia on the map, as gigantic as it is, and think of it as a truly single, coherent, unified country. The world map is always changing, and Russia, whose map changed drastically for the worse when the Soviet Union collapsed, will continue to suffer in the coming decades.
Where do India and Japan fit into your global view?
I see India and Japan as two powerful swing states, sort of the second geopolitical tier behind the “Big Three.” They are not superpowers (Japan no longer and India not yet), but they can be important balancers in determing whether America or China becomes more powerful in the Pacific Rim region. At present, both lean towards the US and are suspicious of China, yet at the same time both are integrating with China economically much faster than before. So it is a delicate and precarious situation, one that very much embodies the tension throughout my book between globalization and geopolitics. It’s not clear to anyone how it will play out.
Although the United States has, by far, the world’s most powerful military, you don’t seem to believe it is of much importance.
Given that we are batting .000 in our foreign policy objectives such as stabilizing Iraq, resurrecting Afghanistan, and countering global terrorism, the burden of proof really falls on those who believe military power is most important. Around the entire world what I see is Europe and China investing into and buying greater shares of foreign economies—and thus gaining significant political and even military leverage over them—at our expense. Power has to be a fair balance among a range of tools, including the military, in order to be used effectively. We’re not doing that now, and I don’t see a good strategy coming out of Washington as to how to do it better.
The big three—U.S., China and Europe—are all pursuing Central Asia with its huge oil and gas reserves. It also offers a textbook look at the different methodologies that each one uses to engage with the world.
Very much so. The U.S. is the geographically most distant player and has at best been able to establish very small forward bases in the region in countries like Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. But in the former Soviet republics, this presence is highly unstable: we were kicked off our base in Uzbekistan in 2005, and the same could happen at Manas in Kyrgyzstan. Europe has been investing more and more in the region and has been very tough on political conditionality, freezing the travel of Uzbek officials and so forth. China directly borders the region, so has been pursuing pipelines, roads and trade in tandem to boost its connections to the region. All three styles of diplomacy are at play and in competition with each other. Whether the future of the region will be a return to the Silk Road era or the “Great Game” era is what I try to answer in the book.
You write that economic well-being trumps ideology. Radical Islam, in the minds of most Americans, does not follow any norms of rational economic self-interest. Is our view distorted? How do you recommend we deal radical Islam and also the Middle East?
Our view is beyond distorted: it is itself more irrational than the people to whom we ascribe irrationality. Quite a few studies have shown that terrorists largely come from the middle class and are pursuing very clearly articulated political objectives of resisting authoritarian regimes and American-backed aggression. There is no one policy for the Middle East, nor is there even a “Middle East” in my book. There are Arabs, and among them there are North Africans who can be elevated through the economic and political efforts of the EU; then there is the Mashreq where we need to push for a re-arranging of the borders of states such as Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan so that populations and ethic groups are not so fragmented and divided, but also allowing them to integrate more peacefully with their neighbors. Radicalism would not go away even if we did, but it could be dealt with through more socio-economically oriented programs that are driven from the ground-up rather than through our outside interventions.
You’ve written about America decaying from within, particularly with its growing gap between the rich and poor. Can we even afford to be playing the Empire game? Is there any historical precedent for a country going into debt to a rival (in our case China) to fund its foreign wars?
Wars do of course often cause indebtedness, but indeed we are already there! The American government does not think in guns or butter terms though, so the rich-poor gap is not an effective argument against changing our foreign policies. Those who defend our current over-stretch will always say that the percentage of GDP spent on the military remains very low, which is true. I argue that playing the empire game is nothing less than playing the globalization game, which means we need to channel even more foreign investment into America, but steer it towards rebuilding our society and creating jobs.
Charles Krauthammer once wrote that “America’s purpose should be to steer the world away from its coming multipolar future toward a qualitatively new outcome — a unipolar world whose center is a confederated West.” It’s clear from your book that you disagree, but what are the long and short-term consequences of America pursuing this neoconservative ideology.
At present we are pursuing neither the course Krauthammer advocates nor the one I do! We have alienated Europe and accelerated its coalescence into an alternative pole of power within Western civilization. America and Europe will surely continue to partner on a great many things (trade, Afghanistan, Mideast issues, etc.), but that still ignores the fact that the East already is far too powerful for anyone to claim that the West alone would be the sole pole of power. In other words, Krauthammer’s vision is not only wrong, but it’s too late anyway. We need to do things that integrate East and West, not things that inspire the East to rise against the West.