Parag Khanna’s New World Order

Many Americans are praying that we’ll have a different place in the geopolitical order after the 2008 presidential elections. In an excellent piece in yesterday’s New York Times magazine, Parag Khanna makes it clear that the US’s position in the global order of things is changing, like it or not, and that whoever is leading our nation in a year will need to understand that things are radically different from the world order of 1992.

Khanna is a fellow at the New America Foundation, working on a book called “The Second World”, slated for release in March. His piece in the Magazine is digested from the book, and is a dense summary of his take on a new, multipolar world. Basically, Khanna sees three powers in today’s world – the US, China and the European Union – and identifies a set of “second world” nations that are part developed, part developing, and whose loyalties are very much in play in this new world order.

It’s hard to get a sense for the rules that define the second world – in another interview, Khanna offers, “Some good examples of second world countries are: Ukraine, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.” They’re not just emerging markets, Khanna argues, but countries in strategic regions that will shape geopolitics for the forseeable future. (Near as I can tell, the only non-strategic regions on Khanna’s globe are sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific Islands…)

These nations aren’t looking to be democratized by the US – instead, “Right now, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, the hero of the second world — including its democracies — is Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.” These second-world nations are governed by self-interest, not ideology, and if cozying up to China or seeking inclusion in the EU will make them stronger, all the ideology in the world may not be enough to make siding with the US appealing. Khanna clearly sees himself as a realist, inviting readers to see themselves as the Henry Kissinger of this new administration and asking what steps the US should take to position itself in this new world.

His suggestions include a refocusing of America’s diplomatic efforts, turning teams of diplomats into regional teams (as the Pentagon deals with security) and putting more diplomats on the ground, observing, “There are currently more musicians in U.S. military marching bands than there are Foreign Service officers, a fact not helped by Congress’s decision to effectively freeze growth in diplomatic postings.” He advocates for a massive expansion of the Peace Corps, programs to teach English and offer job training overseas and increased student exchanges.

While this sounds like the standard left-wing xenophile pro-engagement line you’ll usually hear me endorsing on this blog, I’m pleased that Khanna throws a framework around these ideas – the concept of the “marchmen”: “Europe is boosting its common diplomatic corps, while China is deploying retired civil servants, prison laborers and Chinese teachers — all are what the historian Arnold Toynbee called marchmen, the foot-soldiers of empire spreading values and winning loyalty.” I continue to believe that the most devastating impact of 9/11 is going to be the wave of American isolationism it’s triggered. At precisely the geopolitical moment where Americans need to be finding ways to engaging with a rapidly changing world, we’re (understandably) terrified, looking at the world as a hostile, dangerous place that we encounter through military might, not through cultural engagement.

I have no idea whether Khanna’s reordering of the world is the correct one. I’m intrigued that he doesn’t follow Tom Friedman in trumpeting the rise of India – indeed, he sees India as far behind China and constrained geographically in its ability to project power. And he appears to avoid the entire narrative of “the Muslim world”, perhaps recognizing that a worldview that attempts to treat Wahabiism in Saudi Arabia with the same tools as we address syncretic Islam in West Africa is a disastrous oversimplification.

Where Khanna’s work is probably most disconcerting for American readers is his enthusiasm for the European Union. We’re used to worrying about China here in the US, but we tend to consider the EU a coddled, over-taxed, ageing and increasingly irrelavent set of nanny states. But the EU offers a model for affiliation, a model that nations can hope to join – the US doesn’t offer anything similar, and Khanna sees this as a key weakness. Turkey can aspire to become part of Europe, and even if it doesn’t, there are massive economic and cultural ties between Turkey and much of central Europe. Canada’s not exactly lining up to request membership in the United States…

I’m looking forward to Khanna’s book. And if you’d like to have your illusions of American hyperpower blown into little, tiny pieces, I recommend his article in the Times.

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5 Responses to Parag Khanna’s New World Order

  1. omodudu says:

    The US is ‘forced’ to rethink her strategy. I still believe that all of this will work out in favor of the Americans in the long run. My concern is for the African countries that do not come to the table to play, but rather always seem to be sold on the idea of a new world order upon which we keep getting burnt. I wish we could be as greedy and selfish as the rest of the world.
    Since India’s growth seem to be led by the service industry, I find it a bit difficult to see the comparison with China, with respect to geopolitics’ that is.
    That said, I feel like I have had my fill of international politics for the rest of the week.
    Thanks

  2. These new world order theses always end up being binned sooner or later, its just someones attempt to claim a new paradigm to explain the world. As if all actions are logical.

    1. What happened to Francis Fukyama’s End of History? – In the Bin

    2. What about Huffington’s Clash of Civilizations? – Most of that has been discredited. Perhaps only the western/islamic argument stands up.

    My point? Ignore this Khanna

  3. Johannes F says:

    Thanks for the link. Tremendously interesting article, though it’s a bit dissapointing that Subsaharan countries are left out of Khanna’s new world order.
    History will prove him wrong. There are lots of typical 2nd world countries in Africa that’ll be crucial in the race. The countries around the Gulf of Guinea for instance.

  4. Harold says:

    Excellent article, thought-provoking and important stuff. In reply to #2, those ideas may be somewhat discounted, but without them we would have a much narrower understanding on the world. In other words, you don’t need to be 100% right (no one is) to make important points.

  5. Chak Resh says:

    Is Khanna out to make a name for himself or is he really trying to point out something important most have missed out on? He has done a good job of getting into the limelight by proposing something different. Most likely, something he himself does not believe in.

    Sitting in EU, I can already see signs here of accepting China, Russia and India as part of the new powerbase. Which, of course, includes the US, EU but in the supporting cast.
    US maybe weakning, but it will take a generation or two to take it back where it was at the turn of the century (the 20th century). US also has a tremndous possibility of turning around, learning from mistakes and be a part of a pentical power base along with Russia, China, India and maybe EU, more likely to be Brazil.
    EU is not one country and there is no deep desire to turn it into a nation. There are major foreign policy differences between its members and the economic and social conditions vary almost as much as they do in India. EU has an ageing population, trying desperately to import new people and at the same time not knowing how to deal with cultural diversity. Above all, EU does not have any ambition to take a leading role (remeber it is an organization, not a country).
    The dynamism that one sees in Russia and India is in stark contrast to EU’s creeping growth of almost 2,5%. A few new memebers have growth over 5%, but they have a lot of catch up to do.
    The two countries that have military power are UK & France. Both nations are ex-powers. France needs to rethink its place as its situation is not likely to get better just because you have a charismatic president. It has been living in the past, it seem to insist in continuing to do that. It wants to give advantages to its farmers and others because it simply belives that the French are worth much more then the poor farmers of Africa. UK still cannot give up the idea of a super power. It beat Argentina and now behind US, its doing its stuff in Afganistan and Iraq. Not pwerful enough to take the lead but supporting a falling power.
    The reason that China & especially India have reached where they have is due to good govermental policies and hard work.
    No one is willing to do that in the EU, not for becoming a super power. I think it is great, let us have a society which is not the richest or the most powerful but one which has the highest quality of life.
    I think Khanna just wanted to be diffeent to get some attention. Help sell books. But as a non- scholar, I’d say he himself does not believe all that he has written. He has done so in order to stand out in the crowd.
    In response to Harold #4, I’d say you do not need to be 100% correct, but it is good if you are at least 5 % right. Regarding his views on future EU, he stands alone and most likely with a completely wrong picture.

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