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.