Monday, January 28, 2008

Parag Khanna's The Second World

Parag Khanna writes in this long but engrossing essay in the New York Times of the new multi-polar world order that is taking shape. The article summarizes the principal thesis of his upcoming book. What Khanna states comes as no big surprise. But his conclusions are based on his travels to what he terms 45 crucial “second world” countries: countries that are on their way up, but that still carry with them significant problems with regard to poverty, development and oppressive regimes. Ukraine, Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia, Vietnam, Iran and Libya are some examples.

Khanna argues that it is in these countries that key shifts in global currents can be noticed. His approach is to analyze them with respect to the influences of the three major power blocs: the waning US bloc, which seems to lost its capacity for engagement; the emerging European Union, which is slowly accommodating many countries at its periphery, and which many are willing to be part of; and the East Asian Chinese bloc, already in the middle of a tremendous expansion aided by a enterprising diaspora, and whose quest for energy and mineral resources is propelling it to far-flung places – consider for instance its engagement in Africa.

Interestingly, Khanna does not think India is anywhere close to being a global player like China or the EU, though it still wields influence. Check one of the questions in this interview to see why he feels so.

I very much look forward to the book, which is out in March. The geopolitical shifts about to happen in this century are fascinating and they will impact all of us. So I do hope the book is readable and gives a good glimpse of what is to come.

As a sample, here are Khanna’s analyses about China's growing influence, and Turkey’s strategic efforts at development:
The East Asian Community is but one example of how China is also too busy restoring its place as the world’s “Middle Kingdom” to be distracted by the Middle Eastern disturbances that so preoccupy the United States. In America’s own hemisphere, from Canada to Cuba to Chávez’s Venezuela, China is cutting massive resource and investment deals. Across the globe, it is deploying tens of thousands of its own engineers, aid workers, dam-builders and covert military personnel. In Africa, China is not only securing energy supplies; it is also making major strategic investments in the financial sector. The whole world is abetting China’s spectacular rise as evidenced by the ballooning share of trade in its gross domestic product — and China is exporting weapons at a rate reminiscent of the Soviet Union during the cold war, pinning America down while filling whatever power vacuums it can find. Every country in the world currently considered a rogue state by the U.S. now enjoys a diplomatic, economic or strategic lifeline from China, Iran being the most prominent example


Turkey, too, is a totemic second-world prize advancing through crucial moments of geopolitical truth… Roads are the pathways to power, as I learned driving across Turkey in a beat-up Volkswagen a couple of summers ago. Turkey’s master engineers have been boring tunnels, erecting bridges and flattening roads across the country’s massive eastern realm, allowing it to assert itself over the Arab and Persian worlds both militarily and economically as Turkish merchants look as much East as West. Already joint Euro-Turkish projects have led to the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, with a matching rail line and highway planned to buttress European influence all the way to Turkey’s fraternal friend Azerbaijan on the oil-rich Caspian Sea.
I learned of the book and the article through a post by Ethan Zukcerman. And here's Nitin Pai's insightful take on the book at The Acorn. Nitin's point - and I think it's very plausible - is that Khanna has deliberately couched his thesis as a wake-up call for the US.

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