Second-World Solidarity

By SCOTT L. MALCOMSON

“The first and second worlds are being reunited into something which has no name yet, nor a number,” wrote the sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf back in 1990. “Perhaps it will just be the world.” Or perhaps not! The United States, China and the European Union seem to be forming an irritable triplet: no one of them can dominate either of the other two. They may make common cause, but it is just as likely that they will compete for control. And the places where they will compete have been labeled, by the New America Foundation analyst Parag Khanna, the second world. The second world used to mean the Soviet Union and its dependencies. Khanna has appropriated it (in his coming book of the same name) for countries that have substantial economies but do not belong to the Big Three. Turkey, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Algeria, Russia, possibly India and South Africa — it’s the most successful members of the old nonaligned movement, more or less, plus resource barons, and when you add them all up it amounts to a good chunk of the world. The U.S., the E.U. and China court them — even depend on them — for vital resources and to adjust their own balance of power.

According to Khanna, the independence of the second world — the development of its own interests and preoccupations — has grown apace. It is economically driven and increasingly active when it comes to importing capital and exporting it. Chinese state banks, for example, were able recently to purchase large stakes in major Nigerian and South African lenders. The second world is nonetheless jealous of national sovereignty, valuing stable forms of globalization but allergic to assertions of power by the Western-led “international community.” Its relationship to the colonial era is intense and complicated: there is an element of vengeance against erstwhile colonial powers, but also one of imitation, a point not lost on those left behind in the third world. Ultimately, the second-world idea augurs an international community that accommodates a high level of competitive tension and a low level of political (or “values”) consensus on how best to govern domestically or cooperate internationally. In Fareed Zakaria’s phrase, the world we’re entering will be “post-American,” though not necessarily anti-American. The post-World War II tension between East and West would then resolve itself into not the victory of the first world but the uneasy equilibrium of a second.

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