When Worlds Collide

In The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order (Reviews, Nov 26, 2007), Parag Khanna explores emerging world economies.Your work is based on the concept of three emerging “worlds.” What are the key differences among them? I see the first world as the rich, mostly Western, OECD economies, which used to make up the core of the world economy and center of geopolitical power, but no longer exclusively do so. They now share that platform with the second-world countries featured in the book, such as China and Brazil, which are cleverly using globalization to rise into the top ranks of world power, even though they are far from being first-world countries in terms of average living standards. These countries embody the most fascinating economic, political and cultural contrasts—often they appear to be two countries at the same time, as I try to highlight during the course of the narrative. The third world is largely excluded from the book because most third-world countries lack the dynamism and unpredictability that makes second-world countries so exciting and strategically significant.

For over half a century, pundits have been predicting America’s downfall or eclipse. So far none have been proven correct. Why does your prediction merit any more consideration? I do not predict America’s downfall—other than potentially self-inflicted, since geography fortunately prevents America from being conquered in the traditional sense of the word. I think my prediction is the most nuanced of these widespread theses, more in line with historical patterns of multipolarity, or even a potential “apolarity” (as Niall Ferguson calls it) by which there is no one single dominant power. The world is far too messy a place for any one answer to be correct, so my book tells the story from all the places where American influence is falling—or rising—on a case-by-case basis. Only time will tell. What’s next for you? I am researching a book on the future of diplomacy and global governance. I argue that there really is no such thing as a single American foreign policy anymore. Even the term “foreign policy” is dangerous, giving the illusion of centralized decision making and control over American actions in the world. Instead, not only can America not get anything done internationally without the support of foreign governments and institutions, but America itself is actually “multi-American,” with Bill Gates, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Google, the Ford Foundation, etc., all pursuing their own “foreign policies,” often in ways contradictory to whatever official U.S. government policy is. My book will try to sort all this out, and provide some guidelines for how the world of dot-govs, dot-coms and dot-orgs can constructively work together to solve global challenges. - Interview by Dennis Showalter Link to Article