By Kathleen Emerson
Dr. Parag Khanna, leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author, has just completed the third book in his geopolitical trilogy, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. As far back as 2003, when Dr. Khanna started traveling more extensively throughout the Middle East to research his first book, and several years later when he served as an advisor to Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, he could see that the region’s colonial era borders were crumbling and that eventually its map would more resemble a collection of tribal and urban enclaves. Dr. Khanna argues that, “The Iraq war and Arab Spring together have unleashed a process that is completely redrawing the region’s political geography.”
This is one of the main messages of Connectography – that the smaller the unit, the more each requires connectivity to survive. Dr. Khanna envisions that “the correct maps for the future of the Middle East are ones in which cities are connected to each other through infrastructure such as oil and gas pipelines, water canals, and railways—all of which can create a more peacefully integrated region. “The violent devolution that is underway today should, I hope, eventually give rise to a new kind of aggregation, and new kind of interdependent unity across the Arab world.”
Dr. Khanna believes that globalization is an irreversible force and that connectivity is the real meta-pattern of our world. He points out that our maps privilege political geography and that our children are taught to believe that the primary man made lines on the map are political lines. Hence, the purpose of Connectography “is to prove that in fact the most important lines on our maps are infrastructural, particularly transportation, energy and communications.”
“The total length of the transportation, energy and communications infrastructures in the world today is 150 times longer than all the world’s borders put together,” noted Dr. Khanna. And while borders are generally coming down to greater flows of people, goods, capital, technologies and ideas, we are drastically increasing the volumes of connectivity that we build across them, such as railways and Internet cables. Dr. Khanna thus stated that, “Instead of the historical adage ‘geography is destiny,’ the 21st century should have a new maxim: Connectivity is destiny.”
The story of Connectography begins with the first book titled The Second World: How Emerging Powers are Redefining Global Competition in the 21st Century, which was published in 2008, followed by the publication of How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance in 2011. Dr. Khanna recalls how the whole trilogy traces back to his first geopolitics class as an undergraduate in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown taught by Charles Pirtle. Dr. Khanna feels that, “So much of what I’ve written has been a response to that class. Geopolitics, as a formal discipline, became my obsession my sophomore year of college.”
Before that you can go back to Dr. Khanna’s experience of visiting Berlin with his family at the fall of the Wall in 1990. As an eighth grader, he got to sit atop what was left at the wall and hammer away at it, packing up pieces in plastic bags and bringing them back for his friends in New York. “That was my great awakening,” Dr. Khanna explains, “because then I was hooked on travel and big historical moments.”
Alongside his trilogy of books, Dr. Khanna is a CNN Global Contributor and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He is also the Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a boutique geostrategic advisory firm, and is active as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Dr. Khanna holds a PhD from the London School of Economics, and Bachelors and Masters degrees from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
Dr. Khanna was born in India but spent his childhood in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before moving to New York when he was six. He attended high school in Germany as an exchange student before attending Georgetown. He currently lives in Singapore, where he is working closely with the government on their future economic strategy. Khanna believes that city-states will rise in influence as we become a global urban network civilization, hence Singapore’s experiments “are very representative of what cities around the world are going to be doing… Its lessons can be transferred to other cities around the world.”
Dr. Khanna became affiliated with AGS very recently. He wanted to be part of the AGS Council Member Board because to him, “Any effort to upgrade or evolve the geographic curriculum for American society and students is a really worthy effort.” He stated, “I really applaud the current efforts that John [the Executive Director of AGS] and others are leading to bring the geographic discipline to Main Street and Wall Street at the same time. In other words, to make it relevant to mainstream society and to industry leaders because all segments of society need to understand geography even if they don’t realize it sometimes.”
“Geography is literally the foundation of human life,” claimed Dr. Khanna. “It has, for most of human history, dictated where we can and where we cannot live, and how and where we distribute ourselves across the planet.” Today, however, “We are modifying geography through infrastructure and technology, a process known as topographical engineering.” Analyzing this nascent trend is his contribution to the rich field of geography.
When asked what message or advice he would give to aspiring geographers and young students, Dr. Khanna happily replied, “It’s so simple: Travel! Literally, do not ever stop moving physically from one place to another, because that’s the best way to learn. And read a lot so that you don’t necessarily think that your ideas are original, but try to modify the concepts you’ve learned because times are changing quickly.”
Dr. Khanna’s Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, will be available as of April 19th, 2016. It is indeed more than just a physical book, for it not only includes a vast array of customized digital maps but also is tied to an interactive online tool developed in parallel called the Connectivity Atlas. The atlas can be viewed at https://atlas.developmentseed.org/.