Interview conducted by Sabine Heller
Parag Khanna, Senior Research Fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation, gives ASW Magazine the first interview about his highly anticipated book The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, which Random House is publishing in March 2008.Q.Tell us about The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order.
Parag Khanna: The Second World captures over two years of travel in 45 countries. It is the story of how the most strategic and least understood countries adapt to, but also shape, globalization. It is also about how these countries respond to the rise of China and the European Union and the pressures they face from America. It's about the tension between geopolitics and globalization, but also about seeing the world through the eyes of the places that people assume they know but do not know. It's about observing life, geography, cities, culture, and politics in the country itself and appreciating the unique challenges each country faces. It’s too easy to see the world as pro or anti-American, when, in actuality, second world countries show how the world is increasingly non-American. Fundamentally, I try to slip into the skin of dozens of unique nations and think as they do. In a way, the book is as complex as the world is!
Q. How you define a second world country?
PK: Second world countries are those located in strategic regions like Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They are also the countries that are increasingly shaping global politics and economics. They are more than merely "BRICs," or "emerging markets." Some will emerge and others will sink and the reason is that second world countries are not half-way between the first and third worlds; instead, they tend to be both at the same time. No one can say whether five years from now these countries will have risen or fallen in power. Some good examples of second world countries are: Ukraine, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Right now, these and other second world countries are the most dynamic and interesting places to be in the entire world.
Q. What do you mean by “non- American”?
PK: I'm not sure the world was ever really American. During the Cold War, the world was divided into two camps; however, after the collapse of communist Russia, a new multi-polar order of Chinese, European and other powers rapidly emerged. The world never really had time to be truly American. I think calling the world “American” is an over-simplification. Globalization isn't Americanization as so many Americans believe. In globalization anyone can be who they want. People and countries can cut deals with whomever they want without talking to Washington or Moscow. Globalization makes Americanization impossible. Today you can do business, travel and anything else without reference to America.
Q. Explain how you define globalization today.
PK: Currently, people believe that globalization is one specific idea. However, globalization is actually a mutual process of the growing flow of people, money, and various other kinds of interconnections, borders and culture. The fact is—at least in the way that I interpret it in my book—globalization has three different personalities: One is a Chinese; One is European (for most products in the world, the highest standard is European not American); One is American, which is very laissez faire.
Q. Are you Anti-American?
PK: No. I offer a very dispassionate analysis of America's role in the world. I'm basically cutting down to size and putting into context what America's power really is. I will give you two simple facts from the book. One fact is that every country that America considers a rogue state is a country that is on a receiving end of a diplomatic, financial or military lifeline from China, so clearly those countries are not being run in the way America would prefer. The other fact is that during the last eight years of the Bush administration no US foreign policy objectives have been met because of staunch resistance from other countries or from people just saying no. So, ultimately Iraq is not what the US wanted it to become and neither is Afghanistan, Venezuela and Pakistan. Absolutely nothing that America has said it wanted to happen has actually happened. You be the judge. You tell me if the world is actually American, or if America is as powerful as it thinks it is.
Q. When you say “America thinks it is,” who are you talking about specifically?
PK: I’m referring to the American government, and by that I mean all agencies of the American government that I've observed all over the world. The American government believes that its influence over the course of world events is greater than it actually is. The American corporate sector also believes that it is all powerful.
Q. Which are the countries for whose influence Europe, China and America are fighting?
PK: Europe, China and America are looking to influence countries that have a lot of strategic, economic, diplomatic or recourse weight; they are, in no particular order: Turkey, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Venezuela, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Q. Where is India in all of this? Why did China come out ahead in the emerging superpower race?
PK: India is actually a long way behind China when it comes to being a superpower. India is trapped by water on three sides with the Himalayas on the other; therefore, it will never be able to reach outward and conduct its power the way China can. China borders more countries than any other country. China also has a much more homogenous population—and more than a 10 year head start on developing and emerging the way that it has. And, in geopolitics, just like in business, there is such a thing as first mover advantage. China definitely has that edge. Finally, China has had the advantage of having benefited from Taiwan and Hong Kong. China has been able to learn and absorb from these two successful first world models. Even 2nd tier Chinese cities are more advanced and developed than any city in India. India also doesn't have the wherewithal to bite the bullet and modernize and force its people to do things in the coherent way China has. Obviously I wouldn't trade Indian democracy for Chinese authoritarianism, but the fact is that authoritarianism works. Also, China has come out way ahead because it doesn't have the post-colonial insecurity that all of Africa and India and most of the rest of the world have.
Q. Do you feel that European influence is growing at America’s expense? Why?
PK: The European Union is the most advanced model of government in the world and many small and poor countries that are clustered in areas like Asia and Africa have learned that the only way to get ahead in the world and not be left behind is to pool their recourses and the only model that teaches them how to do this is the European model. There is no American model. These countries want to copy the European way of doing things. People want to be European and that's one way European influence grows at America's expense. The power of the Euro has made also Europe a much more prominent source of capital.
Q. How do you imagine the new world order?
PK: I see Europe becoming more self confident and asserting itself more prominently. It has expanded by one country per year since 1990 and it's not going to slow down. So the EU will potentially be 35 countries, and will have deeper relations with all the North African countries as well. I also see China expanding its influence in Central Asia and Russia, in addition to the enormous rise of its leverage in Southeast Asia. Then I see America attempting to restore positive relations with Latin America in order to fend off the popularity of China and Europe there. That process and those dynamics will deepen and flush themselves out over the next 10 or 25 years.
Q. What do you think is shifting us towards a multi-polar world and do you think there was a missed opportunity for a more unified world?
PK: A lot of people think that because the Cold War ended, the UN would become the central player in the world, the diplomatic centre of gravity as it were. But in fact the UN never really had any power. It only has the power that the countries that are involved give to it. But most countries chose to pursue their own power. What we are seeing today is a result of the choices that were made in the late 80s early 90s, when countries stopped having to answer to Washington or Moscow, and had the opportunity to build forces and do things their own way.
Q. What are your thoughts on Hugo Chavez and what's going on in Venezuela today?
PK: Next to Iraq, I think that Venezuela is the most dangerous country today. And a lot of that is Hugo Chavez's doing, under the name of a centralized new anti-imperial order. What he's really done is dispatch militia to intimidate the elite and anyone who has autonomous power in the business sector and replace it with anarchy. Chavez is a gigantic clown and a sham.
Q. You've traveled all over the world – what are the places you found most interesting?
PK: Turkey, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates. I think that few people appreciate how vast and strategically located Turkey is. The Turks don't have to choose between Europe and Asia; they can actually be both. The way in which they have struggled to do that is a fascinating story. To really understand Turkey you have to spend time in there and go beyond Istanbul. Lebanon is also complicated and packs the volume of politics you find in the US into a state that is the size of Rhode Island. It has a dense, multi-layered, multi-ethnic governing and social system. It's also a beautiful place where you can ski and surf in the same day. It's a very exciting and sophisticated place to be. The United Arab Emirates sits at the geographic center of first world Europe and third world Asia. It gets knowledge, technology and money from Europe and labor to build their skyscrapers from India and Pakistan. And the way Dubai—a combination of New York, Shanghai, and Las Vegas—has come up over night is fascinating. It's the Arab world’s only global city.