In an exclusive interview with MediaGlobal’s Nosh Nalavala, Parag Khanna, author of “The Second World,” explains the emergence of countries from least developed nation status, to what is now being termed as “the second world.”
MediaGlobal: How would you define the “second world?”
Parag Khanna: The “second world” is a swath of the world’s most strategic countries around the world that are located between or on the peripheries of the three dominant empires: America, the European Union, and China. These countries include: Ukraine, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others. Second world countries are the emerging markets, but we have to understand them more than just economically: they now hold the majority of the world’s reserves and a growing share of the total global economy, but they are also endowed with natural resources and are pursuing political agendas on their own. In every second world country I have heard people talk about how they will no longer be listening to the U.S. but doing things “our own way.”
Q: With so many nomenclatures—least developed countries, developing countries, least economically developed countries, third world countries, how does your definition of “The Second World” fit into the description of these countries?
A: Second world countries very much embody a major feature of the globalization age: they combine both attributes of modernity and development but also underdevelopment; so they are both “first world” and “third world” at the same time, not simply half way in between the two.
Q: Would India and China, both on the cusp of being termed developed countries, with large sections still under-developed, continue to be called third world countries? You give China the status of a superpower.
A: China is a superpower on the basis of its global activity, influence, and ambition even if it remains a largely poor country. India does not have such a global strategy or reach, so it is not a superpower. So superpower is a designation based on external policy, not internal characteristics. The message of my book is that countries cannot really be properly understood as wholes, so it is not the case that “China” or “India” are on the cusp of being developed countries, for only certain sections of them are anywhere near that status. At present, far more Chinese people live modern lives than in India. But both countries contain hundreds of millions of people living very much in third world conditions.
Q: You put the First World on a pedestal, referring to roads as well-paved, while the Third World roads are clogged. The Second World roads are a mix. Are you creating the myth of a Second World and slotting countries in according to your yardstick? In essence, all countries have a mix of both in terms of infrastructure.
A: I do not put the first world on any pedestal. It is simply a category of states referring to their present level of development. My basic message is that second world countries are a mix: good roads near the major capital city, but bad roads everywhere else in the country, for example. That is not universal, of course, and the task of second world countries is to even out development to retain some meaningful sense of national unity and overcome inequalities. Some will succeed—perhaps Colombia and Turkey and Malaysia—
while others will fail—such as perhaps Egypt and Indonesia.
Q: India has been practically dismissed in your book. While the world is beginning to see “the geography of power” in an emerging India, you don’t give it the credit it deserves. Why?
A: It is not for me to give credit to India; India must earn that credit of which you speak. India faces the largest challenges to development outside of sub-Saharan Africa in terms of its level of poverty, weak infrastructure, and environmental and social stresses. It needs an unprecedented strategy to overcome these, which is not yet in place. I often encourage various aspects of such a strategy among Indian leaders, and hope they will actually implement such a vision. As for “geography of power,” India’s geography is at present geopolitically unfortunate because its ability to project power militarily is blocked by the Himalayan mountains, vast Indian Ocean, and failing states such as Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, with which it does not have good relations, so it is a very uphill struggle for India to take advantage of its geography between the Persian Gulf and East Asia, but it is trying very hard on both fronts.
Q: While you speak of America as a declining superpower, or at least a superpower that cannot police the world as it did in the past, you count it as one of the three superpowers, China and the European Union as the other two.
A: That is correct. The European Union and China are increasingly taking on the leadership responsibilities for “policing” in their regional neighborhoods through institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which China effectively runs.
Q: Is America likely to slip into Second world status given its economic and global parameters?
A: It might slip, but that can also be prevented through sound domestic policies and smart channeling of foreign investment and resources. It is a big challenge that America does not yet have the political consensus or dedication of fiscal resources to accomplish, but the electorate and leaders may still get their act together before it is too late.
Q: Most of the “developed countries” or OECD countries have not fulfilled their commitment towards Official Development Assistance, America included. Do you feel that China has stepped into that void as its influence on African countries becomes more evident?
A: China has stepped into a void not because the OECD quantity of aid has fallen short, but because of its quality. The problem has been a false assessment of needs, overly bureaucratized expenditures, and lack of political consensus among the key players. China has come in and offered faster, cheaper delivery of basic infrastructure and other forms of assistance that are more in tune with the immediate needs of African states.
Q: China has practically taken over in Africa on the development front from where the “colonialists” left off. How do you see the EU getting back to where they were in terms of trade and development?
A: Europe remains the largest investor in Africa and by far the largest importer of African goods. All three will now compete for influence on relatively equal footing, choosing some countries over others depending on whether they are already in bed with the others or not.
Q: Is development diplomacy dialogue the kind of diplomacy that America and the West must pursue to make inroads in Africa’s least developed countries?
A: Europe and America have to demonstrate the positive value of partnering with them to promote the synergy of development, good governance, and sustainability. They must do so through more generous, but also more deferential, aid strategies. This involves a deeper dialogue in terms of diplomacy.