On Globalization, Geopolitics and Connectivity

MUNPlanet |

Interview with Marko Kovačević

This week, Fridays With MUNPlanet brings you a special interview with Parag Khanna, one of the world's leading strategists, authors and thinkers on globalized world politics. Mr Khanna is a CNN Global Contributor and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He has traveled to more than 100 countries and is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. In this conversation with MUNPlanet, Mr Khanna discusses the challenges of globalization, and talks about the return of geopolitics, the emerging powers, the ascent of global cities, the power of connectivity, and offers a perspective on what the world could look like in 2035.

MUNPlanet: The 21st century world is becoming ever more complex and, in our understanding, the “perception and thought are merging.” As a world traveler who has developed a sense of looking at politics from a global perspective, how do you assess the effects of globalization across the planet?

Parag Khanna: Globalization is truly a resilient megatrend in the world. Throughout history it has been more resilient than people have appreciated, and today we can see that we are entering what some people call “the age of hyper-globalization” in terms of its acceleration. So, I think it is reorganizing the world in many ways. Clearly, it is causing a privileged connection among the cities, and economies, and private actors, and peoples, while reducing the ability of the states and governments to filter, or re-arrange, or control all those relations. I believe that this is an important consequence. In international relations we call it the ‘system’s change’ – when there is a change to the nature of the primary units within the system. And today we see that governments co-exist with many other types of actors. Also, in previous centuries and eras there have been times when one region was hegemonic, or dominated all the other regions of the world, but today we live in a world where all the regions (Europe, Africa, North America, South America and Asia) are important at the same time. It is really unprecedented in human history that all of the continents are able to inter-relate at such rapid speed, and to be on relatively equal terms.

MUNPlanet: There are many intellectuals in the world who are concerned by the return of geopolitics which has been taking place in the recent years. On the other hand, you point to geopolitics as a way to conceive global politics in this century. Which scenarios do these two positions bring to the world?

Parag Khanna: The second point that I was making in relation to the multi-polarity of the world is a very important geopolitical scenario which I believe is very robust, in a sense that I think it will be very difficult for the circumstances of our global, multi-civilizational multi-polarity. This is something that is just beginning and is likely to be the dominant geopolitical scenario of the 21st century. So, I think it is the primary consequence of globalization.

There is also a prominent geopolitical scenario, and I also believe that we are moving towards a world that is not just about countries, but regions; because I see that what is happening around the world is Europeanization. Europe has become the European Union, but there are also integration processes under way in North America, South America, Africa, Asia… Around the world, regions are following the European pattern towards greater regional integration. So, I think that regional integration, combined with multi-polarity, is the dominant geopolitical pattern of this century.

MUNPlanet: In one of your books you tackled the issue of second world countries. Why do you believe that those countries can determine the relationship between “the world’s three main empires: the United States, the European Union and China”?

Parag Khanna: You can see still see the continued importance and significance of the second world countries if you examine one region at a time. You can see that Chinese leadership is working to strengthen the relations with Brazil as a second-world power because of its natural resources economy and the need for infrastructure investment. You can see the importance of second world countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, of which I also wrote in the book, because those are pivotal countries and there is a major effort underway to deepen the relations with China, for example, and, if you look at Iran, there is competition to gain influence in the country, and the economy has opened up. I also mentioned Kazakhstan and Indonesia as important second world countries. You can see that continued efforts to bring them into a competitive order are a very prominent trend today.

MUNPlanet: We live in a ’risk society,’ to use a reference to Ulrich Beck. One gets the impression that non-military and non-economic risks and threats are not given sufficient attention in world politics. Why is that so, and does that sort of thinking actually have the opposite effect?

Parag Khanna: I think that professor Beck’s work was extremely significant and influential, and I think that its importance lies not only in appreciating the things like economic risks, and climate risks, STDs, cyber war, etc. There are many kinds of risks, each of which can be systemic and impact the entire system because of the connectivity. However, he also taught us to appreciate the complexity and interconnections of these issues and how they connect with each other. Those are, I believe, some of the permanent features in the world today, so we really do live in a global risk society where many different types of threats and scenarios compete or interact in a complex way with each other.

MUNPlanet: Today, in 2015, there are 37 mega-cities in the world. How do you see this phenomenon and what are its implications on the social and political order on a larger scale? Is the 21st century promising the return of city-states?

Parag Khanna: I believe that we can talk about this as if it were already happening. Because it really is. If you look at the economic data, you can see that most of the world’s economy is already represented in the cities, most of the world’s population already lives in cities, and those trends are accelerating, they truly are. So I think we should appreciate that we already live in this world of cities. And, in fact, the theory is trying to keep up with the practice. Because in practice we already live in that world; it is theory that is still struggling to adjust.

MUNPlanet: It is frequently said that the world today is networked in many ways and in many spheres of social activity. How do you see the role of technology, and how this fast pace of change affects the conduct of politics, human conditions and interactions in the societies?

Parag Khanna: Absolutely. I do think that the pace of technological change has accelerated, and that it has had a significant impact on all the issues that we have discussed so far, related to connectivity, related to global aggravation, related to spreading of risks. I believe that we have regularly underestimated how significant that would be. In one of my books, The Hybrid Reality, I talked about the shift towards a human technological civilization. And now that, too, is accelerating in an irreversible trend. So, I really do believe that we cannot talk about issues or scenarios in the world economy, or geopolitics, or any other area without taking into account the technological impact.

MUNPlanet: Four centuries ago Francis Bacon famously wrote that “knowledge is power.” What would be your take on the use and misuse of knowledge in the age of globalization, and how technology and knowledge intersect today?

Parag Khanna: I would rephrase it and say that connectivity is power. As a result of the research I am doing right now for my next book, I am arguing that it is very often the most connected power – whether it is the role of Germany in trade, or that of China – that tends to have the most leverage in the system. So, the density of connectivity is the best predictor of the volume or the amount of influence that countries or cities will have. And if we thought of power in terms of inter-connectivity, rather than presuming that only countries and states have power, we would see just how significant the cities, companies and other players are.

MUNPlanet: Inspiration is important to people, but it is not enough – the world has to act. How can individuals (or groups of people) bridge the gap between inspiration, knowledge and action? What are the ideas that drive you forward?

Parag Khanna: I have written that everyone is a diplomat, and that everyone should think of oneself as representing a cause, an issue, or a community, and that anyone can have influence through networks. So, to me, the way you can bridge knowledge and action is through technology, communication, mobility, and connectivity of different sorts. But the most important realization is the psychological one: that each of us can represent ourselves, and that you do not have to wait for others to represent you. So I believe that this is an extremely important motivating factor.

MUNPlanet: This year the United Nations celebrates its 70th anniversary, and the calls for thorough reform of the organization have been there for a decade, with no significant changes. What kind of world organization and institutional innovation is necessary to accommodate the world of the next generation?

Parag Khanna: The United Nations is constantly in the process of adaptation. You know very well that the United Nations is not one but many dozens of institutions, organizations and entities, each with a different functional role. And the United Nations can be functionally relevant in providing resources, in coordinating various issues. So, peacekeeping, negotiations, trade facilitation, development financing, refugees’ protection and provision – all of these and many other areas are the ways in which the UN can be relevant. There is no question as to the relevance of UN as a whole; the question concerns its entities – whether it is the World Food Program or the Human Rights Council. Each of these bodies must individually struggle and compete to be as relevant as possible, to deliver as much benefit as possible to people around the world. And that is how the UN will remain relevant.

MUNPlanet: What would be your message and advice to the young generation of scholars and leaders who are about to begin their careers – what sort of world will they find in 2035?

Parag Khanna: I believe that in the year 2035 we will live in a world that will be politically even more fractured into urban types of units, yet more connected than ever. I can imagine non-stop flights between any two cities in the world, across all the continents and oceans. Of course, I also imagine that there will be universal mobile phone connectivity to almost every single person in the world, and mobile internet access… I believe there will be no more frozen states, or completely isolated or sanctioned ones. So, by then we will live in a very open and connected world where individuals will be allowed a lot more freedom and mobility. So, in that world, and for that world, I certainly believe that the discipline of International Relations will really evolve – its theories and its appreciation of this rapidly changing reality – in order to cope with all the changes. And to empower students to think about their many career options, and to empower them to be inter-disciplinary and to study not just politics, not just economics, but to be very wide-ranging, and to increasingly think about technology and social and cultural issues in order to gain a broader understanding of this complex world.

MUNPlanet: Mr Khanna, thank you for devoting your time to this interview with MUNPlanet.

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