THE SECOND WORLD: EMPIRES AND INFLUENCE IN THE NEW GLOBAL ORDER by Parag Khanna. Random House: New York. March 2008. Hardcover. 466 pages. $29ac71017fb65cbcbb3df216a0cf1e26cc-2

In The Second World, foreign relations think-tank analyst Parag Khanna gives a whirlwind tour of “tipping-point” countries “where geopolitics and globalization clash and merge.” These nations are a rather disparate group including Ukraine and Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union, Argentina and Brazil in South America, Iran and Iraq in the Middle East, and Malaysia and Indonesia in Asia. According to the author’s bio-blurb, “Khanna has traveled in close to 100 countries and is a member of the Explorer’s Club.” But this book is much more than a trip around the world in 466 pages. While a majority of these pages read like a Fodor’s Travel Guide to many of the places stamped in Khanna’s passport (with footnotes for policy wonks), the focus is on three superpowers, as illuminated by the book’s subtitle: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order.

In the half-century after World War II, America ascended to hegemonic status. While many of these years were witness to the bipolar struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, American hard and soft power was seemingly unrivaled after the Cold War. Leader after leader in Washington D.C. consistently denied imperial intentions during this period of supremacy, but each president after Truman has sought to extend America’s global reach militarily, economically, and/or culturally.

Khanna shares none of the queasiness of anti-imperialists. With a cool rationalism that pervades his thought-provoking book, he proclaims that “for thousands of years, empires have been the world’s most powerful political entities, their imperial yoke restraining subjugated nations from fighting one another and thereby fulfilling people’s eternal desire for order.” Perhaps because of America’s inability to be the world’s sole superpower, or more likely because power is always contested, two powers have filled the vacuum created by the Soviet Union’s demise, and joined the United States at the core of what Immanuel Wallerstein described as a world-system’s hierarchy.

Khanna is at his finest in analyzing the three superpowers of the new millennium: the United States, China, and the European Union. A Machiavellian calculus of fear and love inform this analysis: “America is decreasingly loved and increasingly feared, Europe is increasingly loved and decreasingly feared, and China is increasingly both loved and feared.” Derived from a robust academic background and from interviews with policy-makers and ordinary citizens across the world, Khanna’s thesis is that America is in decline, China is ascendant, and the E.U. is the third leg of a three-legged global leadership stool.

Although Khanna favors the European model of interdependence, he is convinced of China’s primacy in the 21st century. He believes that as second world and third world countries are confronted by the challenge and opportunity of being simultaneously Americanized, Sinicized, and Europeanized, China’s consultative model, which is far less confrontational than the American coalition-building and more efficient than the European consensus-building, is the most likely to be embraced. In Khanna’s new world order, the United States will have a more constrained role focused on the Americas, North and South; wealthy European Union countries will integrate poorer neighbors to their South and East; and China will extend its second Great Leap Forward geographically throughout East Asia and economically through a global manufacturing supply chain that increasingly has China at its center.

For Americans, Indian-Americans, and Indophiles, Khanna raises two important questions. The first is directly asked (“Could America, long the first-world icon, slip into the second world?”) and addressed (“America’s imperial overstretch is occurring in lockstep with its declining economic dominance, undermining the very foundation of its global leadership.”). As an advisor to a Barack Obama presidency, Khanna would advance a European-style bridge-building foreign policy for America, which in the past eight years has isolated itself with a “you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” braggadocio. In support of his policy, Khanna encourages an unconventional political understanding of Darwin, who wrote that “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

The second question is more elusive because India is inexplicably absent from The Second World. The country of Khanna’s birth is perhaps discounted because of the author’s emphasis on order and India’s precarious balancing of chaos and order. Or maybe it is because Khanna considers India to be part of the “third-world Western subsystem of the China-centered Asian order.” Regardless of rationale, to leave India out of any serious discussion of influence in the new global order—while dedicating chapters to Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Egypt, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tibet—is an egregious omission.

Khanna’s ambitious effort is much inspired by Toynbee’s 12-volume A Study of History. Indeed, Khanna opens his book acknowledging his indebtedness, suggesting that “no one knew the world like Arnold Toynbee … [whose] narrative was my most insightful guide as I set out around the world.” As such, it is even more surprising that Khanna has not taken heed of Toynbee’s famous mid-20th century prediction that “in the 21st century India will conquer her conquerors.” Reasonable people can choose to disagree with that assessment of India’s importance; it is, however, unreasonable to ignore India altogether.

Like Parag Khanna, Fareed Zakaria also looks back to Arnold Toynbee while looking to the future. Those seeking a balanced understanding of our world may want to consider reading both Khanna’s The Second World and Zakaria’s The Post-American World, which will be reviewed in the September issue of India Currents.

After a long run in the corporate world, Rajesh C. Oza now balances his life between family and friends, organizational alignment and consulting, reading and writing, India and America. He has published fiction and nonfiction and is presently writing a memoir about his childhood in India, Canada, and the United States. Raj can be reached at raj_oza@hotmail.com

 

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