The Second World

The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order by Parag Khanna, Random House, New York, 2008, $29.00.

In his new book The Second World, Parag Khanna deconstructs the post-Cold War world. Khanna divides the First World into what he calls the three empires, the United States, European Union and China. Using these three spheres of influence, Khanna explains possible future scenarios/situations that will take place throughout the rest of the world.

Khanna breaks down the different types of diplomatic styles used by each of the three major empires: “America’s coalition, Europe’s consensus, and China’s consultation” (p. xvii). He then goes on to provide a brief history of geopolitics and its difference from globalization, particularly in light of works by Fukuyama, Huntington, Toynbee and Spengler.

According to Khanna, the Second World consists of the regions of Eastern Europe (Russia, the Caucasus, Turkey, and the Balkans); the Central Asian countries, China’s western provinces, Pakistan and Afghanistan; Latin America; the Middle East and North Africa; and East Asia. The only region Khanna does not address is sub-Saharan Africa. Within these regions, Khanna sees the real action taking place.

In Eastern Europe he discusses European Union expansion, the play between the EU and Russia, and the importance of Turkey to the EU in the coming years. Brussels is compared to Rome as the new seat of a European empire, crafting the difficulties that Europe will have going forward with further expansion. His chapter on Turkey puts forth the idea that the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. Much of that argument stems from the demographic reality of many European countries in light of their social welfare needs. Khanna argues that Russia will slowly devolve and potentially break up due to its current demographic trends and the continuing influx of Chinese into its Far East. Khanna concludes this section by questioning the very notion of what is “European” and asserting that the definition may need to be stretched in order to assist Europe in its move into the 21st century.

Moving to Central Asia, Khanna crafts arguments for the rise of Chinese importance in the new oil and gas pipelines being built in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. There is also discussion of the increased role the western Chinese regions of Tibet and Xinjiang will play as energy needs increase and Central Asia becomes a much larger energy center. Khanna closes this section by discussing the success of China in rebuilding the Silk Road, having learned from British and Russian policies used in the past.

The section on Latin America questions the U.S.’s ability to maintain the same Monroe Doctrine-type policy given the new issues and changes taking place in that region. He addresses Venezuela and its leadership with relation to its oil reserves. There is also an argument for the rise of Brazil and its selective nature in dealing with the U.S. Khanna warns against the continuation of a Cold War mentality in order to create a “new ‘Alliance for Progress’” (p. 167) in order to bring Latin America into a truly integrated Western Hemisphere.

Khanna’s Part IV, focusing on the Middle East, is easily his most complicated. He takes care to account for history when explaining the distinct parts of this region and how they must interact with each other and the rest of the world. The Maghreb (West of Nile) and Mashreq (East of Nile) regions receive individual attention due to their complicated natures. Egypt is given its own chapter, due to its continually important role throughout the history of the region. Iran is examined with respect to its unique history, both ancient and modern, and how it can be a power player within the region (especially due to the dynamic change brought about by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq).

The final region analyzed in The Second World is Asia. It comes as no surprise that Khanna argues for Chinese supremacy in this part of the world. He examines the continuation of the Chinese way, in which trade and diplomacy are one and the same, and slowly loyalty is earned. Khanna argues that unlike the Soviet Union, China has the ability to attract both the Third and First Worlds. Japan has been instrumental in assisting China’s development. Malaysia is seen as on the way to development through smart policy and its proximity to Singapore. High-tech businesses and well-planned cities with maintained colonial infrastructure make Malaysia an up-and-coming hub in Asia. Indonesia is viewed with much more caution, due to its natural and demographic challenges. This “sleeping giant” of 200 million people still struggles with exploitation and a weak state. China’s use of (unconditional) cash in diplomatic dealings with mainland Southeast Asia is a hope to create long-lasting international bonds.

Khanna’s concluding statements, entitled “The Search for Equilibrium in a non-American World,” argue that the world must begin to come to grips with a post-American future. He argues that the U.S. has not been successful in its attempts to rid the world of numerous threats (including the “Axis of Evil”), since military power cannot be the only solution. Khanna points out the irony of American actions being more and more imperial, even though it is an “accidental empire.” China will be able to organize Central Asia and the EU will have a stabilizing force on Eastern Europe, his argument continues. The U.S. is slowly losing effectiveness in both hard and soft power and the world must be prepared to make adjustments to the new realities as they unfold. Khanna even goes on to question the U.S.’s ability to maintain its First World status and sees it potentially falling into the Second World, which could come about with further diversification into the euro.

Khanna’s most controversial argument is most likely the one that Russia is on the course to devolve and will most likely lose its Far East to Chinese immigration. There is not much optimism for Russia’s future, even with its energy wealth. Its organization and functioning is called into question to the point that Khanna does not appear to hold much hope for a successful future. Its position between the EU and China provides it with potential as a powerbroker. Whether or not this becomes reality is still very much up in the air. According to Khanna’s theory and argument, it would appear to be unlikely.

The Second World weaves a fascinating and complicated argument that most of the important actions in the near future will play outside the empires of the U.S., EU and China. Yet, Khanna succeeded in providing large volumes of information in easily digestible verbiage for a very wide audience.

Written by Dan Logue