by Laura Mortkowitz
Parag Khanna had freshman college students in mind when he wrote The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order. As a result, he enjoys speaking to undergraduate students, he admitted in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater on Tuesday.
“I always had in the back of my mind to write the book I wished my college professors had assigned when I was an undergrad,” he said.
The initial concept for the book was formed in 2005 when he was with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Khanna found three stacks of books on his desk: one prophesying America’s continued domination in the 21st century; one about how China would define this century; and one showing the European Union (EU) as a model for the future.
“The three stacks of books were not speaking to each other, and yet they were describing the same world,” Khanna said. “And I wondered how to reconcile them.”
Khanna’s representation of the world is a geopolitical marketplace, where people have multiple vendors to choose from. Today, countries have at least three countries to make foreign investments in.
“The big three [China, Europe and the United States] are always going to be there for you,” he said. “Anywhere in the world, they will service your needs in the name of competing with each other and in the name of expanding their influence.”
The title of Khanna’s book refers to the countries that the big three superpowers are trying to outbid each other for.
“Countries are increasingly divided between winners and losers, haves and have-nots, elites and the masses,” he said. “Those are the countries that I call second world. They’re really trapped: they’re both first and third world at the same time and it’s never clear which way they’re going to go.”
While writing The Second World, Khanna tried to “think like a country from the inside out.” He spent time in each country to see that country through its own people’s eyes.
“This was perhaps the most truthful takeaway from researching this book … looking at each of the 40 countries through their own eyes and understanding them on their own terms,” Khanna said.
Another message Khanna learned during his trips was that countries have been breaking the mold and the Arab world is changing.
Kazakhstan, Libya and Malaysia are all breaking the oil curse — that is “if a country has oil, it is basically doomed to fail,” according to Khanna. Kazakhstan has taken its oil revenue and built infrastructure, making jobs and moving away from being oil dependent.
As for the Arab world, Khanna said that the “next generation leadership is very progressive.” The textbook example of the Arab world, corrupt and full of Islamic extremists, was thrown out the window. Khanna found that the Arab youth have a desire for democratic governance, women’s rights and better education, which the older generation has not provided.
“I find this generation shift holds a lot of promise for the Arab world, so I actually came away with a much more optimistic vision,” Khanna said.
In the beginning of his lecture, Khanna mentioned the argument that these global changes are because of President Bush’s administration. Khanna argued that these powers have risen in spite of Bush and will continue now that he is gone.
Even though President Obama is “popular worldwide,” according to Khanna, that does not mean Iran will stop seeking nuclear weapons or Russia will stop “muscling around” Georgia and Ukraine.
“Issue after issue, you’ll find the world isn’t changing all that much,” Khanna said. “The world is moving on.”