Tuesday, March 25, 2008 10:00 AM
"Khanna's study is noteworthy, primarily for his analysis of 'the second world': some 100 transitional countries, such as Brazil, Ukraine, and Iran, that do not qualify either as rich advanced industrial states or as least developed nations. By Khanna's account, 'the race to win the second world is on.'"
Khanna's book is about the changing role of American influence around the globe, the other powers competing with the U.S. to win over the "second world," and what this might mean for our foreign policy.
The transcript follows.
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Parag Khanna: Good morning! I'm Parag Khanna, author of "The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order" just published by Random House. I'm a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Where do you see China as fitting in with the countries of this Second World?
Parag Khanna: China is both a Second World country in terms of its internal characteristics (level of stability, socio-economic divides, etc.) but is also a superpower in its own right in terms of its geopolitical activities and ambitions around the world. So it's a unique case of a country I analyze internally (like other second world states) but also of course it's a major factor in my geopolitical world-view.
Lyme, Conn.: Others have commented on how much of the world viewed the United States after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and how those views in many countries have changed dramatically since we sent troops into Iraq. Has your analysis included these rapid changes in attitudes towards the US and, if so, what have you observed?
Parag Khanna: Definitely - having traveled to all these Second World countries AFTER 9/11 I've seen very clearly how it has deteriorated America's image and how very concretely countries are moving to partner with others as a way of hedging against excessive reliance on the US as a partner who could, potentially, turn against it. This is purely rational and self-interested behavior and we should not expect anything else, especially after the Iraq war!
Washington, D.C.: Why do you seem to dismiss India as a potential world power in comparison to China? It seems to me that economically, militarily, and demographically India has as much potential for world influence as China does, maybe more. Thanks!
Parag Khanna: India is not treated as a first-tier global superpower in my book, but rather as (alongside Russia and Japan) one of the three crucial balancers. So its role is very important, but it is very very far behind China in its current level of influence globally (it has almost none actually), and has tremendous internal challenges which it is slower at confronting than China is. It may also be that China has surged ahead and locked in certain relationships for resources and alliances such that when India does begin to reach out more, it could be too late.
Arlington, Va.: Some of these Second World countries seem like they are teetering towards becoming Third World countries. Would you agree? Or do you think we've send the end of new Third World countries?
Parag Khanna: Not at all - you are exactly right. The thing about the Second World is that it is a very delicate and precarious state of affairs and countries are equally likely to rise as to fall. Each case is different and none is certain. I believe countries like Brazil, Malaysia, and Kazakhstan are making positive steps towards curbing their internal divides, but I see Egypt and Indonesia as stumbling and crumbling in a variety of ways and have less confidence that they will achieve the kind of stability required to even stay in the Second World, so perhaps they already are, but are likely to become, Third World.
Alexandria, Va.: Are there any Third World countries that have the potential to move up a tier in the next ten years? Thirty years? Any First World countries that you see in jeopardy of sliding down to Second World status?
Parag Khanna: Perhaps India is the best bet in terms of achieving sufficient internal development to no longer be considered the country with the largest number of poor people in the world (though because it is so large, perhaps it will always retain that moniker). Several Arab countries have potential such as Libya and Morocco could use their wealth and investment to move their small populations upward towards full development and stability. South Africa is a country I don't analyze in my book because of its remote geography, but it is clearly a case of an African country that has a head-start that could be used to achieve broader development (but right now it appears to have underperformed).
Terminology: Designating countries as Third World and Second World seems pretty pompous - Americans always seem to think that they are at the top of the food chain when in reality we can't seem to figure out how to keep our own country from floundering. Do you think we really have the right to proclaim that citizens of other countries live in the Second or Third World? Whatever happened to just calling them "developing countries" or whatever.
Parag Khanna: Actually I conclude the book with a long section about how America is indeed itself becoming Second World. I do not proclaim others third world because I am an American - I do so on the basis of analytic categories (albeit fluid ones) which originated in Europe and I have modified. Less developed countries (LDCs) is often the euphemism for "third world", but the term Second World basically disappeared from usage after the collapse of the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact. I find it useful because it captures most of the countries in the world that appear to have both First AND Third World characteristics at the same time.
New York, N.Y.: As a collective group, your nations of the Second World could be the economic giants of the 21st century. Yet, do you see these countries as having the ability to adopt a common identity? Or do you see it more as their mission to prevent anyone that might dominate them economically from ever gaining such an advantage?
Parag Khanna: That is the guiding question of my book and one that has no universal answer. There are cases where Second World countries are forming what I call an "anti-imperial belt" - OPEC and the summits between Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Iran, and others are exaples of this. These countries are trying to make sure they do not fall under the influence of ANY superpowers even as the US, China, and EU are trying to coopt them one by one. How successfully Second World countries play this deft diplomatic game will determine who gets the upper hand in the end.
Freising, Germany: I was wondering if the U.S.'s reduction of influence in the so-called Second World is due to events leading to the Iraq War, and hence temporary. According to an article in Sunday's Washington Post (U.S. Pushed Allies on Iraq, Diplomat Writes; Post, March 23), the administration "threatened trade reprisals against friendly countries who withheld their support, spied on its allies, and pressed for the recall of U.N. envoys that resisted U.S. pressure to endorse the war". There's bound to be a backlash against such heavy handed measures, but I'm not sure that the reaction is permanent.
Parag Khanna: The decline in US influence is something structural, that is, it has more to do with globalization and the rise of other powers such as China and the coalescence of the EU and others than it does with the Bush administration/war in Iraq, which certainly has accelerated things though. And indeed, strong-arming even allies to support a war that was not in their interest will have the kind of micro-repercussions that will hurt the US diplomatic stature in the long run, I have no doubt about that.
Charlottesville, Va.: Could you address how you see the new dynamic in which the old-style power of military might has given way to political influence and how it relates to your topic today?
Parag Khanna: Sure. East Asia is the best example of this: America has by far the most powerful military/naval presence in the Pacific, and it reassures Japan, South Korea, etc. but at the same time, China is using political and economic connections throughout the region to make all the countries of the region (including America allies such as Thailand and Korea and Australia) more China-friendly so that in the event of conflict, these countries may very well just sit on the sidelines, and indeed, this is precisely what many of their diplomats have told me.
Bethesda, Md.: You mentioned Eqypt as a country that might be stumbling towards the Third World. The news out of Egypt today is that people are dying in the heat as they wait for army-baked bread. I'd say that qualifies as a Third World scenario.
Parag Khanna: Exactly - the good news the government will tell you is that they're building a new stock exchange, improving roads, and have natural gas fields discovered in the north, but how does this help the 60 million people who are poor? This is the tension in the Second World or Third World.
Rockville, Md.: Brazil seems like it is struggling. I read today that in Rio ERs are reporting 80 new cases of dengue fever every HOUR. Shouldn't the U.S. or other super powers step in to help in some of these medical crises?
Parag Khanna: All Second World countries are struggling, Brazil is no exception. But as I describe in the book, the government is also sponsoring riverboats to go up the Amazon and attempt to provide medical care to upper-Amazonian populations. So they are being innovative, and they are trying. I'm not sure how a USAID program would step in and do more than this. Brazil can afford to address the issue, it is a matter of scaling it up, curbing corruption, etc.
Washington, D.C.: In 1992 Lester Thurow noted that there were a group of countries that are basically the OECD (Europe and Russia, English-speaking, and Japan) who have historically been well-off compared to the rest of the world. Since the Industrial Revolution, only Japan has joined the club of rich countries. So do you see the club expanding to include a few others -- will China become like Sweden -- or do you see some others dropping out of the club -- will Italy join the Philippines? What do you think?
Parag Khanna: The focus of my book is how PARTS of countries are developing and joining the rich/developed club while others fall behind. So the UAE as a country is rich, but it has millions of poor/disenfranchised guest workers. Bangalore appears to have the trappings of globalized modernity with all the high-tech companies there (despite poor infrastructure), but it is not representative of India at all. China will not become like Sweden, but Shanghai is already starting to look like a global capital.
Vienna, Va.: What do you make of Mexico? More and more Americans are heading there for cheap health care, including prescription drugs, dentistry and surgery, yet it's the kind of country where you can't drink the water and people live in "homes" constructed from cast-off garage doors scrounged from California dumps.
Parag Khanna: That is why Mexico is Second World. I think that Mexico has not progressed at nearly the rate Americans had hoped when NAFTA came into effect. It shows how politics is as important as economics, though nowadays we focus so much on the latter. The lesson here is the need to work WITHIN Mexico to increase its labor, health, and other standards to achieve broader stability so that it is not only the border regions with the US or Mexico City that appear modernizing. THe EU example in Eastern Europe is very instructive here, since their engagement is very multi-layered: political, economic, legal, regulatory, ethical, etc.
Winning?: What does "winning" look like (in terms of the race to win the Second World)?
Parag Khanna: That's a great question and depends on perspective. It's neither feasible nor necessarily desirable to have the world dependent on us, since that's (a) impossible and (b) we don't have the resources to sustain it. Winning for America might be having sufficient allies in key overseas regions such that if American intervention (military or otherwise) is required/requested, it is doable. It would mean maintaining strong exports to the second world emerging markets to strengthen the American economy as well. It would mean Second World countries moving towards democratic capitalism in some form.
What about Iraq?: I wonder: where does Iraq fall in these designations? Third World? Second World? Would you say it was in one category during Saddam's reign and a different category in the post-U.S. occupation?
Parag Khanna: Because I evaluate countries based on their potential (resources, population, etc.) I think Iraq has always been Second World - oil obviously has much to do with this. Even today, Iraq has more infrastructure than most Third World countries even though it is very much a failed state. If Iraq survives at all, it should be Second World and develop itself with its own resources and with Arab support - these are ingredients Third World countries lack. Kurdistan already feels quite Second World, by the way.
Frisco, Texas: How do you regard USA's reluctance to making internal sacrifices in order to comply with international efforts on global warming (Kyoto, Bali)? Is this a part in the competition to win over the Second World?
Parag Khanna: The government isn't willing to make the sacrifices, nor are many consumers/emitters, but America as a whole is dealing with the issue in diverse ways. Schwarzeneggar is demanding the sacrifices you refer to from Californian companies for example, and is suing the EPA for the right to impose tighter standards. The Second World will certainly not cave in to pressure to comply with Kyoto/Bali until the US makes some move/sacrifice first. The same goes for global trade negotiations today as well, I might add.
Dearborn, Mich.: As an American of Lebanese descent, I get so frustrated by how Lebanon has been torn apart repeatedly by war - both internal sparring (civil war) and external sparring with Syria, etc. I really don't see Lebanon as a First World country. Do you think it has the potential to get there?
Parag Khanna: For all the reasons you cite (internal divisions, external occupation), I treat Lebanon as a Second World country. Of course an independent Lebanon with stable politics could become very prosperous given its tourist, agricultral, shipping/trade potential and small population, but again, that is its potential and not its reality at the moment. I do truly admire the country and its people though for all they have been through. It is one of my favorite countries in the world.
London: As I watch the value of the dollar decrease, I wonder if the U.S. is headed into Second World territory. Thoughts?
Parag Khanna: That's very much what the conclusion of the book is about. If the weak dollar doesn't really lead to a significant rise in exports and generate new jobs and growth, then one wonders what the US can do besides simply beg for continued foreign investment, tourism, etc. But there are many other reasons why we could be considered to be falling into the Second World such as our education, health, and other declining standards.
Falls Church, Va.: What got you interested in exploring the idea of Second World countries? Was doing the research ever overwhelming? There seem to be so many of them - I'd think that focusing on them and all of their problems would get depressing after awhile.
Parag Khanna: It was the most exciting and challenging experience I think I'll ever have. To travel non-stop for two years with no day-to-day assurances is really disorienting and towards the end I thought I might be going crazy! Then indeed there is the issue of how to bring it all together, to make sense of all the problems I saw across 40 or so countries. So it was overwhelming but, pithy as it may sound, my strategy was to take it day by day, keep on top of my material and notes, type it up, frequently, write things in small, digestible doses, etc.
Washington, D.C.: I know that so far such a place does not exist, but what would a Fourth World country look like? How bad would a Third World country have to get before it fell down a tier? It seems like there are definitely places that are about to qualify, in terms of squalor, corrupt governments, etc.
Parag Khanna: One could certainly say that there are 4th World countries that are completely and utterly fallen apart, virtually non-existent. Some would say Niger or Zimbabwe are like this.
Vero Beach, Fla.: Here in the U.S., we're accustomed to the central and state governments' authorities extending nearly everywhere. I still manage to be surprised at the weakness of government presence in portions of many Second World countries. I suppose it doesn't help a country like Brazil to have a neighbor like Paraguay.
Parag Khanna: Very good point. One of the main problems of the Second World is the reach of the government, which is often very limited. Brazil is a good example, as is Colombia - both countries though are working hard at this in ways I am optimistic about. Turkey is similar. In all three cases the solution has been to focus on building infrastructure as widely around the country as possible to extend reach, spread governance, bring development, etc.
Charlottesville, Va.: As the idea of media transparency, an open press, is seen to assist in fostering greater trust, equity and understanding in the world, how does the world avoid the sort of information manipulation by those in "power"?
Parag Khanna: Media/transparency issues certainly play a role not only in the inner workings of Second World states, but also the pressures they face in their foreign policies. So the regimes of Iran, Uzbekistan and Venezuela would like their people to believe that America is a nefarious imperial satan, but surveys suggest their people know better. There is no way for "the world" to avoid manipulation by entrenched leaders though, it's a case by case situation.
Annandale, Va.: You traveled for two years for your book? Which countries did you most enjoy? Which were the most troubling as you examined them and made your way through them? Any that you'd consider living in?
Parag Khanna: I enjoyed Turkey, Brazil, Vietnam, Malaysia, Lebanon and Libya the most. I was most disappointed with Venezuela and Georgia, both of which talk too much and deliver too little. Given the weak dollar, I wonder where I could afford to live beyond here! I do want to spend more time in regional hubs like Dubai and Singapore as these city-states (rather than larger countries) are extremely dynamic and fascinating forces for change in major regions like the Middle East and East Asia.
Washington, D.C.: What African countries besides those in North Africa do you see moving into the Second World?
Parag Khanna: Sadly, I don't see any possibility beyond South Africa, which is of course a very exceptional situation historically. Nigeria and Kenya have enormous potential but are such tinderboxes too.
Silver Spring, Md.: Your response to the question about Egypt is interesting, because I would love to know what the number of poor in America is currently, the true number of those unemployed or under-employed. We consistently look outward to point out human rights violations and poor living conditions, amongst others, but fail to do this to ourselves when we compare ourselves to other countries. This along with other poor decisions has resulted in the world's perception of us declining. Maybe we need to listen and take a serious look in the mirror as a country. Don't you think??
Parag Khanna: You'll find the conclusion of my book to be an intense and dense look at our purely internal problems that we are sorely neglecting. This is both embarassing and sad. We should not have to see our slipping comparison with others to deal with these important domestic problems, so I agree with you.
Washington, D.C.: Which Arab country has the best chance of moving up the chain to First World?
Parag Khanna: The Gulf statelets such as Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, etc. have that potential due to how they are spending their enormous oil wealth on infrastructure/development/job creation. But of course, these countries also host huge foreign labor/minority populations who are not included in official statistics of income.
Arlington, Va.: This may be a dumb question, but where did the terms Second World and Third World come from? And what exactly do they connote? Who coined them? I've ALWAYS wondered about what Third World really means and even my college and grad school educations failed to answer that question for me. Gotta love anonymous forums!
Parag Khanna: The terms have different origins. "Third world" comes from the French sociologist Alfred Sauvy, Second World was a self-description by the Soviet/Communist world to describe its alternative path. Sauvy was referring to the disenfrancished masses of under-developed countries. (I have a long footnote explaining all of this in the book)
Bowie, Md.: Is there anything you actually LIKE about the US?? We make mistakes, as does everyone, but at least we try and not play follow the leader. Relations can and will be repaired - they always are. Like anything there are ups and downs. The question is: when will the Third World catch up to the Second World and who will be left in the Third World?
Parag Khanna: I don't think you're asking the right question. I am an American and like/love plenty of things about America. But that doesn't change anything. I am assessing the reality of our over-estimation of our own power and the notion (as you suggest) that we will automatically repair relations when a new administration comes in or when others (like China) make the kinds of mistakes we have. We will have ups and downs, and there is plenty of hope for American renewal (domestically and internationally), but it is a serious question not to be taken for granted whether or not we will achieve that. I do agree that the key question is how to get the Third World to catch up, how to have the whole world on a positive trajectory rather than only parts of it. That is actually much of the focus of my next book.
Washington, D.C.: How does the U.S. affect these Second World countries in the food chain? Is their relationship to the U.S. as crucial as it may seem? I hope I do not get accused of being "pompous".
Parag Khanna: Second World countries are increasingly diversifying their reliance away from the US and towards a more fair balance with China and Europe and others, so our leverage over them is increasingly limited or circumscribed or balanced out by others. There are some where we still have tremendous influence, but the overall trend is towards their being less reliant on us than before.
Racism: Where do most Second World countries fall when it comes to racism? Are Second World countries often marked by class systems and/or inter-race tensions? We haven't seemed to slip it in our First World country, so my guess is that even if seemingly harmonious Second World countries (those without obvious in-fighting) that this could be a problem, even if only a subtle one.
Parag Khanna: In many Second World countries, winners and losers are divided along ethnic lines, so there is a perpetual tension there that must be managed, otherwise things can bubble over. Take Malaysia: it is modernizing and becoming prosperous quite rapidly, but the ethnic Chinese majority has accrued much of the benefit. THe minority Indians and indigenous Malays rioted and protested recently before their elections, and the governing party suffered major electoral losses. They managed to use democracy and governance to contain the situation, but the Balkans and Central Asian countries are examples of how that doesn't always succeed.
Bethesda, Md.: You mentioned earlier that with the declining dollar, it is harder to find places where you can get a lot for your money. If you are considering retirement and have a nest egg saved up, what countries would be on your short list to retire to where you might live more handsomely than you would if you stayed in the U.S., but yet it has the amenities one would require (such as high-speed internet access)?
Parag Khanna: I imagine a person who wanted to retire someplace sunny (and near the ocean, and with great food) but with the comforts of home (internet access, friends coming to visit) would be perhaps Morocco, Dubai, Singapore, Australia, and other such quasi-tropical destinations.
Washington, D.C.: You've mentioned above the reality of entrenched leaders and political parties in countries forever being potential manipulators. We've seen the nationalism card played very powerfully by many countries in the past decade alone. I have a hope for a gradual awakening among the world's people toward less vulnerability to fall prey to this tool by political powers seeking to divert attention from other issues or for other negative deceitful means. Do you see any real potential that people in, for example, America and China could be made less vulnerable to being manipulated with this rhetoric of nationalistic fervor? America has a moderate degree of open press and literacy yet it is increasingly seeming more foolish than many other countries citizens...
Parag Khanna: Indeed, education does not correlate to declining nationalism, as America and China attest. And similarly, we also see that a majority of the most notorious terrorists have been well-educated (often in the West). I think only economic interdependence and greater cultural exchange will lead people to think differently about others than they are manipulated to think. So my answer -- as it always is -- is to travel more!
Parag Khanna: Thanks very much, Washington Post book-chatters. Best wishes, Parag
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