America's Waning Influence in 'The Second World'

Parag Khanna

Born in India and raised in the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Germany, Parag Khanna brings an international perspective to geopolitics. Nusrat Durrani/Nusrat Durrani hide caption

itoggle caption Nusrat Durrani/Nusrat Durrani

Parag Khanna believes that America's dominant moment is over. In his new book, The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, he argues that the 21st centruy will be dominated by three first-world superpowers: the United States, China and the European Union.

He warns of global conflict as the superpowers compete for control of energy and natural resources in regions like Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

Each of the superpowers has a different style and different goals, Khanna says, and the U.S. would do well to learn from its savvy competitors when it comes to dealing with nations teetering precariously on the boundaries between second- and third-world.

The New York Times described The Second World as "rewarding simply as a primer on contemporary geopolitics. Anyone curious about the lay of the land in Algeria or Tajikistan can get answers, and a dash of local color, in Mr. Khanna's succinct chapters."

Born in India, Khanna was raised in the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Germany. He is a senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation.

This discussion of The Second World was recorded in March 2008 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Excerpt: 'The Second World'

The Second World

Chapter 1

Brussels: The New Rome

Note: Author's footnotes have been omitted.

Kiev, Tbilisi, and Baku neither look nor feel like the grand European capitals of London, Paris, and Rome. Littered with the hulking architectural and mental debris of the Soviet Union, these cities — and the countries of which they are the capitals — are in serious need of an overhaul. The trouble is that this requires political stability, economic investment, and most of all a counterweight to Russia, which is still manipulating borders, pipelines, and markets to pull them back into its orbit.

"It's fairly simple: We hate Russia," said an Estonian diplomat in Tallinn, bluntly capturing a problem that is at once emotional and strategic. Of course, this is not a new challenge for Europe's East, where Western Christendom, Slavic Orthodoxy, and Turkic Islam have clashed for more than a thousand years. A century ago, strategists Halford Mackinder and Rudolf Kjellen devoted themselves to containing Russian power; the former argued that an Atlantic alliance was the solution, and the latter pushed for a robust Central European league. What is happening today, however, goes well beyond what either of their imaginations allowed. Instead of Eastern Europe's return to a post–Cold War "crush zone" between Germany and Russia,the European Union is subsuming Germans and Slavs alike, integrating them entirely within the new European empire.

The mental journey of Europe's imperial expansion begins on a map, as one traces a finger along the L-shaped path from the chilly Baltics downward through the Central European Visegrád group of countries (Poland, the Czech and Slovak republics, and Hungary), Ukraine, Romania, the former Yugoslavia and the southern Balkans, then eastward along the Black Sea through Bulgaria, Turkey, and the Caucasus to the oily shores of the Caspian Sea. This contested zone — the original "second world" — was, except for Turkey, once colored red to signify the Warsaw Pact. Today the European Union is painting it blue, indicating that the region is ready to ascend into the first world. Yet as the Anglo-German scholar Ralf Dahrendorf presciently wrote, "The First and Second Worlds are being reunited into something which has no name yet, nor a number." The actual journey through this new European East is extremely bumpy and filled with unpredictable delays, leaps of faith, and all the anxieties of people liberated less than a generation ago from totalitarianism.

For all the postcommunist soul-searching afflicting the region in the 1990s, the EU has already won the easiest fights. Since the Soviet collapse, on average one country per year has been absorbed into the EU, its citizens now traveling far more easily westward within Europe than eastward to their former master Russia. On a single day — May 1, 2004 — over a hundred million citizens in ten countries officially became European. Milan Kundera astutely called these nations the "kidnapped lands of the West," but the West to which they have returned is not the Europe of post–Versailles Treaty fragility and depression. "Our passports tell a lot about the new European mentality: Prior to 1914 no one really needed passports," explained a Czech traveler, proudly waving his new burgundy pamphlet in a train cabin full of young Western Europeans. "Now we have the next best thing: a common EU passport which also respects our national languages." In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European elites changed their lingua franca multiple times, but by elevating to official status each new member-state's language, the EU has preempted one of history's most common sources of jingoism, ensuring a polyglot, heterogeneous empire — a radical turn from Europe's inglorious early — and mid-twentieth-century history.

For over half a century, European nations have been pooling their power, eventually giving small and shattered post–World War II countries a new lease on life. Though EU members remain distinct nations, their greater meaning now comes from being part of the world's only superstate. War between any two countries within the EU's dense institutional nexus has become impossible, and the promise of greater security and wealth has largely succeeded in aligning the foreign policies of its members. "Our biggest logistical exercise since World War II was not military," an official in one of the EU's shiny, postmodern edifices boasted, "but the circulation of the Euro currency in 2002."

EU expansion is a gamble more expensive than America's war in Iraq — but one that is actually paying off. "We purposely make the EU poorer each time we expand," a sprightly Eurocrat from Lithuania explained in a Brussels pub crowded with multilingual Europhiles. "But the stability we spread can hardly be measured." The EU spends over $10 billion a year just to resurrect the physical infrastructure of its new East, accelerating its recovery from decades of communist negligence. This strategy, which lifted Ireland — the "sick man of Europe" a generation ago — and postauthoritarian Spain and Portugal, is now working its magic in the East. Though many predicted it would take Hungary decades to catch up to the West, it has already become the regional corporate outsourcing hub, with 80 percent of its production led by European multinationals and 80 percent of its exports going back to the EU. Slovakia has quickly switched from building tanks to building Volkswagens. EU integration has meant that even the government scandals of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have hardly made a dent in economic growth. "The new members are where European entrepreneurs are flocking for the action," gushed a German management consultant who regularly shuttles to Warsaw and Budapest on one of Lufthansa's growing number of short-haul flights in the region.

EU expansion has also become a virtuous circle of tapping new markets to decrease reliance on exports to the United States — a crucial step in building an independent superpower. The fresh blood of the EU's new members has generated a competitive federalism that boosts the European economy as a whole. The development model of the Baltic countries — entrepreneurial freedom, open competition, and flexible labor laws — has begun to seep back via Central Europe into the laggards of Western Europe. As one Brussels-based EU analyst noted, "Integration is now being led by countries that used to be on the periphery of Europe [but] have learned to meet the challenges, and reap the opportunities, of globalization." The EU's common market is the largest in the world — and will stay that way no matter what America's economy does.

The EU is easily the most popular and successful empire in history, for it does not dominate, it disciplines. The incentives of Europeanization — subsidies from Brussels, unfettered mobility, and the adoption of the Euro currency — are too great not to want. Brussels today rivals Washington with its swarms of lobbyists, including dozens of public relations outfits hired by Balkan and post-Soviet countries actively vying for EU admission. To qualify for accession, however, the still-ruined postcommunist countries from Moldova to Albania to Azerbaijan must do more than just burnish their images: They have to follow concrete steps toward internalizing EU laws and rules as called for in the New Neighborhood Strategy, which locks together military, economic, and governance issues. Eurocrats feed their future subjects the acronym-rich language of the EU in small, digestible doses, turning unruly neighbors into productive members.

But this is not a one-way street: Europe needs to expand, or Europe will die. "We don't admit it, but expansion stabilizes our population decline while increasing the labor pool," one EU Commission official confided in his office full of wall-to-wall technocratic studies. Yet the gradual unification of Europe's West and East is not only political and economic but also cultural and psychological. Europe's growing diversity makes Europeanness a gradually attainable ideal rather than a mythical Platonic form, transforming Europe's identities from tribal to cosmopolitan. Even as some Western Europeans fear the dilution of their elite brand, Europe's evolution is giving the term European a positive meaning after decades of exclusive (read: Christian) or negative (read: not Russian) ones. Europe in fact already is partially Islamic, with growing Muslim populations in England, France, and Germany and almost a hundred million Muslims from Albania, Bosnia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan in the European diplomatic and strategic space via the Council of Europe or NATO. What the EU's strategic guru Robert Cooper calls the "new European commonwealth" has come to embody an ancient imperial truism that the Romans, Mongols, and Ottomans understood but the Soviet Union never did: A successful empire cannot be racist.

"European" has become an identity as strong (or as weak) as "American" or "Chinese." As life imitates art, all countries participating in the

European Football Championships and the Eurovision Song Contest consider themselves — and are increasingly considered — European. Most important, an entire post — Cold War generation of students — called the "ERASMUS generation" after the EU's exchange program — is transcending the very national identities their elders fought to establish, all for the sake of European stability. These "postnational" European youth from almost thirty countries now travel virtually visa-free from Belfast to Baku, speak multiple languages, study in continent-wide exchange programs, vote in European parliamentary elections, and are intermarrying into a diverse European society.

As with all empires, the EU rubber band will stretch until it no longer can, growing at least until it has fully replaced the dismantled Soviet Union across Europe's East, creating a borderless and contiguous "Pax Europea" of about thirty-five countries, an imperial blanket covering close to six hundred million people.9 But the Europeanization of the L-shaped zone is far from complete: Balkan and Caucasus countries are still fragile postconflict regions and have become a convenient crossroads for trafficking in weapons and women; Turkey has a mind of its own and will not be easily subdued; and, of course, no country presents a bigger obstacle to Europe's ambitions than Russia itself.

The Transatlantic Divorce

Those who see China as an existential Eastern rival to the West argue that the United States and the EU must band together as never before. Richard Rosecrance has called for a corporatestyle merger across the Atlantic, forming an economically complementary and politically robust superstructure to balance China's potential. Even absent a China challenge, America and Europe share cultural bonds deepened by the NATO alliance of the Cold War, and it is highly unlikely that the United States and the EU would ever again attempt to undermine each other physically. U.S. State Department veteran Nicholas Burns has described transatlantic relations as a "marriage with no possibility of separation or divorce."

Yet when the transatlantic scholar Robert Kagan described America's strategic worldview as hailing from masculine Mars, with that of Europe descending from more feminine Venus, it was treated not just as a clever analogy but rather as a psychoanalytical comparison of divergent inner beings. Over two centuries America evolved from rejecting Europe to seeing itself as the leader of a united West — with Europe as a junior partner. But as Dominique Moisi suggests, the "Cold War configuration of one West and two Europes" is being replaced by "one Europe but two Wests." Even as the fraternal twins of Western civilization, Europe and America represent two different empires — friendly most of the time, but ultimately competing to advance to the head of the geopolitical class.

Europe has its own vision of what world order should look like, which it increasingly pursues whether America likes it or not. The EU is now the most confident economic power in the world, regularly punishing the United States in trade disputes, while its superior commercial and environmental standards have assumed global leadership. Many Europeans view America's way of life as deeply corrupt, built on borrowed money, risky and heartless in its lack of social protections, and ecologically catastrophic. Meanwhile, Europe has achieved Toynbee's aspiration of a "middle way between free enterprise and socialism." The EU is also a far larger humanitarian aid donor than the United States, while South America, East Asia, and other regions prefer to emulate the "European Dream" rather than the American variant. London's Financial Times is the world's most widely circulated newspaper, not The New York Times.

The United States and the EU increasingly differ about both the means and ends of power as well. For many Europeans, the U.S.-led war in Iraq validated their view that war is not an instrument of policy but rather a sign of its failure. The backlash against America that inspired al-Qaeda attacks on European soil has heightened their disdain for America's approach to confronting troubled states — while inspiring them to elevate their own strategy of sustainable transformation. It is often said that America and Europe make a strong team because "America breaks and the EU fixes" or that America "lays down the law" while Europe "lays down the rule of law," but this cliché has long grated on Europeans, who would rather spread their version of stability before America destabilizes countries on its periphery, particularly in the Arab world.

At a minimum, Europeans now believe the EU should be autonomous from the United States while working with it through NATO in humanitarian operations. But as America downsizes its military forces in Europe, the EU is combining its armies toward common rapid reaction and peacekeeping forces potentially numbering two hundred thousand, and investing in a Eurofighter combat jet and long-range aircraft. EU members increasingly contribute their defense budgets to the European Defense Agency, not Lockheed Martin. Transatlantic relations may be an arranged marriage, but the United States and EU will continue to act as if they are divorced.

Excerpted from The Second World by Parag Khanna. Copyright (c) 2008 by Parag Khanna. Reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.

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