Foreign Policy

Living on a Multipolar Planet

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Parag Khanna has written an interesting article on the rise of the Second World, a phrase that no longer refers to the old Communist bloc but now entails something new. "Of the approximately two hundred states in the world today," Khanna reports, "only thirty are members of the First World club of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Meanwhile, the bottom forty-eight (mostly in Africa) are formally labeled Least Developed Countries. In between lie the Second World nations." These countries, he argues,

What rough beast, its hour come round at last, breaks through the mid-Atlantic to be born?

do not look to great powers for leadership, especially not the Western powers that have largely dominated the globe since about 1500, but they are also wary of leading challengers such as China. Instead, they will go their own way and influence events, to the extent that they can, based on their own interests. Their alignments with Western nations, if any, will be ad hoc. Second, these Second World nations are forging new regional-power relationships that will have an impact on future world events. Sometimes jockeying for position in their neighborhoods and sometimes forging potent regional cooperatives, they will become significant global players largely through strategic activity at the regional level. And third, these emerging nations will be looking for new modes of governance and new ways of ordering their economies. Western pluralism and capitalism aren't likely to reign as models for these countries to any significant or consistent degree, and their enthusiasm for the norms and institutions of today's liberal international order is likely to be limited….

Second World nations, in going their own way, will not move toward any kind of collective action. Instead, these countries see themselves as influencing the globe's new order by radiating outward from their particular vantage points.

The essay is part of The National Interest's special issue on "The Crisis of the Old Order," which includes several other articles worth reading, particularly Christopher Layne's "The Global Power Shift from West to East."

Elsewhere in Reason: See my fifth reason for optimism.