Managing the End of U.S. Hegemony

Parag Khanna‘s cover article in yesterday’s New York Times magazine, “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony,” is an impressively meaty piece of geopolitical analysis in the realist tradition. The article is dense with insights and propositions worth contemplating, whether or not one believes the picture he paints of the present and future geopolitical situation are valid.

His thesis: the era in which the United States is the lone superpower is ending, and the world is moving inexorably toward a tri-polar balance of power, with the United States, Europe and China as the poles. This new global order, he writes, will be multi-civilizational and, despite U.S. efforts since the end of the Cold War, not based on American liberal ideas, or any ideology.

Khanna believes it is “very much tooo late” to attempt to create a world in which the United States is the world’s “organizing principle and leader.” Instead, the U.S. foreign policy must begin to adapt to a world in which the U.S., Europe and China “will constantly struggle to gain influence on their own and balance one another.”

He writes that the key players in this competition for influence will be the states that make up what Khanna calls the “second world“: states like Russia, India, Venezuela, Brazil, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia that are “not in the first-world core of the global economy, nor in its third-world periphery”; States that “are distinguished form the third world by their potential: the likelihood that they will capitalize on a valuable commodity, a charismatic leader or a generous patron.”

So, assuming for a moment that Khanna is correct about the coming international system, what should U.S. foreign policy for this new world look like? Here are Khanna’s prescriptions in brief:

1. Moralizing should not be a part of the rhetoric of U.S. foreign policy — “moralizing exhortations are only useful if they point toward goals that are actually attainable.”

2. Think regionally. Reorganize U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy into “the equivalent of geographic commands — with top-notch assistant secretaries of state to manage relations in each key region without worrying about getting on the daily agenda of the secretary of state for menial approvals.”

3. Use the United States’ non-governmental assets — a “diplomatic-industrial complex” that includes business, NGOs and charities — as “the foot-soldiers of empire spreading values and winning loyalty.”

4. “Make the economy work for us” by “channeling global, particularly Asian, liquidity into our own public instrastructure, creating jobs and technology platforms that can keep American innovation ahead of the pack.”

5. “Convene a G-3” of the United States, Europe and Russia to find common solutions to problems like “climate change, energy security, weapons proliferation and rogue states.”

UPDATE: In general, these recommendations probably make sense if the world is heading in the direction Khanna stipulates, and maybe even if it isn’t.

But is Khanna correct in predicting the geopolitical future? We don’t pretend to know, but here are a few questions that came to mind during our reading:

–A less overtly ideological U.S. foreign policy would probably be a good thing. But ideas often matter in determining the power of states. Does Europe’s cultural attitude toward capitalism bode well for it’s economic future? Is it a given that the Chinese Communist Party will be able to successfully manage that country’s economic rise?

–Khanna gives much weight to demographic trends when explaining why Russia is destined to be a part of the second world, not a superpower. But what about Europe’s demographic trends?

–Khanna dismisses India as a competitor to China by saying it “lags decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite.” Does India’s democracy not give it certain advantages over China?