George Orwell was right: The future will see three contending world powers, their alliances and rivalries with one another ever shifting, and scarcely any peace.
So says think-tanker Khanna, a fellow at the New America Foundation, who posits that the world turns on three empires: the United States, the European Union and China. “Big is back,” he writes. “It is inter-imperial relations—not international or inter-civilizational—that shape the world. Empires—not civilizations—give geography its meaning.” These great superpowers, he adds in a somewhat questionable metaphor, are like bumper cars, sure to careen into each other at some point but without any knowledge of how fast they’ll be hit. History tells us that empires are transitory things, while the poor will be with us always. Somewhere in the middle are the states of the “second world,” which “are frequently both first- and third-world at the same time,” mostly without a middle class but frequently with plenty of wealth and resources. Khanna, in the manner of Robert Kaplan, travels widely in these pages, visiting and writing about such far-flung places as Xinjiang, Chile, Iran and Belgium, as well as the capitals and principal cities of the empires. The second-world states, he suggests, will, like Turkey, find it expedient to maintain relations with all three. Turkey, for instance, will seek ties with Russia and China while seeking partnership in the EU and American-led alliances alike. Thanks to the Iraq War, he notes, the scale is being tipped around the world between the “two Wests” in the EU’s favor, while China is extending its international influence to places such as Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, which “now resembles Iran prior to the overthrow of the Shah.”
The near future, Khanna provocatively writes, will see more seesawing. But, he adds, “the tripolar world should be thought of as a stool: With two legs it cannot stand long; with three it can be stable.”