Great Wars and Great Peaces
A World Reimagined

Why 1814 should tell us more than 1914 about 2014.

Appeared in: Volume 9, Number 6 | Published on: June 16, 2014
Parag Khanna is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and author of The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order (2008) and How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance (2011).
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  • Anthony

    “A world reimagined” beyond selfulfilling centennialism while recognizing geography remains destiny acknowledges convergence. In particular, the digital electronic age has certainly changed global configuration and underscores geopolitical interfacing going forward. To my mind, the essence of globalization is that all parts of the world are now linked through trade, investment, and production networks which leverage what author calls “the new physics of geopolitics”.

    The essay’s key points for me are (1) as is widely recognized, what today’s world needs most is to recast and strengthen the partial settlement of 1989-1991 into a new equilibrium among major powers… (2) civilizations thrive on account of a network of often implicit rules. (3) the new physics of geopolitics is not premised on quantities of state power, but on maintaining a gravitational pull while constantly exercising leverage in diverse strategic contexts – military, financial, cultural, and normative.

    An essay with a lot to chew on! Above that, we’re still searching for a legitimate order for a 21st century world.

  • qet

    If there is a point somewhere in this bulk, I couldn’t find it. Near the end the author quotes some Shell Corporation-funded nonsense: “. . .’Concert of the Great.’ It paints a picture of the 21st century in which ‘countries simply learn to live with each other” in order to “avoid the sort of competitive scramble that leads to mutual harm.’ Pragmatic self-interest leads to a sort of deferential coordination among great power elites in America, China, Europe, India, Brazil, and other powers.” Countries have never “simply learned to live with each other” and it has always been in their pragmatic self-interest to do so. Hoping for a miracle is not a reimagining of anything. A miracle may yet occur. Who can prove otherwise? But describing a hoped-for miracle as though it were the possible result of some mechanical international relations contrivance is risible.

    Also, judging a “world order” such as the Vienna order by the absence of a “world war,” which is essentially what the Napoleonic Wars were, is highly questionable. This Concert business may appeal to professional diplomats and scholars of “geopolitics,” but that order not only was too short-lived to be considered a success, it also did not prevent war at all: the Crimean War, Franco-Prussian War, the Boer War, the Balkan wars leading up to 1914: the fact that the “Great” European powers had exhausted themselves in the Napoleonic wars such that they needed time to recuperate before being able to engage in that kind of all-out warfare again did not mean that they could not more or less constantly make smaller wars, wars of sufficient carnage and atrocity to have outraged the folks at home had CNN and the Internet been around then. That is the world we have now–unending “regional” wars in lieu of world war–, a world the author calls “a world of stable decentralization” (really? Syria? Libya? Egypt? Iraq? Africa? Ukraine? China’s cabbage patch? Stable?); and if the 1815 Vienna order is considered a success, then so must our present era, a conclusion I doubt the author would reach in terms other than propositional logic.

    I read Milton’s Paradise Lost once many years ago, but the only lines I can remember from it are the lines hinted by Kahn Noonian Singh and quoted by Capt. Kirk: “It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.” So long as there are people of that mind about, and there will always be people of that mind about, then all talk of international orders this and globalizing multilateral that is merely academic. The author’s musings, his notions of what constitutes interests that people and nations are willing to kill and die for, are pure materialism, but it is the promptings of the spirit that lead to war and that upset any “order” constructed in books or on treaty paper.

    • Loader2000

      I think the overall point (and he takes a really long time to say it) is that a world order brokered by a handful of very powerful states has been the state of affairs over the last century, but no longer. No one small group of superpowers or european states will meet in a big building and hammer out a treaty that regulates international affairs. In short, the last ripples of the colonial system dominated by the US and Europe are fading away.

  • Anthony

    Parag Khanna frames an historical analogy utilized in some foreign policy discussions vis-a-vis global contretemps – “the emotive power of the analogy is sufficient to make most of us forget….” His emphasis is difference in world canvass circa 2014 – “a landscape of more interdependent and stronger continents and regions.”

    • ShadrachSmith

      Interesting. I read it as an apologia for the principles of Soft Power despite the failures accompanying Obama’s adoption of Soft Power diplomacy.

      Distancing the theories from Obama’s all-too-obvious results. That is a clear “soldier on” perspective by a true-believer of Soft Power.

      • Anthony

        The position authors narrates I don’t view through partisan lens – President Obama is not prism by which Khanna’s thoughts were considered. Since I can’t say what’s in author’s mind and never read his material before essay. I hazard to speculate.

        • ShadrachSmith

          The nobility of your perspective is duly noted. Are you implying that my perspective is venal or bigoted? In fact, since you made it an issue, while you may well be objective, I still see myself as even more objective than you.

          • Anthony

            No implication intended. I don’t know you.

  • ShadrachSmith

    You extol the virtues of Soft Power, and they are many and desirable. Obama has relentlessly softened America’s political power to its current stature somewhere between limp and flaccid. And then you blame Obama for doing it wrong?

    The soft power theories assume the end of the use of organized force in human conflict. They have that part wrong 🙂

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