America's moment of unbridled uni-polar dominance is over as "a multi-polar and multi-civilisational world of three distinct superpowers" - the US, China and the European Union - court and manipulate swing countries in the Second World like India and Japan to expand their global influence.
The claim is made in a new book by Parag Khanna, a 30-year-old India-born, US-based foreign policy whiz kid.
In a new global discourse that obsesses about the rise of India and China as emerging powers in the 21st century, the Second World acts as a reality check about the course of the battle for "empires and influence in the global order" and net winners in this relentless transaction between geopolitics and globalisation.
This is not a variant of neo-colonialism but a full-blooded new great game for the mind and soul of those Second World countries like Turkey, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others which are located between or on the peripheries of these three dominant empires.
In short, the Second World, a mixture of first and third worlds which account for a burgeoning share of global economy and is yet zealous of their sovereignty and cultural identity, holds the master key to who rules the world in the 21st century. "From Eastern Europe to Central Asia, from South America across the Arab world and into Southeast Asia, the race to win the Second World is on."
In this contest for global supremacy, ideology, the prima donna of the Cold War, has been replaced by economics and energy as the prime drivers, contends the author. At stake are the world's scarce resources that happen to be in abundance in those countries that are mostly afflicted with
repressive and indifferent regimes lording over populations steeped in Third World poverty but dreaming of First World lifestyles.
So who will win this mother of all battles in the decades to come? Military superiority is no longer the sure-fire guarantee as the disaster of American interventionism in Iraq and Afghanistan brought out starkly, damaging the credibility of American power. And as each of the new empires has nuclear
weapons, "economic power is more important than military power," writes the author, a well-travelled author, who directs the Global Governance Initiative in the American Strategy Programme of the New America Foundation.
With the legitimacy of American hard power under scrutiny, the US is also fast losing the soft power game, making Washington "merely one of several competing vendors or brands on the catwalk of credibility".
"From hedge funds to online gambling, London and Hong Kong are preferred to New York for listing companies," writes Khanna in what seems like a preface to a post-America world.
Compared to the American seduction, the EU's promise of free market, democracy, integration and consensus building hold potent attraction for many Second World countries. Competing in the race is China's alternate model of harmonious society blending authoritarianism and capitalist economy, which has managed to intermesh with its immediate and near neighbourhood through a network of economic interests and gas pipelines.
In the author's world construct, the competition will be won through "soft power", goal-oriented diplomacy and attractive social models (the liberal democracy of the United States and European Union versus China's mixed structures).
On another level, the Second World is a roller-coaster ride through nearly a hundred countries the author has traversed, conjuring up in vignettes their position in the intricate chessboard of global power game, and summing up their seeming essence in a couple of arresting sentences: "happiness is
multiple pipelines" with multiple suitors in Kazakhstan; "Turkey will look in all directions, because it can."
Clearly, the author has his biases: he is dismissive of the much-talked about resurgence of Russia, riding high on billions in oil windfall, and may be a little overconfident about the course of China's ascendancy. Those betting on the rise of India are in for a rude awakening. "India is big but
not yet important. It could also be argued that China is a freer country than democratic India."
In this larger dialectic of competing worldviews and national interests, the author is, however, certain that the East will be East and, more assertively so, and the West will be West, but not so powerful. But his big idea about a tri-polar world order where the Big Three will behave hopefully like "a team
cycling race in which the lead is alternately shared toward the same finish line" is something that only time will prove or disprove.