It is by now commonplace to argue that the world is in the midst of a great move away from the era of U.S. dominance. These two books seek to map this changing global landscape, offering vivid portraits of a decentralized world system in which all roads do not lead to Washington. With characteristic elegance and insight, Zakaria offers a striking picture of the rapid growth of the non-West. It is not just China or even Asia as a whole that is on the rise; it is the wider market-driven developing world. The coming order will be not an "Asian century" but a rich, globalized amalgam of East and West. Zakaria posits that this is today's great story, auguring a transformation as profound as the rise of the West and the United States' ascendancy. Washington's best strategy, he argues, is to accommodate, rather than resist, these modernizing states, allowing them to become "stakeholders in the new order" in exchange for their strategic cooperation. The future that Zakaria describes is one the United States itself brought forth through decades of global leadership -- but to operate successfully within it, the United States will need to give up its unipolar pretensions, engage other great powers, and champion rules and institutions that are forged out of compromise and mutual adjustment.
Khanna offers a panoramic view of global power shifts, arguing that China and the European Union are joining the United States to form a world with three "relatively equal centers of influence." Each power center has its own "diplomatic style": the United States works through "coalitions," China operates through "consultations," and Europe seeks "consensus." The fate of world order, however, will hinge on how the next tier of states -- the so-called Second World, or "tipping-point states" -- choose to ally with or resist these three competing poles. Most of the book is a sort of travelogue in which Khanna reports his observations about the ideas and aspirations of peoples he meets across the Second World. Some readers will find the breezy reporting appealing, and others will find it all a bit insubstantial. What is missing is a developed theory of world politics to guide the empirical narrative. A vaguely realist perspective lurks, but very little is said about how power, order, legitimacy, institutions, democracy, or global capitalism operates -- or even how they matter.
Zakaria roots his analysis in the deep forces of capitalism and modernization, whereas Khanna focuses on power politics and clashing diplomatic styles. But both see a world in which the United States necessarily yields power and influence to others. The question is, in the process, does it help create a one-world system that serves its interests or a world of competing geopolitical blocs that does not? Perhaps ironically, the United States will have a great deal of influence over which of these ways the world turns.