Global strategist Parag Khanna on functional maps and what they mean for an increasingly connected world
During a Monday keynote at GEOINT 2016, global strategist and author Parag Khanna asked the audience to consider how they might change the way maps are constructed in order to emphasize today’s global connectivity.
“The infrastructure we have and are building are robust features and will outlive many of the nations they cross,” Khanna said.
Khanna, who most recently authored, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, said the world is at the beginning of a “connectivity revolution.” While urbanization and infrastructure have been occurring for 60,000 years, he said, our newest form of infrastructure—communications—represents an enormous shift in how people today should think about borders, allies, and rivals.
“To me, this represents a paradigmatic shift in human organization,” Khanna said. “We have been accustomed for centuries to thinking of the world as primarily organized into divisions between states.”
While we’ll always have nations, empires, and tribal communities—one won’t supersede the other—Khanna said it’s impossible to ignore the fact that massive volumes of infrastructure are being built across these borders. He noted the world is projected to spend two to four times as much on infrastructure each year as it does across all military budgets in the world combined.
What does it mean to live in a world in which connectivity shapes relations between states? First, it changes the way states relate to each other and augments political geography with functional geography.
“Now, when we look at a map of the world we have to look at the lines that connect us as much as the lines that divide us,” Khanna said. “We have to think about whether those lines promote cooperation—as they do in many cases—or whether those lines are the battlefield of the 21st century.”
Khanna, who has advised the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 program, said the lines that connect us are already becoming battlefields because they are so lucrative.
He touched on the concept of mega-cities as more than dots on the map—rather, they are archipelagos that stretch for hundreds of kilometers and have upwards of 70 to 80 million people and many cities within—including wealthy sectors, industrial quarters, and slums.
Khanna also discussed rising urban violence and stressed the difference between that which stems from political unrest based on economic inequalities—where disenfranchised, unemployed youth and restless migrants come together to cause political volatility—and terrorism.
“We have to separate the urban violence that is proliferated on the basis of economic issues versus that which can be political and have international and military and terrorist dimensions,” he said. “We have to be careful not to over-securitize the socio-economic kinds of unrest, which is very much about public policy and investment and jobs versus that which is political in nature.” The solution, he said, is to focus on poverty and a country’s bottom 20 to 30 percent income-earners.
Khanna said today, as opposed to 100 years ago, we not only trade with our rivals but we are also integrated with them financially in many ways. While we have no lack of global conflict, Khanna said there are more barriers to escalation today than there were a century ago. As much as some fear modern conflicts could escalate to World War III, he said there’s a sense among decision-makers that financial entanglements may actually incentivize nations to avoid war.
“The more [global connectivity] we encourage, the more of it happens organically, and the better off these situations will be,” Khanna concluded.
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