Skip to content →

The Bruno Maçães Lens

Bruno Maçães’ “The Dawn of Eurasia” was a fun travelogue and meditation on geopolitics from the perspective of China, Russia, the European Union, and some of the border regions that lie between these powers. I actually enjoyed the vignettes a lot more than I thought I would- stories of his travels through the Eurasian badlands, notes about popular literature, local customs, and shopkeeper biographies. The title feels like last decade’s globalist common wisdom, but Maçães is not a European-triumphalist. The Eurasia that develops in this book is dynamic (in the value-neutral Cowen-esque sense of the word) and a little alien.

My interest in Turkey in particular is piqued. I was editing notes here about the beginnings of the Turkish realignment away from Europe and towards Russia while the news stream announced an abrupt US withdrawal from Syria. I also appreciated the take on infectious/ecological warfare.

Contents/tl;dr

  1. Defining the next World Order: The next multipolar order is far more interconnected than the traditional pre-European multipolar orders were. Influence flows are multidirectional, which sounds simple but has uncomfortable repercussions for 20c liberal ideals, European-style rules-based order, and national sovereignty in general. Wars are more like infections/infiltrations than clearly defined events in time and space.
  2. Distinguishing ‘Europe+Asia’ vs ‘Eurasia’: “Europe” is a historical idea that has re-fashioned itself a few times, usually as a contrast to foreign forces of some kind.
  3. The European Union: Europe will need to redefine itself again. In order to compete on the Eurasian supercontinental playing field, the idea of a European bloc is still useful and will be a necessary pole in the Eurasian network.
  4. Russia: A historically paranoid power practiced at balancing its identity between Europe and Asia, Russia is trying to play a hand in shaping its neighborhood as a regional power. A culturally distinct pole in the Eurasian network that is warily tying itself closer to Beijing, especially since Europe is suspicious of its armies and investment, and its natural gas is losing relevance as a playable card. The Russia-China relationship is an obviously significant edge, and is arguably the single most significant edge in determining the shape and characteristics of the new Eurasian order.
  5. China: Trying carefully to cultivate its influence without creating massive backlash from all of its neighbors. Adept at economic foreign policy due to significant state control of major economic actors in a massive domestic market. An undeniably significant node in the Eurasian network that is preparing for parity with the United States.
  6. Turkey: At the outer edge of, and increasingly at odds with, the EU. The shared concern of the refugee crisis masks the depth of this rift, but Turkey is not interested in shedding aspects of its identity to become Europeanized, and on particular issues- deposing Assad, neutralizing ISIS, standing up to Moscow- its interests are not aligned with Europe any longer. This shift has been very fast and recent. Detente has quickly been reached with Moscow, and Turkey has begun to separate itself from the West to pave its own way as a separate power and a bridge between civilizations.
  7. America: A separate and alien being, far away enough to disinterestedly reorganize its foreign policy to seek power optima with little interest in deep history. Globally, America is currently seen as the standard bearer for Western liberal values; however, Maçães argues that between liberalism and continued global hegemony, as economic power shifts away from the North Atlantic, the USA will rationally choose hegemony. He puts a bookmark here for later.
  8. India: I wanted more here, but Maçães appears to suggest that India has a journey ahead of it before joining the EU, Russia, and China as a major pole of the Eurasian Order.
  9. Hybrids and Borderlands: Central Asia stands to gain from the new order, as it did during the days of the Silk Road. Hong Kong and Singapore stand as successful hybrid children that are seen as models to emulate among the next generation of Eurasian city states. A lot of these sections were travelogues in the book, which I liked but don’t condense as easily as big theoretical geostrategic arguments.
  10. Reaction in the West: Notes from the brief epilogue on Trump & Brexit, framed as responses to global shifts from the center of the old Order.

Defining the next World Order

The grand geopolitical narrative of the Stratfor crew (G. Friedman, P. Zeihan) is that the hinge of the world shifted west to the North Atlantic in the 16th century, and then even further west to North America. We could loosely label these thinkers Mahanites, after Alfred Thayer Mahan, who argued that “control of the sea equals control of the world.” The United States is history’s greatest naval power, effectively controlling the Atlantic, the Pacific, and a significant chunk of the navigable waterways in between. Maritime powers are usually economic powers too, since water transport is probably the cheapest and most reliable method of moving good and people that there is.

There is another school of thought that we can call the Mackinderites, after Halford John Mackinder, who argued that “Who rules East Europe [Russian Europe] commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the World- Island [Eurasia]. Who rules the World-Island commands the world.” This puts the ‘hinge of the world’ farther east than people around me are inclined to think.

“Dawn of Eurasia” author Bruno Maçães isn’t in the Mackinder camp, but he does see the coherent World-Island and believes in its renewed significance in the 21st century.

Note from the future: Bruno mentioned Mackinder in the interim between writing and posting:

Maçães doesn’t dispute that the center of economic and political activity is surely shifting back East. In another decade or so, at least 3 of the 5 largest economies will be Asian (China, Japan, India, and aside from the USA the fifth slot is not clear- Indonesia, he reckons, but also offers Germany, Russia, and Brazil). However, Asia does not see itself as a coherent actor like the West does, so this is not a self-aware “Asian Order”. This is the setting of a multipolar order, which is a return to the past but with the twist of much more global interdependence.

Eurasian politics has replaced European politics. One hundred years ago every important global development was a product of the interplay between different European powers. Often the rest of the world found itself drawn to the dynamics of European great-power rivalry, including on the crucial matter of war and peace. Within individual European nations the most important questions were themselves a reflection of the contest waged on the continental stage. Today those dynamics take place at a different level, between several Eurasian powers.

Maçães argues that we are moving from unidirectional influence (Western hegemony) to a Eurasian model of bidirectional continental flows between at least three major powers- the EU, Russia, and China (and one day India as well)- where the Eurasian borderlands will become either transaction nodes (for transfer of politics, markets, and ideas), or disputed zones.

This has implications for the future (or, really, the present) of international great power conflict:

Gone are the certainties of the past, when rivalry and conflict relied on a clear distinction between the states of war and peace. Conflict in our time starts from the fact of deep integration. The different sides are so deeply connected through political, economic and technical links that no clear borders can be drawn and everyone is, in a way, present inside the enemy camp, and will try to weaken his forces from within. The image of conflict is no longer that of battling warriors but of species competing for the same ecosystem, struggling forces which are at the same time part of a single system.

And the weapons, just as in the case of competing species, tend to be insidious: false signalling [sic], mimicry, deception, poison and that old favourite of natural selection, sapping the energy of an adversary by directly accessing its vital flows or subverting its nervous system.”

The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have actually exceeded the power of weapons in their effectiveness

Other non-military tactics include the purchase of infrastructure in other states, the corruption or blackmail of foreign officials, and the manipulation of energy flows or energy prices, all of them magnified in an integrated global economy.

Or, as was only really brought to my attention recently, the actual weaponization of human migration flows.

If your goal is to manage border flows, then you cannot think of borders as closed limits. They are transition points, but most of the flows you can only manage if you act at the origin and thus outside your territory. Often there is a temporal relation between foreign and domestic politics, whereby crises and challenges unaddressed by an active foreign policy later arise in the domestic context. If the European Union turned in recent years from an exporter of stability to an importer of instability that may well be because it did not take the former role seriously enough. Even if Europe wanted to repeat the Cold War model of containment, it would no longer be appropriate to a world increasingly connected, where borders are no longer barriers to state action and successful countries are quite able to project their power almost anywhere on the globe.

Distinguishing ‘Europe+Asia’ vs ‘Eurasia’

Backing up to what Eurasia means for the author.

Europe is a construct, not a continent- it is not quite Christendom and does not match the outlines of the Roman Empire, either. To be European, in the particular time that this idea of Europe was born, was to have broken away from some pre-existing natural order, to have mastered Technology and Progress and risen above the civilizations of the other three known continents.

Europe is both an identity and a peninsula of the Asian continent. The idea of Asia (as a cultural category, rather than a continent) is European, as before the idea was imposed there was no fellow-feeling between China, Arabia, India, or Japan all collectively. To the early-modern European imagination, these were just places where time moved slower, places for farmers rather than urbanites, or for despots instead of liberty. Eventually Europeans came to prefer the term Western, signaling a universality of liberal Enlightenment ideals. By the beginning of the 20th century, some Asians began to believe in Asia. In March 1885, Fukuzawa Yukichi, an architect of the Meiji restoration, published an editorial about the plan for Japanese modernization, titled “Depart From Asia”.

[T]he distinction between Europe and Asia rested on nothing more solid than the fact that for a number of centuries Europe was modern, while Asia remained traditional. The distinction was not really about Europe and Asia but about two kinds of society or, better yet, two concepts of time. With the fast embrace of modernity outside Europe, the distinction was destined to disappear.

Hegel was the first to consider that Europeans might in fact be capable of performing the miracle of reaching the end of historical development. For John Stuart Mill this already appeared less as a dream and more as a nightmare. He worried that Europe was about to be reabsorbed into Asia. As he puts it in his 1859 classic On Liberty, there was a real possibility that Europe could become like China [the ‘oldest civilization’]. We have a warning example in China, he wrote: they have become stationary and have remained so for thousands of years.

Alexander Herzen, writing soon after, made a rather striking discovery: the greatness of European culture was bound to disappear because all its achievements had already been concluded and there was nothing left to do.

In the popular imagination, the relationship between a progressing Europe and a stagnant Asia appears to have reversed, with Europe as the stodgy civilization increasingly reluctant to change.

The British journalist and academic Martin Jacques suggests that the crucial element is the speed of transformation. Because East Asian societies were forced to catch up with the West in a short time span, they developed an experience of change which is structurally different from that which one has in Europe or the United States.

As noted before, Mackinder (1904) recognized the whole World-Island and that Europe’s existence as a concept only makes sense in the presence of outside pressure or threat. Marshall Hodgson (1963) argued that the Europe/Asia distinction is one of the least useful lines one can draw across Eurasia. Instead, perhaps the line belongs between China and the rest- the interplay between Greek culture and thought, Middle Eastern philosophy and religion, and the centrality of Christianity to western Eurasia is a clear example of the interconnectedness of the non-Chinese side of the continent.

The European Union

Maçães’ argues that the big failure of imagination is that the flattening of the world necessarily means global conformation to a self-evident and natural liberal order.

Europe’s impersonal approach to rules could be attributed to habit. For a few centuries now, state actors outside of Europe had to ‘respond’ to European influences by either accepting them or risk being overrun economically, technologically, militarily, and ideologically. Europe, for its part, did not need to ‘respond’ in kind to peripheral states (except as resources of other European rivals). This dynamic still continues in global markets, although less dominantly: The EU has the world’s largest internal market and fairly strict standards. Foreign companies wishing to take part in the market must comply, and either make their products EU-compliant or have a separate EU-compliant version of their product. The former is easier. Then, in order to be competitive in their home market, these same companies will tend to lobby for similar regulations at home as well, shaping non-European markets into a more EU-compliant shape.

Europe takes its theater of impersonality as a truth:

The European Union is not ‘meant’ [quote marks mine] to make political decisions. What it tries to do is develop a system of rules to be applied more or less autonomously to a highly complex political and social reality. Once in place, these rules can be left to operate without human intervention. Of course, the system will need regular and periodic maintenance, much like a robot needs repair, but the point is to create a system of rules that can work on their own. We have entered the end of history in the sense that the repetitive and routine application of a system of rules will have replaced human decision.

There was a broad belief after Europe began giving up on global colonial ambitions that the world had embraced European rules and ideas- while they won’t be abandoned, the new political orders will be different animals.

Despite its troubles, Europe isn’t likely to face apocalypse, though, including as an idea and a bloc:

Why must we in the end replace the old European states with a larger political and economic unit? Because as national states they cannot compete against the other key players on the Eurasian chessboard that far exceed them in size. The more we move towards a multipolar world constituted by large powers, the more European states will have to recognize that it is simply impossible for them to deal on equal terms with countries like China and India. Europe consists only of small countries. Some of these countries know this very well, others have not entirely come to terms with the fact.

Once again, response to outside pressure presents an opportunity to define the union of European states.

Russia

If you talk to policymakers in Moscow they will tell you that Russia, not Europe, knows how world politics works. Europeans live in an imaginary world just of their own, Russians live in the real world. Europeans are parochial, Russians abide by the more or less universal rules of power politics.

The Russian worldview:

  • Globalization benefits those who have set the rules. Vladislav Surkov ( a writer I have a half-written post on already) claims that sovereignty is the political equivalent of economic competitiveness. “States compete for market share in the global economy.”
  • The Putin/Surkov lens organizes the world in larger blocs than nation-states, which is why force projection is so vital. “You cannot resist the pressures that come from the world order. So either the world order will come to mirror some elements of the contemporary Russian regime, or Russia will mirror the liberal, Western political order.”

Russia does not want to replace the liberal world order with a world without rules, but it does believe that such a world is the natural state of mankind and, therefore, that chaos is only to be avoided by the creative exercise of power by a strong sovereign. This is the case for international affairs no less than for domestic politics. Chaos is never completely left behind. It continues to exist just beneath the veneer of civilization and the role of the sovereign consists in its proper management, so that it does not break up to the surface. Putin has always thought that a genuine democracy is not possible in Russia because those in power would never survive being stripped of it. His apprenticeship years were less the last Soviet period than the ruthless politics of the Yeltsin era, when the President was on two or three occasions fighting for his physical survival.

Russia’s Place in Eurasia

In “What is Asia to Us?” Dostoevsky imagines that Russia should have made a deal with Napoleon, that he can have Europe and they Asia.

“For, in truth, Asia for us is that same America which we still have not discovered”

Saving Europe from itself by pushing back Napoleon did not grant Russia Europe’s love and full membership.

“In Europe we were Tatars, […] while in Asia we are the Europeans.”

It is not a coincidence that the borderlands between Europe and Russia increasingly seem like areas of darkness and chaos. These are areas which remain in the balance between two concepts of political order, and to remain genuinely in the balance is to fail to incorporate any of those concepts and thus to remain politically amorphous. Russia certainly sees its task in just these terms, and is trying to create an empty canvas as a first step in its redrawing plans. There is no path from one concept of political order to a different one that does not first pass through a state of disorder.

The author spends some time discussing Russia’s dual identity as a European or an Asian nation – or some third thing. Russia has a tradition of thought called Eurasianism already, and it could mean either (1) the supercontinent of both Europe and Asia or (2) A special landmass between Europe and Asia that is the landscape of the greater Russian state. The Eurasian Economic Union is not merely a nostalgic project to rebuild the Soviet Union borders- it’s a buffer against European or Asian (e.g. Chinese) projection. Russia frequently self-defines as “neither European nor Asian”.

Rising tension resulting from the Ukraine crisis and other border region conflicts has moved Moscow closer to Beijing as an investment partner, in exchange for resources. China’s power projection across Central Asia and Russia itself causes justifiable Russian anxiety.

Russian officials will never say it in public, but in private they confess to increasing worries about Chinese encirclement. This has to do with the struggle for power and influence in Central Asia, but also with a clear inversion of roles. Until now Russia always played the role of technological and industrial powerhouse in Asia, while China remained a commodity economy, perhaps a source of foodstuffs for the industrial countries.

China

What happens at one end of the supercontinent now has a direct impact on the other end. [S]oon after the outset of the Ukraine crisis, one Chinese general noted that Ukraine was buying China ten extra years to prepare for its global confrontation with the United States [due to the US getting] distracted with a lesser rival.

As China keeps rising – most Chinese prefer to say ‘recovering’ – it inevitably sees its global role as a geopolitical condominium with the United States, where the two countries gradually approach parity in all dimensions of international power and start to share responsibilities for managing the global order.

Maçães posits that most flavors of 20th century totalitarianism can be seen as particular responses to the “Western Question”. Germany, Japan, and the USSR saw themselves as requiring a response to the foreign agent of liberalism (‘inferior’ and/or ‘decadent’ British commerce and French liberty, which were argued to be separable from the undeniable power of Britain and French states and markets). In practice, fascism and communism both attempted to take the power-generating elements of Western society and replace the rest of the ideological dressings. While indigenous ideologies had little chance to be taken seriously, importing alternative Western products like communism afforded Russia with intellectual legitimacy and an opportunity to append ‘Russian characteristics’. As with China:

China has learned from the communist international movement that any challenge to the West must be carried out on Western grounds. […] Mao urged the Chinese people to ‘smash the four olds’: old customs, old culture, old ideas and old habits. […]’. Chinese leaders are still convinced of the usefulness of Marxist materialism, even if the predominance of the forces of production over political and cultural values may now be based on different arguments: in my conversations with Chinese officials that predominance was more often justified with reference to traditional Chinese pragmatism or neo-classical economics.

Xi now talks in terms of an amorphous “Chinese Dream”:

[It can be said that the] Chinese dream plays the same role that Marxism used to play, having taken the image of overcoming Western domination to a new and more original level. China now feels so confident in its own capacities that it no longer needs to clothe its historical trajectory in the language of revolt or revolution. It may now aspire to the noble and romantic posture of the dreamer, just like the United States was able to develop the notion of the ‘American dream’ when it was on its way to world domination. Contrary to previous political slogans in China, the Chinese Dream is multilayered, ambiguous and abstract. Like every modern political concept, it remains open-ended. […] None of these goals is to be attained through individual striving. They are presented as the set of possibilities which a strong state can realize.

A recent document denounced those who conflate the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation with West-imported ‘constitutional dreams’ or any concept of universal “Western values”.

Chinese Practice

The author is challenged by a Chinese intellectual when asked about the political implications of the Belt and Road:

“Do you think that is just the public doctrine? Do you think there is a secret doctrine which is not in the document? That is impossible. China is a very big country with many regional and local governments. Imagine the confusion if they were told one thing and expected to do something else.”

The author responds that Belt and Road cannot be described entirely in terms of economic value. Is that meant to mean that economic values are universal, that there are no political or cultural considerations? Is there no theory involved in these considerations?

“Deng Xiaoping said that practice is the test of truth. 实践是检验真理的唯一标准. So you see, practice should lead us. We seek the truth from facts, proceed from reality and not from theories.”

The author again:

The victorious troops begin by winning and only then engage in battle; the defeated begin by engaging in battle and only then try to win.

Drawing on this tradition, modern China is developing a new constellation of political values centred on state capacity and efficiency: since policy goals are obtained from the practical situation rather than an idealized picture, their realization is seen as inevitable. The different action schemas thus seem to be fully preserved in the European and Chinese varieties of modern politics.

Repression is not obvious, but that is because everyone feels responsible for patrolling what happens under their watch. If a certain university class, or art gallery, or regional newspaper allows a forbidden or inconvenient message to appear in public, the person in charge will take the blame not so much for a political failing as for an intellectual one, a failure of judgement and anticipation which cannot but bode poorly for his or her career.

Applied to foreign policy:

The Chinese strategy of using economic power to pursue foreign policy goals has a number of advantages. First, China is so dependent on its integration with the world economy that every source of disruption must be minimized. A more direct and forceful use of state power would carry enormous risks of disrupting, or maybe even severing, the external ties supporting Chinese economic growth and stability. Economic power, by contrast, is embedded within the world economy and provides Chinese authorities with a very high degree of ambiguity and deniability. Second, economic statecraft is something for which China is particularly suited. On the one hand, the size of the Chinese market gives it enormous clout. On the other, state control over economic agents allows the Chinese state to marshal the private sector in the service of its own strategic goals. [T]he European Union has no such ability, and therefore its economic statecraft has to work in even subtler ways.

Turkey

Ankara’s relationship with Brussels has been deteriorating for years, but the mutual need to address the refugee crisis has sublimated this issue. As Maçães has argued, Europeans generally wish to mentor Turkey into becoming more European, but like America and Russia, Turkey has specific issues that Europe (or Becoming European) cannot necessarily help them with. Geopolitical interests are diverging: Western pressure to depose Assad, contain ISIS, and to confront Russia is treated with increasing suspicion, because the West has been either to weak or too irresolute to project power themselves, leaving Turkey to do the dirty work. The 2016 coup attempt that was blamed on the Gülen movement was also attributed by Erdoğan to a ‘superior spirit’ operating above him- code for the West. (Despite being a religious conservative, Gülen apparently aligned with the West on foreign policy and believes in the role of education and free markets, marrying Islamic and Western values.)

But with the conflict with Erdoğan becoming gradually more intense, the feeling was that a final confrontation was approaching and the putschists wanted to be the first to make the decisive move. It is clear that rumours about an impending coup were circulating widely before July and that a purge of the army was scheduled for the late summer. During the same period, Turkey had been engulfed by successive shifts in its foreign policy orientation, causing much anguish and agitation. And that is the context in which the coup should be interpreted. Upheaval of this sort only happens when a country is deeply divided, but divisions inside Turkey were now less about secularism and religion than about the even older debate about Europe and Asia.

In a very short amount of time, Ankara made amends with Moscow. While Russia was once a source of Western influence on the Ottoman empire, modern Russia pulls Turkey slightly away from the EU orbit. Maçães points out that Russia is no longer large and rich enough to be a significant threat to Turkey; large Tatar and Muslim minorities inside of Russia are also an avenue to internal conflict in Russia in the event of hostilities as well. Some inside Turkey seek more alignment to China and Russia to offset European power and chart its own course, and broadly Turkey sees itself as a vital bridge between civilizations with its own interests.

Seen from Brussels, Turkish membership should be defined in the same way: a first but vital step towards turning the European Union into a Eurasian superpower.

Turkish Eurasianism

Already in 2002, General Tuncer Kilinç of the National Security Council suggested that Turkey should forge a new alliance with Russia and Iran against Europe. At the time this was still a new idea, unpalatable to most, but that is no longer the case today. Once relatively marginal figures advocating such a realignment came closer to the mainstream, and slowly coalesced around a specific intellectual movement: Avrasyacılık – Eurasianism.

Traditionally, when discussing questions of national identity, Turkish intellectuals pointed to one of three directions: Europe to the west, Islam to the south and the Turkic nations in the Caucasus and Central Asia to the east.

On recently released political prisoner and chief Turkish Eurasianist, Vatan Party Chairman Doğu Perinçek:

In recent months his fortunes have abruptly changed. Now he is accused by some in the Turkish press of being Erdoğan’s éminence grise and plotting to overturn a century of Turkish orientation towards Europe and America.

While not a significant player electorally, the Vatan Party enjoys influence in military and intellectual circles. Maçães met with Perinçek:

Pointing at me, he noted that the age of European civilization started by the Portuguese and Spaniards had now come to an end. ‘It is China which is leading the world economy now.’ The earliest birth pangs of the new order were for him the three twentieth-century revolutions in Russia, Turkey and China, as the inheritors of three great empires started to look for a new, independent path.

Perinçek openly believes that the Gulen coup was orchestrated by the USA. He claims that US support of Kurdish and terrorist groups are aimed at destabilizing Turkey. He quotes Atatürk in claiming that Turkey is an Asiatic country that must break from the Atlantic world to sit rightfully at a central pole of the new re-emeging Eurasian order.

I could not help asking why he still calls himself a Eurasianist rather than, say, an Asianist. There are two reasons, [Perinçek] said. First, a practical one: Turkey cannot simply break with the European Union, with which it has developed very deep economic links. The second reason is more interesting: “We consider ourselves heirs to the French Revolution. Without Europe there would be no revolutionary tradition. There would be no Enlightenment”

America the Mimic

As a child of the Enlightenment, the US would embrace the most universal and advanced principles available, no doubt as a way to ride the crest of history and grow into the role of a powerful nation, in time the most powerful nation on earth. At the time of its rise those principles happened to be European. Does this mean that Americans will tend to mirror the global order and, therefore, that at a time when the global order is no longer infused with European values, we shall see the United States become increasingly less European?

From the moment after World War 2, when the USA took stewardship over Europe, its interests diverged from these European nations, e.g. by being initially responsible for responding to rogue states and coordinating against other threats.

Maçães claims that after all, in a choice between global primacy and Western/liberal principles, America is likely to choose continued global primacy. He calls the New World a “mirror reflection [Eurasia’s] political and geographical realities”. Later, he imagines the United States as a “high-precision compass designed to track the movement of the world’s centre of gravity and adapt its foreign policy accordingly”. In 1945 the average location of economic activity was in the North Atlantic, but by 2000 it was east of the European Union’s border. By 2030, on the border between Europe and Asia, likely picking up speed. By 2050, between India and China.

This is an argument that I find deeply interesting. Maçães might even find commonality with the Archdruid here- America and the broader New World is culturally still extremely young and may be generations or even centuries away from self-awareness as a distinct civilization that is much less recognizably ‘Western’.

Note from the future: it seems he’s writing a book on the topic.

India

There isn’t much about India as a country. Online and in Mumbai, there is a sense that India is much further along as a developed nation than the international community (or I, some layperson from elsewhere) might contend. Maçães also believes that India’s time is a bit further in the future as a major pole in the Eurasian order, although doubtless its influence is already measurable due to its sheer size and position near key trade paths.

When I ask [an Indian-born shopkeeper in China] about the differences between India and China, he thinks for a moment and then settles on one main difference: ‘[In China] you get rich by helping everyone along the chain make money. You need the chain to be there tomorrow. In India no one can afford to think about tomorrow and so no one thinks about the other people along the chain.

It is as a sea power that India can become the central node between the far ends of the new supercontinent. Given their size and proximity, China and India are bound to develop the world’s largest trading relationship and this will have to be based on gigantic infrastructure plans along the Indian Ocean coastline. Likewise, if the next few decades witness a naval conflict between China and the United States that conflict will more likely be centred in the Indian Ocean than the Pacific, thanks to its greater strategic importance, and in that case India and the Indian navy will be a decisive factor.

Hybrids and Borderlands

In the past, the steppes of Central Asia were the place where new civilizations were born, and where old ones would sometimes come to die. There’s a lot of history in Khorgas. But no past. There are no ruins, no mazars or old minarets. What you’ll see there is the future.

The author argues thats Istanbul, Kyiv, and Baku already see themselves as as fundamentally Eurasian (despite their present-day political uncertainties). The early exemplars of successful ideologically ‘Eurasia’ polities he puts forward are Hong Kong and Singapore, two laboratories of mixing British colonial influences and local self-interested stewardship.

Reaction in the West

US and UK self-disruption are arguably an early response in the center of the old Order to new global powers that can’t be limited or controlled. Trump, for his part, has proven remarkably consistent in his concern about China. His inauguration speech did not focus on universal liberal values like freedom and democracy, instead focusing on loyalty to country, new infrastructure, and being a respected world leader.

“In a speech in Warsaw in July 2017, Trump presented a radically new image of the West: not triumphant but under attack and capable of promising, not final victory, but the will to resist. ‘The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?’ His response seemed poised between three alternatives. First, a return to first principles, those governing the United States at the time of its greatest power, while abandoning more recent deviations from those core principles. Second, a substantial revision of the American liberal political tradition, seen as no longer capable of responding to global threats and challenges. Third, a view of the world as a dangerous place that must be kept out and from which Americans need to be protected.”

The author makes an analogy to other reactionary shifts from the leading powers in the global order:

Until the eighteenth century the course of history still seemed to be favouring the great Muslim empires, and the ruling Ottoman, Safavid or Mughal elites certainly never entertained any other possibility. When the shock arrived, in the form of a string of military defeats and growing trade dependence [to Europe], no one was prepared and the initial reaction was to wait for the storm to pass, while remaining faithful to traditional habits and principles.

Two main strands of reaction were eventually considered. First, there was a call to purify Muslim society from later influences and deviations. The origin of the Wahhabi radical reinterpretation of Islam dates from this moment. The second response, moving in the opposite direction, was to try to reform Muslim society, to address its perceived weaknesses and to appropriate some European ideas, at least in the area of military technology.

In both of these cases, the Muslim and Chinese worlds were faced with a new kind of civilization, carrying all the secrets of modern science, which at first must have looked like supernatural powers. The challenge for Europeans and Americans in our own time is of a different nature. First of all, it takes place in the arena of democratic politics, where every change in the international balance of power is felt more quickly and more deeply. Second, the new world order towards which we are moving is not one where there is a clear centre, but rather one distinguished by the search for balance between different poles.

On Britain specifically:

More significantly, the United Kingdom would be trying to emulate the way in which Singapore was quickly able to replace access to the Malaysian hinterland with trade and investment links with more distant markets. Just as Singapore became an Asian country more deeply connected with Europe and the United States than with its Asian neighbours, Britain could in just a couple of decades try to expand its links with the dominant economies of the twenty-first century: China, India and Indonesia. As the Financial Times editor Lionel Barber put it in a conference in Tokyo shortly after the referendum, does Brexit offer Britain new opportunities as an agile trading nation, ‘a giant Atlantic Singapore’? Is a new Eurasian capital being born on the shores of the Thames? It would be perhaps a proper ending to our story, as the country most responsible for taking European ideas to Asia becomes a new host for Asian ideas in Europe.

Sources:

  • The Dawn of Eurasia

Published in notes

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.