Geographically, Europe and Asia are part of the same continent: Eurasia. Of course, geopolitically, we speak of two continents: Europe and Asia. Or, thinking of Russian or Slavic or Turkish culture, and also of the Indian subcontinent and other large geopolitical realities, perhaps we should think of four or five subcontinents, right?
If you are reading blogs like this, then you must know a thing or two about influencers such as Zbigniew Brzezinski. He was a Polish diplomat before WW II: he was in Canada when Germany and Russia invaded Poland in 1939, and went on to study in the US. He was a counselor to US President Johnson (1966-1968), and went on to become President Carter’s National Security Advisor (1977-1981). He was in favor of ‘peaceful engagement’ with the Soviet Union (and China) at the height of the Cold War but he wrote this in his 1997 book, titled The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives:
“… how America “manages” Eurasia is critical. A power that dominates “Eurasia” would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over “Eurasia” would almost automatically entail Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. About 75 per cent of the world’s people live in “Eurasia”, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. “Eurasia” accounts for about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.”
His thesis was, basically, that no Eurasian challenger should emerge that can dominate Eurasia and challenge what he (and other US advisors and strategists) referred to as ‘US global preeminence’. I do not believe the US has achieved ‘global preeminence’: not before the writing of this book and also not since it was written, i.e. in this unexpectedly troublesome and volatile 21st century.
However, the US did achieve to transform what should have been a limited war between Europe and Russia into a global conflict, pitting the US, Europe and NATO on one side against what remains of the old Communist enemy: Russia. Russia is still the largest country (I am talking its landmass now, not its people or economy) on the Eurasian continent and in the world: 17 million km2. To make you appreciate this fact, think of this: the distance from Saint Petersburg (a city, by the way, that is larger than Berlin or Madrid) to Vladivostok is about 10,000 km. That is almost twice the distance between Norway’s North Cape and Gibraltar. Another fact that helps to appreciate this immensity is this: Russia, despite the loss of its satellites after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, is still about 70% larger than the second-, third-, and fourth-largest countries in the world: Canada, China and, yes, the US. [Despite its huge population, India is relatively small: its 3.2 million km2 amounts to about half of the territory of, say, Brazil or Australia.]
The strange visit of Ms. Pelosi, the US Democrat Party’s second-most senior leader after President Biden, to Taiwan has also heralded the start of a new Cold War with China. As a result, we may say that Eurasia, for all practical purposes, now consists of three geopolitical entities (and their respective spheres of influence) which should work together rather than blindly follow America’s ‘divide and rule’ tactics: Europe, China and Russia. Europe is not taking much of a lead in this (and Mr. Putin obviously cannot do anything at all) but China’s Xi Jinping seems to be serious about it. His talk about a new Era and rejuvenation – not only of China but for all countries who believe in multipolarity, multiculturalism, and peaceful coexistence – does not sound empty to me. We Europeans would be foolish to dismiss it out of hand as propaganda, and even if you think of it as propaganda: it is propaganda that, unlike former Soviet propaganda, is now changing the world, so we had better accept it as a reality. Terminology does not matter: facts speak louder than words nowadays.
What I write above may sound strange to those who know me, and understand for what I stand or stood: the end of ideology indeed, based on mutual respect and liberal or basic social-economic freedoms (it is futile and counterproductive to try to impose our concepts of Westminster-style democracy on the rest of the world), but I do believe it is the only way forward:
1. Europe must end the hot war with Russia, together with the UN and countries such as Turkey and, yes, China. The US is not interested in ending this war because its Army has a new outpost now in Ukraine, right in the heart of Eurasia. It is a far more convenient (and far more strategic) location than Afghanistan.
2. Europe must also not enter the new Cold War between the US and China. That is not in our interests. On the contrary, the time and prospects for cooperative long-term engagement with China have never been better. We must not keep Chinese companies like Huawei out of European tech markets. We should invest more in scientific and technological cooperation with China. We should talk more about our common interests at all levels – business and official – as US-China talks on issues like climate change, disarmament and other global challenges have broken down completely.
What I write above is not ideological. It is plain common sense. When everything is said and done, we need to prepare for the future of our children and our planet. If the US is not interested in doing that, then we Europeans should cut the umbilical cord with the US and move on with others. China’s Xi Jinping shows leadership (he is likely to be elected for a third term as President later this year) and its government officials say all of the right things. Why would we not believe them? There is no historical reason whatsoever to not trust China.
Post scriptum: I was born in an age where one could still bike across the southern and central parts of the Eurasian continent as a worry-free cyclist. Countries such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and others were not democracies but they were all peaceful and fun to travel in. The much revered Lonely Planet guidebooks have their origin in such travels. It is sad these countries are all off-limits now. Most of Europe’s Sunni and Shia belt is now not very accessible or open. Why? Read their history: their instability often starts with the kind of stuff that we see happening in Ukraine now. If US interventions are well-intentioned (which you may still think to be the case), it is worth remembering an old wisdom: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I understand why Cold War thinkers such as Brzezinski (his name is Polish-Jewish, by the way) thought of ideologies such as Nazism, fascism or communism as ideologies that were evil and had to be destroyed: these ideologies effectively destroyed his home and family. However, when the Berlin Wall came down, such thinking no longer had its use, and it has become destructive in its own weird way: what is the difference between cultural or geopolitical hegemonic thought and fascism? I have used the term ‘moral fascism’ before, and it was censored on LinkedIn.
I am not taking it back: the lense that is used by pro-NATO thinkers and politicians in Europe amounts to moral fascism: we think of ourselves as inherently better than Russians or Chinese or whatever other people from countries whose systems we do not like or do not resemble ours. That is sure to lead to confrontation. The difference, this time around, is that we can no longer be sure to win whatever confrontation or conflict we wanted to start or join. In fact, I think we are very likely to enter a very different era, indeed! I am saying this based on my study of Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu starts his treatise on the Art of War by reminding the reader of the first principle of war: the Moral Law needs to be on your side. The US – and the EU, as it applauds America’s belligerent attitude vis-à-vis Russia and China now – can no longer claim to have the Moral Law on their side. That will backfire hugely. Most western observers laugh Xi Jinping’s talk about a new era away. I do not. There is toughness in most of the recent statements of Chinese leaders nowadays: I do not blame them.
I have quoted much eastern wisdom in this and other posts. Let me – just to show I also do know my own cultural roots, which are Christian – adapt a saying from the Bible, from the same era in which historians place Sun Tzu (and that is an era long before a Jesus or a Mohammed or other prophets created the religions many of us now believe in – religions which, unfortunately, ended up dividing those who are often referred to as the People of the Book): “For we sow the wind, and we shall reap the whirlwind. If the standing grain has no heads, it shall yield no flour. If it were to yield, strangers will devour it.” (Hosea 8:7)
What is commonly referred to as the East and the West (vague concepts, but they have their use) have more in common than what sets us apart. Europe and China share a common desire for peace and prosperity. We should build on that. Let us not be like “the blind leading the blind.” It is time for Europe to look East again. Beyond the Ural mountains which are said to form a natural border between Europe and Asia. There is no natural border between Europe and Asia. The ocean that divides us from America would qualify as such natural border. Rivers and mountains are there to be crossed and climbed. That is what inspired the conquests of Alexander The Great, most of which were done through marriage (marrying himself or marrying off his generals to create satrapies), by the way. Europeans may also be warriors at heart (all men probably are, biologically speaking, right?) but, if we are, I think of us as smart warriors – smarter than the US, in any case (but that is not very difficult if you look at the mess since WW II, I guess). 🙂