Europe, look eastwards!
Bruno Maçães, a former Portuguese Europe minister, argues that the Old Continent needs to respond to the New Silk Road as planned by China, called the Belt and Road initiative. This answer should start with taking a pan-continental view on (geo-) politics and consider Europe and Asia to be one continent.
Maçães gives three reasons why Europe needs to adopt a Eurasian perspective (quoting him):
1. Because Russia and China have one
2. Most, if not all, of the great foreign policy questions our our time have to do with the way Europe and Asia may be connected: Ukraine, the refugee crisis and energy & trade
3. Because all of the great security threats in the next few decades will develop in a Eurasian context – repeating traditional patterns. All the major wars that took paces in Europe and Asia from 1815 to 1945 began in the disputed borderlands between the two continents: the Baltic littoral, the Danubian frontier, the Pontic steppe, the Caucasus isthmus, Central Asia and the Russian Far East.
I think he is right in signalling that Europe is a total novice when it comes to a clear Asia strategy. And that this should change quickly. The current European leaders prefer to solve problems with laws and regulation, rather than through (geo-) politics. The current stance in Europe is to stress the importance of rules, expecting – quite naively – the rest to follow. And of course they will, since those rules have proven to be the best ones, the groundwork of liberal democracy. Quod non.
What if others not only decline to follow, but start setting the rules?
That’s what happening now. And this is where Maçães hits a home-run: Europe needs to adopt a perspective way beyond its own (ill-defined) borders. He calls it the Eurasian perspective. Appealing as it may sometimes be, making Europe into a fortress and wishing to be left alone, is not a sound strategy The world is knocking on our door, in different appearances: refugees, Chinese merchants, Russian soldiers. The rest of the world won’t leave Europe alone. The trouble is that doing nothing – hope as a strategy – will give room for others to dictate the terms.
In order to uphold our cherished rules, and therefore our values, Europe needs a new geopolitical way to relate to the world.
At the core of this decision lies a clear choice: will we merely defend ourselves against external influences or do we try to adapt to the new world? History teaches us that adaptation (to a certain extent) brings long-term success. Although the challenge has only grown bigger, as democracies have the inconvenient characteristic to translate shocks more rapidly and profoundly, the books argues that Euope needs to adapt in order to thrive in a changed world. Seen the nature of European decision making this will be a tall order. The European countries, divided and different, will have trouble finding enough common ground to agree on such a bold vision. But who knows? In the recent past, external shocks of significant size have proven to be catalyst of bold, political, decision making. Maybe it will again in the near future.
Strangely enough Maçães seems to exclude India – soon to be the most populous country in the world – from the Eurasian continent: he pays no attention to the country.
I may add that as a European I would be really uncomfortable to neglect our transatlantic partnership, as the US have played – and still play – a crucial role in Europe’s’ security and success since 1945. As a national from a country with an Atlantic coast Bruno Maçães undoubtedly values this bond – I presume it was just not the focus of the book.
A magnificent and insightful book, that expands one’s scopes on Europe’s future and raises important questions on our role in the world. It has made me want to visit the Eurasian borderlands between the two continents. Mysterious cities like Baku (Azerbaijan), Esendere (Turkish-Iranian border), Asktrakhan (Russia) and Khorgas (China, on the Kazak border) sometimes don’t even appear on a printed map, but will probably soon regain the importance they had in the time of the Ancient Silk Road.
The Dawn Of Eurasia, Bruno Maçães, Penguin Books, 304 p, 2018