This article has three purposes. The first is to offer an overall understanding of the current international tumult in a systemic perspective. The second is, on that basis, to sketch its main aspects in order to assess future scenarios. The third is to define a proper strategic orientation for the European states and the EU.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has accelerated the bifurcation of the international security system into a US-centered bloc and a China-centered bloc. But things are not that simple. This is not a “decoupling” into two “poles.” Rather, there are emerging what we may call an Anglosphere and a Sinosphere, as defined below. Intermediate regions, including Europe as well as several in Eurasia, are subject to their push and pull. This analysis demonstrates why Europe has no luxury of a “third way” between the two, and why Europe’s interests require alignment with the Anglosphere.
2 THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM AS A “COMPLEX SYSTEM”
The approach informing this analysis regards the international system as a “complex system.” Complexity, in the technical sense employed here, is more profound than complicatedness. A complex system is a system having multiple interacting components, of which the overall behavior cannot be inferred simply from the behavior of those components.1 Like every complex social system, the current international system passes through nine phases.2 Appearances to the contrary, we have not yet entered the phase of its final crisis. Rather, we are now in the fifth of those nine phases.
During the fifth phase of those nine, a complex system projects the dynamic that leads to its ultimate end-state (following which the system undergoes transformation).3 At the present conjuncture, that dynamic is the system’s bifurcation into an Anglosphere and a Sinosphere (defined below). This bifurcation, now becoming evident in the early 2020s, represents the system’s own response to the systemic instability that arose from the geopolitical tension and geoeconomic uncertainty that built up throughout the 2010s. The bifurcation is the system’s own attempt to re-establish systemic stability.
The precursor and immediate cause of the instability of the 2010s was what seemed to be the “decoupling of markets” launched by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007–2008. This instability thereafter increasingly deepened, particularly since the mid-2010s. The worldwide government-imposed lockdowns during the covid pandemic in the early 2020s actualized its international economic effects. On that basis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has definitively propelled the phase-change from the previous, increasing unstable unified system, into the definitely bifurcated system now evident for all to see.
Unlike “decoupling,” system bifurcation does not mean the isolation of the two components from one another; rather, it signifies a specific form of their intertwinement. Under conditions of intensifying system bifurcation, the 2020s will see an exacerbation of the commodity price increases already observed, food shortages, and other disruptions. (The 2011 Arab Spring gives a hint of how these issue-specific dynamics become interactive and more-than-cumulative.) These effects will produce general social disorder across many countries, inevitably spreading across their borders and affecting the evolution of the international system’s structure. They thus constrain Europe’s choices.
The post–Cold War international system, which began in 2001–2002, will enter its “final” systemic crisis in the early 2030s and will definitively collapse in the mid-2040s. Then, after a dozen years of what will appear as total disorder (somewhat like the post–Cold War transition of the 1990s), a new international system will finally begin to emerge in the mid-to-late 2050s.4
It is now necessary to set out briefly what the Anglosphere and Sinosphere signify in specific terms, in order to make sense of what will happen—indeed what is already happening—in the meantime.
The post–Cold War international system, which began in 2001–2002, will enter its “final” systemic crisis in the early 2030s and will definitively collapse in the mid-2040s.
3 THE ANGLOSPHERE AND THE SINOSPHERE
3.1 What Is the Anglosphere?
The Anglosphere is a cultural and economic community unified by its foundation in the English common-law system, which facilitates the rule of law in civil society as well as official public affairs. This is integrated form of many everyday branches of law (e.g., accounting law, contract law insurance law, property law) is what ensures confidence in civil-society contractual business relations, thus making economic growth and prosperity possible.
The first part of the word “Anglosphere” signifies not “Anglo-Saxon,” but rather “Anglophone.” The Anglosphere is, therefore, more than mere intelligence-sharing among the so-called “Five Eyes”: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Indeed, there is much more to it than that.
To the five countries already mentioned, may be adjoined other members of the Indo-Pacific Quad (which comprises the US, Australia, India and Japan). We may therefore designate India and Japan as “Anglosphere-adjacent” for geostrategic purposes, even though English is not the lingua franca in Japan as it is in India.
Such a configuration happens to align with calls to expand the G7 to a “D-10” (“D” for “democracies”), which would include Japan and South Korea plus the European Union.5 The election of a new president in South Korea may reorient this country more unambiguously toward the Anglosphere, rather than the Sinosphere as it had been leaning.6 An analogous logic has led to the proposal that India should also be an observer at the D-10, along with such other democracies having robust economies as Indonesia and Poland.
3.2 What Is the Sinosphere?
The Sinosphere is harder to define. By analogy it would be a cultural, historical and/or economic community that is unified by Chinese characteristics and has geopolitical significance. In East Asia, this definition would at first glance include Japan and South Korea, but they must be counted out for reasons discussed above: likewise, Vietnam in Southeast Asia; but the rest of Indochina plus Myanmar may be counted as part of the Sinosphere by reason of economic dominance.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) provides a first approximation of the possible extent of the Sinosphere in South and Southwest Asia, as well as Africa and stretching even to Europe itself; however, the BRI is now stagnant, and many of its participants are unhappy with it.
In essence, the overland “Belt” was China’s attempt to dominate Mackinder’s “Heartland,” while the maritime “Road” was its attempt to dominate Spykman’s “Rimland.”7 The first was failing even before new international sanctions against Russia, which now will kill it. The second is still potentially viable at least for the present, due to China’s multi-year acquisition of port facilities.
The countries in a band from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia—including Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and the UAE—are too disparate for generalizations. They would require individual inspection not possible in this brief article. What is clear is that they are not part of any Sinosphere either culturally or historically. They have no organic civilizational connection with China.
4 THE MAIN SCENARIO AND ITS VARIATIONS
The main scenario has already been sketched above: it is the global bifurcation between the Anglosphere and the Sinosphere. Variations upon it are only sub-scenarios. They are highly contingent and path-dependent, and therefore cannot be set out in this brief note. The sub-scenarios mainly concern different geopolitical and geoeconomic evolutionary paths in Eurasia, although Africa and South America could be included to be comprehensive.
Even if China should invade Taiwan, Europe would have no choice but to side with the Anglosphere, notwithstanding Germany’s dependence on the Chinese market for imports as well as exports. In the systemic crisis that will come to a head in the mid-/late 1930s and early 1940s, the Anglosphere will vanquish the Sinosphere due to its greater economic strength, global reach, and financial resources not limited to the power of the dollar (and the role of the Eurodollar), which will remain the world’s reserve currency.
It took only the revelation of an energy crisis, Angela Merkel’s departure from office, and Russian troops marching on a half-dozen Ukrainian cities, for the EU to cancel the NordStream 2 pipeline from Russia, turn to non-Russian sources of natural gas, and move to increase their defense spending. Of course, US President Donald Trump asked the European members of NATO to do this for four years, pointing out what they already knew but never acknowledged publicly.8
What would be left to discuss, in a longer policy brief, is the independent states, including Russia, that were formerly Soviet republics. Among them, the five Central Asian countries are the only ones that may be candidates for the Sinosphere, but they are equally seeking to maintain their “multi-vector” policies. They are especially seeking Western partners again, since the international community imposed economic relations on Russia.
The variations and specifications of these dynamics may be spelled, and subsidiary recommendations specific to different geopolitical regions and policy areas may be made, using the above-mentioned analytical apparatus of complex-systems science, as contingencies evolve.
5 CONCLUSION AND MAIN RECOMMENDATION
Regardless of the variety of Eurasian sub-scenarios, the conclusion and the main recommendation for Europe do not change.
- The conclusion is that there is no “third way” for Europe between the Anglosphere and the Sinosphere.
- The main recommendation is that between these two, Europe’s interest incontrovertibly lies in the Anglosphere.
There is no “third way” for Europe between the Anglosphere and the Sinosphere. Between these two, Europe’s interest incontrovertibly lies in the Anglosphere.
This is not as constraining as it sounds. Europe has a creative role to play in the design and implementation of Western strategy here. It would be appropriate to think not in terms of “trans-Atlanticism” but rather “Euro-Atlanticism.” However, that is a broad and deep topic to be elaborated in another forum.
What emerges from this brief discussion is that the Sinosphere is less organic and very possibly more fragile than the Anglosphere. Also, there is political fragility oncoming in China itself, and not only from its oncoming demographic decline. The history of Chinese civilization, moreover, shows periodic swings between consolidation and disintegration lasting about 300 years: the last zenith of consolidation was 1949, and things will only get worse for Beijing from now on.9
The shift to the Anglosphere has begun. As a result:
- Deepening European alignment with the Anglosphere is the necessary first step: and without the residue of any outdated Old-World ressentiment at the young trans-Atlantic upstarts! Europeans should understand that alignment with the Anglosphere does not mean dependence on the US or the UK, or submission to either of them.
- ·European strategic autonomy and indeed prosperity are enhanced, not diminished, by American maintenance of the Eurodollar system, on which the European banks and financial system depend as a support stronger than any dependence on China could ever be.10
- The EU, and Germany in particular, must diminish their trade dependence on China, which is potentially as fatal to European and German autonomy as their energy dependence on Russia. Survival of NATO not only through 2040s but into the successor international system to the current one, is Europe’s best guarantee for peace, security, and prosperity.
- The East Central and Eastern European NATO members should have a louder voice, which must be more respected. They are the ones, after all, whose Cassandra-like warnings about Russia were for years discounted.
- The new Euro-Atlanticism will be, and should be, a renewal of historical Atlanticism, with European characteristics, taking into account not only the foundational connections that unite the Atlantic Civilization but also the unification of Continental Europe itself.11
- Yaneer Bar-Yam, Dynamics of Complex Systems (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1997).
- A sketch of such an application is Robert M. Cutler, “The Central Eurasian Hydrocarbon Energy Complex: From Central Asia to Central Europe,” in Secure Oil and Alternative Energy: The Geopolitics of Energy Paths of China and the European Union, ed. Mehdi P. Amineh and Guang Yang (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 39–74, https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004233324_003.
- The technical name of the fifth phase is “teleopoiesis.” All nine phases are set out concisely and explicated through an applied-theoretical study in: Robert M. Cutler and Alexander von Lingen, “An Evolutionary Phenomenology of Resilience,” Kybernetes 48, no. 4 (April 2019): 685–695, http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/K-11-2017-0460.
- Robert M. Cutler, “The Complex Evolution of International Systems and the Nature of the Current International Transition,” InterJournal: Complex Systems, no. 255 (1999), reprinted in Unifying Themes in Complex Systems, vol. 2, ed. Yaneer Bar-Yam and Ali Minai (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004), 515–22.
- For information about this initiative, see “D-10 Strategy Forum,” Atlantic Council online, last modified 30 March 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/programs/scowcroft-center-for-strategy-and-security/global-strategy-initiative/democratic-order-initiative/d-10-strategy-forum/.
- A good introduction is the collection of articles under: “The Future of Korean Democracy,” Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center [Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University] online, last modified 30 March 2022, https://aparc.fsi.stanford.edu/future-of-korean-democracy-2022-rok-presidential-election-analysis.
- The loci classici are: for the Heartland, H.J. Mackinder, “The Geographical Pivot of History,” The Geographical Journal 23, no. 4 (April 1904): 421–37; for the Rimland, Nicolas J. Spykman, The Geography of the Peace (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1944).
- Hans von der Burchard, “Annalena Baerbock: Germany Knew about Russian Energy Risks — And Did Nothing,” last modified 30 March 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-annalena-baerbock-russia-energy-risk-2014/.
- The hypothesis of the Chinese “dynastic cycle” has finally been empirically validated: see Sabin Roman, “Historical Dynamics of the Chinese Dynasties,” Heliyon 7, no. 6 (June 2021): Article e07293, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e07293.
- The Eurodollar phenomenon is generally not well understood. It is best to start with its historical origins. For these, see: Catherine R. Schenk, “The Origins of the Eurodollar Market in London: 1955–1963,” Explorations in Economic History 35, no. 4 (April 1998): 221–238, https://doi.org/10.1006/exeh.1998.0693; and Milton Friedman, “The Euro-Dollar Market: Some First Principles,” Review (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis) 53, no. 4 (July 1971): 16–24, https://files.stlouisfed.org/files/htdocs/publications/review/71/07/Principles_Jul1971.pdf.
- An excellent starting-place for recalling what the “Atlantic Civilization” is all about, is the source-book: Michael Kraus (ed.), The North Atlantic Civilization (New York: D. van Nostrand, 1957).