Preface to "The Middle of the Map", by Attila Marjan
When visiting Asian countries that until recently used to be labeled emerging
but have now emerged into world-beating economies, I always make a
point of popping into as many bookshops as possible. Shelves teem with volumes
on the economic rise of China; sometimes an entire section is devoted
to the subject. In the US, be it an elegant downtown bookshop, an airport
paper shop or a street vendor, all books – apart from novels – are either
about the decline of America or the emergence of China. I have never come
across a single book about Europe, not even when I looked among those
gathering dust on the bottom shelf. There is, of course, always the odd
Lonely Planet and a lavishly illustrated History of European Art and the like,
but that is more or less it.
In the 18th century Montesquieu gave us his view of Europe in his Persian
letters, through the eyes of two Persian noblemen. Three centuries later, in
reports written by people working for the EU one can often read statements
like:“There can be no Europe without non-Europe” or “We can only understand
Europe in the light of other peoples”. But let us face the truth: the USA
and China care precious little about Europe. They do not even have an opinion
of us: the two key global actors are preoccupied either with themselves
or with each other. It made me wonder: does anybody out there still care
about us Europeans? And if so, what do they think about us in America and
China? How do they see our chances in the 21st century?
As a general rule, the outside world tends to have a more realistic view of
us than we do of ourselves. By looking through the eyes of an external observer
we may be able to see more clearly what Europe really is like, where
its strengths and weaknesses lie and what prospects it has for the coming
decades. That is exactly what this book sets out to do. In the research phase
I interviewed dozens of eminent political advisors, professors and businessmen.
I had Chinese billionaires tell me about the snobbery of China’s nouveaux
riches and their fawning imitation of Europe. I heard first-hand the
views of ultraconservative American political advisors about the sacrilege of
Europe and its imminent invasion by Islam.
The other main theme of this book – the post-crisis new world order and
Europe’s potential role in it – is anything but under-researched. On the contrary,
the saturation coverage makes it rather difficult to see clearly amidst
the differing views, contradictory visions and uncorroborated information.
This is what the book tries to do: lend a helping hand and take a fresh look
at some of the most exciting geopolitical questions of our times.
This book is therefore divided into two parts. Part One investigates Europe’s
self-identity and worldview: how Europe sees itself and the rest of the
world. It attempts to answer the questions: Does a European identity exist
at all? What do the different nations of Europe think about other Europeans?
What do we Europeans think about the USA and China? Then it goes on to
compare the key cultural, social and political differences between the two
Western powers and sketch out an American view of the old continent. What
is the first thing that comes to an American’s mind in thinking of Europe?
What do Americans envy us for and what about us annoys them? How do
they see Europe’s role in a new world order, in which China will surely be a
key actor? A glimpse from the Great Wall follows. Does China’s vision extend
as far as Europe? Can the Chinese distinguish at all between Europe and
America – or do they see them as one big Western bloc? What hides behind
the polite but enigmatic smiles?
Part Two takes a step back and looks at the world as a whole. It even peeks
into the future and weighs the chances of the three global powers: are we on
the dawn of a new Sino-American bipolar dominance or will Europe remain
a force to be reckoned with? Will the global crisis prefigure the death of capitalism
or bring about a brave new world? What can the world learn from Europe
and what should Europe learn from the world if it wants to build a secure
and balanced new world order?
At the end of 2010 geopolitics was an art for soothsayers. The world was
undergoing tectonic shifts with increasing global imbalances, a more and
more self-assured and assertive China, a US that was trying to embrace the
loss of its hegemonic power and to handle its internal economic and political
problems, and a Europe in the middle of economic havoc, trying to save the
most precious achievement of its half-a-century-old integration process, the
euro. Some said this crisis heralded the end of the EU, others thought that
it would trigger a deeper political or at least fiscal union. I agree with the latter.
Angela Merkel had a point: if the euro fails, the EU – at least the way we
know it today - will fail as well. The EU, the US and China are in the middle
of redefining their global role and each watches closely the others. America,
damaged by its crisis-hit economy and by its heavily divided political elite
and society, seeks to preserve its primary role and for this an understanding
of China as the emerging global power is key. Will the rise of China alter the
rules of the world completely by setting an example of a successful “third
way”, meaning a robust state capitalism coupled with an authoritarian political
system? The biggest geopolitical problem of the West is that it does not
know what China wants to do with itself. And it is the biggest problem of the
entire world that China itself does not seem to know either.
Samuel Huntington speaks of the geopolitics of civilizations, Dominique
Moisi of the geopolitics of emotions; my aim is to take a closer look at the
geopolitics of regional “identities” and perceptions of others. In times of uncertainty
geopolitical analysis is to a great extent based on perceptions, a
pool of information on the present and on the past, impressions or even
stereotypes related to the other parties to the game. Perceptions by definition
tend to the subjective. Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for In-
ternational Peace talks about the dangers of false perceptions in geopolitics
He argues that China (both its political elite and its population) sees itself one
way and the West sees it in another, and this perception gap of itself will
This book is intentionally subjective and not over-heavy in style – but
hopefully not irritatingly superficial either. At no point was I under the illusion
of being able to find the one and only truth or to revolutionize futurology.
In fact I try to get the reader acquainted with a diversity of
thought-provoking and interesting ideas, providing a selection of views and
theories from people worth quoting, in a humorous but not frivolous manner.
As far as the scope of this book is concerned, I have largely ignored South
America, India, Japan and the Arab world. Why? Partly because I wanted to
keep this book relatively short, but mostly because I do not believe that
these regions will play a crucial role in shaping the geopolitical future of our
world – for a range of economic, demographic, geopolitical and other reasons.
There are three lead players: China, the USA and Europe and, for now
at least, the rest of the cast have but walk-on roles.