Berlin – It was an inspiring glance into the future of the 21st century that the political scientist and Eurasia specialist, Jacopo Maria Pepe, offered his audience at the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC).
His key thesis: the term ‘Grander Europe’, fashionable following the Cold War, has given way to the concept of a ‘Greater Eurasia’. The US influence across large parts of the Eurasian landmass is in decline, and neither a Western-style ‘architecture’ nor a new hegemon, be it China or another, will ascend in the wake of the United States.
Instead, the continent, as Pepe sees it, will return to the structural status quo ante of half a millennium ago, when mutually dependent civilisations with rather different socioeconomic and value systems – in those days both nomads and sedentary communities – existed in a fluid, self-sustaining equilibrium. Pepe expects similar structural elements, in a version fit for the third millennium, to develop and slowly replace the modern nation-state.
That development will be accompanied by the emergence of a highly integrated industrial, trade, and logistics infrastructure, including neatly intertwined land and maritime transport routes.
The Eurasian continent will become increasingly interlinked within and closed off to geographically external powers. Winners will be the countries bordering the region, as well as the warm waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Mainly, that will be China, India, Iran, and Turkey. Eventually, these countries – in Mackinder’s terminology the ‘rimland’, in Pepe’s the ‘amphibian countries’ – will possess the power needed to repel the incumbent sea power of the US. At the same time, these amphibian powers will compete with each other over sea and land gateway spaces and continental bypasses.
For Russia, Pepe sees both opportunities and risks with regards to the developments in Eurasia. He argued that the main challenge results from the fact that China’s Belt and Road initiative is mainly west and southwards oriented, hence Russia’s Far East will be largely cut off from the project.
As to the future of Europe, Pepe admits to having no answer. A Europe that is solitarily based on the French-German axis, said Pepe, would lead the continent into irrelevance. A ‘neo-Carolingian’ Europe would in no way correspond to the new geo-economic realities. With the pivot shifting eastwards, Atlantic Europe is a thing of the past. If Western Europe didn’t want to become marginalised, similar to before the 16th century, it had only one choice: engage with and integrate into the rest of Eurasia, starting with Poland and the other Visegrad states, as well as Russia. But such integration required that Europe were sufficiently united, strong, and self-confident.
When it comes to these gigantic tasks – pulling Europe (“a conglomerate, not an entity”, according to Pepe) together and integrating it into a Greater Eurasia – Pepe cannot think of an option other than Germany. As the discussion following his lecture showed, relying on this option seems rather futile. German politicians are conditioned to fear any kind of German Sonderweg or ‘special path’. Thus, chances are that at least with the generation presently at the helm, Germany will fail Europe yet again.
Jacopo Maria Pepe holds a PhD from the Freie Universität Berlin. He is an adjunct professor at Washington DC’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), at Johns Hopkins University, and an associate fellow at the Robert Bosch Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. Between 2010 and 2015 Pepe worked as research fellow at the Berlin Centre for Caspian Region Studies, and between 2012 and 2013 for the German State Railway Company in the Russia/CIS Service Design and Strategy Department. He has advised the Italian foreign ministry on issues related to Turkey, the Middle East, and Eurasia.