Geopolitical Kaleidoscope or how to lose and win hegemony

Sic transit gloria mundi (Thus passes the glory of the world). With dizzying speed the world’s geopolitical board is rearranged. American hegemonic power is reduced while new initiatives are presented by other powers as well as by states and regions within the United States.


No children’s toy was as widespread as the kaleidoscope in XIX and XX centuries. It is said that it was invented by a Scott but that he was not able to patent it. Public domain object, in my childhood it was easy to buy and also easy to build, with the help of some blueprints published in a magazine. Finding one cardboard tube, three small mirrors, two translucent sheets, and some flat stones of varied colors would suffice.  You had to stick three mirrors at the end of the tube in a triangular prism shape, with their reflective part facing inside. At the end of the tube you placed two paper or plastic translucent sheets with several flat colored stones of different shapes in between, whose images were symmetrically multiplied by turning the tube, while one looked through the opposite extreme of the apparatus. The optical effects were fascinating. For example:

Form the apparent chaos, a clear order would emerge; but making a new turn was enough and everything changed. A new order would appear, and so on.

Let’s imagine now a huge space tube, with the world map at one extreme. Countries and regions are the colored objects, in a determined order that seems permanent and natural; but that in reality is a transitory artifact. It takes only a turn of the enormous imaginary tube for countries and regions to reorder in other hierarchies and relations. In the continuum space-time we could well say together with the Romans: sic transit gloria mundi. Such is the geopolitical kaleidoscope. The interest for it is that the tube is turning.

For a long time, things were seen like this:

It is a world centered on the Atlantic Ocean and giving preference to the Northern hemisphere. It is a world that speaks in English. We are so accustomed to see this world map that it seems natural and eternal, when in fact it is fragile and temporary. From a strategic perspective, it is NATO’s world (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Fifty years ago, during the cold war, the NATO map was as follows:

During the XXI century, NATO expanded and incorporated the old satellites from the deceased Soviet Union to the treaty, with the foreseeable negative reaction of current Russia. For more information regarding this development, I encourage the reader to follow this link:

But if we turn the kaleidoscope tube another image appears:

It is a world centered on the Pacific Ocean giving preference to the Southern hemisphere. In the middle there is the Center Nation or Middle Kingdom. That is the name by which the Chinese call their country. English is no longer the only spoken language.

Which tendencies can be underlined to make the Middle Kingdom’s the most interesting geopolitical map?

First, China is in full transition from an industrial-exporting model to a post-industrial, more consumer and internal market oriented model. Regarding technology, and out of need, China is already the world’s leader in the production of renewable energy, not as polluting as coal and fossil fuels were.

But regarding this change, two caveats should be made. The reorientation of Chinese economy “inwards” does not imply the abandonment of its international projection, au contraire. On the one side, there is an ambitious program for creating a new silk route, from continental China, going through Central Asia, and ending up in Europe. Large infrastructure works are projected to accelerate merchandize and input flows to guarantee the continuous economic growth of whole Asia. China, which traditionally has been an exclusively continental power, has diversified its geopolitical projection. On the one side, it consolidates its position in Central Asia, casting shadow on Russia. On the other hand, it projects a commercial as well as military new maritime power in the Pacific.

Second, in the Pacific, what Unites States want to interpret as Chinese provocation in the surrounding seas is not more than the natural tendency of a great power to consolidate a defense coastline perimeter. From the Chinese point of view, the old American naval presence in the Far East has decreasing justification. Think the reader how the United States reacted or might react if faced with a strong foreign naval present in the Caribbean and reach your own conclusion. Monroe’s doctrine is no longer valid only for the United States. With the same key, we must know how to interpret Russian reaction against the loss of strategic control in its Western flank, i.e., in the Eastern European countries that have been incorporated into NATO. In both cases, with Trump or without Trump, the United States will have to negotiate, that is to retreat.

In the case of the Far East, the medium term geopolitical surprise could well be the fall of the North Korean regime and the reunification of the peninsula under the military auspices of China and under the economic auspices of South Korea, together with the denuclearization of the entire peninsula (with the consequent international acquiescence). It would thus be accomplished the lengthily proclaimed objective by US—but without the US as master and guarantor of the result. The position of only one Korea would be something as it once was Finland’s position between the West and Russia during the cold war. Giving its assent to other powers’ initiatives is something to which US will have to get accustomed.

In the case of the Russian periphery, the long term adjustment will not be the result of a “new friendship” among Washington and the Kremlin. In due time, the Russian state will distance from Trump’s clumsy administration (which would have given him more headaches than benefits). Instead, there will be another rapprochement, formerly cherished even during the cold war, between Germany (who will bring a two- or three-speed Europe in its train) and Russia.  The true Realpolitik will not be the Trumpolitik but rather the Teutonic Ostpolitik. For now, we can say that in Washington politicians from both parties have no clues as to the heavy storm cloud that I see emerging in the world’s geopolitical horizon.

On top of that, the open disdain of the current administration for “humanitarian” and liberal values with which US decorated their formerly power, will leave more freedom to all the world countries to choose the most convenient alliances, without fearing retaliation, but also without moral scrupulous. With Trump and co., morals and priggishness are not more part of the arsenal of the well-known American “soft-power.” Sic transit gloria mundi.

The abandonment of a moral position will allow the US to keep a more aggressive and dangerous stance in the Middle East. Unscrupulously, it will support the varied dictatorships that today are spread in the region and which, paradoxically, are less democratic than the halfway theocracy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They will give up the Palestinian division into two states in favor of just one Israeli state, which will necessarily result into an apartheid. The problem is that with such change in the “realistic” position, US will only add fuel to the fire in the sectarian division and civil wars of the region. It is good fishing in such troubled waters: in this case Iran and Russia. These powers will not need to aggressively defend their interests. They will just need to follow Napoleon’s advice: “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” And the same goes for China. Sic transit gloria mundi. As the reader will see, the kaleidoscope keeps turning.

Finally, and already inside US, the pieces also get recomposed. Faced with Washington’s clumsiness, the more dynamic of USA’s States refuse to follow the central policies in terms energy, regulation, immigration, technology and commerce. Curiously, they fulfill the Republican Party’s old dream: the restitution of power to the states, but this time against such party, which has been captured by an authoritarian and inept clique. If things continue like this, the prophesy of one of my ten geopolitical theses published in Opinion Sur last issue will be fulfilled, that is the first de facto and eventually de jure transformation of US into a federation. From the motto E pluribus unum (Out of many, one) will come the motto Ex uno plures (Out of one, many).

Sic transit gloria mundi.


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