The harder they fall

Cover of “The Strategic Atlas: From Western Hegemony to Western Decline” by Gérard Chaliand, Roc Chaliand and Nicolas Rageau. @otherwise

Or the geopolitics of cycles, dissected by Gérard Chaliand, Nicolas Rageau and Roc Chaliand

In geopolitics, the important events, the tilts, do not necessarily begin and end on the dates that we have been taught, those that we quote by reflex, without thinking… And in the same way, they do not always crystallise where the news media make us believe… These are the prolegomena of the analysis that led, 40 years after the publication of L’atlas stratégique – géopolitique des rapports de force dans le monde by Gérard Chaliand and JP Rageau, to the publication of a new opus Atlas stratégique – De l’hégémonie au déclin de l’Occident (éditions Autrement), by Gérard Chaliand, Nicolas Rageau and Roc Chaliand, dissecting the upheavals in a world that has become multipolar…

If Nicolas Rageau and Roc Chaliand are cartographers for the former, and former director of Ever magazine for the latter, Gérard Chaliand is a “geostrategist in the field” who has travelled through many of the conflict and guerrilla zones of the 20th century… This recognised experience, which has become an expertise, has led him to teach at the ENA, at the Ecole de Guerre, and as a guest professor in many international universities, in addition to the publication of some fifty books…

Political Map of the world, April 2001.

This discipline of first learning from reality, then placing it in a long historical perspective – an approach that many “experts in international relations” sometimes forget – is the foundation of Gérard Chaliand’s “intelligence of power relations”. Moreover, in order to never think in the conventional and comfortable narrowness of “the point of view of one’s own country”, he endeavours to look at, analyse and think about geopolitical dynamics “from the point of view of the other”, i.e. by looking at the world – and therefore by looking at US, us Westerners – with the eyes and mind of those who are often for us only prejudices, labels, and otherness that we understand little and poorly, hampered by our comfortable presuppositions. However, the world, like history, from the point of view of a Chinese, an African, a Russian or an Iranian, are perceptions and realities that are often very different from our own… In order not to be overwhelmed (or defeated…) by what sometimes happens to us from this distant otherness, we have to change our view and our certainties…

Thus, this new Atlas chooses to put into perspective, over three centuries, the perception of Western hegemony over the world by this “Other”, the “dominated”… who has often become, openly or insensitively, in the course of time or on the occasion of sudden tectonic shifts of power, the “dominant”. In this new perspective, ‘cleansed’ of preconceived ideas, we discover (or rediscover) some unexpected truths. Let us take three examples highlighted, among many others, in the book:

The Clash of Civilizations; we have all had in mind, since the publication of Samuel Huntington’s eponymous book in 1996, this idea of a confrontation between the modern Western civilization-culture and ‘the others’ (Huntington counts eight, including Asian, Muslim, etc. civilization-cultures). While Huntington’s analysis is not wrong, his success has made us forget a historical fact that this atlas reminds us of: this clash of civilisations had in fact already occurred in the 19th century “with the brutal irruption of European imperialism on a global scale”… Yes, for “the others”, the “clash of civilisations” was us, the Westerners…

Portrait of Mao Zedong, founder and leader of the Republic of China (1949-1976). @pycril
Xi Jiping, current president of China at the press conference in Kigali, 23 July 2018. @Flickr








The Middle Kingdom; this formula has become a cliché that can be found, beyond history, in many fields (arts, journalism, etc.), and which evokes images of overcrowded Chinese metropolises, emperors locked in their forbidden city and then red dictators. This phrase, which has become a cliché, is found beyond history in many fields (art, journalism, etc.) and evokes images of overcrowded Chinese metropolises, emperors locked up in their forbidden city and then red dictators, has crushed a truth that has been erased from the narratives: the real Middle Kingdom on the globe was Iran for a long time, because “before Great Britain imposed its domination in Asia, Persian was spoken from Samarkand to Delhi”…

The Second World War; we know the numbers 39-45 by heart, the dates taught for the beginning and end of this conflict which caused multiple changes in the world. But the atlas teaches us that “the Second World War, which began for the Europeans in 1939-1940, and for the United States in 1941, began in East Asia in 1931”. Indeed, at that time, Japan, in order to get out of the doldrums, attacked Manchuria, then in 1937 the coastal regions of China (Nanking massacre…). And “these circumstances will allow the Chinese communists to present themselves both as a patriotic movement and as a revolutionary party concerned with reform” and Mao Zedong to achieve an unexpected victory in 1949… As for the date of the end of this global conflict, the book situates it… in 1954, at the time of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, “a French defeat which closes, in East Asia, a conflict begun in 1931 with Japan”…

Cycles, then. For the West, this decline is, from the point of view of facts, spectacular: “… Between 1878 and 1914, a half-dozen states, hardly, share a considerable part of the world. Great Britain increased its already vast empire by more than ten million square kilometres during this period. France by nine million square kilometres. Russia by more than 5 million square kilometres”… This tour de force, the “largest military expansion in history” is “due in very large part to the industrial revolution”. In 1900, “Europe had 430 million inhabitants, and provided 60% of the world’s industrial production”. Already in 1890, “the United States is the most productive country in the world, ahead of Great Britain. The First World War consecrated the country’s industrial financial weight”…. However, in 2020, Asia accounts for 65% of patents registered in the world, while “China alone has almost half of the world’s patents”… China, which “In 1978 represented less than 1% of international trade, has become, forty years later, the world’s factory”. Other countries that were once “underdeveloped” or colonies of large empires, such as India, have become assertive: “India has become the fifth largest exporter of services in the world, thanks to its technological performance. The International Monetary Fund estimates that by 2027 India will be among the top five powers.

(L-R) BRICS leaders Jair Bolsonaro, Vladmir Putin, Xi Jinping, Cyril Ramaphosa and Ram Nath Kovind at the 2019 G20 in Osaka. @Flickr

Demography, of course, partly explains this change in the world’s point of gravity. Around 1900, Europeans “accounted for 25% of the world’s population, while nearly 60 million emigrated to other continents”. The United States “grew during this period from 4 to nearly 90 million inhabitants, and the population of the American continent as a whole exceeded 150 million” …. Today, Africa, south of the Sahara, “is by far the continent with the most vigorous population growth. In 1950, Africa had 7% of the world’s population, by 2020 it had 18% – or 1.3 billion people – and by 2050 it is expected to exceed 25%. By 2030, Nigeria “with 410 million people, will overtake the United States as the third most populous state in the world”. And it is no coincidence that India has 47 diplomatic missions on the continent, while China “has been Africa’s largest trading partner since 2009”.

Demographic Evolution in Africa (1850-2100)

The harder the fall will be, we might conclude from reading this atlas… which starts with the undivided Western domination of the world, and ends with the observation that today it is the Indo-Pacific region that “is the centre of gravity of the major conflict of the 21st century between China and the United States, and their allies”… Even if “the United States remains, obviously, the number one power in the world and is determined to keep and consolidate this position. Meanwhile, the relentless Chinese regime continues its rise.

In the end, the clearest decline “is that of a Europe that dominated the world from the end of the 18th century to 1914. Today, it is not even the major stake it was from the day after the Second World War to 1989″… In passing, with regard to the tragic news of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the atlas reminds us, without excusing or clearing Moscow of its crushing responsibility (or its immense strategic error), that “the spectre of Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO is not a Russian invention. G.W. Bush invited Ukraine in 2008 to join NATO, a prospect rejected at the time by France and Germany. And to underline that “from the end of the 20th century, Europe has been subjected to American initiatives designed to weaken Russia’s potential”. Moreover, the book mentions George Kennan, the instigator of the strategy of containment with President Truman, who had “pointed out to Bill Clinton that he was making a serious mistake by extending NATO eastwards”. Here we are…

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited a humanitarian aid center in the city of Bucha (Kyiv), where mass killings of civilians took place during the occupation by Russian troops. @Flickr (president of Ukraine account)

Among the criticisms that could be made of this remarkable book, I noted the cartography, often unclear, sometimes lacking explanatory legends (a pity for an “atlas”). But fortunately, the high quality and originality of the background almost make it possible to do without the illustrations. And then the Autrement publishing house, aware of this weakness, printed an erratum containing a certain number of these withdrawn maps, and inserted in the booklet.

 Pierre Brunet

Writer and humanitarian

Born in 1961 in Paris to a French father and a Spanish mother, Pierre Brunet found his first vocation as a freelance journalist. In 1994, he crossed paths with humanitarian work and volunteered in Rwanda, which was devastated by genocide. In early 1995, he left on a humanitarian mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then torn apart by civil war. There he took on the responsibilities of programme coordinator in Sarajevo, then head of mission.

When he returned to France at the end of 1996, he joined the headquarters of the French NGO SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, for which he had been on mission. He will be in charge of communication and fundraising, while returning to the field, as in Afghanistan in 2003, and starting to write… In 2011, while remaining involved in humanitarian work, he commits himself totally to writing, and devotes an essential part of his time to his vocation as a writer.

Pierre Brunet is Vice-President of the association SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL. He has been in the field in North-East Syria, in the Calais “jungle” in November 2015, and in Greece and Macedonia with migrants in April 2016.

Pierre Brunet’s novels are published by Calmann-Lévy:

January 2006: publication of his first novel “Barnum” by Calmann-Lévy, a story born from his humanitarian experience.
September 2008: publication of his second novel, “JAB”, the story of a little Spanish orphan girl who grew up in Morocco and becomes a professional boxer as an adult.
March 2014: release of her third novel “Fenicia”, inspired by the life of her mother, a little Spanish orphan during the civil war, refugee in France, later an anarchist activist, seductress, who died in a psychiatric institute at the age of 31.
End of August 2017: release of his fourth novel “Le triangle d’incertitude”, in which the author “returns” again, as in “Barnum” to Rwanda in 1994, to evoke the trauma of a French officer during Operation Turquoise.
In parallel to his work as a writer, Pierre Brunet works as a co-writer of synopses for television series and feature films, in partnership with various production companies. He also collaborates with various magazines by publishing columns or articles, particularly on international news.