The Times of London produced its “Complete Historical Atlas of the World” nearly 40 years ago – it has since sold more than 2 million copies. To open it is to enter through a gateway to the past.
I was looking in particular at the Empires of Russia, China and Turkey and was struck by the sheer scale both of the geography involved and the economic and political reach. Even today Russia’s landmass of 17 million square miles is 4 times that of the US or China. Moscow annexed the Ukraine in the 1660’s, added Estonia and Latvia from Sweden in the early 1700’s and consumed the Crimea at the end of the century. Stalin reinstated the buffer states – “Little Russia” – and it still surprises to realise that the last invading soviet soldier did not leave Estonia or Latvia until 1992!
The stories of China and Turkey are no less formidable. In the 16th Century Turkey ruled over the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East and much of North Africa. It was Suleiman’s architect, Sinan, who built the mosque and tomb complex that still dominates the Istanbul skyline.
These nations, just like ours, have their character and soul formed by the riches of their time. Like us they too have their own profound and immutable geopolitical memory, the faint sounds of their former greatness echoing down the hallways of history.
No one should be surprised today if Russia wants back to the security of “Little Russia”. No one should be shocked by China’s recreation of its ancient trade routes or its rebuilding spheres of infuence around the South China Seas. And no one should meddle capriciously with Turkey – for 600 years the geopolitical tipping point between Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The President’s reckless and self seeking stumbles at foreign policy have made America mistrusted and illegitimate on the world’s stage. They have furthermore encouraged cooperation between three nations – Turkey, Russia and China – that has hitherto been unheard of. Together they could lead to a bifurcation of the the world as we know it, precisely when the core challenges (climate change, education, health care and poverty) demand not nationalism or partial alliances but world wide collaboration.
Watch now and wonder as Putin moves back to the Ukraine, as with Turkey it carves up the Middle East, as Erdogan develops his nuclear arsenal and as China ignores America.
The great maps of the world are being rewritten. They are out of step now and left to themselves they may not be fit for the key purposes of our time.
Alas I doubt very much whether there is a copy of “The Complete Atlas” in the White House.
Have a good day, James