General Meeting

Program time:
Prof  Tanguy Struye De Swielande
CHÂTEAU SAINTE-ANNE Rue Du Vieux Moulin 103 1160 Bruxelles

Today we face a world full of challenges: climate change, new technologies, nuclear proliferation, cyber information warfare... Faced with these challenges, the great powers are not up to the task, having the mindset of competition rather than cooperation. After presenting the challenges of the 21st century, Professor Struye will analyse the Russia-China-US triangle at the geopolitical, geo-economic, civilisational and security levels.

Professor Tanguy Struye de Swielande, is Professor of International Relations at the Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium). He specializes in the study of middle and great powers in the Indo-Pacific. He is Coordinator of the Baillet Latour Chair “European Union-China”, founder of Genesys Network ( and Director of the Centre for the Study of Crises and International Conflicts ( He is also Associate Fellow at the Egmont Institute and Book Series Editor for the Presses universitaires de Louvain “Scène international” series. Tanguy recently published Duel entre l’aigle et le dragon pour le leadership mondial (Peter-Lang, 2015). His latest article has been published in Asian Politics & Policy on “Middle powers in the Indo-Pacific: Potential Pacifiers guarantying stability in the Indo-Pacific?” (2019).

A Review
by Larisa Doctorow

At the General Meeting of 14 November, we heard a very insightful and informative lecture by Tanguy Struye de Swielande, Professor of International Relations at the Université Catholique de Louvain. His special area of interest is the Middle and Great Powers in the Indo-Pacific.

Struye’s introductory remarks sounded quite alarming: “Today our world faces a lot of challenges: climate change, new technologies, nuclear proliferation, cyber information warfare... and the list could be continued. The Great Powers, however, instead of cooperating and helping each other to solve the problems, are focused on competition among themselves.” The professor then proceeded to give us a detailed analysis of the relationship between the three Great Powers, namely Russia, China and the USA, at the geopolitical, geo-economic, civilizational and security levels.

At present the world faces two great confrontations: China-Taiwan and Russia-Ukraine. Either of them could wreck our civilization and put the world on the edge of survival.

The world was not prepared to face such challenges and was taken by surprise. “But I, personally, was not surprised,” our lecturer told us. “Because these are the things I study.”

The years 1989-1991 marked the end of the Cold War. What would come next in international relations was set out in a very important book, The End of History by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama. He predicted that with ideological differences vanquished, the American model of liberal democracy and free markets would sweep the world and usher in an age of peace. Every country would join in, some at the head of the train, others at the rear of the train, but all riding on the same tracks. To the great surprise of many, however, the wars did not stop. They raged not only in African countries including Rwanda and Algeria, but also in Europe – as Yugoslavia collapsed into its component parts.

Since 2019, new challenges have come along, among them the Covid-19 pandemic. The passive reaction of the world proves that we are barely up to these challenges. Meanwhile, in regard to the risk of nuclear war and destruction of human existence on Earth as described by the Doomsday Clock, which is mentioned


Everyone now is concerned about a threat of nuclear proliferation, but Professor Struye thinks that we face multiple threats, and that climate change is at the top of the list. New threats to our way of life will come with renewable energy. Our task is to adapt to these issues. We will see refugees who will be running away not from war, but because of climate change. We will see more civil wars coming and more instability and financial crises. We had them already in 2008 and 2009. It will happen again.

For the next 20 or 30 years, there will be less demand for oil and gas, but more for other raw materials that are in tight supply, for example cobalt, copper and rare earths. Without them we cannot create energy. We don’t extract them because of the pollution involved in the processes. We need cobalt, and its sources are in Africa and 60% of it is extracted by China. We need lithium, which is located in South America and 50% of the mines are controlled by China.

The world will see more pandemics, big and small. When Ebola arrived, Europe did not take it seriously. Then Covid came and it became very serious. The pandemic divided countries. We were all competing against one another for vaccines and treatments. Other challenges will multiply. For example, fake news or conspiracy theories.

New technologies will come to dominate our society and armies, in particular Artificial Intelligence (AI). Whoever leads in AI will control the world.

Algorithms are sets of instructions allowing a computer program to gather different sources of information and use them to solve problems. To create algorithms, we need a great number of engineers. In this sphere China has an advantage because they have educated thousands and thousands of engineers. Data is needed by everybody and everywhere. AI depends on masses of data. In five or 10 years, AI will know what you think and what you wear. The world will look different. Super computers and quantum technologies are the coming thing. Without semi- conductors nobody will achieve the new industrial revolution. Taiwan is the main producer of almost all the most advanced processors for the entire world. For Russia the lack of semi- conductors is a big problem. Our lecturer supposes that China will help Russia. The more we are connected, the more energy we consume. There will never be enough energy. Renewable energy will not cover all of our needs. Potentially there is the hope to get to the source of rare earths on the moon and bring them back to the Earth. Next comes deep sea mining which is terrible for the environment and puts our values are in conflict.


New technology demands a lot of resources. By 2035, Europe is set to have only electric cars. The three superpowers, who are supposed to cooperate are in bitter competition, even worse than was the case during the Cold War. It is all about their interests and spheres of influences. We see a clear decline in cooperation and that societies in the West are in decline. Our institutions are questionable. In Africa no one wants to hear sermons from the West. Our lecturer was in Argentina, and said they don’t want to hear about Ukraine, they only want to talk about the situation with the Falkland Islands. And why do we support Ukraine and not, for example, Syria. This is an example of our double standards and people recognise it.

The Trump factor accelerated the decline of America that started with Obama. Trump was the symptom of this evolution. There is also a fatigue factor. Today there are fewer stable demo- cracies, and so-called swing states (which are not with the USA or Russia or China) change their alliances. Countries have different values, like China or India. This is a big issue, and when the West tells them something, they answer, “Why are you lecturing us?”

As our speaker pointed out, there are 13 important lessons from Covid. Politically it touched the whole world. Countries did not cooperate. If something like this happens again, he thinks they will follow the same pattern of ‘me’ and ‘me’ and ‘me’. The Europeans were fighting each other, not only the USA. During Covid, every country had different rules. Sometimes smaller countries played an interesting role. We saw the decline of democracy. The new rules question globalisation. The UN played a poor role, and the EU did not play a good role either. China said that the UN lacked credibility and they were right.

On the international stage we see a return to geopolitics. The keywords are:

• Competition

• Power of national interests

• Spheres of influence


Our lecturer also spoke about America’s relationship with the sea. The US did not have colonies, and they thought that if they could control the seas, they would control trade. They still don’t like it if someone else wants to control the seas.

The speaker showed on the screen a diagram in which Russia is the Heartland surrounded by the Rimland, or buffer zone. This is a conceptualization among political scientists that goes back to the late 19th century. The Baltic states are part of Rimland as is Ukraine. If Americans control the Rimland, they control Russia. Russia has buffer zones – Ukraine and Belarus in the West and Southwest, Kazakhstan in the East. Russia losing Kazakhstan would be a big problem. NATO enlargement is built around these geopolitical theories.

In his widely read book of the 1990s, The Clash of Civilizations, which followed Fukuyama’s by several years, Harvard professor Samuel Huntington said that the moving force of our day is a fight between civilizations and not between countries. The respective Powers are bearers of different cultures and values. For example, India has a different view of human rights. The war in Ukraine is also a clash of civilizations. In the last 30 years we have imposed different sanctions on many countries and all of them have failed. Now Huntington is taken very seriously. Every country has its own interests. For Russia their buffer zones and demo- graphic problems are very important. If we look at what they have lost during the last war, they need to increase their population. Europe has its own interests, including NATO’s enlargement, problems with its leadership, and a desire to weaken the Russia military before it can start negotiations with them. The USA is mainly concerned now with the situation around Taiwan. Taiwan could be the reason for the next world war. China and the US established their spheres of influence and are waiting to see what will happen next. To resist the pressure from the USA, China needs Russia.

In the UN vote for the new sanctions against Russia, only 40 states participated. Our lecturer thinks that the UN and the EU don’t understand things properly. They try to exist in their own world. If we speak about the current situation, he thinks that China bombing Taiwan will cause problems for China because of semi-conductors, which Taiwan dominates globally. We can also see in Europe more regional wars. Our lecturer believes Europe should start to create a strong core to attract other countries. On the regional level the entire West should give more power to smaller countries, instead of pushing them into our issues. Also, we should be more accommodating and not practice double standards. We should be more pragmatic.

Our problem is that we don’t have a long term approach. The year 2022 is still OK from the energy point of view but how bad will it be in 2023?

Our lecturer’s conclusion: things are not going well, but instead are getting worse.

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