MULTIPOLARISATION: what is it?
Since 2006, the GEAB’s mission has been to analyse the very large systemic transition in which the world is struggling in order to anticipate its next turns and help its readers to make the right adaptation decisions in due time.
This work is based on what we call ‘interpretive railways’ that have guided our thinking for the past 15 years, or ‘structural trends’ of transformation. The “multipolarisation of the world” is one of these fundamentals.
This short guide aims to clarify what we mean by this term, why it is structuring, what forms it has taken and what anticipations it has led us to. It is based on a number of extracts from the GEAB, organised in a historical-didactic manner.
Having this axis of transformation in mind helps to understand current events in a more systemic way and to anticipate what will follow.
Now that a chapter of history is coming to an end, what shall we find on this page in the textbooks of 2040?
The crisis of 2008-2020 is that of a gigantic geopolitical reconfiguration linked to the arrival of several new economic giga-players over a short period of time. While at the end of the Second World War, the United States found itself the one and only major geopolitical player in a context of a destroyed Europe, an ‘ostracised’ communist world and a non-industrialised third world, such an interlude could not last long.
At the end of the 1960s, Europe regained its place as an economic power and, for another twenty years or so, it was the transatlantic axis led by Washington which actually dominated the global economy on the basis of the Washington-dollar-oil trio.
The next shock, still more or less manageable, was the arrival of the Asian dragons, whose economic size once again disrupted the monetary and financial markets in 1997. But these newcomers were still relatively manageable by a ‘Western’ system: rather pro-Western and small in size, they were not too reluctant to let themselves be absorbed in a ready-made system. A Washington-dollar-oil trio again.
But at the beginning of the 21st century, two or three more giga-economies are knocking at the door: China, of course and, just behind it, India and next Africa are already nosing in; not to mention the fact that Europe has changed dimensions with the addition of its ex-Soviet members and, with the introduction of the euro, the dollar’s first significant competitor (GEAB 144, April 2020).
Before 2006: Emergence of the concept
Even before the birth of the GEAB, the LEAP and its previous versions (Europe 2020, etc.) integrated into their analyses one structuring evolution of geo-politico-economic transformations: the construction of Europe was changing the world order.
Europe’s double suicide in 1914-18 and then in 1939-44 handed over world domination to the United States. However, on the one hand, the United States has been culturally moving away from Europe for a long time; on the other hand, Europe is working, through its regional integration, to create the conditions for its regaining strategic independence and repositioning itself at the centre of the world chessboard.
The euro in particular, even if it has not yet dared take it to its logical end, was clearly the first “challenger” to the supremacy of the dollar, well before the yuan.
But these two observations must be coupled with a third one: the construction of Europe has inspired other regions of the world, and the divergence of American and European destinies is inexorably doubled by a divergence of South American, African, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese, Asian destinies, etc.
This process of multipolarisation will call into question the entire ‘Western-centric’ socio-economic model: international organisations, globalisation, the monetary system, flows of all kinds (value, production and supply chains, finance, tourism…), demographics, ‘universal’ values, etc. In that regard, all that remains to be done is to spot the first signs of the destruction of this or that part of the previous unipolar system.
2006-2008: First warnings
The GEAB team believes that the multipolar world really begins to take shape in 2005. It is around that year that all the statistical curves start to move into exponential mode. In 2006, the GEAB was created to explain the process and anticipate the next steps. In 2008, the financial crisis was in fact rooted in an explosion in oil prices directly linked to multipolarisation. During this first period, the GEAB anticipated the weakness of a uni-monetary system to support not one but two or even three or four global economies, the first signs of protectionist tendencies, the divergence of interests between the major geopolitical players, etc., and puts into perspective 1°/ a monetary-financial crisis and 2°/ a global geopolitical dislocation.
Protectionism on the rise
Recession in the US, economic slowdown in Europe, recessionary shock in Asia… everything is in place so that the year 2008 sees the return of protectionism. In the 2007 « Up and down » exercise, we had placed the Doha cycle on globalisation among the downward trends, and the least we can say is that indeed this subject completely disappeared from the global agenda and there is no one left to believe any revival is possible. For 2008, we estimate that the world will turn away even more from the multilateral process of globalisation which prevailed in the 1980s/1990s. Protectionism will be back, based on bilateral agreements. And the new thing will be that, in the US as well as in the EU, political leaders will start publicly claiming their preference for such an evolution (GEAB 21, January 2008).
Because of the simultaneity of the global economy relapsing into recession and key political events affecting the world’s major economies, we anticipate a sharp rise in protectionism from the end of 2012. In its initial phase, it will mainly take the form of various non-tariff barriers, more discreet than traditional customs duties, but it will, de facto, cause the most important change in the terms of world trade since the signing of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the WTO’s predecessor) in 1947.
Initially, these protectionist measures will attempt to formally abide by the various multilateral treaties and other WTO provisions (at least to buy time via contentious appeals with ad hoc bodies), because each player will continue in parallel to try and increase its exports. Indeed, export-oriented countries like Germany and China, as well as most emerging nations, won’t take the risk of encouraging their buyers to erect their own tariff barriers.
The emergence of the era of neo-protectionism will, from 2013, accelerate the current geopolitical turmoil (GEAB 57, September 2011).
Diverging interests among global players
The world’s main players’ trajectories are now diverging. The G20 Summit which took place in Washington on November 15th, 2008, did not show a convergence of views, whatever may pretend the common declaration, in fact focused on mere details, declarations of intent and virtual measures aimed at preventing future crises to happen when the current one is only beginning. The very fact that it took place indicates a change of times and a shift of the historical powers out of the anglo-sphere, heart of the Western World since 1945 (GEAB 29, November 2008).
The expression “global geopolitical dislocation” appears in the GEAB pages
Back in February 2006, LEAP/E2020 estimated that the global systemic crisis would unfold in 4 main structural phases: trigger, acceleration, impact and decanting phases. This process enabled us to properly anticipate events until now. However, our team has now come to the conclusion that, due to the global leaders’ incapacity to fully realize the scope of the ongoing crisis (made obvious by their determination to cure the consequences rather than the causes of this crisis), the global systemic crisis will enter a fifth phase in the fourth quarter of 2009, a phase of global geopolitical dislocation… On the one hand, the base on which this global order has been founded for at least thirty years is disappearing, a base made up of a mixture of US Dollars and of American, British and more generally Western debts. On the other hand, the interests of the main players in the global system have begun diverging at an increasing pace, whatever the G7, G20 and other international organizations may publish in their press releases… These two parallel (but not necessarily synchronized) sequences involve, on the one hand, a sequence of quick disintegration of the present international system altogether, resulting from the growing incapacity of the main international organisations and markets to keep on playing their role efficiently; and, on the other hand, a sequence of strategic dislocation directly affecting the big global players such as the United States, China, Russia and the EU. For some of these players, this sequence will undermine their territorial integrity and their socio-economic fabric, as well as the very structure of their political power and their influence on the world… (GEAB 32, February 2009)
2009-2012: Identifying avenues for reinvention
The 2008 crisis forced the world’s leaders to ask themselves the first questions. For about 4 years, everyone looked for solutions to the systemic problem revealed by the American-European financial crisis. The GEAB identified and assessed the most promising ones. It also produced recommendations, notably this “open letter to the G20 leaders in London” in March 2009, calling for reform of the international monetary system. The GEAB also insisted on the importance of the Euroland entity in the international edifice to come. It anticipated block-to-block rapprochements intended to bring about new international solutions (Euroland-Russia) as well as axes of confrontation (US-China) and, above all, it identified from their creation in 2009 all the potential for constructive reform that the BRIC (future BRICS) represented.
The G20 must take act of new major players
On April 2nd, 2009, in London, the G20 leaders must be aware that the position has dramatically changed. For the reasons briefly given previously, there is no longer one main player and a number of secondary – even negligible – ones (as it was the case in 1945). There are now several prominent players and, for the game to resume (trade, finance, supply, produce…), the world needs these players to play. To this end, the game, its aims, rules and instruments, must suit them. Otherwise, some of them will simply refuse to play, and today, this kind of refusal will generate a profound and sustainable crisis for the entire global economic, financial and commercial system… It is this aspiration on the part of new prominent players which explains China’s, Brazil’s or Russia’s claims for a bigger say in the running of the International Monetary Fund as a prerequisite for introducing funds; or the EU’s (and Eurozone’s in particular) claim for a radical reform of the regulatory mechanisms of the global financial system as a condition of agreeing to the new economic stimulus plan requested by Washington… Moreover, if the G20 emerged as a central player in the past few months, at the expense of Washington alone, the American British duo or the G7, it is simply because this trend is becoming stronger each day as an unavoidable requirement to curb the current crisis (GEAB 33, March 2009).
A reform of the international monetary system is required
The key to solving the crisis lies in creating a new international reserve currency…! The US Dollar and economy are no longer capable of supporting the current global economic, financial and monetary order. As long as this strategic problem is not directly addressed and solved, the crisis will grow. Indeed, it is at the heart of the crises of derivative financial products, banks, energy prices… and of their consequences in terms of mass unemployment and collapsing living standards. It is therefore of vital importance that this issue should be the main subject of the G20 summit, and that the first steps towards a solution are initiated. In fact, the solution to this problem is well-known, it is about creating an international reserve currency (which could be called the « Global ») based on a basket of currencies corresponding to the world’s largest economies, i.e. US dollar, Euro, Yen, Yuan, Khaleeji (common currency of oil-producing Gulf states, to be launched in January 2010), Ruble, Real… managed by a « World Monetary Institute » whose Board will reflect the respective weight of the economies whose currencies comprise the « Global »… (Open Letter to G20 leaders, 29/03/2009)
The BRIC sound the alarm
LEAP/E2020 believes that this Yekaterineburg Summit is probably the BRIC’s last attempt at a reconciliation before divorce. If their requests concerning a rapid and profound reorganization of voting rights within the IMF and other international organizations are not accepted and implemented soon by the US, the Japanese and the Europeans, then the next BRIC Summit will be a summit of rupture, setting up independent strategies, or even some opposite to those of the USA/Japan/EU trio… For the European Union – supposedly more open to a changing world, it is a major failure to have not been able to take into proper account the concerns of these four regional powers in its own strategies. And for the United States, United Kingdom and Japan, it is a major failure to have not been able to prevent the emergence of a new geopolitical pillar –another indicator of their rapidly vanishing influence on the global system (GEAB 36, June 2009).
The GEAB starts calling for an EU-BRIC rapprochement to trigger the global reform
With one third of IMF voting power, the Europeans have the key to reorganizing it and making room for the BRIC. As they clearly indicated that they didn’t want Washington to negotiate in their name, without any authority to do so, they only have one possibility left: negotiate directly with Beijing, Moscow, New Delhi and Brasilia. Indeed “not moving” is no longer an option given the increasing pressure exerted by the events linked to the crisis… the current acceleration of events due to the crisis, enables us to envisage the holding of an EU37-BRIC meeting in the course of 2010 with a view to making the new global equilibrium public. Even if they were not very successful in pushing forward their interests at the last Pittsburgh G20 summit, the EU’s unanimity against Washington’s stance came as a relative surprise. The crisis, millions more jobless and the fall in the dollar will unfortunately be good enough reasons to «stimulate» the European’s will in this regard. Most surprising is that, obviously, the Chinese, Russians, Indians and Brazilians, seem to be waiting for this opportunity to start working out together the emergence of a post-crisis world (GEAB 38, October 2009).
Should there be a single link that legitimizes Euro-BRICS dialogue at the highest level, it’s the Euro. Not only does its international success owe much to the BRICS’ enthusiasm, headed by China, to diversify their reserves out of the US dollar, but one can say that the BRICs have only been able to appear as a “geopolitical force” because the Euro has existed. Without the single European currency, Beijing, Moscow, Brasilia, New Delhi… would be condemned to suffer Washington’s unipolar world powerless to do anything other than gesticulate to no effect. It is de facto the Euro, which opened a breach in the “Dollar Wall”, a breach that the BRICS have been able to quickly enlarge using their new wealth to stimulate the European alternative to the US currency (GEAB 56, June 2011).
Recommending the holding of a Euro-BRICS summit by 2014-15
The Euro-BRICS’ potential would be sufficient to generate an irresistible momentum at the heart of the G20, an institution now sinking in impotence through the inability to “call a spade a spade” and unable to put the key issues of global world governance after the crisis on the summits’ agenda. This future Euro-BRICS summit will allow the peaceful “untying of the Gordian knot” otherwise, a few years later, it will any way, but much more violently. Remember, in conclusion, that the LEAP/E2020 team is convinced that “history doesn’t repeat itself” and that it’s essential to use the historic window of opportunity which is open in front of us for the next four or five years (GEAB 56, June 2011).
From the reconnection of the G20 to global reality, everyone would be a winner, including the powers that are so fiercely opposed to it. A multipolar world under the auspices of a renovated global governance, or national and supra-national competing blocks, Euro-BRICS leaders have the cards in hand to steer the world in one way or another (GEAB 71, January 2013).
Bloc-to-bloc rapprochements happening: Euroland-Russia
The global systemic crisis increasingly conditions relations between the major global players, relativizing the bilateral aspects of their interactions by placing them in the broader context of the search for new global balances. Thus, each day, for the leaders of the major powers, the central question becomes less the positioning relative to the United States (the dominant theme in recent decades) than the ability to defend its own interests and contribute to shape the world after the crisis. In this game of historic transition, according to LEAP/E20201, between 2011 and 2014, two very particular players are preparing to play crucial roles at the heart of this transition which must succeed in order not to open the door to a decade of world conflict: Russia and Euroland. Russia is, in fact, the first global player to have completed the transformation from a world power constituted after 1945, which it was, to a power in the world after the global systemic crisis that we are currently experiencing. As for Euroland, it’s an effective player, directly rooted in the desire to exit the world order created after 1945, which is in the course of asserting itself before our eyes on the basis of its monetary identity and which, de facto, increasingly guides decisions throughout the EU. Therefore, both, Russia and Euroland are part of what we might call the first global players “renewed” by the crisis (GEAB 48, October 2010).
Global leadership is questioned
The current geopolitical dislocation, largely anticipated by LEAP/E2020, has resulted in a global fragmentation that will accelerate over the course of next year, amidst global recession. The end of the leadership of traditional powers will bring about global chaos in 2013, with the “world after” beginning to emerge… It will be a somber year for the United States, as it loses its status as the sole superpower and finds itself unable to influence the construction of a new global governance…There is an extraordinary open world game afoot, one providing numerous opportunities to those willing to seize them. This is evident in the Middle East, where populations are taking the opportunity to change the region in accordance with their aspirations; in the BRICS, where their advancing pawns approach declining powers; and in Europe, where each attack by the crisis creates the energy to adapt to the challenges of tomorrow (GEAB 70, December 2012).
2012-2014: On the way to the first failures of reorganisation
From 2012 to 2014, America continues to lose ground, the multipolar world becomes obvious, the BRICS advance rapidly, setting up new institutions and accelerating the reform of old ones. The GEAB keeps on advocating for a Euro-BRICS rapprochement to accompany/participate in their effort and avoid the following anticipation: if the BRICS fail for lack of support from at least part of the Western camp, the world will evolve towards a hardening of international relations through a phase of bipolarisation. During this period, the whole world gradually and unwillingly shifts to a new dependence on China, while the de-Americanisation of the world becomes obvious, anticipating the crisis of an EU structurally linked to the transatlantic axis, the rise of the yuan questioning the dollar, and the transformation of Saudi Arabia. And in 2014 came the reactionary shock: the Ukrainian crisis put a stop to Europe’s eastward slide and inaugurated the ‘bipolar’ phase (in every sense of the word) of the multipolarisation process.
Can the international institutions be reformed?
First of all, when it appeared that China, a major champion of international monetary system reform since 2009, but still remaining in favour of such a solution still considered as the “ideal solution” had, in fact, withdrawn from the battlefield to focus on its strategy of bilateral swap agreements, a strategy having, of course, the major advantage of giving it free rein. Rather than tilting at windmills to get a proper reform depending on the agreement of powers who don’t want to go in this direction, China has therefore opted for an off-topic strategy towards a monetary organisation which is less good, less comprehensive, but realistic. (GEAB 76, June 2013)
The word “de-Americanisation” is out
“Building a de-Americanised world”: this statement would have raised a smile a few years ago. At most it would have passed for provocation by Hugo Chavez. But when we are seeing the United States’ bankruptcy in real-time and it’s an official Chinese press agency that says so, the impact isn’t the same. In reality, it’s describing out loud a process which is already well underway: simply, it’s now allowed to speak about it in public. At least US government deadlock has the merit of loosening tongues. Let there be no mistake, this analysis hasn’t appeared in the Chinese media by chance, and it reflects Beijing’s hardening tone (GEAB 78, October 2013).
GEAB anticipates: Internationalization of the Yuan, opening of Saudi Arabia, implosion of the EU
The whole organization of the world was built around the US, and it is in no one’s interest for it to collapse before a complete decoupling. So, it is for everyone to safeguard the usual appearances while ensuring a smooth transition, which explains the slow crash in progress. China is the master of this art, but we can see that all other countries are moving away from the US, in a more or less subtle fashion, like Saudi Arabia for example. For the EU, one of the last Americanist bastions outside the US itself, the task is more difficult. Our team anticipates that the European elections of 2014, along with the inevitable rise of extreme right-wing and Eurosceptic forces, will lead to an implosion of the current EU framework, with the possibility for Euroland to fill in the place. We analyse in detail the case of Europe in this issue. The rapid internationalization of the Yuan, causing a decline in the central role of the dollar; the loss of Saudi support, a key part of the petrodollar edifice; and the loss of the Americanist bastion of the EU, replaced by a Euroland relying on the Euro, are all threats to the three remaining essential pillars of American power, which will disappear in 2014, precipitating considerable global upheaval (GEAB 79, November 2013).
The Ukrainian crisis reverts trends and inaugurates an era of bipolarization
We analyse the Ukrainian crisis as an operation remote-controlled by the US and implemented by a handful of well-placed cronies in European decision-making circles with the objective, to summarize, of sealing Europe’s destiny to the Western camp’s led by the US. This operation has been run as a blitzkrieg with a total lack of response on the European side which has suddenly found itself almost at war with Russia without knowing why. When the Europeans woke up from the first shock, another battle, quite difficult to follow, took place amongst the ruling classes, between European states and at the core of public opinion between the “anti-Russians” and “pro-Russians”, but in fact particularly between the Western ideologues and the defenders of the European continent’s independence. Summer has gone and we discover a rather sad landscape a priori, especially on three points: the new French government reshuffle, Juncker’s Commission project and NATO’s high Mass in Newport. We will try to make some sense of these three events then we will review the season’s other important themes (Iraq, Brazil’s general elections, the government reshuffle in Japan) read in the light of major global geopolitical reconfiguration henceforth endeavouring to identify the indicators hastening the world’s bipolarisation – or those of progress in the emergence of a multipolar world (GEAB 87, September 2014).
2014-2017 : Collapse of the international system and return of the nations
In this new post-Ukrainian crisis bipolar world, Russia is sliding towards China while the EU is stuck on its transatlantic axis. The rest of the world is forced to choose sides. A period of serious tension then began, resulting in a whole series of major crises: wars in Yemen, Syria… as well as waves of migration, the rise of ‘populism’, the dislocation of the EU (Brexit), the election of an anti-establishment president as head of the US, etc. Transversely, international organisations all find themselves questioned (UN, WTO, IMF, NATO, EU…) while the states, the only de facto level connected to the citizens, take back control… temporarily we anticipate. Indeed, states are too small and weak to deal with the serious global issues that affect them. This return to the nations would inevitably lead to a rise in power of the large ones (US and China in particular) which can only be conflictual, certainly not constructive of peace and the future.
The collapse of the international system
This process is already underway. The failure of the Copenhagen summit on global warming in late 2009 has highlighted several aspects of the rapid disintegration of the current international system: the ineffective politic of the UN, lack of a common Western position in a context of division between Americans and Europeans, blocking capacity of BRICs and China in particular, the obsolescence of Anglo-American approach to marketing mixing “politics of fear” and spinning news, indifferent public opinion in the face of the economic and social consequences of the crisis and the loss of credibility of public institutions and the media (GEAB 47, September 2010).
As the West was thus beginning to lose control of their power tools, they started acting more and more outside those bodies which they had created. For example, the United States started stepping out of the UN framework and even of NATO when they led their military campaigns. Similarly, the Westerners also withdrew from WTO at a point in time (GEAB 105, May 2016).
The temptation is to compare the situation of the United Nations today with that of the League on the eve of World War II. It seems that today the UN, as the League yesterday, is hostage to the appetites of the major powers that compose it, having to serve their interests first, under the cover of a promise of a better future for humanity, a humanity which is being given no choice for its own future (GEAB 108, October 2016).
RIP G7: In this ‘obituary of the old-world order’, let’s start with the G7 which Donald Trump has just shot down in flames, despite the laudable efforts that had been made by everyone. To cut a long story short, what is important to understand is that, in a constantly changing world, it is difficult to create fixed multilateral fora which remain relevant and useful for a long time. Future models of global governance urgently need to incorporate ‘Agile’ principles, just as everyone else already does. Once the G7 was no longer a club of the great powers, it became a kind of ‘Western club’ – where the word ‘Western’ actually meant ‘allies of the United States’ in the mentality of a Cold War which itself was melting away. Adding Russia to this club in 1997 was, therefore, a beautiful symbol of the end of the Cold War. On the other hand, its exclusion in 2014 regenerated this mindset of confrontation among the allied powers (allied against whom, by the way?) – a bad omen.
A floundering European Union: The EU as we knew it continues to disintegrate, though other patterns of cooperation are emerging. The difficulties the United Kingdom is meeting in concluding its exit don’t represent a victory for the EU. As mentioned before, if the British cannot proceed with their democratic choice because it is made impossible, it is not the EU that will have won. Rather, it is democracy that will have lost, paving the way for political radicalisation – and not just across the Channel. The message will have been made clear: in a globalised world, the choices of (national) peoples are unachievable.
A moribund NATO: As we have explained on other occasions, NATO is still there, of course, but only because there are no better options at hand. Everyone wants to be rid of it – the Europeans who want a common European defence and Donald Trump who wants Europeans to participate more in their own defence. They are all contributing to a slow process in which NATO continues to get in the way whilst Europeans dither between several strategies
Even OPEC! Even OPEC is now imploding. That said, it was revived from its ashes in a very artificial way, namely by a non-member producing country: Russia. And, as GEAB teams have been predicting for several issues, by announcing on 11th June that it will increase its production, Russia has launched a movement of uncapping production that will end this swan song named OPEC+. It is already closely followed by Saudi Arabia. The war of production has thus been reopened by a camp composed this time of the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia, all pursuing various objectives of increasing market share, currency devaluation and pressure on Iran. Other OPEC members who are able to do so will soon cease their production, while the countries under sanctions (Venezuela and Iran), mingled in crises (Libya and perhaps soon Iraq) or touching the limits of their production capacity (Angola), will suffer losses with a cheaper barrel without the possibility of producing more barrels. (GEAB 126, June 2018).
Free-Trade in Question – Rethinking Trans-Regional relations
We have often mentioned the end of globalization, embodied by the WTO’s loss of influence and the rationale behind the Doha Round. We felt that the main reason for abandonment of this method was that the Western countries, the game’s former masters, saw the game going against them, so they were the first to leave. But they have fallen back on another method which allowed them to exit the multilateral framework which they themselves had invented at the time they were strong and keep control ad’hoc and bilaterally: the famous free trade treaties negotiated by the strong on the weak. But these treaties pose an increasing number of difficulties. Those who have already signed them are often kicking themselves, like Australia for example which is struggling amid US multinational lawsuits whenever a change in legislation is interpreted as going against their interests, with the marvellous invention called ISDS; a situation which probably partly explains Prime Minister Abbott’s rebuff all of the-G20 Washington delegation mentioned earlier. Those under negotiation are increasingly badly accepted by a civil society which is paying them more attention, frustrated by the opacity surrounding negotiations and afraid of the social consequences and economic sovereignty. So, the negotiations between the EU and India (in reality by just a handful of people) have been taken badly by the Indians and we again anticipate that the EU-India partnership agreement won’t see the light of day… in any case as a free trade one. The free trade giga-treaties that the US is trying to finalize with the EU (TTIP) and Asia (TTP) have created a real outcry in the civil societies and economies of all the regions affected, including the US. And, here again, we are maintaining our anticipation that, outside a dishonest signature process, these treaties won’t see the light of day in their current format… It’s time to end all this and create the framework for new relationships between blocs (GEAB 86, June 2014).
As everyone knows, Trump uses some negotiation techniques drawn from the ‘game theory,’ a theory that basically boils down to a ‘madman’ strategy. But what exactly is he looking for? Mr. Trump wants to reorganise global trade in a way that better serves his country’s interests and thereby better integrates national sovereignties in general. He has discredited the major trading arenas (G7, WTO, etc.) and has invited the whole planet to his table: Mexico, Canada, Europe, China… As a result of this course of action, this summer, Mexico declares to be in favour of a new NAFTA agreement, in which Canada is certainly reluctant to participate, but will undoubtedly end up agreeing to (GEAB 127, September 2018).
The return of nation-states
It’s the political aspect of the crisis which currently dominates the global agenda in an increasingly worrisome manner. The weakening of states as a result of these political crises, combined with geopolitical or economic shocks suffered by these states, leads to national retrenchment and hardening that does not bode well for democracy, from a domestic point of view, or for peace, from an international point of view. We’ve already seen all this in detail. However, we should analyse carefully the characteristics of this multi-directional national retrenchment…
Apart from Europe, which presents the most advanced regional integration process in the world (despite its failure on political grounds), the hope of a multi-polar world based on large regions incorporating everyone, is disappearing from sight. A multi-polar world does emerge, but it is made up of super-States conducting increasingly hegemonic regional policies:
. the US, of course, is trying to regain control of its two backyards, Europe and South America.
. Europe as well, at least a certain Europe, is dreaming of a huge area of influence consisting of alleging countries ready to offer themselves to Western European companies in exchange for visa-free deals… and of eternally disappointed promises of EU integration (Georgia, Turkey, Ukraine).
. Russia, inevitably, continues struggling to maintain its historical influence in Eastern Europe, in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Turkish-speaking republics – namely with a view to push as far away as possible the encirclement inexorably created by NATO since the fall of the Wall.
. China (as discussed further in this GEAB issue) is situating itself in this world and in need of establishing its safety zone and ensuring the required roads to supply its one and a half billion citizens.
. Saudi Arabia, which, under the radar, has been moving its pawns forward for many years now; this country has transformed the Gulf principalities into free zones and has extended, by pouring in petrodollars, its ideological influence throughout the poor Arab world, whose social fabrics have greatly suffered from this polarization between Western modernity and Saudi archaism, a choice in which the local aspirations are struggling to find their place
This strengthening of national rather than regional poles is accompanied by a gradual “ideologue formation” of these mega-players, heralding the next dimension of the global systemic crisis, already showing its face: the ideological crisis (GEAB 104, April 2015)
Deep down, multipolarisation remains active
In conclusion, the emergence of a multi-polar world is resuming following LEAP’s anticipations… it will only be more painful and just a little more Chinese than an organized transition would have allowed (GEAB 88, October 2014).
And hopes remain regarding the rebuilding of a global order
For a number of years now, we have been describing the gradual decline of the international institutions of the 20th Century. During the past year, several of them have been dealt death blows, most notably by Donald Trump. But we believe that, in 2019, some convincing reform work will be undertaken that could put some of them back on their feet – in particular, the WTO, but also the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The latter is having the dust blown of it by the Netherlands and Poland, who are launching a vast international consultation aimed at producing a new, more consensual, document on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty (2020). We will see if other institutions follow this path (GEAB 131, January 2019).
2017-2020: Big players multiply in a conflicted world
The EU-Russia crisis, after having evolved into an East-West bipolarisation, is turning into a US-China “systemic rivalry”. But the evidence of the risks of war linked to this bipolarisation is in fact forcing the other actors to reposition themselves, relaunching in an underlying manner the dynamics of multipolarisation partially suspended in the previous cycle: the transatlantic axis is being rethought, even leading to our hypothesis of a return of the centre of gravity on the European side. Moreover, Africa is pursuing its integration, the Middle East is tending towards the tipping point of the Abraham Accords, Asia is signing the world’s largest multilateral trade agreement (RCEP), the EU is closing ranks, etc. But America and China are clashing over the Asia-Pacific, contributing to a climate of tension that continues to worsen and does not bode well.
Big China doesn’t fit into small Western-centred system
After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, China accelerated its repositioning in relation to the rest of the world. From the 1990s on, this huge country strengthened the broad and slow process of systemic transition based on a principle of gradual compatibility with the international system. In economic terms, this is what we call the transition towards the principles of the “western style” market economy, implemented, with the agreement of the Communist Party, by a generation of openly “reformist” economists, among whom the prominent representatives Wu Jinglian or Zhou Xiaochuan (current governor of the People’s Bank of China). In 1992, the Party decided that resources would be allocated by market forces rather than by state orders; and from 1998 to 2003, an extensive process of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation was undertaken within the framework of that international compatibility. The results did not take long to arrive as of 2001, China was allowed to enter the WTO.
But the arrival of an ultra-dynamic economy of 1.4 billion people into the smooth-running international game has provoked a cataclysm which the WTO never fully recovered from.
In reality, it is not difficult to understand that as long as globalisation and its institutions were at the service of a single pole of power (the West which had created them in the first place), everything went well. But the arrival of China at the world’s table raised the question of who would actually profit from the game. The Doha Round, initiated one month before China’s integration to the WTO and destined to finalise in three years the liberalisation of world trade (with the avowed objective of developing the third world countries), was blocked by the one who had wished it: the West (GEAB 111, January 2017).
ASEAN asserts itself halfway between East and West
ASEAN is getting stronger. This community of states is being solicited on all sides and is strengthening its cohesion with the primary aim of ensuring that rivalries between the major powers do not clash in its neighbourhood, particularly in the South China Sea.
To ensure its independence, ASEAN is polite with everyone: the EU on environmental issues, the United States, Japan on cyber security, Australia in the fight against the Covid… but also with China, with which it has seen its ties grow closer since the signing of the giga economic partnership, RCEP, as we have already mentioned. At the same time, it is thinking with China about the deployment of digital Silk Roads in the framework of the future China-ASEAN free trade area. And it is pursuing negotiations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
The Covid crisis has of course affected ASEAN, as it has the whole world. On the surface, its status as an emerging region has even been a handicap compared to developed countries, according to McKinsey. In reality, our teams believe that this fragility will have accelerated the process already underway of rapprochement with China, ready to open its arms wide to induce growth as quickly as possible, to the point that the media Hellenic Shipping News, who knows what it is talking about, anticipates a decade of shared Sino-ASEAN prosperity as a result of the Covid crisis.
In fact, China has just overtaken Europe as ASEAN’s leading trading partner (United States, 3rd) and has become its leading investor at USD 10,720 billion, i.e. 76.6% more than in 2019 (GEAB 150, December 2020).
The Africans take their place in the multipolar world
The global systemic crises have shaken the world since 2008 and have hit Africa, which is an emerging but hyper-fragile continent; especially economically, financially and therefore socially. The last colonial-derived elites disappeared and the new democratic experiences stuttered (the same movement could be encountered in South America). All those indicators, but also the place South Africa took in the new multipolar environment and the important role of the BRICS and the effects of the strategic retreat of the Western world, created some sort of awareness among Africans about their place in the world. As a consequence, tools were developed for the strengthening of regional economic communities on the one hand and the AU and NEPAD on the other; all launched within a wide African evolutional project included in the Agenda 2063.
We can see that African ambitions meet those of the emerging powers. South Africa is one of the pillars for the African continent, both because of its role in international organisations, since it currently is part of the G20, but also its pivotal role within the BRICS. It could use some company there. Indeed, Africa is still largely under-represented at international tables. Within the G20, the EU takes 5 seats, those of the member states + the one of the European community (not to mention Spain, a Permanent member and the Netherlands, invited to the last 3 meetings); Asia takes 6 seats; South America takes 3… while Africa is happy with only one seat. Nevertheless, now with the rise of the BRICS countries, it seems the AU is finally considered an official partner of the G20 meetings. Initiated by Russia in September 2013 (followed by China in September 2016 in Hangzhou), Germany made it clear that the AU and NEPAD (as well as APEC) are guests of the next G20 in Hamburg (GEAB 110, December 2016).
The Middle-East starts breathing again
The Saudi kingdom is visibly not in good shape, but prospects of crisis ending see the daylight, by diversifying alliances and opening up to the world. Mohammed ben Salman only needs to find the right levers to trigger a gigantic systemic transition for his country:
. internally, the purge serves the cause of a renewal of the state apparatus, of the system of interests and of the deep state of the country;
. externally, the profile of social reformer of the young future king serves the cause of the country;
. regionally, more than half a century of incessant conflicts, the last of which has been particularly painful in Syria, is likely to create the conditions for public opinion more favourable to compromise – especially, as we have repeatedly pointed out, that the Manichean visions “Israel vs Arab world” (then Arab-Muslim, then Muslim world) have largely evolved in recent years. For the inhabitants of the region, the “baddies” are no longer the Israelis only, but (…) the terrorists, ISIS, (…) etc.;
. then, there is the emergence of these regional powers and leaders and the diplomatic dances around the Syrian war and the oil crisis, often at the initiative of Russia, but also autonomously, who have woven new multilateral links; they almost are equivalent to the regional summit that we have consistently called for. Putin-Netanyahu, Putin-Rouhani, Erdogan-Rouhani, Trump-ben Salman, King Salman-Putin, and even Macron-ben Salman…: all these leaders have been meeting bilaterally, within regional meetings, or abroad…
. Iran itself already sent very strong signals indicating it was ready for peace in March and May this year, involving Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar in particular, within a group of 10 Arab countries which proposed to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia (GEAB 119, November 2017).
The EU wavers between two directions
In this new chapter of international trade history, two main models emerge, and both seem inappropriate to the challenges of current times. On the one hand (United States, United Kingdom, Eastern Europe…), we notice an aspiration to a return to national sovereignty and some form of protectionism, even isolation, unrealistic considering the current density of interconnections at the global level. In Brussels, the response to this trend is irrational as it aims to continue, and even to intensify, the liberal expansion that has been the axis of European integration for 30 years; something which eventually managed to derail the whole of Europe’s integration project. It is precisely this liberal expansion which is helping to provoke a protectionist and unilateralist reaction from certain EU Member States and the transatlantic axis (GEAB 122, February 2018).
The EU is also about to switch to the ‘protectionist’ camp, as it is still called for the moment. The EU’s retaliatory action against the US (customs restrictions on Harley Davidson, Levi’s jeans, bourbon) represents the first twist to its liberal rule. However, just behind the United States, there is China, which is a number one problem for the EU, the latter being the soft underbelly of global trade, entangled in its free trade rules and as such unable to organise itself in the face of the influx of Chinese currency.
Our readers know how much we are in favour of the EU’s awareness of the new geopolitical realities, which is not at all a question of denying or rejecting, but of accepting and understanding in order to better get reorganised.
Donald Trump’s attack on our steel exports to America provides a perfect opportunity to launch a debate on new bases for our trade relationships. We believe that the consensual theme of China will readily address the issue of developing a pro-trade protectionist European model via the negotiation of a much-needed EU-China trade agreement or even partnership. This will provide the basis for further strong to strong agreements, starting with EU/US, then EU/Russia (GEAB 123, March 2018).
A disorganized conflicted world and the role of nation-states
The expression “chaotic recomposition” seems best to summarise the phase where we currently are (NDLR: in 2017) with regards to the development of the crisis, a step indicated here as extending over four years and which will include distinct progression phases. It is quite clear that efforts to reorganise the world on a transnational logic have all failed in this first half of 2017:
. The inter- or supranational system built in the 20th century (UN, IMF, WB, NATO, etc.) failed to adapt and to oversee the new multipolar geopolitical configuration of the beginning of the 21st century. It is now in full slump, in all its forms, regions included (EU, Mercosur, etc.);
. Promising emerging experiences at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, with the G20, the BRICS and the OBOR projects as heads of list (and the connected financial institutions) found themselves confronted with the interests of the US; without Europe’s support, they have not been able to impose themselves as the basis of a new world organisation;
. When we followed closely the work of the BRICS, we could anticipate that without the Euro-BRICS recognition and dialogue, the multipolar world was going to bipolarise into two separate camps in the context of a new Cold War; or reunited within a vast global conflagration. For three years now (with the 2014 Euro-Russian crisis in the middle, which destroyed hopes of a constructive opening of Europe to the new world realities), two camps were structured on logics coming straight from the twentieth-century (combining “non-alignment” and “Communist bloc “) around cold-war front lines (EU-Russia) or warm ones (Jewish-Christian world – Muslim world), not always superposed (the positioning of Russia in particular is difficult to read, maybe because this country tries to escape a categorisation which can only remind it of bad memories);
. Today, any progression along this logic can only lead to literally explosive levels of tension.
These tensions are essentially the result of conflicts of interest and chronic incompatibilities between supranational “systems” (“imperialist” America, the EU, NATO, etc.) coming all from different periods and regions, serving economic interests and dehumanised institutions of all kinds; systems that are not yet rooted in a popular or democratic legitimacy (still not found today, despite 70 years of trans-nationalisation of governance mechanisms, except at the States level). Thus, in 2016, faced with the growing risk of conflagration, the world has “re-landed” at the national level (nationalist leaders in the US, India and Japan, Brexit and consequences on a “multi-speed Europe”, whilst officially handing over the house keys to the Member States, etc.) (GEAB 114, April 2017).
Maximum tension on the eve of 2020…
Geopolitical tensions will dominate the year 2020. From the most structural to the most cyclical, the reasons are: the multipolar world is no longer content just doing business and now wishes to defend its trade routes and hunting grounds (Europe, China, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran and Russia are now fully fledged geopolitical players alongside the United States – i.e., defending their own interests abroad). At the heart of this multipolar world there is growing strategic rivalry between the US and China. In a context of multiplying battlegrounds and budgetary difficulties, the United States is being forced to rethink its priorities, leading to two disrupting developments:
Firstly, the resolution of past conflicts with a view to withdrawal (Middle East, Europe), creating two paths of disruption: resolution (action and concomitant risk-taking) and withdrawal (concerns and uncertainties linked to the disappearance of the American peacekeeper).
Secondly, US redeployment/reinforcement towards new strategic interests (Arctic, China, South America), creating obvious friction. Internal disagreements on strategy in the US, exacerbated by the context of an election campaign where two visions of America (old and new) are at loggerheads and where some are putting fuel on the fire with China in an attempt to derail the US-China trade agreement being negotiated by others. The growing prospect of a new International Monetary System that will inevitably challenge the central role of the US dollar raises an infinite number of questions about the risks to the US, forces it to restructure its economy and radicalises a camp determined to prevent such a development.
In such a context, however legitimate and forward-looking some of the pursued strategies may be, the risk of disaster is significant. In particular, a whole host of those with hidden agendas will try to take advantage of the movement of troops to advance their own pawns, helping to create inextricable and explosive situations (e.g., the electoral strategy of the Democrats, or a temptation of the newly re-elected President of Taiwan to propose a referendum on the independence of the island…). Based on this understanding of the intersecting trends in 2020, let us now review the risks, region by region (GEAB 141, January 2020).
2020-now: The return of a global vision despite everything…
While the GEAB was particularly concerned about the risk of conflagrations in early 2020, the pandemic was analysed by our team as a “chance” to diffuse the geopolitical crisis and initiate. The pandemic brought everyone back to the realities of domestic management (back to reality) while at the same time knowing that the problem was global in nature (the need for cooperation and information sharing). The tipping point into the ‘world-after’ brought about by Covid now makes it easier to see what a multi-polar, organic, globally coordinated world will look like. What is better conceived is more easily implemented. But this does not mean that the world is out of the throes of transition. Risks, including geopolitical ones, continue to weigh, particularly in the Middle East, but also undoubtedly on the Anglo-Saxon-Chinese axis. In any case, new actors, forces of proposal, are appearing on the horizon of the organisation of the “world-after”, starting with Europe and especially the United Kingdom, but also China of course… And the world has become the vast playing field of the great competition that the Powers of this world are preparing to play for world domination. The world is indeed multipolar but it is still not organised…
First trend reversal anticipations:
The great rapprochement of nationalist ‘populists’ and supranational administrative structures will take different paths in different cases: political takeover of the establishment (EU), takeover by the traditional parties once the ‘populists’ have carried out their reforms (Greece), partisan compromises (United States and India), adoption of populist agendas by the administrations (WTO), etc. Whatever the method, the arm wrestling that has characterised the relationship between the nationalist ‘populists’ and the supranational technocracies will slowly disappear in 2019. The gradual rise to power of the ‘populists’ is currently helping this new political generation to grow up, while proving to administrations how much they need this embodiment of power to apply solutions (GEAB 131, January 2019).
Multipolar world: a block-by-block management of the crisis
We do not believe that there is a transatlantic solution to a crisis of this magnitude. Everyone will turn to the most relevant levels of governance to manage their situation. In the case of Europe, apart from the cities, which constitute an ultra-relevant level of management, these levels are located in Frankfurt. Similarly, for Delaware, they are located in Washington and for Hubei, in Beijing. Trump’s first, somewhat alarmist statement concerning the epidemic, which announced the interruption of Euro-American travels, sends out a clear signal in this respect. Another relevant level of governance is going to emerge in the second phase – hopefully before the eruption of a conflict – and that is the global level. Indeed, the block-by-block management of the current crisis will induce a dangerous process of centrifugal differentiation that supranational structures will have to carefully monitor/coordinate. By “supranational structures”, we mean all those that properly integrate the new mega- and supra-national players of the 21st century: the G20 comes to our mind in particular. It is indeed these players who will have to harness and develop the full management potential of all the political platforms created in the wake of the 2008 crisis (BRICS, etc…) (GEAB 143, March 2020).
2020: A flurry of global rebuilding solutions (international summits congestion)
In the week we publish GEAB there are some very big events that we have to bring to your attention:
– 12-16 November: ASEAN summit / Vietnam. The debates focus on the immense risks that US-Chinese tensions pose to the region.
– 13 November: G20 / Saudi Arabia. The indebted countries of the G20 agree to lift the debt of poor countries. Are we moving towards a complete restructuring of the global debt?
– 15 November: Signing off of the RCEP free-trade megazone. Without India, but the door is not closed; the region is now open to trade between 2.2 billion people and 1/3 of the world economy.
– 17 November: BRICS summit / Russia. As always, everyone gives them up for dead but summits follow summits in spite of everything. Each time, they reaffirm the relevance of their project to build a multi-polar AND peaceful world.
– 4 December: APEC summit / Malaysia. Originally planned for 12 November, the Malaysia’s postponing of the date on the pretext of a change of format – from face-to-face to distant – seems to us to be an indicator of difficulties in this trans-Pacific alliance. The 21 members are in the midst of a US-China crisis, just as the RCEP is being signed off and their former 2020 horizon imposes a vast strategic repositioning on them.
– The simultaneity of these summits is an indicator of the convergence of the different dynamics of global reorganisation. It also shows that the leaders are creating temporal crossroads of international politics, freeing time to manage their domestic affairs the rest of the time. This kind of convergence is made possible by the move to video-conferencing instead of the expensive ‘leaders’ junkets’ that were the norm until a year ago.
Incidentally, the list of countries organising these summits helps us to appreciate the shift in the global centre of gravity (GEAB 149, June 2020)
Transatlantic axis: Stronger and reversed
The last decade has shown to the Europeans that the links which attach them to the United States are too strong to be loosened whatever the willingness to do (or not to do) so. But the awareness of this state of fact, attached to the immense crisis of weakening in which America is engulfed, created the opportunity for the Europeans to recognise the structuring nature of the transatlantic relationship and to take control of it rather than escape it. This is how we are going to continue to see partnerships being forged in all areas between the two sides of the Atlantic in the course of this year, for better or for worse.
In the context of the strengthening/reversal of the transatlantic axis, NATO will regain its purpose. This has already been the case this year, in the context of Greek-Turkish tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. But in 2021, a real reform of the institution will be launched under the leadership of a governance that is both rebalanced and unified, integrating a more united European voice and even a somewhat tamed Turkey. This resurrection will serve many agendas including NATO’s contribution to world peace, a laudable goal but one that does not seem very compatible with other aspects of the vision projected in November 2020: namely as regards to containing Russia and China. The project for a North Atlantic Union as set out in the November document is in fact a way for imposing a Western order (in place of the American order) on the world. It is very precisely the founding text of the North Atlantic Union, which we have been anticipating since 2016 that it would include the EU. Henceforth world peace will depend on the evolution of the dominant ideology in this camp and its capacity to accept differences of principles and values (GEAB 151, January 2021).
Who will win the fight for the next global order model? Europe?…
In 2021, Sleeping Beauty (Europe) wakes up to find a different world from the one she dreamed of while she was sleeping, strongly questioning the model of common governance that seemed to be consolidating last year.
First of all, we need to take stock of a key marker of the effectiveness of the European management of the pandemic, namely the vaccination campaign. Clearly a failure, at least from the point of view of the harsh reality of an ultra-competitive multipolar world. In our “camp”, the British, the Americans and the Israelis – to mention only the most obvious ones – produced/attracted the vaccines they needed to the detriment of the EU. Indeed, the EU played a responsible and supportive card – oh so justified! – but lost in the face of the bloody competitions that are played out within a West whose members are all obsessed with winning/keeping/regaining their world leadership at all cost.
From a strategic point of view, we can deduce from this experience that:
. The law of the jungle reigns in an ‘allied’ camp where every man for himself and low blows are the norm;
. In the competition between ‘allies’ that emerges each time the opportunity arises instead of the expected cooperation, the complexity and morality of the EU entity make it a slow player that loses every time;
. if the EU is too slow compared to its competition, it is too fast from the point of view of systemic realities (let us repeat that any hasty post-pandemic restart promises disasters, as the inflation and interest rate prospects already suggest) and from the point of view of its structure (the EU is in fact moving too fast for the reaction times that its size imposes on its manoeuvres, as the recent monetary decisions of the ECB prove).
These remarks help us understand that the EU will have to choose between two models:
. On the one hand, a “liberal” model made up of small, fast-moving players in competition with one another, evolving according to the needs of the moment along ad hoc alliances, compelling the EU to leave European states free to pursue strategies that best serve their individual interests. This world will be characterised by the law of the strongest, low blows, trade wars, all-out hacking, etc., with regard to the rest of the planet and between European countries, giving rise in the short to medium term to potential intra-European wars (whatever we might think of such options and whatever their form might be)
. On the other hand, organised governance based on cooperation, win-win logics, mastery of time… which is justified from the point of view of peace and world balance but which will, in the race for numbers, invariably put the EU behind players with simple governments such as the UK, the US or China.
… Unless it manages to merge the two models (agility and global coherence) which can only be done by opting for the second model to begin with (GEAB 153, March 2021).
In the US-China war trap which has deepened in recent years, with Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House and his strategy of rallying a camp of “allies” around America in order to “contain” Chinese power, Europeans may be tempted to believe that the Western camp will eventually win.
This feeling is reinforced by the smoke screen that an American-centric information system creates between us Westerners and not only China, but the rest of the world altogether. Looking more objectively at what is happening in the other-world, there are many reasons to doubt the chances of winning the war (commercial, ideological, technological, or even military) that America is waging to China as a response to its (for the moment still) peaceful project of co-development (GEAB 154, April 2021).
…or Global Britain?
As Biden puts the kibosh on US anti-China rhetoric – by reversing Trump’s actions against TikTok and WeChat, for example – our team anticipates that a far more fundamental systemic rivalry will soon become evident: that between the UK and China. And make no mistake: the forces at play are far less balanced than they appear. Britain is currently the most central historical power in a complex geopolitical edifice made of a transatlantic alliance just dusted off by Biden and Johnson (Atlantic Charter) of the one and only “Empire on which the sun never set” in full reanimation (Commonwealth), and a geographical bloc the United Kingdom still belongs to and on which it has certainly not said its last word (EU). The GEAB team is here to challenge the obvious and this article aims to demonstrate that, more than the US, it is the UK that is China’s real systemic rival (GEAB 156, June 2021).
Conclusion: And America goes its way…
At the heart of the process of global multipolarisation, therefore, is essentially the rise of China and the division of the transatlantic axis. Regarding the latter, everything began with a distension of this axis due to a Europe that was reluctant to accept the yoke and was tempted by the new global dynamics. From 2014 onwards, the United States set out to bring Europe more firmly into its camp. But if we are right and the transatlantic axis is undergoing a reversal of poles in favour of the old continent, we anticipate that the final step in reinventing the alliance will come from the United States itself, which will soon realise the fundamental differences of interest between the two shores and organise the distancing itself. This is what Trump had set out to do and could in fact be ended amicably by Biden or his successor. It is at this last stage that we anticipate that we will be able to speak of an organised multipolar world and a sort of end to the transition process… knowing that history has no end.
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