Interconnectivity is reshaping the future
New maps, new networks, new fusions characterise the new era marked by Eurasia, and the much more complex world in which we live today, says geographer Norbert Csizmadia, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Pallas Athéné Domus Meriti Foundation and the John von Neumann University Foundation.
Interconnectivity is reshaping the future
The Economics of Geography

Interconnectivity is reshaping the future

Norbert Csizmadia (Photo: Orsolya Egressy)
Tamás Nánási-Kézdy – Előd Bodnár 06/03/2023 15:30

New maps, new networks and new fusions characterise the new era marked by Eurasia, and the much more complex world in which we live today, says geographer Norbert Csizmadia, author of Geo-Moment and Geofusion. The academic pundit, who is also the chairman of the board of trustees of the Pallas Athéné Domus Meriti Foundation and the John von Neumann University Foundation, among others, was asked about the importance of connectivity in shaping our times.

- We are increasingly talking about the emergence of a new supercontinent, Eurasia, and the upcoming new era marked by it, which is based on sustainable growth. Already in the 19th century, there were theories predicting the inevitable meeting and interconnection of Europe and Asia...

- The Eurasian world order is not a vision for the future, as it has already started in 2013. China has launched the New Silk Road initiative (or BRI, that is Belt and Road Initiative) to shift the axis of development from the seas to the land, establishing its former interconnected Eurasian importance, both economically and culturally. The New Silk Road connects the easternmost part of Asia with the westernmost points of Europe through various economic and trade corridors and infrastructure developments. But the New Silk Road is not only about logistics development, it is also about commercial, cultural, digital, educational, green and health cooperation. This ambitious programme continued during the Covid-19 epidemic, with a number of agreements being reached during this period. During the pandemic, the value of trade between Europe and China, which now stands at EUR 700 billion a year, exceeded the level of trade between Europe and the US. This cooperation is much stronger than epidemics or armed conflicts could change it. The main reason for this is that our fast-paced world is now characterised by increasing interconnectivity, which was one of the key foundations for the creation of Eurasia.

- Why is this interconnectedness important?

- Today we have to look at processes at a much more complex level. The explosive development of interconnectedness, of connectivity, has fundamentally rewritten the way we have understood it so far. Today, the world is connected by 1 million kilometres of undersea internet cables, 2 million kilometres of pipelines, 4 million kilometres of railways and 64 million kilometres of roads. These lines may not be visible on traditional maps, but in many ways they are more important than the borders that separate countries. The infrastructure network connecting us all is of greater importance at transcontinental level.
Maps of scientific collaboration 2009/2018 (Source: Olivier H. Beauchesne/Science-Metrix)

- The study and theory of interconnectedness is essentially the brainchild of Parag Khanna, who was interviewed by Eurázsia Magazine in our last issue. The Indian-born, internationally renowned geopolitical analyst presented this in his book “Connectography - Mapping the Future of Global Civilization” (also published in Hungarian in 2019). To what extent does this new approach override previous geographical approaches?

- Parag Khanna’s book, originally published in 2015, is a groundbreaking, very exciting book. Its message is based on three pillars. On the one hand, the author starts from the assertion that globalisation is making interconnectivity increasingly important. On the other hand, Khanna argues that geography needs to be rethought, and a functional approach needs to be introduced alongside natural and economic descriptions. The third claim of the book is that competitive interconnectivity is the most important geopolitical driver. Thinking further about this theory, I came to the conclusion that the most important thing on maps are the infrastructure lines that cluster in cities and global centres. At the same time, they are part of nation states, and the Coronavirus pandemic has reinforced the role of nation states. The megatrends that started earlier, such as digitalisation, robotisation, artificial intelligence, automation, have been further reinforced by the pandemic, and new trends such as “one home, many functions”, the role of health, safety and of course sustainability have been further strengthened.

And let’s think about it, connectivity is also present in the fact that Parag Khanna’s aforementioned book “Connectography” and my book “Geofusion” are linked: they were written on the two edges of Eurasia, at a similar time, on a similar subject. It was Parag Khanna who launched the first English edition of my book in Singapore in 2018, which was later published by World Scientific Publishing in Singapore.

Today, the world is connected by 1 million kilometres of undersea internet cables, 2 million kilometres of pipelines, 4 million kilometres of railways and 64 million kilometres of roads.

- Parag Khanna also argues that the interconnectedness and interdependence, the complex network system could lead to the end of wars in the future, because no one will have an interest in starting armed conflicts. Does the Russian-Ukrainian conflict contradict this? It is as if the warring parties are acting against their own interests.

- In my book Geo-Moment, I have a map showing that in 2016, at the time of its publication, there were 29 areas on our planet where there was some kind of armed conflict. We are highlighting Ukraine and Russia because of their relevance and proximity, but unfortunately there are many more wars like this in the world. What I see is that the US and the European Union are now responding to the conflict geo-economically. Geo-economics takes place with the logic of war, but in the language of trade, with economic restrictions and sanctions: this is what we are seeing.

- Could the conflict between Ukraine and Russia be linked to the intensification of the Eurasian process?

- The interconnection and formation of the Eurasian supercontinent undoubtedly marks the end of the 500-year Atlantic era and the start of a new Eurasian era. Every change of era comes with a transition, and we are now part of it. It is already clear that a single-centred world is being replaced by a multi-centred one in the process of globalisation. The most important objective of the US strategy is precisely to prevent this transformation, the emergence of a strong Eurasian continent, because the strengthening of Eurasia means that the US will lose its global hegemony. It also follows from this that it is in the US geopolitical interest to destabilise the regions on the periphery of the “ex-Soviet” zone, the Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan axis, as we have seen earlier. If you look at this geographical strip, you can see the ideas appearing of the Polish-born American geostrategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, or Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State... In contrast, China, which is one of the most important drivers of the emerging Eurasia, always strives for peace, for creating situations that benefit all parties, i.e. it does not destroy but builds. Also from this peace-seeking Eurasian perspective, the former “buffer zones” are in fact gateway areas that play an extremely important role in connecting global and regional powers. Among the major gateways is our region, Central and Eastern Europe, which is an important gateway to the emerging Eurasia. And interconnectedness overrides previous theories about the division of the world. Instead of America’s global hegemony, or even the distinction and separation of North-South and East-West, we live in a complex network system.

Photo: Orsolya Egressy

- It can be difficult to depict this complex network on maps...

- I write in my books (in Geo-Moment and Geofusion) that new networks and mergers require new maps. On the cover of my book Geo-Moment you can see the special fusion approach world map (see picture) full of interconnecting lines, nodes, global cities and fuss. This map was created so that the previous version, when tilted spatially, gave a new result, and the meeting points of the networks, the nodes, started to be vertically connected. Geopolitical expert and futurologist Abishur Prakash wrote about this in a book published in 2020. In it, he argues that the world’s actors are increasingly vertically interconnected. A vertical world order is emerging, in which the strengthening nation-states use their technology to grow vertically, not horizontally.

- Is this also a sign of an impending change of era?

- It is part of it and one of its characteristics. Another curious aspect of the current change of era is that it can be equated with two important historical parallels. On the one hand, we are living in a new Renaissance. This is characterised by, among other things, the rebirth of technology, the strengthening of cities and city-states, which radiate the power of innovation to the whole world. If you think about it, the spread of the internet is as important as the great age of geographic discovery in the life of mankind. The other parallel is the Reformation period, with the promulgation of Luther’s teachings in 1517. Today, the emergence of new thinking and a new philosophy is equally essential. Today, this is the sustainability revolution. New thinking is needed, based on a comprehensive and life-centred sustainable economy, society and geopolitics. In my book Geofusion, I write that the three watchwords of the 21st century are connectivity, complexity and sustainability, but in fact, complexity is also sustainable connectivity. So new maps, new networks and new fusions characterise the new era and a much more complex world than before.

The interconnection and formation of the Eurasian supercontinent undoubtedly marks the end of the 500-year Atlantic era and the start of a new Eurasian era.

- At one point, you write of yourself that your work is also driven by a childhood desire to explore. Among your many other important mandates, you chair the advisory board of an institution that is, perhaps we could say, mapping and exploring the processes that are at the heart of the historical changes underway. What specific programmes are taking place at this institution?

- Budapest Centre for Long-term Sustainability (BC4LS), born in 2021, is located at Úri utca 72, Buda Castle. Its main objective is to invite highly accomplished thinkers from all over the world, including China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the USA and the UK, to give lectures and participate in university teaching. We organise workshops and connect actors. We do this, by working together, to create a sustainable world vision serving a sustainable development for the long term. We need a new philosophy, a new way of thinking, we need to think together about the future. This is also the purpose of the recent BC4LS Global Discussion Paper, which summarises in 95 points the foundations for a new world order which is based on life. Another example is the new global discussion paper on sustainable economics, just published by the Magyar Nemzeti Bank, which puts the renewal of economics on the basis of sustainability. These global discussion papers are sent to many parts of the world and we welcome any comments, ideas, studies and suggestions on them. This is a completely new approach and methodology. And of course, we are proud that, on the invitation by BC4LS, we can welcome futurologist Abishur Prakash and international sustainable finance expert Richard Werner. But we have also invited economist and journalist Mandeep Rai, who in her book, The Values Compass, offers guidance on how nations can learn from each other and how we can enrich each other with our own particular values. Mandeep Rai considers the most important value of Hungarians to be their competitive spirit, and cites as examples our prominent scientists (including János Neumann, Leo Szilárd and Ede Teller), who were also called the Martians of the 20th century, and who changed the world with their ideas. The oeuvre of János Neumann was also discussed by Indian physicist Ananyo Bhattasharya in his book “The Man from the Future”. I had the chance to talk to him at the launch of his book in Oxford, when he pointed out that Neumann’s work is becoming increasingly important today. Few people know that the genius scientist also predicted climate change, citing the technological possibilities of artificially influencing and shaping the weather as one of the key challenges. Neumann or our “Martians” all worked to renew the world, as we are doing with BC4LS. Many people say this and they are right: Protecting, saving and renewing our land is a uniquely Hungarian mission.

This article was originally published in our Hungarian-language magazine Eurázsia in 2022.

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