The Geotectonics of Global Alliances: On the Way to Pangaea Ultima?

- Anyone who compares, on a globe, the opposite coasts of South America and Africa, cannot fail to be struck by the similar configuration of the two coast-lines. This observation has led to a new view of the nature of the earth’s crust, according to which the continents in past ages have drifted horizontally over the surface of the earth, and are still in motion at the present time.

                            Alfred Wegener, “The origin of continents and oceans” (1915)

In world economic alliances the tectonics of transcontinental alliances is in an active phase – after the first shifts related to the formation of blocs like APEC, the geo-economy of these alliances received a powerful impetus for acceleration with the emergence of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. In the world economy the quantitative growth of integration groups has recently shown signs of transition to a qualitatively new stage that may be described as the formation of trans-continental mega-alliances. The competing EAEU-China partnership is developing against the backdrop of the first trans-continental blocs. It is noteworthy that despite what would seem creative impetuses for trade liberalization in large alliances, there are apprehensions about the growth of divergences engendered by the development of regionalism. The world economy may prove to be more divided against the background of integration into mega-blocs.

In his book “On the Origin of Continents and Oceans” (1915), German geologist Alfred Wegener postulated the foundations for the modern theories of geotectonics and geodynamics almost a hundred years ago. According to his research, the world’s continents are continuously moving (Kontinentalverschiebung). He suggested reconstructing a single supercontinent configuration based on the similarity of coasts, geological structure, and the flora and fauna of pre-Atlantic continents. Initially Wegener’s theory was rejected by his contemporaries. Decades later, it became the foundation of the modern theory of geotectonics. Today, “mobilists” (who believe the continents are moving) have the advantage over “fixists” (who believe they are stationary). Mobilists maintain that a single supercontinent called Rodinia existed over a billion years ago. After Rodinia broke up, the continents started moving apart and today they are further away from each other than they have been for hundreds of millions of years – intercontinental faults give space to the oceans that divide the continents.

The mobilists took the geological dynamics battle, but fixists are often ahead in geopolitics – the emerging alliances and blocs are elevated into absolutes instead of being pragmatic structures deigned to adapt themselves to the continuously changing system of world economics and politics. The very goal of global domination as some future absolute is a realty similar to a kind of Pangaea Ultima – a single integration group that will unite the continents once and for all. Instead of this absolute, it may be more realistic to build a single system for coordinating cooperation between regional integration blocs. Such mechanisms of coordination are becoming more in demand, considering the key trends of world economic development.

In this respect, the world economy is transitioning from economic confrontation and competition between individual countries to competition between major integration groups. One example of such competition is the confrontation between Mercosur and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the related project of the Pan-American free trade zone. In Eurasia it is the competition between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the European Union (EU). In Asia the EAEU and China are motivated to come closer together by the formation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Rivalry between regional integration groups and mega-blocs has serious consequences both for their individual members and the world economy as a whole. These consequences may bring them both dividends and losses. The losses for the world economy may be substantial not only due to the trade diversion effect for individual countries but also because of the disintegration and disruption of economic ties within trade alliances that are lagging behind more successful blocs.

The larger the alliances that join the competition, the higher the stakes for its participants, and the bigger the potential losses from lagging behind in it. In the competition of mega-blocs, it is necessary to consider alongside the trade diversion effect and disintegration of trade ties, the negative dynamic effects of the loss of efficiency and investment. The negative effect that had been limited to one national economy is now multiplied by the disruption of trade and investment ties in a large commercial group. Finally, the reciprocal influence of integration groups and mega-blocs will also be determined by the extent to which their formation limits the ability of other countries and regions to set up their own system of integration alliances.

There is also a positive view of regionalism in the world economy: the unification of regional integration groups should eventually lead to the global opening of markets. The size of the preferential margin granted by each specific regional integration group is being reduced by the spread of such groups. Thus, preferential blocs succumb to their own weight and yield to the dissemination of multilateral trade preferences over time.1

In the final count, the key message of geotectonics is in the constancy of change and the transitional nature of the different configurations of the continents. Modern geologists maintain that today the continents are moving at an even faster speed than was universally acknowledged before – thus, the southern part of Latin America is moving towards the Pacific at a speed of 17cm per year.2 Britain is implacably moving toward Siberia, while Eurasia is drafting away from America by two cm per year. The Atlantic is expanding at the expense of the Pacific. The symbol of tectonics as regards the movement of continents also lies in the fact that we can restore the picture of former continental unity by looking at the fault lines. Studying the faults of the past we are coming to realize our community today and the need, and probably, the inevitability of moving to a single community in the future. Without the faults and clashes of continents we wouldn’t have the relief and diversity, just a homogenous, identikit picture of Pangaea surrounded by oceans on all sides.

Maybe the world will manage to overcome its economic incoherence – to achieve this it is absolutely necessary to restore the legal foundations of international organizations and institutions. Consolidation of international norms and multilateral mechanisms of regulation is probably the only firm foundation for the equitable development of all countries. The forecasts of the development of geological tectonics fully correspond to the scenario of the merger of continents into a single whole. Geologists predict that the continents will again gather into the supercontinent Pangaea Ultima. They estimate that this could happen in 200-300 million years.3 It is to be hoped that the economic policy of individual countries and continents will not be doomed to such a long search for a common foundation for equitable development.



3. The process of continents moving apart and merging took place repeatedly during hundreds of millions of years resulting in the appearance of different modifications of a supercontinent. Besides Rodinia, there were also Pannotia and Pangaea supercontinents. According to American geologist Ben Murphy, reintegration of continents occurs each 500 million of years resulting in the formation of the earth’s major mountain chains.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.