Great powers rise and fall on the tide of history, but we lack the analytical tools to be able to map power transitions with any degree of confidence while they are actually occurring. The process of transition is not always peaceful and linear, but often jagged with friction. As the old and new powers cross each other on the way down and up, they create potential zones of tension that may lead to armed conflict through different pathways.

A declining power may fail to recognize or refuse to accept its fading economic dominance, military might and diplomatic clout, persist in expecting and demanding respect due to its former status, and try to make the rising power pay for the perceived lack of respect. Conversely the rising but not yet fully risen power may exaggerate the scale and pace of its declining rival's fall or its own ascent and provoke a premature confrontation.

Russia may no longer be a great power, but it acts like one. Or perhaps it still is, but the West fails to treat it so. With either miscalculation, Europe is in trouble. Both the U.S. National Intelligence Council (2008) and the United Nations (2013) have highlighted how the transfer of global wealth and power from the North to the South is historically unprecedented in speed and scale.