In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

International Relations in the « New Coordinate System »

Posted by seumasach on September 30, 2009

Sergey Lavrov

Voltairenet.org

29th September, 2009

It is time to build a polycentric world, asserted Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov. The proposed new structure of international relations is not aimed against the United States, with whom Moscow no longer has an ideological divide. It corresponds to a need shared by all, including U.S. policy makers who avow the impossibility for a superpower to dominate the world by force. Nevertheless, such rhetoric hardly veils Russia’s great concern that the collapse of the United States might prove to be even more tumultuous than that of the Soviet Union. Without antagonizing them, Sergey Lavrov would like to impress upon Western countries that they are no longer the centre of the world.


Political events of the past year suggest a marked acceleration of the pace of change in international relations and world development.

A growing number of partners acknowledge the new reality: a polycentric world order is forming before our eyes. Its contours are more and more visible. Accordingly, we can judge the global situation with a greater degree of clarity, including everyone’s awareness of the everlasting significance of the sovereignty of independent states – after a long period of disunity and vacillation typified by speculations about “limited sovereignty,” “the last sovereign,” “postmodernism,” etc. This provides a general framework for a view of the modern world where sovereign states continue to be major, irreplaceable players.

The world has accumulated a substantial potential for change. Under its influence world politics is beginning to operate in a new coordinate system, leaving in the past the mentality and politics of the Cold War, its instincts and prejudices. At the same time, one cannot help but see that the change for the better does not suit everybody, and this leads to inconsistency of the current situation in global and Euro-Atlantic politics.

About multipolarity, network diplomacy and the regionalization of global politics

The Yekaterinburg SCO and BRIC summits became a vivid example of multipolar diplomacy and convincing evidence that multipolarity is neither chaos nor a programmed showdown among major world powers. We see the attractiveness of the SCO rise, as more and more countries want to join its security and development projects. Its ties with other regional entities, among them CSTO, CIS, EurAsEC, and ASEAN, are growing stronger. As regards BRIC, it is so far only a dialogue format with a relatively modest agenda, mostly covering global financial and economic issues. But what’s important is that this format, like the above-mentioned associations, sets a certain standard of equal, cooperative relations among states. The same principles underlie the various regional groupings in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Arab and Islamic world, with which Russia is developing mutually beneficial cooperation.

Multipolarity or not – no matter how called. We do not cling to the words. The main thing is that this should work – the only criterion of truth. In any case, it is about the network method of doing business in international relations, which opposes all kinds of hierarchical structures that dominated world politics until recently. The reason, primarily, is that the extent of international cooperation has sharply increased, and the range of topics that make up its subject has widened. No country can cope with all these issues single-handedly.

Related to this is the regionalization of global politics, which means several phenomena at once. In particular, we are talking about finding regional solutions to conflicts and crisis situations. On the other hand, the strengthening of regional-level management in an environment where the global mechanisms do not work serves as a safety net in case of development of processes of “deglobalization,” ensuring that the fragmentation does not go deeper, where each state would defend itself against all others. This, incidentally, is also the meaning of our choice in favor of accelerating the establishment of a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus in the framework of EurAsEC.

It is significant that the US establishment shows increasing awareness of the inevitability of joint actions and the counterproductiveness of unilateral decisions. I refer to the conclusion of Brent Scowcroft that power lies in a collective effort, the ability to mobilize partners to work together. And may it be the “coalition of the willing,” which, in principle, fits into network diplomacy. The main thing is that they should operate within the bounds of international legitimacy and not put themselves above the law.

Leslie Gelb has thoughts in the same vein, observing in Foreign Affairs (May-June 2009) that force does not work anymore as it did before. We should focus on how to ride the crest of “economic and diplomatic waves,” which requires patience. It is also difficult to disagree with David Greenaway that “excessive reliance on the use of force and threat as a substitute for foreign policy has exhausted itself” (International Herald Tribune for June 16, 2009).

Indeed, use of force as a means of achieving foreign policy goals is counterproductive. Mikhail Saakashvili proved this once again when he gave his criminal order to kill, on the expectation of a blitzkrieg and the assurance of his political survival, having torn up the international agreements that obliged him to negotiate rather than fight.

The key to success in solving problems of the modern world is the ability to organize international cooperation. Today, forcing others to cooperation no longer works; you must prove that you do not look after your own selfish interests, but after the common good. If you fail – serious business partners won’t cooperate with you, and refusal to cooperate is sufficient to condemn any undertaking to failure. Iraq provides a vivid example of this, when those disagreeing could neither be forced to participation in this war nor “punished.”

As for Iran, we see no reasonable alternative to a politico-diplomatic solution to the problem of its nuclear program. Further, that must be a comprehensive solution in a regional context. Whatever aspects of Teheran’s behavior you take, the best way of outside influence on its intentions is not isolation, not the threat of force, but full-scale engagement in cooperation. Only thus can we objectively count on the maintenance of stability and security in the adjacent region and the wider world. By the way, engaging Iran in European energy affairs – an exciting prospect for many – provides an opportunity for a responsible and comprehensive look at things. Here again the choice is between power scenarios and the willingness to seek a balance of interests for all players.

The current delicate situation in Iran itself calls for engagement. Moreover, response to the post-election events in Iran leads us to think afresh about revolution as a means of resolving social contradictions and as a tool for transforming society. History, including recent memory, shows that any breach in the legal space is fraught with unpredictable and often disastrous consequences, which distort the process of internal development and set back the achievement of the objectives declared by leaders of revolutionary movements. Even Freedom House was forced to record the rollback in democratic progress in countries that had gone through the so called color revolutions.

In general, noteworthy is the wise essay by Leslie Gelb, his call for a “foreign policy based on common sense and recognizing the diversity of the world of the 21st century.” He rightly points out that there is currently no object for ideological confrontation, because no one has an ideological enemy. Like us, Leslie Gelb considers it necessary to judge each issue “on its merits,” that is, without ideological enthusiasms and artificial linkages.

The global financial and economic crisis raises several fundamental issues. So is it possible to overcome the crisis without any painful effects? We know how it was in the 30s of the last century. Then the second wave of crisis in the US, as some experts believe, was sparked by a premature withdrawal of the state from the game. And if you draw this lesson, you must summon the political will for G20 efforts to culminate not merely in the harmonization of the parameters for a “soft landing” of the existing system, but to lay the groundwork for its radical reform, adequate to the new relationship of financial and economic power in the world.

The crisis has demonstrated that liberal capitalism is just a stone’s throw away from socialism. As noted by Jacques Le Goff in his bookThe Birth of Europe, only political power is in a position to provide the organization of economic space. We already know from experience what happens when the state “washes its hands” in economic affairs. Now we have additional grounds to argue that the current stage of world development – not only economic but also social – necessitates categories such as convergence, synthesis, fusion and requires overcoming the old antagonistic ideological constructs.

I will refer to the authority of Pitirim Sorokin, who in the 60s identified elements of convergence between the US and Soviet experiences and predicted the failure of liberal capitalism – as a particular case of untenability of “pure types” of social structure. He predicted not only the “integral” type of society, but also the emergence of a multipolar world with a shift of “the creative leadership of mankind” to the vast Asia-Pacific Region.

Russia and the United States: to cooperate despite differences

The Russian-American summit in Moscow has shown that both Russia and the United States are tuning in to a wave of, to use German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phrase, “constructive pragmatism.” We see that the demand for confrontational politics is falling, especially in the Euro-Atlantic area. We associate this with the change of administration in the US, which has in a positive, realistic manner recast the foreign policy philosophy of America.

In his speech to the League of Arab States (June 23 this year), President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the fact that the US is beginning to comprehend what is happening in the world in universal terms, such as justice, tolerance, respect for the sovereignty of states and the maintenance of international order. There is also an awareness that any claims to universality of specific models of development do not work and turn into utopias, and sometimes disasters. This opens up additional possibilities for the formation of a unifying agenda in international affairs.

Speaking in Moscow, President Barack Obama pointed out that America’s interest lies in an international system that advances cooperation while respecting the sovereignty of all nations. The common denominator in our interaction in international affairs is reinforced by the realization that no state can meet the challenges of the 21st century or dictate its terms to the rest of the world alone.

This philosophy is consonant with Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept, approved by President Medvedev in July last year. This allows us to jointly set a positive tone in world politics and at least turn it toward constructive dialogue and cooperation which would be done on each particular issue from beginning to end, including a joint assessment of threats and joint decision making.

I once spoke about the fact that in the aftermath of the Cold War nothing separates Russia and the US. On the contrary, we share a common responsibility for the destinies of the world. The results of the Russian-US summit in Moscow suggest only one thing: everything is possible when interests coincide, and where there is agreement on the principles and legal basis for cooperation. The challenge is to translate this reality into concrete decisions and joint actions.

Being passed off as Russia’s “notorious anti-Americanism” was simply the fact that we did not see eye to eye with the Americans under the previous administration. But a number of other (including European) countries likewise did not accept many of its attitudes. A considerable role was also played by the US reaction to the Saakashvili regime’s aggression in South Ossetia, especially as everyone understood that the previous administration could not have been unaware of what was actually happening and how it had been prepared. Such a frank attempt to “manage the truth,” to quote a US movie hero, could not but cause an explosion of indignation in the most diverse sectors and groups of Russian society.

So I do not see any systemic problem with the so-called anti-Americanism. At issue are the reactive accretions in public consciousness. The grounds will disappear – the attitude to America will change in Russia accordingly. It is already changing. Both sides are conscious of the benefits of interaction for themselves and the rest of the world, as indicated by our joint striving to ensure the success of the next NPT Review Conference and place a reliable legal barrier to nuclear proliferation.

In line with our publicly stated position, we will honestly strive to achieve a full-fledged agreement to replace the START Treaty which would ensure strategic stability based on, among other things, recognition of the inseparable link between strategic offensive and defensive arms. We know that it will require overcoming the resistance of certain forces within the United States, which by inertia are not inclined to think in terms of equal relations with Russia.

The Moscow summit also showed that cooperation is necessary in spite of disagreements that will linger between such major powers as Russia and the United States for a long time yet.

The key to new relations between our countries will be restoring the trust undermined in previous years. This will call for joint efforts to overcome the common negative legacy and to solve existing international problems. Interactivity, a spirit of compromise, and the notorious give and take are important here.

One cannot but agree that Russian-US relations, if we want their sustainable positive development, require a long-term strategic vision. This should be one of the main immediate objectives for both sides. The first step was taken in Moscow at the talks between Presidents Medvedev and Obama.

The common denominator for Euro-Atlantic politics

I would like to dwell on the situation in Euro-Atlantic politics, where we have managed to launch a solid thought process around the initiative for a Treaty on European Security. Whether some of our partners would recognize it or not the Caucasus crisis has served as a powerful impetus for rethinking the situation. No one denies anymore that there is a systemic problem with the existing European security architecture as we inherited it from the Cold War era and completed based on unfulfilled expectations of the early 90s. Its essence is the need to overcome the bloc-based, confrontational approaches to security. We believe that this is possible only through the establishment of mechanisms guaranteeing the indivisibility of security in the whole space from Vancouver to Vladivostok. No one should secure himself at others’ expense – this cornerstone principle was endorsed in both the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council, but is not actually being observed. Therefore, we propose to impart to this principle a legally binding character and to agree mechanisms to guarantee its observance by all countries in the Euro-Atlantic area. Herein lies the essence of our initiative for a European Security Treaty.

The problem of European unity, something the continent didn’t know during practically the entire course of the 20th century, could have easily been solved in the early 90s – and even not necessarily through eliminating NATO after the dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. It was enough to coherently institutionalize the OSCE and make it a full fledged regional organization which would address the entire range of Euro-Atlantic issues and especially provide an open system of collective security for the region, based on an integrated approach. Unfortunately, this approach is remembered only now. Then, our western partners took a different path, that of expanding NATO, which, according to George Kennan (who is now often quoted, and not without reason) was “the greatest mistake of the West in the last 50 years.” The existence of NATO in its previous bloc hypostasis has since become a problem for all, and above all – for the alliance itself and its members.

What is essentially at issue is the shortsighted old instinctive policy of enlarging NATO into former Warsaw Pact territory with a corresponding shift of the former dividing line to the East, that is, to Russia’s borders. Not to mention that this process is fraught with elements of destabilization of the situation in the respective countries, of which NATO in fact demanded that they should make a choice: either you are with the alliance or with Russia. This kind of petty psychology of distrust toward Russia I would say led to counter distrust. In his July lecture in Brussels, European Union Council Secretary General Javier Solana rightly observed that “absolute security for one means total insecurity for the rest.” NATO and then the EU too must understand that they do not operate in a vacuum and that the field of their “missionary” activities is not pagan territory.

Our partners were well aware at the time that they needed to choose between NATO enlargement and a strong OSCE. What choice was made is well known, and that is why today we have a weak OSCE. Now they tell us that European security should be discussed solely on the platform of this OSCE – an organization that does not even have international legal personality! And this is at a time when our proposals for institutional strengthening of the OSCE, including adoption of its Charter, the formulation of clear rules for all of its activities, the assurance in practice of its intergovernmental character, have been on the table for several years now without any desire from the partners to consider these long-overdue reforms.

Our relations with NATO – or rather their state of crisis – also attest to the need for urgent action to ensure equal security for the entire Euro-Atlantic space. We did not freeze the work of the Russia-NATO Council; we did not violate the accords underlying the operation of this important mechanism. Responsible members of the alliance are aware that there can be no kowtowing to the ideological whims of individual recruits and membership applicants, driven by anti-Russian phobias. Real national interests must be the ultimate guidance, and they in contemporary Europe can only be realized by acting together, particularly in cooperation with Russia.

We are ready for honest cooperation where our interests coincide. We will continue to provide transit assistance to the countries that have their troops in Afghanistan, so long as the foreign military presence is acceptable to the Afghan government and corresponds to the goal of reaching a settlement in the country. Russia will increase its participation in collective efforts to address the problems of Afghanistan, particularly in development of the decisions of the special conference held on March 27 this year in Moscow under SCO auspices. One of the promising lines could be interaction between the CSTO and NATO in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.

Let’s hope that common sense will prevail and everyone in NATO will grasp that it is in the interest of the alliance itself to have constructive relations with Russia. Despite all the difficulties, we agreed to start the process of restoring full-fledged work of the Russia-NATO Council. Critical to the success of this process will be the openness of the alliance regarding the development of its new strategic concept. The National Security Strategy of Russia is an open document. Russia’s representatives held a briefing on its contents at the headquarters of NATO.

At the heart of the crisis of confidence in our relations with the United States and the West in general lay a “conflict of expectations.” There was a lack of common understanding about what the end of the Cold War really meant. This was the source of all the misunderstandings. There were not only too many “known unknowns,” but also “unknown unknowns” (Donald Rumsfeld). Perhaps this also explains the phenomenon as noticed by Nikita Struve of “the West’s more tolerant attitude towards the Soviet regime than towards the present, much freer Russia” [1].

Now we are wiser and know more than we did 15 and 20 years ago. So now is the time for a comprehensive review – based on new realities – of the situation in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia’s proposal for a new European Security Treaty gives us all this opportunity.

The discussions of the last few months, including the informal meetings of the RNC and the OSCE foreign ministers with the participation of the heads of CSTO, CIS, NATO and EU in Corfu, convincingly indicate that this view of things is carving its way. There are signs of understanding that the main thing now is to find collective rather than unilateral responses to the challenges and threats we all face.

Nor do we see a reasonable alternative to triple interaction between Russia, the EU and the US, which, as President Medvedev has repeatedly stressed, must become the backbone of political unity in the Euro-Atlantic area.

Turn back the clock?

Today, when there has been a turn towards improvement in Euro-Atlantic and global affairs, those who have lived cozily with the confrontational politics of recent years and who would like to make the destiny of Europe a hostage of its past and jeopardize the pursuit of a forward-looking policy by all have clearly become nervous.

Just look at the attempts to present the very possibility of Russian-US normalization as a threat to European interests. Would the United States really do something behind the backs of its allies? I do not think that America deserves such distrust, especially an America that has acknowledged the need for its own transformation in the spirit of the times.

The dangerous striving to associate their national interests with confrontation has manifested itself in the recent open letter from a number of former state officials of Eastern European countries to the US president. They obviously proceed from the “zero-sum game” logic, that is – if Russia stands to gain, it will be at their expense. In fact, they and their few supporters in Russia, in the sober judgment of Anatol Lieven, by maintaining tension in Russian-US relations, complicate America’s relationship with the rest of the world (article in the journal National Interest). The logic here is simple: everyone is sick of the tension, everyone wants to cooperate and therefore any return to confrontation will be further erosion of the transatlantic link. Wasn’t August 2008 enough?

In a bid to defend the confrontational mentality, the Defense Committee of the British Parliament has distinguished itself with its report Russia: a new confrontation? But even the authors of the report had to acknowledge the need to build relations with Russia on the basis of realism, rather than “abstract and misleading notions of shared values.”

Any conservative tendencies, attempts to stand in the way of the historical process, to judge what is happening, including in Russia, from the standpoint of the inviolability of the old order or the inevitability of its restoration are doomed. This is understood everywhere in the world, and now also in America, whose experience embodies everything related to the cultural and civilizational tradition of the West.

The roots of a new world order ripened in the old, west-centric order. This eternal dialectic, explaining much of human history, helps us understand what is happening now, just as it helps us accept this verdict of history, which is ideologically impartial. Whether we take the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of the Soviet Union, the futility of the attempts to deal with existing international problems by force or the current financial and economic upheavals, the origins of which go back to the oblivion of the lessons of the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 30s and to the commencement of breakdown in regulation of the financial sector in 1982, we see one universal “permanent” crisis of the established system of global governance etched before our eyes. As was the case more than once in the past, it remains only to readjust this mechanism in line with the new realities so that it embodies rather than denies the cultural and civilizational diversity of the world. The end of the Cold War and of the related ideological confrontation helps everyone, in both East and West, take a realistic view of things and assess the situation in terms of common sense, without which it will be difficult to try to solve this fundamental task together.

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