_ Timofei Bordachev, PhD (Politics), programme director, Valdai Club Foundation, director, CCEIS, HSE. Moscow, 22 February 2018.
The annual international security conference that took place in Munich on February 16-18 clearly demonstrated that the world is bursting at the seams. It’s as if there was no tragic and great 20thcentury with its institutions, rules of conduct, hierarchy of states and other instruments which created at least some structure for relations between the states and their foreign policies. Clearly, the failed unipolarity is being replaced by largely uncontrolled chaos rather than a more steady bipolar or even polycentric international system.
In such circumstances, it becomes increasingly important to assess whether the differences between individual states are objective, or subjective and tactical.
Even theoretically, this chaos is the natural outcome of the unfair orders that took shape in the wake of Cold War, which could not but lead to an all-out crisis. Above all, this crisis is leading to a rapid archaization of the strategic culture that is taking place right before our eyes. Even the most steadfast adherents of modern forms of conducting international affairs cannot resist it. So, for example, speaking in Munich, Germany’s acting foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said that the European Union “cannot be a vegetarian in a world of carnivores.” This landmark statement was made by a German politician, although Berlin traditionally was the most active lobbyist of a multilateral and even, to some extent, postmodernist approach to foreign policy.
Countries with foreign-policy manners that were quite recently thought hopelessly outdated, such as India or, to some extent, the United States under Donald Trump – who is a living embodiment of the most archaic forms of political thinking and action- have become the most sensible and well-adapted participants. This deformation of strategic culture that is unfolding on a global scale can, in the future, bring to the fore such seemingly forgotten matters as inviolability of territorial borders or the right to independent domestic or foreign policy in the future. If the US president can threaten to destroy a UN member state from the UN rostrum, why can’t another leader do the same when the national interests of his country are assailed? The issue is only about the scale of the subjectively assessed threat and availability of material means to avert it.
For the United States, the new policy is not about adapting to reality, which it doesn’t like. Any reality that does not work solely for US prosperity is unacceptable for the US. In principle, countries are no longer trying to reshape reality to suit their goals, but rather starting to adapt to it only after they become irreversibly weaker in relation to other countries. In a sense, Russia is embarking on this path now. It is already not great enough not to create institutions and rules. Probably, it would be a mistake to think that Russia can pursue an isolationist policy in the future or do without multilateral alliances and institutions. Organizations such as the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or BRICS are necessary for Russia in order for it to achieve, among other things, its national development goals. However, development does not mean domination as a means of existence.
The United States is another matter. There is very little acknowledgement of reality in the new American strategy, embodied in armament programs that are unprecedented since the early 1980s and the governing style of a president who was sworn in a little more than a year ago. This is a new cold war for global domination. Over the past couple of decades, we have become accustomed to different, more relaxed, goofy and straightforward US policies – a mix of sincere belief in its mission and arrogance. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Americans have become accustomed to a situation where there are no restrictions, which dulls intellectual activity and ingenuity. From now on, policies, primarily in the Eurasian space, will again be determined by Ronald Reagan’s “strategy” for the Cold War: “We win, they lose.”
Sowing discord among other major players and pitting them against each other is now becoming, as it once was, a tool in this fight. Thus, China-India divisions are encouraged in every possible way, even though both these powers are clearly too wise to succumb to provocations. The divisions between them are not objective in nature, as is true for bilateral difficulties in Eurasia in general, though not on its periphery. In general, as we often hear from our Indian colleagues, they do not build their foreign policy based on the goals that have been defined once and for all. They have a list of fairly broadly defined priorities and national interests instead.
Given such circumstances, it is particularly important for Russia, China and other Eurasian states not to allow this chaos to spread to their macroregion. The political idea behind the Greater Eurasia Community may in the long run transform into an international community, with relations among members closer and more trusting than their relations with other countries. But first it is important to prevent the formation of a new multipolarity in Greater Eurasia with rival, or simply competing centers of power, of which China and Russia, however, remain the key ones due to their military, political and economic capabilities.
It appears that the United States and its leading partners in Europe – The United Kingdom, Germany and France – are pursuing a policy which seeks to encourage competition in Greater Eurasia. Europe in general is gradually returning to a more flexible and active policy. And it goes beyond words and declarations. The new character of the EU in the world will become the inevitable consequence of its internal transformation. Ambitious French populist president Emmanuel Macron plans to lead this movement. This regenerated Europe hopefully will not be an enemy of Greater Eurasia. So far, European leaders are conservative about initiatives they can’t control for the most part. Most likely, their mid-term strategy will focus on splitting Eurasia.
Small and especially medium-sized countries of the region, which are accustomed to involving regional and extra-regional partners in order to secure their sovereign interests, may begin to involuntarily abet this strategy. ASEAN countries encouraging the presence of the United States and Russia, as well as other major states, in Southeast Asia is a classic example. Such a temptation may begin to have an impact in the continental part of the Eurasian macroregion. This behavior is understandable even just from a theoretical point of view, as large states always make the largest contributions to the international cooperation and integration projects. However, they get more as well. It is an objective fact of history that states of different sizes always receive relative benefits from interaction. It is important to understand this and account for this when starting joint projects.
However, amid growing chaos and archaization, the very fact of cooperation is becoming important to the point where such cooperation cannot be risked for fear of getting less than more powerful partners. The relative inability to maximize benefits in the face of mounting international anarchy is far less significant than the absolute benefit of cooperation and integration. When institutions and rules are collapsing, and relations between states – like the behavior of the most powerful of them – is becoming increasingly subject to existing norms, all Eurasian states should value the available civilized forms of international communication. This is equally important for large states, such as Russia, China or India, and medium-sized countries like Kazakhstan and other partners in Eurasian politics.