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East-West Relations: Cooperation, Confrontation or Competition?

-, .. East-West Relations: Cooperation, Confrontation or Competition?, 50- 21 2009 . - .. 17 2009 . .

Thank you, it is a great honor to be a speaker at the Anniversary conference of the one of the leading European think tanks, which has made a great contribution to the development of our common thinking about the modern world.

Initially I was surprised and even flabbergasted at the proposed topic of my talk East-West Relations. What should I speak about? China and Russia? The Middle East and the rest of the world? The declining West and the rising East?

Then in a letter Jan Egeland kindly explained that he expected me to give a lecture on Russias relations with the traditional West in the new international circumstances. It is an interesting subject.

These relations have not only changed markedly after the collapse of Communism, but they now function in markedly different international circumstances. Of course, they are influenced by the remaining Cold War mentality. It is clearly an atavism of the past, but this atavism is present today.

International circumstances changing

World history is entering a new era. Politically, the past 100 years can be divided into three periods. The first period began with World War I, the Russian Revolution and the unfair Treaty of Versailles; then it continued with the first Cold War and ended with Stalinism, Nazism and World War II. The next period began with the construction of a two-bloc confrontation, the classical Cold War and, simultaneously, the creation of the United Nations and the system of governance of the global economy and finance, which was dominated by the U.S. and the West. This system should have been rebuilt after the defeat of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union, which marked the beginning of the third period in the history of the last century. However, the international system was never refurbished to meet the new challenges and opportunities. The West and the U.S., ecstatic over their new status as winners, decided to leave everything intact. A confused and weakened Russia had nothing to offer. Developing countries were still on the periphery of the world economy and politics. The following decade saw a stillborn attempt to establish a unipolar world based on old institutions.

In order to save NATO which had lost its main goal the West began to expand the alliance; however, as time went on, NATO became the main source of tensions in Europe, at least in relations with Russia, and predictably began to restore Cold War stereotypes. The UN kept losing its influence and effectiveness. The winners overlooked the beginning of nuclear proliferation to such countries as India and Pakistan (which is now predictably falling apart) and failed to solve a single problem in the Middle East. Having missed the beginning of the Yugoslav war they launched an attack on Yugoslavia. The U.S. started withdrawing from the arms control system. The system of governance of international relations and security established over the previous 50 years was rapidly disintegrating.

The tone in the global economy was still set by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Washington Consensus whose authors argued that the whole world could only develop according to the super-liberal Anglo-Saxon model.

The worlds increasingly rapid economic growth from the mid-1980s throughout the next 20 years was generally interpreted as the result of applying the Washington Consensus prescriptions, although now it is obvious that this growth was not so much due to them as to the huge expansion of the sphere of world capitalism. The markets of several dozen countries and a new cheap labor force made up of over two billion people in East, Southeast and South Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union joined the world capitalist economy. Another factor that contributed to the growth was a technological revolution this time with an emphasis on information technologies which, among other things, ensured an unprecedented mobility of finance.

The new growth of the world economy, albeit uneven, was beneficial to the Old West at the initial stage. The new financial class of the West grew fabulously rich through ever new financial instruments, whose essence many of their creators had already ceased to understand.

The patently unstable political unipolar world could have been rebuilt after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S. There was a chance to set up a global coalition led but not dominated the United States. But Washington did not want to share its might with others; it instigated a second wave of NATO enlargement and decided to extend its political and economic model to the Middle East using force. It attacked Iraq. Predictably, America overstrained itself. Its reputation as a winner, prestige and influence went downhill.

At the same time, one more powerful process emerged. By the end of the 1990s, the second wave of globalization and the increasing openness of the world economy, which initially gave benefits mainly to the Old West, became more advantageous to young capitalist countries. A new industrial revolution began, based on the cheap and relatively educated labor force in China, India, and Southeast Asian countries. Global industrial production began to grow and to shift to new centers. China became the symbol of this redistribution of forces in the world economy. The old economic winners suddenly began to lose the competition.

The U.S. and the West carried away by the establishment of the world domination of their political system overlooked one more revolutionary change the redistribution, within a surprisingly short period of time, of control over resources (above all oil) from Western companies to national states and their companies.

The increased consumption of raw materials due to the economic growth of young capitalist states triggered a worldwide increase in their prices, particularly oil and gas prices. This factor caused a new large-scale redistribution of finance trillions of dollars within several years to extracting countries and their companies. Energy-rich Russia was among the countries that gained from this second wave of resource redistribution.

Most important: the new industrial revolution made natural resources dear again. And the territories where they are located or could be found grew in importance. The increase of demand for food for new billions of people who have joined the capitalist economy has made arable land water a valuable resource again. Fresh water shortages contribute to the return of the importance of resources and the territory where they are located. The new importance of natural resources and territories contributed to the unfortunate partial resurrection of the usefulness of military force in international politics. In the years of the post-industrial revolution we started to believe that control over territory was not important any more. That is changing. In a way, history is returning to the old patterns here, too.

The usefulness of armed forces, including nuclear arms, was returned to statesmens minds by attacks on Yugoslavia and then Iraq.

Russia was among the first to play this post-modernistic game, putting theoretical territorial claim to possible resources hiding under the icecap of the North Pole. Originally many of us in Russia smiled at this futuristic game, which looked a bit bizarre. Then we gasped, when others including Canada, the U.S. and even the EU joined in the competition with gusto. Hopefully, this particular case would not provoke a new bitter geopolitical old-fashioned rivalry but rather become a case for a true civilized cooperative endeavor. But the tone of the debate causes concern and we should be concerned about a new resourceterritory rivalry.

All the more so that testimony is multiplying that people unable to comprehend the speed of change are returning not only to the Cold War mentality but to spheres of influence, balance of power thinking of the 19th or even 18th centuries. Unfortunately most major powers, not only Russia, are returning to their historical patterns. In the meantime, some small nations seem to be trying to replay history, where they failed or were victimized by larger scavengers. That is exactly what some of the Baltic States or Poland are trying to do.

We accuse each other of trying to restore the allegedly outdated spheres of influence mentality. In reality, however, we are witnessing the return of geopolitics of the 19th or 18th centuries masked in the modernistic clothes.

We should not rationalize this mentality, but state the truth disguised in modernistic rhetoric.

The major shifts in the world economy were followed and complicated by the redistribution of political power. The United States weakened politically because of the Iraq war and by the overestimation of its abilities was the obvious loser in the new political game. Western Europe intoxicated with victory in the Cold War and wishing to consolidate the results of victory and having lost strategic benchmarks for its development, launched a recklessly rapid expansion of the European Union. This caused Europe to focus still more on itself and further complicated and delayed the possibility of conducting a common foreign policy. Europe continued to lose its foreign policy influence, although, unlike the United States of George W. Bush, its soft power the attractiveness of its development model and the appeal of its lifestyle was not weakened.

At the same time, it turned out that the Old Wests model of a mature liberal-democratic capitalism, which seemed to have won for good, was no longer the only ideological benchmark for the rest of the world. States of the new capitalism naturally more authoritarian, in line with their stage of economic and social development offered a much more attainable political development model for lagging countries.

Russia for one, while still having a very backward social and political system and an underdeveloped economy, offers to its citizens not only benefits of capitalism, but also an unprecedented level of personal, although not political, freedoms.

The place of Russia

In many ways, energy-rich Russia which had dramatically increased its political clout in 2001-2008, became the symbol of all those changes that are disadvantageous to the West. In addition, unlike more cautious India and especially China, it assumed a contemptuous and arrogant attitude towards the Cold War winners which had recently humiliated it and which had started to lose.

Russia also became openly revisionist, bent on consistently changing the rules of the game imposed on her in the late 1980s and 1990s, the years of chaos and weakness.

Also, and this is very important, after being constructive for more than a decade, yielding on serious maters, withdrawing voluntarily from East and Central Europe, and agreeing to two waves of NATO expansion and to the role of a junior student, it came to understand that constructiveness does not bear fruit or bring any benefits, but only wets appetites and is taken for granted.

Later, with the start of the economic crisis, Russians understood that even in matters of economic policy the professors did not know the truth and were largely driven by greed.

Recent history has made most of the Russian elite come to an unfortunate conclusion that only an iron fist and readiness to fight even with arms if need be for its interests could be respected.

This attitude plus the arrogance of newly restored power is now displayed in the current crisis with Ukraine. Russia has been subsidizing that country with cheap gas for a decade and a half but nevertheless it has been consistently accused of energy imperialism and of attempts to undermine the allegedly democratic Orange Revolution. Now Moscow simply wants the full price.

As to the values, Russians who have come across dozens of cases of double standards applied by the Old West have become very cynical. Now when the Westerners, especially Americans, preach, even sincerely, Russians laugh. That is a very sad state of affairs. This cynicism could further hinder Russian modernization, which is already hit by corruption and absence of values in society and body politic.

In the early 1990s, Russia was ready to embrace not only capitalism but also the Western political system, but it was rejected, often fooled and humiliated. And it is not interested in this system any more. At least for now.

It is a capitalist country willing to become richer and to get modernized. But while only a decade ago it was ready to follow the Western model of political development, now the Old West with its failures and double standards has lost a lot of its former magnetism.

Beginning from approximately 2006, the former winners tried to regroup. As if from a horn of plenty, numerous projects emerged for a union of democracies a tragicomic stillborn association of liberal-democratic elders against the authoritarian younger ones. There also was a desire to take down a peg the new ones which had shot ahead. The U.S. nurtured plans to start a kind of Cold War against China six to seven years ago. But Beijing was cautious and, most importantly, it strengthened too fast.

Starting in 2007, the West stepped up its efforts to curb the rapidly growing influence of an ever mightier and more independent Russia.

Georgia went into South Ossetia in August 2008, after which an attempt was made to organize a new farcical Cold War against Russia. The attack on South Ossetia, Russias harsh reaction, and the attempt to start a confrontation after that, mainly using NATO, have shown the dangerous non-reconstruction of the European security system, which failed to prevent the conflict. Moreover, the de facto division of Europe into two security zones and the rivalry between them in many ways generated this conflict.

Russia not only retaliated, stopping the killing of its citizens and peacekeepers, but also said no to NATOs further expansion and to the inertia that suited the Old West. Now, even those who did not want to listen can see that the present Cold War-style system of European security, which has been artificially maintained for over a decade and a half, only leads to the escalation of conflicts and ultimately to war. The Georgia episode hindered Russias image, but increased the potential cost of further anti-Russian steps, be that the deployment of a missile defense system or further NATO expansion.

At the beginning of the autumn of 2008, it seemed that the political semi-farcical Cold War unleashed by the United States and its allies and clients in Eastern Europe and in Britain and which many old Europeans met with caution but also with sympathy would be the main political trend for the next few years.

The Cold War was really a laughable affair totally irrelevant in this new emerging world of new giants and new issues. This world looked at this clash with disdain and mockery.

Both Russia and the old West were saved from a continuation of this humiliating clash by the global financial and economic crisis. I think the United States and the Old West will now have other things on their minds rather than conducting a Cold War, although attempts are still being made, at least on the rhetorical level.

Conclusions for all

It is clear that the global crisis is only beginning and will affect everyone.

But we could already sum up the preliminary results of the recent developments.

The second part of 2008 will likely go down in history as the start of the fourth stage in the worlds development over the past century, which began really, not according to the calendar in August 1914, closing the door on the splendid 19th century and ushering in the savage and revolutionary 20th century. Actually, the 21st century is beginning right now. (This idea is not mine, but that of Thierry de Montbrial).

This crisis and this new period in world history threaten to inflict inevitable hardships on billions of people, including Russians. Coupled with the aforementioned unprecedentedly rapid geopolitical changes, with the collapse of the former system of international law and security systems, and with attempts by the weakening elders to stop the redistribution of forces not in their favor, and with the rise of the masses, especially in the Muslim world, this period may bring about another dramatic destabilization of the international situation and an increased risk of conflicts.

I would have dared to describe it as a pre-war situation and compare it with August 1914 or with September 1939 but for one factor: huge arsenals of nuclear weapons remain, along with their civilizing deterrent factor. Yet one must keep in mind the objective growth of military danger anyway.

The world economic crisis will fix the new redistribution of forces. But it can also change its speed. The super-fat years will come to an end for oil producing countries, including Russia, which has proved reluctant or unable yet to switch to a new economy and renovate its infrastructure.

What is to be done?

Clearly, we are living in the time of a comprehensive crisis of the previous world order and its political and financial architecture; it is a crisis of a model of development. Nobody can pretend now that he or she knows what a right model is. Communism has failed, and liberal capitalism in its previous Anglo-Saxon version, possibly, too. There is an intellectual vacuum as to the problem of international governance. The world is stopping to rotate around the old West. But where is it going? Towards a U.S.-Chinese axis proposed by some influential from the U.S.? But the Chinese refuse to form such an axis, rightly believing that in such a configuration it would be doomed to a junior status.

At this point we are still drifting towards a multipolar conflict or/and growing chaos.

There are some positive signs, though.

The G-20 has started to work, albeit with very modest results. The latest G-20 declaration called for minor repair work of the world financial architecture, not its overhaul.

The EU is grossly weakened by its desperately unwise and quick expansion and by the failure so far of CFDP; yet it holds together and acts better than expected in the recent crises: during the Georgian attack and the most recent gas conflict.

The new U.S. president is a ray of hope, although he has a heap of problems that nobody can solve quickly.

The new giants, BRIC countries, are a bit more active filling some vacuums and gaps. The Chinese, for example, are offering a new trilateral leadership made up by the U.S., China and Russia in building up the new order.

The Shanghai organization is developing towards the role of a stabilizer of the Larger Central Asia one of the worst security vacuums on Earth.

But it is clear that the era of unpredictability, chaos and rivalry will be a prolonged one.

That is bad news for Russia. It will find itself in a position of strategic loneliness and will have to maneuver constantly, trying to create new balances, to fill the gaps and play the old geopolitical game.

Under the best of circumstances, Russia could only retain its modest 2.5% of the world GNP. The geopolitical games will inexorably divert attention of the elite from the task of modernizing the country. The modernization will continue only on an enclave-based basis.

It is clear that we need a new era of international cooperation, including cooperation between Russia and the Old West. This interaction will be much less important than in the previous decades when it was a dominant factor of world politics. But it still will be important if we want to steer the world through the increasingly troubled waters.

And there are some preconditions for increased cooperation, although they are very modest.

The current global economic crisis has overshadowed, although not eased, tensions between Russia and the Old West. The crisis will be a dominating factor that will shape world politics in the next few years.

The relations between Russia and the Old West will play a minor role in international affairs of the nearest future. But for Russia these relationships are important. And they are entering a new phase.

The United States now has a much more reasonable and internationally more popular president than the former one. The U.S. seems to be ready to enter into a new dialogue with Moscow. It offers a fresh start. vice-president Biden has offered to reset U.S.-Russian relations in his recent Munich speech. Perhaps, Russia should consider the challenge, despite its mistrust.

Europe is in despair over its geopolitical weakness and, availing itself of the changes in Washington where a more attractive administration has come to power, it is making every effort to achieve rapprochement with the U.S. in the hope that Americans will help it overcome its problems. The Atlantic partners drift from each other has stopped for a while. It will likely resume in a few years if the crisis is over by that time, and efforts will again be made to build a new, Pacific, axis of the world economy and politics, instead of the old Atlantic one.

This is why the Europeans have again, as in the 1990s, given the initiative in improving relations with Russia to the U.S. at least temporarily; especially as Russian-EU relations are now in an intellectual and political impasse.

Obviously, we are witnessing the importance of U.S.-Russian relations in the overall gamut of Russian Western relations.

If Russia does not want external confrontation for itself in an ephemeral hope of receiving one more lever of control over its population, then it should not be interested in confrontation with the West, even though latent and farcical one. Moscow has shown its will and readiness to talk tough and even to act tough and has restored its political power. Simultaneously, we are being drawn into a seemingly bottomless vortex of crisis from which one cannot escape on ones own. In addition, the international situation which was highly disturbing even before the crisis began is becoming destabilized before our eyes. There is a growing threat of the emergence and escalation of military conflicts. Russia must at least try to regulate this situation in cooperation with other countries of course, not only with the West, but with the West in the first place.

There is a chance to overcome the crisis in relations with the West. However, there is also a danger that instruments proposed for overcoming this crisis may strengthen Cold War elements in these relations. The U.S. may propose returning to the process of negotiating agreements for reducing strategic offensive armaments and extending the negotiations to non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons. Washington may also postpone the deployment of its missile defense system. Both Americans and Europeans will insist on the resumption of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), which has been frozen by Russia because of its obvious discrepancy with the new realities and because of the refusal by some new NATO members to ratify it.

Western partners will agree to discuss the idea of a new European security treaty, but they will dip its discussion into the old structures inherited from the Cold War NATO and the OSCE in order not to change anything.

The partners will seek to focus the dialogue in the Russia-NATO Council, which has proved its uselessness, if not harm, thus trying to prop up the legitimacy of the North Atlantic bloc.

Russia has strong trump cards in the new bargaining. Moscow has the keys to transit to Afghanistan and strong positions in relations with Iran and in the Middle East settlement. It should not be afraid of dialogue; it will rather gain from it.

But Russia must keep in mind that a return of military-political issues into the center of the dialogue may cause the parties to once again view each other as potential enemies, reckon the largely senseless military balances and find imbalances, whose values would be exaggerated. Naturally, the parties will start making unilaterally advantageous propagandistic proposals for bargaining, thus increasing mutual suspicions and competing for public opinion. The original American proposal for very deep cuts in strategic armaments already looks like a propagandistic step.

The limitation and reduction of armaments is not only an instrument for regulating the arms race and reducing tensions but, as the Cold War experience has shown, it can be successfully used for continuing and whipping up the arms race and even for increasing mistrust.

Worse still, the resumption of the process of limiting and reducing armaments and security dialogues may reanimate and bring to the forefront the old Cold War knights with their habitual way of thinking. And they would again start ecstatically count warheads and invent artificial balances and non-existent threats. I myself spent, or rather wasted, a decade and a half on these games in the past and I am sure I would be able to revive my old skills. But I do not want to do that. And I warn against falling into the trap of thinking in terms of the past Cold War and military confrontation.

Yet, we will have to resume military-political dialogue, especially as it can help reduce excessive armaments on the principles of reciprocity. We do not have another instrument yet to restore the damaged confidence. This confidence must be restored in order to start interacting for preventing a further destabilization of international relations, which has already reached an unprecedented dimension. We must restore good working relations with the West without the illusions that we had late last century and without the disillusionment and arrogance that replaced them in recent time.

In addition, we need normal and even close relations with Europe for our own modernization and consolidation.

We have already seen in recent years how disillusionment over the weakness and double standards and duplicity of Western Europe and the U.S. and over the growth of mutual estrangement have affected Russia, strengthening the positions of anti-modernizers, corrupt officials and groups of Russian society that do not want to live by the law and in the conditions of openness and political competition.

So, perhaps we should seek a new rapprochement with the West by following the available disarmament path, while not forgetting about the other paths. But we must do this with our eyes wide open in order to see all of its dangers and bypass them. And most importantly, we should smile and not lose our sense of humor. We should understand that the proposed arms limitations are rather a game, which is dangerous to play if one is overly serious.

And of course, we must not allow large-scale, critical reductions of nuclear weapons. These weapons are the only guarantee against the worlds sliding into conflicts and even a new world war. If we did not have nuclear weapons, the present international situation could well be declared a pre-war situation.

In a few years, there will emerge a new reality, and the old grievances and fears will be forgotten. And quite possibly, opportunities will emerge for not token but serious steps towards a rapprochement and even for establishing an alliance between the EU and Russia.

And now back to the larger world scene.

I repeat: the matter at hand is not just a deep financial and economic crisis. This is an overall crisis of the entire system of global governance; a crisis of ideas on which global development was based; and a crisis of international institutions.

Overcoming this overall crisis will require a new round of reforms, the construction of international institutions and systems for governing the world economy and finance, and a new philosophy for global development.

The time will come for creation not only in Russian-Western relations but on the larger international arena.

I would propose a few principles on which the new international system could be based:

  • Not boundless liberalism, but support for free trade and a liberal economic order coupled with drastically stricter international regulation;
  • Joint elaboration and coordination of policies by the most powerful and responsible countries, rather than attempts to establish hegemony by one country, or a struggle of all against all. A new Concert of Nations of G-12 or G-14, maybe with a trilateral core of the U.S., China and Russia;
  • Collective efforts to fill the security vacuums, rather than creation of new dividing lines and sources of conflict, be it around the Persian Gulf or in Europe where Ukraine is being turned by NATOs expansion into a contested land;
  • Joint solution of energy and resources problems, rather than artificial politicization of the energy and resources security problem;
  • Renunciation of the recognition of a nations right to self-determination up to secession if this is done by force. (The wave of fragmentation of countries, which began in the 1950s and which received a fresh impetus with the recognition of the independence of Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, must be stopped). Maybe, we should return to the principle of inviolability of borders, at least in Europe; Russia and the European Union must strive not for a vague strategic partnership in their relations, but for a strategic union based on an energy alliance, common economic space and coordination in the security sphere. Indeed, if the EU and Russia do not form a new alliance a Union of Europe, both are bound to be relegated to the position of second-class players in the future world;
  • The goal of development must be progress, not democracy. Democracy is a consequence and an instrument of progress;
  • And, of course, we should forget about thinking and talking in the terms of East-West relations. Otherwise, we will soon become irrelevant.

Indeed, there is a need to finish the unfinished war the Cold War. Allegedly, it was finished 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall collapsed. But some Cold War institutions and habits have survived. And they continue recreating divisions in Europe, preventing Western Europe, the U.S. and Russia from playing a more constructive role in the new world. There is an increasingly obvious need for a peace treaty and a collective security system that would bind together Russia, the U.S., Europe, NATO and other organizations and countries situated between them.

Surely, many of the proposed principles will be objected to and rejected. But the habitual politically correct clichés will not help to improve the situation and build a new world. Meanwhile, the time has come for creation.

And if we stick to the old status-quo, however comfortable it might be, we are doomed to return to the worst things in history. But I am hopeful!

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24.02.2009    
2007-2008