Containing Russia: back to the future?

lavrov.jpgArticle by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey V. Lavrov.  The present article was published in the August issue of this magazine. Initially, the article was meant for publication in The Foreign Affairs magazine but was never published there, because the magazine put forward editing requirements which the author found unacceptable.

Influential political forces on both sides of the Atlantic seem intent on starting a debate on “whether or not to contain Russia”. That appears to reflect actual sentiment and political strategies. I would like to contribute as much as I can to this discussion.

The mere posing of the question of containing Russia appeals to the instincts of the past and suggests not so much the lack of imagination as the fact that for some almost nothing has changed since the end of the Cold War. It implies that the vision of the structure of international relations that took shape in the Western alliance during the Cold War era be mechanically projected to the rest of the modern-day world. The same motives that stood behind the choice in favor of the containment policy have re-emerged at the new stage of history.

Which Russia to contain?

Indeed, what does the containment of Russia mean to achieve in our time? Let me emphasize that we are talking about a Russia that has abandoned ideology, imperial and any other great designs in favor of pragmatism and common sense. What is the purpose of containing a country that has focused on its domestic development and has been successful in doing so? Our country’s internal strength due to the constructive work at home has naturally translated into strengthening of our international position. Russia’s foreign policy represents a logical extension of the domestic one. We have realistic and understandable aspirations, namely the maintenance of international stability as a key condition for advancing our nation’s further development and natural evolution of international relations towards freedom and democracy.

When analyzing the ideological inertia that led the US to the “transformational diplomacy”, one may notice a substantial gap between the foreign policy aspirations of Washington and Moscow. It seems to be the core of the problem, at least a considerable part of it. Russia has had more than enough experience of revolutions, which are scattered throughout the entire twentieth century of our nation’s history. This century has served as a sort of purgatory for the whole European civilization, which was overcoming evil through exorcising its own ideological demons – various extremist products of European liberal thought. For this reason, Russia will never subscribe to any ideology-driven project, let alone borrowing it from abroad.

The Westphalian system, which has become a fashionable object of criticism in certain circles, has placed differences in values beyond the scope of intergovernmental relations. In this respect, the Cold War was a setback. Should we really follow this path back, which can only lead to confrontation?

Ideology, when confused with practical policies, obscures one’s vision and reason. This may be illustrated by the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who claimed that it had been the US that provoked the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This suggests that the US played a greater role than usually thought in giving birth to Al-Qaeda. The law of “unintended consequences” more often than not works in situations where ideology-inspired enthusiasm comes into play.

What is the point of containing a country which is not overly ambitious and aspires for things as simple as trade which the vast majority of our partners have been successfully doing for centuries? While making use of our natural competitive advantages, we increase investments in human resources and build up our capacity of putting our economy onto the path of innovative development. Our economy is getting back to normalcy in the sense that its growth is largely driven by domestic consumer demand. We also make part of a world-wide trend of new transnational corporations emerging in new economies and presenting a competitive challenge to the “old” TNC. We plan to integrate further into the global economy on the universally accepted terms and we will continue to adapt our legislation accordingly.

In contrast to the Soviet Union, Russia is an open country that does not intend to be closed to anybody. Therefore, there is no need for “opening” us. It is not us who erect walls today – both physical (between and within the countries) and political ones. On the contrary, we call for the removal of artificial obstacles in international relations and visa barriers, including in our relations with the European Union. What else could give more ironclad guarantees against unpredictable development of a nation?

Russia has become a part of the universal consensus to the effect that democracy and free market should form the basis of a social and political order and economic life. Undoubtedly, we are just at the beginning of the road and far from being perfect. However, we have chosen our path of development once and for all. As a result of Russia’s embarking upon the path of unprecedented change, which was extremely painful, our society has reached a broad consensus over the pace and depth of the change. This is the price of peace, domestic political stability and evolutionary development free of upheavals. In the final analysis, a more mature democracy, including a vibrant civil society and a well-structured party system, will be a natural result of a higher level of social and economic development. I mean primarily the emergence of a substantial middle class, which cannot come into being overnight in any nation. It was only “tycoons” who emerged overnight in the early 1990s, but these times are definitely over.

Global energy and Russia

Russia has been criticized for its natural role in the global energy sector. This is an obvious manifestation of the complexes of those countries that cannot overcome realization of their dependence on external sources of energy. However, energy dependence is reciprocal. A balance of interests of all energy market players was achieved on Russia’s initiative at the G8 Summit in Saint Petersburg. A policy of “sitting on the pipeline” or on one’s energy reserves like a “dog in the manger” is not a wise choice for an energy-exporting country. As elsewhere in the world, energy is considered to be a strategic sector in Russia. This is particularly true today, when we face a negative external reaction to the strengthening of the country and its role in global politics. After all, Russia has never failed to fulfill any of its obligations to importing countries or hydrocarbon-supply contracts.

I think it would be fair to say that we see our role in the global energy sector as a means to safeguard our independence in foreign affairs. Are we to be blamed for that, when, as it seems, the freedom of action and the freedom of speech that we have secured in international affairs – by the way, we use both of them in accordance with international law – are the main accusations brought against us by those who frown upon a stronger Russia?

The energy policy of the Russian Government is in line with the global trend towards establishing State control over natural resources. Thus, 90 per cent of the world’s proven hydrocarbon reserves are, in some form, under State control. A new balance has been struck in the global energy sector, where State-controlled access to energy resources is offset by the concentration of cutting-edge technology in the hands of private transnational corporations. Isn’t it an appropriate environment for cooperation based on competitive advantages of the parties, each having equal rights and sharing the same objective of meeting the energy requirements of the world economy?

Multilateral diplomacy in the era of globalization

Russia has started pursuing a national foreign policy. This, indeed, is a dramatic departure from the ideology-motivated internationalism, which used to underlie foreign policy of the Soviet Union. Multilateral diplomacy based on international law has become a universal means governing relations at the global and regional levels.

There are no objective causes for confrontation in a globalizing world – of course, if we leave out the attempts to introduce ideology into international relations and to re-militarize them. As globalization extended beyond the Western civilization, the competition became truly global in nature. I am convinced that this is the essence of the paradigm shift in international relations. Competition now involves values and development patterns. And it must be fair. This is a fundamental challenge for all.

Francis the First, having lost the battle of Pavia, wrote to his mother soon afterwards that “everything is lost save the honour” (tout est perdu fors l’honneur). Similarly, no one will ever make the West abandon its values and way of life against its wishes. Yet, it would be logical to focus on one’s competitive advantages, rather than impose one’s values on others. Here, it is appropriate to cite Dr. Eberhard Sandschneider, Director of the Research Institute of the German Society for Foreign Policy. He believes that the weakening of the West in this competition has been facilitated by recent policies of the United States, which “damaged tremendously the image of the West” in Asia and Africa. “Over the last eight years, – he believes, – we have done nothing, or almost nothing, to make our values attractive to the population of these regions of the Earth”. Why then hold Russia responsible for that?

Global challenges and threats came to the forefront of the global politics, calling for a truly global response based on the widest possible international cooperation. Cumbersome traditional “binding alliances”, as well as “holy alliances” against whoever it may be, fail to achieve these objectives. The variety of interests and possibilities of participating in relevant international efforts has given rise to the network diplomacy as the best means of inter-State interaction within bilateral and multilateral frameworks. It is logical that diplomacy has adopted the network approach developed by private corporations and civil society. Unity of the method allows to achieve harmony in all dimensions of international life.

The foundation of the new international system is the emerging multi-polarity. This is an undeniable objective reality. President Vladimir Putin stated the obvious when he said in Munich that a “unipolar world” had failed to materialize. Recent experience shows as clearly as ever that no State or group of States possesses sufficient resources to impose unipolarity on the world. While this allegedly benign simplification of inter-State relations – namely, their vertical hierarchy structure – might seem attractive, it is utterly unrealistic. It is one thing to respect America’s cultural and civilizational identity, and another to profess Americanocentrism.

Unipolarity, after all, is an attempt at God’s powers. The new system of international relations is not an anarchy or a chaotic “Brownian motion”. With several leading actors on the global arena, collective leadership is needed to manage international relations in a flexible way. This requires the ability to bring various interests of partners to a common denominator and to act in concert with other leading nations of the world.

Multi-polarity does not predetermine confrontation in any way. Quoting Anna Akhmatova, “the future casts its shadow long before it comes in”. This future of the world politics in the era of globalization is the United Nations, which on many occasions during the Cold War only “cast its shadow”. Nowadays, this universal organization can and should really become pivotal for the entire international system. The UN Charter provides all the grounds for that.

International problems: to solve or to procrastinate?

In their development, the international relations have come to a threshold where, given the indivisibility of security and prosperity in the world of the 21st century, any further delay in solving accumulated problems is fraught with devastating consequences for all nations.

Unfortunately, having inherited the Cold War problems, the international community embarked on the course of creating new ones. The inertia of the ideology-motivated unilateral responses has received its second wind nowadays. Hence “broken china” everywhere, i.e. stalemates that cannot be resolved within old approaches.

Again and again, – be it in real fact in Iraq or Lebanon or at the level of analysis concerning North Korea, Syria, Iran or the Sudanese province of Darfur, – one has to admit that there are no force-based solutions for the existing problems. Security cannot be stored for a rainy day, it is an ongoing vital process that reveals the “daily bread” truth as regards international relations. It is only normal relations and cooperation with all the countries, including the “rogue States”, their engagement in dialogue that can provide genuine security nowadays and in a foreseeable future. One would find it difficult to disagree with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that today’s world should be based on the willingness to cooperate rather than military deterrence. Moreover, the incident when fifteen British servicemen were captured in the Persian Gulf demonstrates that the human factor, including behavioral motivation, is not in line with the objectives of the force-based policies, defies it at a genetic level. Thus, should one persist in pursuing it and deluding oneself?

Something is obviously wrong in Iraq as regards purely military aspects of the situation, which is illustrated by the number of personnel of the so-called “private military companies” operating there. Those numbers have already reached 30 per cent of the coalition strength. Those persons act beyond the limits of international humanitarian law, distort the perception of the genuine role of the force factor in the Iraqi settlement and inflict irreparable damage to the relations between civilizations.

Complex problems require an integrated approach. This is particularly true for the situation around Iran. Relying only on coercion means running counter to the need of ensuring energy security of Europe and of the entire world. In part, the solution should lie in a normalization by all the countries of their relations with Tehran, which would also help address the issue of preserving the non-proliferation regime.

Attempts are being made to resolve the problem of Kosovo at the expense of the world community, i.e. through creating a precedent going beyond the existing rules of international law. Our partners’ inclination to give way to the blackmail of violence and anarchy is in clear contrast with the indifference shown in the case of Palestine, where we have witnessed similar situation for decades, while the Palestinian State is still non-existent.

Absolute security, by definition, is only possible at the expense of all other States. This was rightfully pointed out by Henry Kissinger in his “Diplomacy”. Such a policy inevitably leads to isolation. Moreover, this absolute security chimera is a dangerous temptation – when, according to Fyodor Dostoevsky, “anything is allowed”. Putting oneself beyond the international legal framework is tantamount to an attempt to stand above the moral law, beyond good and evil.

Today’s problems, including the controversial implications of globalization, cannot be solved outside the moral standards. The Sermon on the Mount, the “Golden Rule”, and humility imply a moral law that is valid for international relations as well. This seemed to be obvious to the current US administration back at the outset of its term. Thus, in February 2001, President Bush talked about the need for America to display more humility in international affairs (President Bush, addressing the State Department employees, talked about the need for America to “project its power with purpose and with humility” – Editors). Only equality and universal application of international law, “where there is neither Greek nor Jew”, can help gain control over the global development. If we don’t do onto others like good Christians, would they do onto us the same way?

Perhaps, it is the collegiality of the Russian vision of the world that makes it easier for us to understand this precept. The entire tragic history of Russia has taught us the ability to coexist. The search for agreement is the way to strengthen the inter-civilizational accord. By contrast, the attempts aimed at global inter-civilizational divide mean replication of the experience of Bolshevism and Trotskyism.

Europe: overcoming the Cold War legacy

The need to overcome the Cold War legacy is especially pressing in Europe. The bloc-based policy of containment had dominated it for too long. Even now we are facing a situation that can hardly be perceived as other than reestablishment of a cordon sanitaire west of the Russian borders. Favoritism in this part of Europe generates an unhealthy environment, it encourages the growth of nationalist sentiment, which poses the main threat to the unity of the continent. Does it mean the continued relevance of the old maxim of keeping the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down?

Whatever the reason, the European project found itself pushed back under the burden of the politicized enlargement of the European Union. It appears that the policy of containment was aimed not only at Russia but also at the entire Europe, as one of the centres of the new world order. Moreover, Europe risks to face an absurd situation when it will have to finance its own divide, given the inability of the European Union to influence the position of some of its new members obsessed with the idea of “containing” Russia and taking a kind of historical revenge. I am strongly convinced that current problems faced by the European Union in particular and European politics in general cannot be solved outside constructive and forward-looking relations with Russia based on mutual trust and confidence. This should serve the US interest too.

Instead, various attempts are being made to contain Russia. Thus, the NATO expansion continues in violation of previous assurances given to Moscow that this scenario would not happen. Today, they try to justify the enlargement policy with the necessity “to promote democracy”. However, such an argument can only convince naive people. What does democracy have to do with the military-political alliance, which in the course of its “transformation” is consistently and increasingly producing scenarios of a possible use of force?

Meanwhile, an idea has taken shape to expand the NATO membership, this time, to the CIS countries as some sort of a “pass” to the club of democracies. (Though the readiness of various countries to stand the democracy test is invariably measured by the sole criterion, i.e. the willingness to follow the policy of others.) One can hardly understand whether such redevelopment of the “Soviet legacy” is carried out for the sake of moral satisfaction or, again, to contain Russia.

As far as the CIS is concerned, nobody will question the fact that Russia possesses main resources to maintain social, economic and other forms of stability in the region. Moscow’s rejection of politicized trade and economic relations and its adoption of market-based principles – what could prove our determination to normalize inter-State relations in this space in a more convincing fashion?

Russia and the West are well equipped to maintain cooperation in this region. This cooperation, however, should be based on equality and respect, including respect for the interests of the CIS countries, which need assistance in developing their statehood without making them hostages to the notorious geopolitical “zero-sum games”.

The “containment of Russia” philosophy correlates well with unilateral plans to station a US missile defense base in Europe. It is hardly coincidental that this base, like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, accurately fits into the picture of the US global missile defense system, deployed along the perimeter of Russian as well as Chinese borders. It goes without saying that this strategic challenge will be dealt with at the strategic level. Nobody can abolish the interrelation between defensive and offensive strategic weapons. Many in Europe are rightfully concerned over the fact that the stationing of elements of the US National Missile Defense System in Europe is fraught with negative global consequences for the disarmament processes.

President Putin’s offer to use the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan jointly with the United States and his recent proposals made in Kennebunkport with a view to creating regional monitoring and early warning system provide an opportunity to find a solution to the present situation with each party’s dignity intact. As a starting point of a truly collective effort in this field we are ready to make an analysis of potential missile threats for the period of up to 2020 jointly with the US and other states concerned, primarily those in Europe. As President Putin noted, such cooperation could qualitatively transform Russian-American relations in the security field and propel them to a higher trust-based level. We would then discover the mutual trust that our countries so desperately lack at the moment and would embark on a truly global strategic alliance that would make its way towards a new multilateral collective security system which was envisioned by the UN founding fathers.

The intent to contain Russia clearly manifests itself in the situation of the CFE Treaty. We comply with the Treaty in good faith and insist only on one thing for which it was concluded – equal security. However, the problem is that the equal security principle was compromised with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact while NATO was left intact and even enlarged. In the meantime, the attempts to correct the situation were met with flat refusal of the NATO member countries to ratify the Agreement on adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe under pretexts, the legal untenability of which is clear to everybody who is familiar with the documents of the 1999 Istanbul Conference. Thus, again, policy, not law, is a case in point. That is to say, the very policy of containment.

Arms levels assigned to the Warsaw Pact countries under the CFE Treaty were included in the NATO quota. This can hardly be called “equal security”. Rather, this is a desire to seize what previously was owned by others. The situation reveals the attempts to reinvigorate bloc-based instincts and approaches and to return to the “zero-sum game” logic. The situation with the CFE Treaty clearly shows that any element of global or European security architecture that is not based on the principles of equality and mutual benefit is not sustainable.

In the final analysis, if we cannot tailor this old instrument to fit the new realities, perhaps time has come to review the current situation and to start developing a new system of arms control and confidence-building measures. That is, of course, if we find that modern Europe needs one. Sincere and honest discussions in Kennebunkport give us hope that a way can be found to implement the adapted CFE Treaty. This would be possible if everyone complies with undertaken legal obligations without false political pretexts.

Maybe, it would be better to “clean up the site” of the European politics getting rid of the Cold War legacy? Maybe, it would be better to start creating new arms control and confidence-building structures that meet the requirements of our time, given that we are not adversaries any longer and do not wish to make a false impression that war is still a possibility in Europe?

Cooperation without trust?

The path to trust lies through candid dialogue and reasoned debate, as well as interaction implying joint analysis of threats. It is precisely the latter that Russia is denied without any reasonable grounds. In fact, Russia is urged to profess blind faith in the analytical abilities and good intentions of its partners. But when it comes to national security concerns, this approach does not look serious to say the least.

We will respond adequately to safeguard our national security, and in doing so we will be motivated by the principle of reasonable sufficiency. We will always keep the door open for positive joint action to safeguard our common interests on the basis of equality.

In his Munich speech President Vladimir Putin invited all our partners to a serious and substantive discussion of the current status of international affairs, which is far from satisfactory. We are convinced that a dual, i.e. partner/adversary, attitude toward Russia ought to be a thing of the past. This is not the way of dealing with the problem of trust and, hence, cooperation. If someone intends to “counter Russia’s negative behavior”, how could one possibly expect our cooperation in the areas of interest to our partners? One has to choose between containment and cooperation, including in such issues as Russia’s accession to the WTO and the Asian Development Bank, or the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has outlived its original grounds in the late 1980s.

Regretfully, many of our Western partners tend to treat even such a crystal-clear issue as the necessity to stop re-emerging neo-Nazi trends and the desecration of the memorials to those who defeated fascism, under the influence of the same desire to “contain” Russia.

In the era of globalization of security challenges and threats, there exists a big difference between the presence of cooperation and the lack of it, between collective action and the necessity for each State or group of States to stand on its own and rely upon somebody else’s wisdom unappealably presented as the only possible recipe for dealing with world problems. We bear our responsibility for world affairs, and nobody will do it for us. We do not have the exceptionalism complex, nor do we have reasons to consider our analysis or our ideas inferior to those of others. Interaction with Russia is only possible on the basis of full equality, respect for each other’s security interests and mutual benefit.

USA-Russia: equal relationship

US-Russia ties still benefit from the stabilizing effect of close and honest working relations between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W.Bush, which was again vividly demonstrated by the recent Walker’s Point summit. Our peoples continue to share the memory of their joint victory over fascism. The common experience of the Cold War and joint exit from it unites us in its own right.

I am convinced that should equal partnership prevail in US-Russia relations, then very little will be impossible for both our nations. What we shouldn’t allow to happen is making US-Russia relations a hostage to electoral cycles in both countries or, even worse, letting somebody else do it. This would mean “washing hands off” vital interests of our peoples and the interests of global stability.

Struggle against international terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking, search for realistic ways of climate protection and nuclear energy development while strengthening the non-proliferation regime, global energy security, exploration of outer space and many other things – is it worth to sacrifice all these areas of evolving practical cooperation at the altar of the containment policy?

It would be regrettable if the inertia of bloc-based attitudes, all the more so if they become conceptually codified by the return to the containment policy, and unnecessary haste in dealing with issues that can wait, provoked alienation between the USA and Russia. That would narrow the space for our interaction. This “shagreen” effect can set its own dynamic in the relations, particularly if grass-root Americans are persuaded that Russia is to blame for nearly all the troubles of their country.

Anti-American feelings are not so widespread in Russia as elsewhere. If we refer to George Kennan, it would be opportune not only to quote the “Long Telegram”, but also to take his advice as to how the outside world should have behaved – not didactically and without imposing its will – in the post-Soviet period of Russia’s history. In this regard, the creation of a Working Group “Russia-US: Glimpse into the Future” co-chaired by H.Kissinger and E.Primakov could not be more timely. Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush actively supported this initiative, as well as establishing Jessica Mathews – Vladimir Lukin group to discuss impartially the issues concerning development of democracy and ensuring the human rights and freedoms.

Both sides should display a broad-minded and unbiased vision. Such an approach could be represented by the perception of Russia and the US as two branches of the European civilization, each contributing its own share of value added. We could meet at the “common table” on the basis of the European view of the world. Tripartite interaction between the US, Russia and the European Union in international affairs could become a practical formula of preserving the integrity of the Euro-Atlantic space in global politics. I can’t but agree with Jacques Delors who believes that “future development should lead to reaching a comprehensive agreement” within this “troika”. The ex-European Commission President is quite right in saying that “America, Russia and the European Union are the three political forces that are used to debating with each other” and that “every time discords separate them and every party plays its own game, the risk of global instability increases significantly”.

Georgy Adamovich, a prominent literary figure of Russian emigration, once noted that pessimism is generated by dealing with people in respect of whom there remain no illusions. I am convinced that neither the US nor Russia falls within that category.

I believe that we are still capable of amazing the world. Both Washington and Moscow manage it separately. Why wouldn’t we try to do it together? The more so that all of us are to live in more cramped quarters of global economy and politics. So why don’t we stand together and act in the spirit of cooperation and sound and fair competition on the basis of common standards and respect for international law? We have nothing to divide between us, but share together with other partners responsibility for the future of the world. In doing so we would be up to the great future foretold for our two nations by A. de Tocqueville and at the same time we could “contain” those who are attempting to deprive contemporary world of the benefits brought about by US-Russia as well as Euro-Atlantic partnership.

The July meeting of the US and Russian Presidents involving George Bush Sr. demonstrated the results which can be achieved by “teamwork”. Both leaders agreed to look for common approaches to the anti-missile defense and the reduction of strategic weapons, launched a new joint initiative in the field of nuclear energy and non-proliferation. It is symbolic that they went fishing together, but they did not “fish in troubled waters”.

MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION

August 15, 2007.

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