20 july 2016
The Inevitable, Weird World
Reality has a well-known liberal bias.
Any discussion of Russian foreign policy that has even a modicum of meaning inevitably begins with a question about the conditions and trends in the world as a whole. Our understanding of this world, our perception of the causal relations between events therein determine the way we position Russia, the way we see the most attractive opportunities or the direst dangers for our country.
Of course, any patriot (and I use this word without the condescending quotation marks which have been customary of late) finds it painfully difficult to hold to an objective, removed stance when assessing the reality around them. They do not wish to see their homeland as a “downshifter country” as the eloquent head of Sberbank recently opined about Russia. They do not wish to see their homeland as an eternal F-student in the back of the classroom, who once again faces the unpleasant prospect of receiving yet another bad grade. They want quite the opposite: to position their country in the circle of world leaders, among the recognized victors, to see Russia among those who shape the present and future agendas.
Perhaps that is why, either consciously or subconsciously, we attach particular significance to those global development trends that highlight our country’s either real or imaginary relative advantages. And vice versa, we push into the background or even ignore those trends and changes of global politics into which Russia has not managed to fit thus far.
Either consciously or subconsciously, we attach particular significance to those global development trends that highlight our country’s either real or imaginary relative advantages.
This selectivity in looking at the world around us should not come as a surprise. We encounter it daily in our everyday life. Who among us is ready to admit that they are rude, quarrelsome, and slovenly? Rather, our neighbors are particularly unfriendly, you cannot make them respect you without giving them a piece of your mind, and the water is so wet that showering every morning is utterly impossible. Our perceptions are relative. “The world as we have created it as a process of our thinking,” Albert Einstein noted, not without reason. Yet even in everyday life, success usually favors those who are able, even if only from time to time, to look objectively and unbiasedly at their reality and at their place within that reality. It is particularly relevant for those who aspire to make an academic analysis of the complex and dynamic system that is today’s global politics.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Russia and Europe: New Rules of the Game
Virtually every general work on Russia’s foreign policy is predicated on the notion that there is a systemic crisis of the liberal world order. For some, this crisis is a tragedy on a historical scale. For some, it is a long-awaited confirmation of old prophecies; for others, an unexpected gift from above. Whatever diagnostic methods used (and they are many), the principal symptoms of the crisis are always the following:
Firstly, the crisis of the liberal world order is firmly linked with the relative decline of the global hegemony of the US. Attention is paid to the decrease in the US share of the world’s GDP, to the multiple problems of the American economy and financial system, to Washington’s recent unsuccessful interventions (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria), to the growth of anti-American sentiments in many regions of the world, to the rise of isolationism in the US itself. These factors lead to the conclusion that the time of Pax Americana is in the past, and the liberal world order as a whole, a concomitant of US hegemony, is also in the past.
The crisis of the liberal world order is firmly linked with the relative decline of the global hegemony of the US.
Secondly, they mention the crisis of liberalism as a political ideology. “The fourth wave” of democratization, on which so many hopes had been pinned at the turn of the century, failed to establish the dominance of liberal values in East Asia and particularly in the Middle East. Russia and the majority of other post-Soviet states never turned into “mature” western-type liberal democracies; on the contrary, in their political evolution, they are moving further and further away from that model. And a world in which liberalism suffers defeat after defeat cannot have a liberal world order.
Thirdly, the advancing decline of the world system’s governability is viewed as another symptom of the crisis. The decline of international organizations (the UN, to start, but also the EU, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, G7 and other principal liberal instruments of global governance), the blurring of the fundamental principles of international public law, the increasing number of armed conflicts and the global community’s inability to handle those conflicts are all signs of major problems in today’s world system, and these problems are highly unlikely to be solved within the dominant liberal paradigm.
“The fourth wave” of democratization failed to establish the dominance of liberal values in East Asia and particularly in the Middle East.
Fourthly, the liberal world order is quite logically linked to globalization. Today, globalization is being harshly criticized virtually everywhere and by everyone: in both developed and developing countries, in Europe and in America, by political populists and by highbrow intellectuals. Protectionist, nationalist, and anti-globalist sentiments are on the rise everywhere. Brexit results in the UK, Donald Trump’s unexpected success in the US, apparent strengthening of right-wing radicals in continental Europe are all links in the same chain. If the wave of globalization is petering out in the second decade of the 21st century, it is logical to suppose that the liberal world order does not have much time left either.
These, I believe, are the principal tenets posited by numerous critics of the liberal world order. These tenets lead to fairly predictable conclusions for Russia’s foreign policy. The time of relative order and stability is over and we must prepare for the “war of all against all.” The old international laws are losing their significance, and Russia need not pay too much heed to them. Russia should become one of the main architects and builders of a post-liberal world order. Let us see how fully and objectively these ideas reflect the reality of today’s world.
The Basic Principles of the Liberal World Order
The Splendours and Miseries of Geopolitics
Let’s ask ourselves a simple question: what exactly is a liberal world order? There are many definitions of this fairly loose notion, emphasizing its various features. The liberal world order is linked with the role of international organizations, with multilateralism, with human rights, with stress on “soft power” in world politics, with refusing to use force to resolve international problems, etc. Without laying claim to the ultimate truth and preemptively agreeing with accusations of reductionism, I will set forth three principal tenets of this world order which form the foundation for the majority of its other structures.
Firstly, the liberal view of world politics is based on rationality. This means that in the liberal world, foreign policy is not determined by a mystical revelation of a religious prophet, nor by a whim of an almighty despot, nor by the mythologems of a “national mission” generated by mysterious and deeply hidden “political elites.” Foreign policy is the common denominator of multiple and multidirectional group interests; these political, economic, social, and regional interests ultimately shape a country’s national interests. In this sense, liberalism is essentially different from both holistic revolutionary ideologies and from its own relative, political realism. The latter shares with liberalism its rationalistic basis, but on the whole, it is indifferent toward the internal factors and mechanisms of shaping and implementing a state’s foreign policy. In other words, when we speak about the rationalism of the liberal worldview, we mean the rationalism of John Locke, not the rationalism of Thomas Hobbes and certainly not the rationalism of Niccolò Machiavelli.
The advancing decline of the world system’s governability is viewed as another symptom of the crisis.
The second fundamental principle of the liberal world order is its normativity. The ideal of the liberal world order is a set of rules and standards of behavior which are the same for all players. The rules and norms may be mandatory or voluntary, stipulated in treaties or based on precedents; they may be implemented through international organizations, multilateral regimes or immediately within states’ relations with each other. Yet rules must exist, and they must be the same for everyone. There is nothing worse for the liberal world order than a “no-holds-barred” game or different sets of rules for the world’s different regions.
Finally, the third principle of the liberal world order is openness. By definition, liberalism in global politics is opposed to isolationism, protectionism, closed “spheres of influence,” and to any other restrictions imposed on international interaction. It was not accidental that it was the 1970s liberals who took notice of the interdependence phenomenon and, at the turn of the 21st century, rallied behind globalization. The liberal world order is based on the premise that some form of global governability is not only desirable, but also practicable, and increasing the world system’s level of governability is in the fundamental interests of all responsible participants in this system.
Collapsed Trajectory or Growing Pains?
If we proceed from such a definition of the liberal world order, some of the arguments put forward by its opponents must be dismissed right away. The American hegemony is linked to this world order only indirectly. Of course, the role of the US in today’s system of international relations is hard to overestimate, but the foundations of the system precede the US, having been laid in the early 19th century or even fifty years prior to that, at the time of the European Enlightenment. As to the US per se, Washington has always had a complicated relationship with the liberal world order: American foreign policy went through the construction of its own exclusive “near-abroad” with the Monroe Doctrine of the early 19th century, isolationist strategy in the 1920s and 1930s, and creation of a large system of unequal military political alliances in the second half of the 20th century.
The US made the fullest use of the opportunities concomitant with American hegemony in the liberal world space after World War II, but when need arose, in order to pursue foreign policy strategies, easily brushed aside rationality, normativity, and openness. Today, not everything in American policies and politics fits within the framework of the liberal world order, although American presidents invariably swear allegiance to its basic principles. Let’s emphasize once again: American hegemony and the liberal world order are two phenomena that are historically interrelated, but they are not identical.
The liberal world order is quite logically linked to globalization.
The relations between the liberal world order and the liberal ideology are also not entirely unequivocal. Historically speaking, the foundations of this world order were largely laid by Western democracies. Yet subsequently, their creation surpassed its creators, acquired а universal nature, and the liberal world order ceased to be a purely western phenomenon. To greater or lesser degrees, its principles were absorbed by the majority of non-liberal regimes: from Pinochet’s Chile to Deng Xiaoping’s China. The overwhelming majority of non-western countries (India and Turkey, Brazil and Indonesia, Vietnam and Nigeria) make every effort to fit into the liberal world order, justly believing that this system can afford them the most favorable conditions for their social and economic development.
The liberal world order thus turned out to be broader, more attractive, more “global” than liberalism as a political ideology for the simple reason that it is not so much an ideological platform as a tool for structuring the global economic and – to some extent – political space. As a tool, the liberal world order mutatis mutandis is acceptable not only for the liberal Anglo-Saxon world, but also for the social-democratic world of continental Europe, for East Asia’s authoritarian regimes, and even for theocratic Arab monarchies of the Gulf.
The liberal view of world politics is based on rationality.
Certainly, the system’s new participants require large-scale intersystem reforms: access to making key decisions, restructuring the existing institutions, altering certain priorities, etc. It is only natural: the system’s new participants were virtually uninvolved in the process of its creation in the mid-20th century. But we are talking reforms, not attempts to create a new (alternative) post-liberal world order. A typical example is the gradual transfer of the global economic agenda from G7/G8 to G20: the participants are different, the overall principles of the group’s activities are largely the same. Consequently, the crisis of liberalism does not necessarily entail a concomitant crisis of the liberal world order.
It would hardly be correct to state categorically that instability, violence, and anarchy are steadily on the rise in today’s world. The trends of today’s global development are contradictory at the very least. For instance, instead of picking up pace, nuclear proliferation has slowed down in the recent decades. On the whole, from the beginning of the century, the number of wars waged simultaneously in the world (including civil wars) has decreased, although the conflicts’ intensity has increased as far as 2014. In any case, the second decade of the 21st century does not look fundamentally more dangerous or conflict-prone than many preceding decades of world history.
The second fundamental principle of the liberal world order is its normativity
I get the impression that the critics of the liberal world order often consciously or unconsciously make disintegration trends in the world appear more dramatic and underestimate the opposing integration trends. For instance, a lot is being said today that the EU’s problems, including Brexit, are indicators of a consistent, steady, and fatal degradation of the Union. Of course, both the migration crisis and Brexit are very serious trials for Brussels. However, we should not forget that two or three years ago many analysts were just as certain in predicting the inevitable collapse of the eurozone and the European Union due to the tremendous financial crisis. Today, however, we may conclude that “Van Rompuy’s reforms” have allowed the institution to create new mechanisms for preventing and correcting macroeconomic imbalances, to enhance internal budget discipline, to form the European system for financial monitoring, etc. It is apparent that one should not underestimate the flexibility and adaptability of the EU institutions in today’s very difficult situation.
The third principle of the liberal world order is openness.
By the same token, we should not underestimate the stability of the modern international law system. Certainly, its norms are sometimes breached, and the leading western countries have breached them, too. But such breaches have happened before. Nonetheless, today the system of international legal regulation of world politics, economy, and finance is, on the whole, more complete and efficient than it was twenty, even fifty, years ago. International law now regulates many spheres that previously came exclusively under domestic law jurisdiction, or were even outside of any legal regulation. The fact that some drivers from time to time break the traffic rules does not mean that these rules do not exist or can be disregarded with impunity.
Are There Alternatives To The Liberal World Order?
Imperatives of Neomodernism for the Middle
In the early 19th century, spontaneous protests against machine manufacturing swept over England. The protesters destroyed plants and factories and broke the machines believing they were fighting against a dehumanizing industrial revolution. These protesters were dubbed Luddites.
Today’s critics of the liberal world order are somewhat like the English Luddites. They criticize dehumanizing nature of globalization, irresponsible national and international bureaucracy, the greed and egotism of transnational corporations. They call for the destruction of the current global political and economic system, which they do not like and which, (to speak honestly) let’s be honest, is a far cry from perfect. But what do they specifically suggest as a replacement?
As far as one can surmise, there is currently no consistent, comprehensive, fully detailed alternative to the liberal world order offered either by individual states, or by coalitions of states. There is a huge number of political manifestos, journalistic pamphlets and declarations stating the need or inevitability of a post-liberal world order. But thus far only hypothetical models have been offered in terms of actual practice, drafts, at best, hastily sketched outlines with very weak expert assessment and with no serious testing by political practice.
American hegemony and the liberal world order are two phenomena that are historically interrelated, but they are not identical.
The first possible alternative to the liberal world order is the return to the world of rigidly constructed hierarchic empires, closed regional trade alliances and military political blocs, something akin to George Orwell’s “Oceania,” “Eurasia,” and “Eastasia” adjusted for the geopolitical realities of the 21st century. However, under today’s conditions of total interdependence, global manufacturing chains, global finances, transcontinental migrations, globalized education, modern science and technology, such an archaic multipolar world is hard to believe in: the relations between countries and peoples are increasingly defined not by decisive strategic partnerships, but by an endless number of specific arrangements, private agreements, common technical standards, and coordinated regulation practices. That is why either the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, or China’s non-participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are unlikely to have all those disastrous economic consequences so often predicted by those who love “geopolitical horror stories,” yet have poor knowledge of the way the global economy works today.
The liberal world order thus turned out to be broader, more attractive, more “global” than liberalism as a political ideology .
The second alternative is a world organized around a single value system. But what value system would that be? If the ideology of liberalism is in a crisis, and a systemic communist alternative failed to survive into the 21st century, only political Islam could stake a real claim for the role of universal integrator today. The idea of the “global caliphate” is today’s embodiment of the “global proletarian revolution.” It is hard to imagine that a new version of a global utopia (or rather dystopia) has any chances of practical implementation. And even the most ardent critics of the liberal world order would prefer it to the joys of living in the “global caliphate.”
The crisis of liberalism does not necessarily entail a concomitant crisis of the liberal world order.
The third alternative is the collapse of the world’s hierarchies, international organizations and regimes, the “atomization” of global politics to chaotic and non-systemic interaction between individual sovereign states, an endless struggle of “all against all.” Theoretically, although not easily, such an alternative could be imagined. But if individual states will not only struggle, but also somehow cooperate with each other, they will inevitably face the question of some kind of normative base, regulatory mechanisms, coordinated interaction procedures. The little sprouts of the liberal world order would still break through the chaos and anarchy of international relations. Under the conditions of global interdependence, global political actors will inevitably make use of the liberal toolkit, regardless of the name they assign to it. Thus Molière's famous character spoke prose without ever suspecting it.
Today’s critics of the liberal world order are somewhat like the English Luddites.
Critics of the liberal world order claim that this world order enshrines the “golden billion’s” privilege in relation to the rest of the humankind. However, the history of the recent decades shows that it is precisely the fundamental features of this world order (rationality, normativity, openness) that create global “social mobility” that allows millions of people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa to move into the middle class. It is the liberal world order that allowed tens of countries to sharply increase their status in the world system. Discarding the established mechanisms of the international circulation of commodities, capital, technologies, and social practices will not lead to the leveling-out of the socioeconomic conditions of the “golden billion” and other six billion. On the contrary, the existing disproportions will only be exacerbated. The broad-scale negative consequences on regional and global stability which would stem from such long-term accumulation of socioeconomic disproportions are self-evident.
Thus, the liberal world order is not the only theoretically possible variant of the global political development, but the only order in the true meaning of the word. And if today’s international system is facing a choice, it is not a choice between the liberal world order and its full-fledged alternatives, but a choice between the liberal world order and various versions of global disorder, chronic instability, and chaos.
Seven Steps beyond the Horizon of the Crisis
One of the typical ploys used by opponents of the liberal world order is as follows. They take the most radical representations of this world order borrowed from works written in the beginning of the century or even earlier. Then these ideas are simplified and schematized into primitive caricatures. And then this caricature is subjected to ruthless, yet seemingly fair and justified criticism.
Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History (1992) and Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat (2005) presented such convenient and famous targets. But it should be remembered that, firstly, these works were conceived by their authors as an intellectual provocation of sorts, and secondly, that they belong to a past era. Criticizing Fukuyama and Friedman is easy, but it would be far more productive to analyze objectively the nature and scale of the obstacles discovered to bar the path of liberal world order reform in the second half of the 20th century. It is evident that we need to discuss a whole range of interconnected problems.
They call for the destruction of the current global political and economic system, which they do not like. But what do they specifically suggest as a replacement?
Perhaps the most fundamental of these problems is the desire of western countries and particularly the US to somehow retain their privileged positions in the emerging world order at the expense of “non-western” states. Barack Obama’s recent article in the Washington Post — in which he stated that it is the US and its allies, and not countries like China, who should determine the rules of global trade in the 21st century— is rather illustrative of this desire. This distinctive trait of current American foreign policy, inherent in presidents as divergent as George W. Bush and Barack Obama alike, could be tentatively named the “liberal world order buffet,” that is, when the US chooses at will the global political spheres for multilateral regulation, keeping its hands almost completely untied in every other sphere. As a typical example, one could cite Washington’s numerous “disarmament initiatives” in the last few years, which are well-matched by the US’s uncontested leadership in weapons trade and its enormous, long-term programs for modernizing American military potential, including its nuclear arsenal.
The relations between countries and peoples are increasingly defined not by decisive strategic partnerships, but by an endless number of specific arrangements, private agreements, common technical standards, and coordinated regulation practices.
On the other hand, the “non-western” countries themselves are not always eager to assume responsibility for the future of the international relations system. Criticism of the existing “western” world order by “non-western” countries often is rather declarative, if not straight-up demagoguery. Just like half a century ago, there are calls for a global redistribution of resources. Just like half a century ago, a lot is being said about the rights of the new players, but a lot less is being said about their obligations and responsibility. Foreign policy “maturation” of potential global leaders will take both time and incessant effort, and also a readiness to resist the temptations of near-sighted nationalism.
Unfortunately, the possibility of “civilizational breakdowns” in individual countries and entire regions cannot be disregarded, and it particularly applies to those countries and regions that fail to meet the challenges of socioeconomic and political modernization. For instance, it is hard to imagine that in the foreseeable future, the Middle East and Northern Africa could become parts of the liberal world order. Far more possible are those variants of the future in which that large region (or a significant part of it) will for a long time remain in the periphery of the liberal world order and will only slowly, and with great difficulty, grow into its regimes and institutions. The risk of going by the wayside and the temptation to depict this wayside as the road of civilizational development loom over other regions of the world as well.
Only political Islam could stake a real claim for the role of universal integrator today.
The bureaucratic inertia of international organizations, created in a different time and for different purposes, poses yet another significant obstacle. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank stubbornly insist on keeping their established traditions, procedures, and decision-making mechanisms, thus forcing “non-western” countries to create their own parallel institutions which bypass the non-reformed western institutions. It should be emphasized, however, that these parallel institutions (for instance, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) are, on the whole, based on the same liberal principles as their western predecessors.
Of course, populist movements which actively exploit the omnipresent fears of the mysterious, incomprehensible, unpredictable and, apparently, hostile and extremely dangerous global world remain a fundamental threat for the liberal world order. Of the three principles of the liberal world order, the principle of openness remains the most frightening one, but the struggle against openness ultimately transforms into a struggle against rationality and normativity.
The liberal world order is not the only theoretically possible variant of the global political development, but the only order in the true meaning of the word.
Thus, the world order of the 21st century will be shaped in a hard struggle between the old and the new, in a confrontation between the states which are on the rise and states which are on the downward slide, between the established and the newly-founded international institutions, between globalization’s winners and losers. But if globalization continues in some form, and interdependence between states, individual institutions, and individuals increases, then the need for global governance will increase as well. Strictly speaking, the principal function of the new world order is to make maximal use of and distribute democratically the new opportunities offered by globalization and to minimize the expenses and risks which are its inevitable companions.
There are no doubts that these expenses and risks are significant. It is also clear that the balance of opportunities and risks is distributed unevenly between global politics’ actors. Smaller countries bear greater risks than big countries, and developing countries are more vulnerable than developed countries. But it only increases the demands for a new system of global governance and does not cancel out the need for creating such a system. The specific features of the liberal approach to international relations (rationality, normativity, openness) allow us to hope that the struggle for the future world order, which has already begun, will not threaten humankind with disasters on a regional or global scale. Alternative approaches to the world order leave no such hopes. If these alternatives do leave any room for optimism, it is, in Alexander Prokhanov’s pithy words, “eschatological optimism,” taking us beyond the possible in our earthly world.
The “non-western” countries themselves are not always eager to assume responsibility for the future of the international relations system
The 21st century world order, if it does indeed emerge, will have little in common with the liberal theories of the last century and with its foreign policy practices. Figuratively speaking, if the global politics of the 20th century could be compared to playing checkers on a standard 2D board, this century’s politics is more like playing 3D chess. Let’s add that, unlike a flat board, the 3D “cube” itself is not static: its facets keep growing, thus expanding the game space and increasing the number of possible moves for an ever greater number of players.
Let’s try to define the rules of this new game just in the most general way, on the basis of the main principles of the liberal world order (rationality, normativity, openness).
Will this system be rational? Let’s not forget that in the liberal paradigm, rationality is not a convoluted multi-move game combination of an enlightened (or not particularly enlightened) sovereign, but a balanced representation of various and multidirectional group interests in the international sphere. Given such an understanding of rationality, we could suppose that the new system will be more, and not less, rational than the current one. Not because the future rulers of the world’s leading countries will be more democratic, wise, or insightful than the current ones, but because the many group interests will find more opportunities for immediate self-implementation in international life directly, bypassing the bottleneck of the state’s foreign policy apparatus. This trend can be observed even today in the activities of big businesses, professional organizations, transnational institutions of civic society, etc. Moreover, states increasingly will be forced to form coalitions (public-private partnerships) with these non-state actors, since without such partnerships, a state’s foreign policy will rapidly lose its efficiency.
Will the system be normative? This question is more difficult than the one about rationality. The experience of recent years demonstrates that state leaders face more and more difficulties in achieving approval and adoption of legally binding agreements. Legislative authorities are reluctant to assume new obligations, the ratification process of agreements is drawn out, populists everywhere gain strength, and appealing to voters directly, often through the use of referendums, frequently brings results that are diametrically opposed to the organizers’ expectations (for instance, the 2016 Netherlands referendum on the agreement between the EU and Ukraine, and Brexit).
The principal function of the new world order is to make maximal use of and distribute democratically the new opportunities offered by globalization and to minimize the expenses and risks which are its inevitable companions. .
One could suppose that further development of the rules and regulations for global politics will involve increasing the number of formally non-binding obligations and self-restrictions voluntarily assumed by states (and also by non-state actors). For instance, the US on the whole adheres to the provision of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, without being a party to the Convention. G20’s decisions are not legally binding for the member countries; implementing these decisions is monitored through the so-called process of mutual assessment, which has a purely advisory status. In the world order that is currently being shaped, the significance of a state’s “political reputation,” “responsibility,” and “credit history” will increase, and any breaches even of voluntarily assumed obligations will inevitably entail negative consequences for the perpetrators. Bad “credit history” will cost all the more.
The 21st century world order, if it does indeed emerge, will have little in common with the liberal theories of the last century.
Thirdly, will the new world system be more open? Yes, in the sense that it will not rest on the hegemony of one power, be it that of the US or China. It does not mean that the new world order will not have its own hierarchies, for hierarchies are indispensable. Yet these hierarchies will be multiple, and they will be constructed around specific international problems or cooperation areas. For instance, even though the US far exceeds Canada in power and influence in almost every respect, in the Arctic Council, it is Canada (along with Russia), and not the US, that behaves as a true superpower. On the other hand, despite the incomparable sizes and potentials of Russia and South Korea, Seoul tops Moscow in the global trade hierarchy, since South Korean foreign trade volume is currently twice as large as Russia’s. The existence of multiple parallel hierarchies increases the number of the system’s “entry points” and increases the chances of improving one’s status within the system, which makes it more democratic, stable, and universal.
Looking for a balance between global and regional institutions will, apparently, become another strategic issue. Regionalism does not necessarily cancel out globalization or oppose it. It, perhaps, is one of the manifestations of it. It is inexpedient and unnecessary to bring problems, which can be more easily solved at a regional level, into a global forum There are no reasons to believe that such structures like the EU or ASEAN need to sooner or later dissolve into broader global regimes. However, if regional unions’ participants will enclose themselves within the shell of their rigid structures and institutions, creating exclusive “regional orders” will undoubtedly remain one of the principal threats for the liberal international system.
The Emerging World Order and Russia
Future of Global Governance
In the wonderful Soviet film We'll Live Till Monday, there is a small, but emotionally charged episode. The main character, a schoolteacher played by Vyacheslav Tikhonov, is talking to the mother of a failing student about her son’s problems. The teacher discusses the boy’s serious learning difficulties, and the mother is most afraid that because of his failing grades, her son will be kicked out from the dancing club at the Pioneers’ Palace. “It’s not his legs he must train, it’s his memory and speech!” Tikhonov flares up.
The conclusion about a profound and irreversible crisis of the liberal world order is a very convenient position for those who would like to simplify not only the big picture of the 21st century, but also the challenges Russia’s foreign policy faces today. It is very convenient for those who would like to continue training their legs, not their memory and speech. If, in the case of the world’s imminent collapse and the inevitable chaos to follow, the principal contents of politics and policies becomes not the flourishing of societies, but the survival of a handful of truly sovereign states, if security, not development, becomes the national priority in the “no-holds-barred” game, if stability, and not capacity for change, becomes the principal value, then modern Russia is indeed better prepared for this new situation than many other countries or unions. We need only to continue the path chosen, laying stronger emphasis on the points that have become so marked in Russian foreign policy practice in recent years.
We could suppose that the new system will be more, and not less, rational than the current one.
And if not? If, after having survived through another crisis, the liberal world order is reborn in a new, more modern and universal form? Of course, even under such circumstances additional leg exercises may be of help. But you do not have to be a Nostradamus to predict that in the renewed liberal world system, traditional assets of Russia’s foreign policy will quickly become devalued. It applies to its military potential, to Russia’s privileged position in leading international organizations (first and foremost in the UN Security Council), and to Russia’s resource and energy potential.
If the current economic and technological disproportions between Russia and the West are to remain (and they are likely to be exacerbated), maintaining a strategic balance will become more and more difficult and costly with each passing decade. The role of the UN Security Council will hardly become more important given the chronic inability of its permanent members to come to an agreement on crucial issues. And the fourth industrial revolution will, apparently, steadily devalue the traditional assets of resource-oriented economies, including Russia’s.
State leaders face more and more difficulties in achieving approval and adoption of legally binding agreements. Legislative authorities are reluctant to assume new obligations.
And if this is the case, then a patriot’s (using the word without any ironic quotation marks) duty and obligation is to pay attention to memory and speech. To pay attention to expanding and renewing Russia’s foreign policy’s arsenal. To increase the efficiency of our “soft power” and public diplomacy. To oil the innovative mechanisms for bringing together the international interests of the state, private business, and civic society. To more fully engage our “human resources” to strengthen the country’s position abroad. To fight the xenophobic sentiments, intolerance and isolationism which recently have become so widespread. How will we come to see in globalization not only problems and challenges, but also Russia’s new opportunities and historical possibilities? In a word — prepare Russian society for the “inevitable, weird world” where our children and grandchildren will most likely have to live.
Andrey Kortunov, “The Inevitable, Weird World ,” Russian International Affairs Council, 20 July 2016, http://russiancouncil.ru/en/inner/?id_4=7930
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