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Igor Ivanov

President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004)

Do we have adequate instruments to deal with the new generation of threats and challenges? I am afraid that the answer to this question is negative. We – in the East and in the West – failed to use twenty-five years since the end of the Cold war to build new mechanisms, to reform old institutions, or even to reflect on how we should modify the traditional rules of the game to catch up with the changing international environment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends and colleagues,

The title of our session is “Responses to Security Threats”. The title implies that we have security problems in Europe. It would be logical to start the discussion with defining the types of threats that appear to be the most dangerous for Russia and Europe now and in the nearest future.

Do we have a common list of new threats? Yes, we do. Let me bring your attention to the NATO–Russia Council Joint Statement signed at the meeting of the NATO–Russia Council held in Lisbon on November 20, 2010.

Russia and NATO stated that they shared important common interests and faced common challenges. On that basis, they identified concrete practical cooperation activities. These activities included cooperation on both nuclear and conventional aspects of European security, on Afghanistan and international terrorism, on trans-border drug traffic and piracy, in short – on a very substantial list of threats and challenges that Russia and the West recognized as common.

The NATO-Russia Declaration was signed almost six years ago and today we can consider this list to be incomplete (for instance, there is no reference to migration related challenges there), but largely the list is by no means outdated. On the contrary, most of these threats have become even more pressing.

What are the most striking common features of these threats? What makes them so different from traditional threats of the XX century end previous ages? I would emphasize three common features:

First, all of these threats come not from states, but rather from non-state actors. When we talk about international terrorism or cyber war or drug traffic, we have to recognize that no state can possibly benefit from these problems and every state is endangered by these threats. What we see happening today, is a gradual erosion of the state system with growing numbers of failed states emerging. The Middle East crisis is probably the most graphic demonstration of this trend.

Second, the new threats are extremely difficult to foresee and to preempt. All major terrorist acts came as a surprise. Nobody predicted the depth and the scale of the migrations crisis that broke out last year. We have enemies who are more numerous, more flexible and more adaptive than our adversaries during the Cold war. Unfortunately, our responses to new challenges are often delayed and lacking a long-term vision.

Third, most of the threats of today and tomorrow are complex in their nature. They cannot be confined to the traditional hard security area, but extend into economic, social, cultural and even religious domains. This complexity requires a new set of skills and a new level of coordination between states, the private sector and civil society institutions.

Do we have adequate instruments to deal with the new generation of threats and challenges? I am afraid that the answer to this question is negative. We – in the East and in the West – failed to use twenty-five years since the end of the Cold war to build new mechanisms, to reform old institutions, or even to reflect on how we should modify the traditional rules of the game to catch up with the changing international environment. Of course, we can blame each other and try to find explanations for the current situation. However, I consider much more productive to focus on what we can do now.

I do not share the view that today is the right time for any grandiose plans to build a new comprehensive security system in the Euro-Atlantic region. Even if we had such a chance fifteen or ten years ago, the chance has been missed and it is unlikely to reemerge in the nearest future. There are at least two reasons for that.

First, the trust between Russia and the West has been completely destroyed. This profound deficit of trust will be with us for a long, long time even under the best possible circumstances. And without trust it is practically impossible to consider a comprehensive and long term common strategy in such a sensitive and politically loaded sphere as international security.

Second, there is no common vision about the future of the international system at large or about the future of Euro-Atlantic space in particular. The perceptions of how the new world order should look like are too different in Moscow and in major European capitals, not to mention Washington, DC. These disagreements are extremely hard to bridge, even when we try.

Does it mean that we should sit on our hands doing nothing and waiting for better conditions to resume security cooperation between Russia and the West? Not at all. If we do nothing, the conditions will not get better; they can get only worse.

Then what is the viable option? I will not offer you any revelations or any magic solutions to all our problems. Nevertheless, my long professional experience suggests the following: the first step should be to restore where possible the now frozen or cut communication lines between Moscow and the West. Nothing will change for the better until we start talking to each other again. At the same time, I would suggest to abstain from insulting rhetoric, which both sides use even at the official level. This rhetoric is amplified by the media, saturates public opinion and makes any positive changes in our relations extremely difficult.

However, most importantly, we should think about specific problems that we can and should address together. Syria may well be one of the most evident and most important issues for applying joint efforts. Yet, without addressing problems of the Middle East region at large, we are not likely to achieve a stable settlement in Syria. Afghanistan remains our common headache and it will continue to be the headache for a long time. The situation in the Korean peninsula remains highly explosive. And many matters of unconventional security – from cyber to climate change to food security – are not likely to diminish without our persistent consorted efforts.

Let me finish my introductory remarks with a quote from an op-ed piece that my friend Lord Malcolm Rifkind and me published in International New York Times on August 3rd of 2015. "If NATO partners and Russia do not act to steer events in the way we set out, our fear is that the future course of this crisis will be shaped by circumstances independent of our respective political will. If we allow that to happen, it may be chance, rather than good judgment, that will decide our countries fates".

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Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
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