In Between East and West

Growth is Stability –A Scope of Interdependent Emergence

August 7, 2013


      The worldwide financial meltdown of 2007 has triggered countless emotional responses at every single corner of the world. Fears marched and myths triumphed. Some claimed that all capitalist states are prone to be bankrupt (although states by definition cannot be bankrupt, strictly speaking) and others proclaimed that the recession is the new norm (but capitalism in today’s world is still alive and kicking). In the realm of international affairs and global governance, there has also been a fundamental shift in relative power distribution. Firstly, states’ grips on economies have tightened in a majority of countries and the hopeful era of self-regulation is now gone. [1] This trend is most remarkable in the realm of global economic governance. Both in developed and developing countries, there has been a prominent relocation of financial decision making center from New York to Washington, D.C., from Shanghai to Beijing, and from Sao Paulo to Brasilia. Failures of private self-regulation systems have also brought mounting doubts to other global self-regulatory regimes that were built on incentives rather than coercion and enforcement. Yet, secondly and more importantly, accommodation of emerging powers [2] to the existing milieu of global governance has become one of the top priorities in world politics and has attracted a wide range of scholarship in recent years. In short, the onset of the global economic downturn demolished the economic hegemony of advanced countries. The crisis proved that G8 was no longer an effective forum of global policy coordination and it is increasingly replaced by G20. Despite the ongoing redistribution of power, however, emerging countries particularly Russia and China are often portrayed as a threat to the existing regimes of global governance, both in political and economic terms.[3]


Photo: Anton Knoff Photo


        In my view, contemporary scholars as well as concerned citizens and business persons must be cautious of buying such story of threat and fear. I argue that the prevailing view to see Russia as an unrestrained great power unwilling to join the existing regimes of global governance is fallacious and misleading. Furthermore, a threatening narrative of emerging powers replacing existing powers is based on a little historical evidence. A closer examination of Russian foreign and economic policies reveals that Russia today stands in between her global aspiration and regional constraints. Whilst Western countries see Russia as an increasingly audacious global power [4] and potential threat in the near future,[5] her constraints attract far less attention than her strengths in the contemporary scholarship. For example, the Russia-Ukraine energy crisis during recent years triggered emotional responses from the Western scholars who articulated that now the European energy security is under a dire threat from Russia. [6]  Such argument myopically highlights the aspect of dependence and fallaciously overlooks the magnitude of interdependence. Considering the fact that approximately a half of Russian national budget comes from oil and gas sales (and by any definition European countries are the biggest customers), it is difficult to understand how Russia could act more aggressively towards these countries. If Russia ever threatened her hydrocarbon buyers, her act of threat inevitably jeopardizes an overwhelming portion of her national budget through which Russian government maintains domestic order and stability.


        Rather than myopically focusing on the myth of threat, it is more valuable to examine the growing discrepancy between Russian policy of political independence and economic interdependence. It is undeniable that Russia is increasingly assertive in the pursuit of a mightier state and stronger political independence, particularly since the President Putin has sworn to his second term of presidency in 2012. Yet simultaneously, Russian interdependence on global economy has also grown to a unprecedented level owning to its recent modernization policies initiated by former president Medvedev. [7] As the financial crisis clearly demonstrated that the “decoupling theory” was a hopeful myth,[8] I maintain that Russian endeavor for political independence and economic interdependence has already begun to show early signs of conflicting interest and long-term incompatibility. A globally renowned political risk analyst Ian Bremmer assured that Russia and China would have no hesitation to choose stability over growth when necessary. [9] However, my argument is that growth is stability. In other words, growth is the only way to keep suppressing voices for radical reform and maintaining increasingly fragile domestic order. In Africa, rebellion begins where the road ends. In Russia, rebellion begins where the growth ends. Hence, Russia confronts many regional and national constraints to further engage in global governance whereas many advanced countries tend to see her as a large unconstraint challenger of world order. Today, the greatest threat to Russia comes from within rather than from outside world, such as economic volatility and widespread corruption. We should not let the narrow focus of emergence cloud our analytical eyes to underestimate the current state of extraordinary interdependence and growing interconnectedness.


[1] Ian Bremmer, The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations? (New York: Portfolio, 2011).

[2] The most powerful and dynamic emerging countries are called BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), first coined by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill. The BRICs Summit in 2011 welcomed South Africa and now BRICS are widely referred as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. For the background of these emerging countries, see Jim O'Neill, Building better global economic BRICs (New York: Goldman Sachs, 2001).

[3] The view to see the division among global powers and the rise of new civilizations is not a new phenomenon, however. See Samuel P. Huntington, The class of civilizations and the remaking of world order (New Delhi, India: Penguin Books India, 1997).

[4] Russia-Georgia War of 2008 was a salient example that Russia remains an assertive military power. For an account of rising aspirations of emerging countries including Russia, see Henry R. Nau., and Deepa M. Ollapally, eds. Worldviews of Aspiring Powers: Domestic Foreign Policy Debates in China, India, Iran, Japan, and Russia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[5] A review of longstanding distrust, or mistrust, on Russia, see Andrei Tsygankov, Russophobia: Anti-Russian lobby and American foreign policy (Basingstoke, Hampshire, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[6] Thane  Gustafson, Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).

[7] Jeffrey Mankoff, Russian foreign policy: the return of great power politics (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009).

[8] Anders Åslund, Sergej Maratovič Guriev, and Andrew Kuchins. Russia after the global economic crisis (Washington, D.C.: Peterson Institute, 2010).

[9] Ian Bremmer, The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?


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