New Security Challenges and Russia

10 november 2002

Resume: September 11, 2001 and the events that followed brought major changes to the world and prompted a review of the threats to stability. It became evident that many approaches to global and national security are either outdated or simply inadequate. How are the world leaders reacting to the new challenges? How should Russia use its foreign policy resources in this situation? These are the problems addressed in the latest report of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

1. Introduction: Assessment of Resources

1.0. The theses are primarily intended to further the ideas and conclusions contained in the CFDP Report “Russia and Globalization Trends. What Needs to Be Done?” released as a separate booklet in 2001 [2] and in the chapter on foreign policy in CFDP book “Strategy for Russia: Agenda for the President-2000” [3].

Admittedly, the theses given below are merely tangentially related to the pressing Russian security challenges that are reflective of the country’s persisting economic and political weaknesses, poor self-management of the state and society. These issues have repeatedly been addressed and are expected to be revisited by the CFDP in the months ahead. To be specific, they are planned to be brought into sharper focus by the reviewed and updated version of the CFDP Report “Russia and Globalization Trends”, which is currently in the works.

1.1 The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and subsequent events served to precipitate a sequence of radical shifts in the global scene, thereby compelling one take a fresh look at the state of play in the area of security challenges. Clearly, the political elites from the world’s advanced industrialized countries have seen their judgments grow hopelessly outdated, with most of the established visions of either global or national security arrangements turning out to be inadequate. Obviously, fresh challenges (which can hardly be passed off as wholly new problems) have been cropping up in the security sphere, with appropriate and speedy cures unfortunately being unavailable for now. The thing is that one cannot really be certain of the applied remedies being fully adequate or effective. Is there not a risk that the current therapies only lead to more awesome security challenges or generate new threats, as a consequence?

1.2 The 9/11 terrorist strikes marked “an end to the Cold War” period of celebration, with most of the world’s capitals (Moscow included) being rather blas about the emerging security challenges. Given the ongoing aggravation of social disparities in today’s world and the expansion of the North-South divide, one particularly takes notice of the fact that Russia and the West continue to hang on to some of the Cold War relics, with both parties viewing each other as either “semi-partners” or “semi-adversaries.” For Russia, the taking hostage of the audience of the “Nord-Ost” musical by terrorists was a real moral blow.

1.3 Notwithstanding all of the positive developments over the past two years (an improved vertical of government authority across the land, implementation of major structural reforms; while regional isolation and fragmentation of state authority risks being incrementally put in check), Russia’s hardships continue to be aggravated on account of the nation’s foreign policy being inadequately backed up by the current economic and domestic policies. With no really mature local self-government structures yet existing, the country basically lacks the “foundations” intended to carry the entire vertical of state authority. The current “vertical” peters out short of the grassroots level. What is more, no major effort has been launched to counter the threat posed by crime – a crucial factor standing in the way of developing entrepreneurial activities, particularly those pursued by small businesses. Truly responsible governance of the country is yet to be fully restored, with rates of corruption remaining dangerously high and the existing body politic being poorly equipped to lead promising economic reforms. Given this scenario, there is a risk of the state and other governing authorities again starting to lose the public’s confidence.

1.4. An uncompleted reform to improve the governance of the state results in the stagnation of the capability to modernize the country. Any delay in the reform effort might lead to the country wasting the growing perception that “Russia is coming around” – which is, incidentally, a most crucial foreign policy resource. Any lessening of the links available for society to actively cooperate with government obviously serves to increase the likelihood of a new stagnation setting in within Russia. In today’s world any national modernization effort can hardly succeed without both – efficient state authorities and solid links between the government and the developing civil society.

Much concern has been caused by the lack of balanced or consistent policies designed to promote growth in the national economy, especially in the high-tech industries which are contracting alarmingly. Innovation strategies and approaches to identify and activate growth points are yet to be drafted or applied. Regrettably, Russia continues to ignore the experiences garnered by the world’s advanced industrialized countries that at different times have resorted to disparate strategies and techniques in order to stimulate national economic growth rates and develop forward-looking industries.

1.5. Russia can hardly afford to pursue a foreign policy that would keep the country’s leadership and elites at a distance from the pressing objectives of national revival. Hereby, we confirm the recommendations contained in the CFDP book “Agenda for the President–2000,” particularly those relating to the feasible strategy providing for “selective engagement and concentration” policies, to a refusal to chase the “great power” phantom or stand up for outdated policy positions, to fresh efforts to get established in the new world in order to defend the truly vital national interests and avoid confrontations with major world powers on the less critical issues. We also confirm the array of focused measures to become effectively integrated into the global family of advanced and stable countries [4]. Any inability to make a realistic assessment of the available resources or to tightly control the post-imperial sentiments would merely lead to further national setbacks and defeats.

1.6. It should be pointed out that Russia continues to command some rather impressive foreign policy assets, with some of those long-lasting capacities including the nuclear capability factor, historical heritage, large territory, human and natural resources. Notably, the value and relevance of oil (one of the more important resources) might be boosted rather significantly.

In addition, application of the Russian foreign policy potential could very well be supplemented with a series of more proactive initiatives pursued by the new national leadership that has effectively managed to discard some of the obsolescent stereotypes. Following its satisfactory moves undertaken after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Russia’s international standing in the foreign policy sphere has radically improved, with an opportunity being thereby created for the country eventually to move away of that “semi-partner – semi-adversary” quandary.

1.7. To underline the point: this fortuitous opportunity, so far, has been rather effectively used by Russian diplomacy. Russian-U.S. relations have been radically improved, with a bilateral mechanism being put in place to circumvent contentious issues and allow concurrent pursuit of a positive agenda. Russia’s foreign policy capabilities have generally been augmented through establishing and maintaining friendly relations with the United States – the country acknowledged to be holding a position of leadership in today’s world.

By way of example, this positive shift has come to help promote the Russia-EU political dialog, which had nearly stagnated. Following the U.S. example, the European Union has moved to give Russia a status of a market economy. What is more, close and friendly ties with China – a factor forming yet another major foreign policy resource – have likewise been enhanced and reinforced. The pressing challenge now is to make the best use of the newly emerged opportunities.

1.8. Top priorities in this area appear to include the following tasks: (1) making the best possible assessment of the new political and economic realities; (2) improving efficiency of foreign policy structures and assuring synchronization of their activities that continue seriously to fall short not only of the obvious needs but also of the available capabilities [5].

Importantly, another priority is a need to re-evaluate Russia’s national security challenges and threats in order to draw up a balanced and, preferably, proactive strategy designed to stand up for Russian national interests. It is precisely with this goal in mind that the present theses have been put together.

2. Security Challenges

2.1. New security challenges, including those facing Russia, are for the most part to do with a whole array of unwelcome effects produced by the ongoing globalization trends.

2.1.1. The early phase in the information revolution 15-20 years ago led to basic television sets and satcom dishes being introduced even to the most disadvantaged parts of the world. Also spread abroad were images of the West – an alien and prosperous culture that could not be readily emulated. The sustained effort to beam down those images of a flourishing society across the world had been effectively instrumental in securing something more than just propagation of Western cultural values and lifestyles, that traditionalists and fundamentalists in the less developed world, the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation included, had been reluctant to embrace. Notably, that sort of cultural penetration had touched off a counter-wave of rejection and hatred on the part of nearly two generations of people who continue to be devoid of any hope of ever becoming part of that illusory and virtual world. Anti-Western sentiments happened to be particularly pronounced in the Muslim world. Of course, those animosities can also be encountered elsewhere in the world. Generally, they have created a source of assorted protestations that have now and again been breaking out in the form of terrorist actions.

These trends have been compounded by the growing gap (which appears to be hopelessly insurmountable under the persisting conditions of globalization) between the currently well-to-do Western world and a multitude of developing countries that lag behind, including most of the Islamic lands that in the historic past had been generally perceived as a leading civilizational force [6]. It seems to be of little consequence that the share of the world’s people living below the poverty line is broadly reported to be on the downswing (the improvements largely being secured through incrementally better living standards in such areas as China, India and Pacific Rim countries). Most importantly, given the current information transparency across the global community, the aforesaid gap has been virtually becoming more and more tangible.

2.1.2. The key pro-Western regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Turkey have grown to be more vulnerable to disparate dangers. The vast Middle Eastern region appears to be entering a lengthy period of very risky instabilities. What is more, things are being aggravated by the long deadlock in the relations between Israel and Palestine, with Iran’s prospects, moreover, being hard to fathom. All this clearly serves to turn the Middle East and Persian Gulf region into an increasingly less predictable source of oil supplies for such national customers as the United States, West European countries, China and Japan. Overall, global energy security looks to be on the wane.

2.1.3. Given that it is being increasingly regarded as an alternative provider of oil supplies, at least for a twenty-thirty-year interim period until the said region is pacified or unless more alternative energy sources are tapped to provide for the world’s energy balance, Russia somewhat stands to gain from the aforementioned developments. Arguably, the relevance of nuclear power generation (with Russia commanding impressive capabilities in that area) is expected to be on the rise.

However, any instability in the Middle East and Persian Gulf area is most likely to aggravate the risks of destructive conflicts, of extremist (primarily Islamic in character) actions and bearish oil markets, and that would gravely threaten to sap Russia’s economic and social stability.

Regrettably, the West’s attempts to diversify the available energy supply sources by way of helping develop the Russian dimension might, over the years, also produce some unwelcome effects. The matter is that energy-exporting regions have become targets for strategies of the so-called manageable crises. However, while until recently it had for the most part been the United Sates that had engineered that sort of crises, from now on, it could be the big-foot energy producers unhappy about the current shifts in the marketplace that are more likely to play that role. Arguably, those players could use the services of international terrorist organizations that have now reached into the Russian Federation.

2.2. Russia’s southern periphery continues to be threatened by the “cluster” of failing or even failed states, some of those being former Soviet republics. The CIS Asian countries that, just like Russia, have somewhat belatedly entered the new information age merely a decade ago are yet to see any indications of profound social divides on either religious or other ideological grounds. However, the risks of instabilities in those countries have been increasingly on the rise, which can primarily be attributable to Tajikistan and to Georgia where the leaders appear to lose control of the local scene. Instabilities in those lands have come to be not so much as a manifestation of the current global trends, as rather natural and largely predictable result of the fragmentation of the Soviet Union, just as the inability and unwillingness on the part of Russia to assume any responsibility over the past decade for bolstering the political, economic and military-political stability within the former Soviet territories. Timid and sporadic attempts on the part of Russia to improve stability across the CIS countries had likewise been countered by major Western powers (the trans-Caucasian republics providing a particularly graphic example to that end), which led to a classical case of a geopolitical void developing along much of Russia’s southern periphery. Alarmingly to some, that void is now being incrementally filled in by the United States, the goal ostensibly being to create lucrative bridgeheads in order to strike at terrorists, hostile elements and roguish regimes in the adjoining regions, as well as to assure stability in the former Central Asian and trans-Caucasian Soviet republics, and pursue its own geo-economic objectives.

2.2.1. The effort by the United States to fill in the newly emerged vacuum is a matter of concern to a significant part of the Russian elite. Notwithstanding the circumstance, official Moscow has either refused to provide an all-round assessment of the recent developments or just kept releasing some inconsistent policy statements on the matter in question.

2.3. Overall, vis-a-vis other CIS countries, Russia continues to waver between a set of policies aimed to develop largely bilateral links and rhetorical statements calling for commonwealth integration.

2.3.1. One can only welcome Russia’s growing efforts to improve relations with such key regional countries as Ukraine and Kazakhstan. But the Russian leadership and Russian elite have been dragging their feet in crafting an explicit set of forward-looking policies towards the former Soviet republics. Without any doubt, Russia can no longer afford to live without a clear set of policies for tackling effectively these pressing problems.

2.3.2. Things in Belarus might easily grow into a major problem unless the country’s leadership decides to launch a sequence of economic and political reforms, undertake privatization and, over the longer term, achieve some sort of integration with Russia. Belarus and its leaders now have an absolutely unique chance to carry out a set of manageable market-geared reforms under the political and economic patronage of the Russian Federation. It should be recalled that Russia had no such opportunity a decade ago. Apparently, in the case of Belarus some version of “nomenclature privatization” would eventually have to be undertaken. Unless major reforms in Belarus are ventured, Russia would be increasingly less interested in releasing large resources in the form of either direct or indirect subsidies in order to help out that country. Given such a trend, Russia would incrementally have more and more politicians, government officials and business leaders concluding that the current Belarussian leader is accountable for any policy that might lead to the creation in the heart of Europe (an area of Russia’s vital strategic interests) of a state which, over the foreseeable future, would hardly be a viable entity. Meantime, this observation in no way means that Russia should join forces with the forces bent on exercising adversarial pressures on Minsk. Belarus has been and should continue to be a friendly nation to Russia. Nevertheless, the Russian leadership would be well advised to develop a set of constructive and forward-looking policies vis-a-vis Belarus.

2.4. Many in Russia continue to hold that the nation’s largest security challenge comes from China. Today China is one of the more friendly powers for Russia. We are nearly allies. The aforementioned apprehension in part comes from the persisting national idiosyncrasies and, in part, from the fear of encountering a more competitive Chinese population.

In any case, the trend of Siberia and Russian Far East becoming depopulated over the years can hardly be reversed. For the most part, we refuse to share such clearly prejudiced statements concerning some threat of a “quiet Chinese expansion.” To be more exact, Russia currently is populated by 200-300 thousand (rather than millions) Chinese, and they make a solid contribution to the Russian economy. The Russian-based Chinese people can do even more to provide for Russian prosperity. However, one should not turn a blind eye to the risk of some Chinese-related dangers that could materialize within the next 10-15 years. The risk of those dangers can and ought to be prevented through application of sound and well-balanced policies in Siberia and the Russian Far East [7], as well as by way of using some foreign policy mechanisms. A focused effort should be pursued to turn China and the Chinese into a long-term ally interested in nurturing strong ties with Russia in order to make the latter more prosperous.

2.5. One can hardly rule out the possibility of an invigorated destabilization trend over the mid-term reaching into the South-East Asia and the Far East, regions currently characterized by highly irregular new-capitalist swings, fast shifts in the balance of power, and by an incipient arms race here and there. There, one also can witness growing anti-Western sentiments, an unwillingness to follow anymore the political and cultural lead of the United States and the West. However, the ongoing political and economic trends in those regions have, so far, had no direct bearing directly on the state of things in the Russian Federation.

2.6. Russian security interests continue to be seriously impacted by the situation in the Korean Peninsula. Clearly, Russia needs to be properly equipped to tackle any (however unexpected) eventuality and have the right tools to exercise influence on either of the Koreas, the whole rationale being to avert any instability in the region and secure some promising economic gains from North Korea’s reforms and rapprochement between the two Koreas.

2.7. Of late, developments across the Asian continent have been increasingly dynamic and unpredictable. Of course, nowadays this observation can fully be attributable to the entire system of international relationships. However, the augmented uncertainty and instability in Asia, transpiring against the backdrop of incipient proliferation of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) in those parts, and the growing presence of the Chinese factor, might serve to steer Russia (with almost no alternative available) towards assuming a policy of engagement with the “islands of stability” that in today’s world are created by what we generally call the West. Understandably, this notion also includes such leading oriental powers as Japan and South Korea, which have largely and successfully been westernized. As a matter of fact, China has likewise embarked on that path of development.

2.8. The unfolding proliferation of WMDs (nuclear weapons in particular) has come to be a major external security threat to Russia. This problem has merely been compounded over the past few years, primarily on account of the world community (the U.S. – a leading global power — in the first place) actually missing the start of deployment of nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan. Following rather a lengthy period of subsequent inaction on the part of the world’s major powers and then the crisis around Afghanistan, which served to turn the two aforesaid countries into confirmed allies of the West, India and Pakistan moved to legitimize their nuclear-have status, thereby acquiring a new measure of international clout and prestige. As a consequence, the nuclear nonproliferation regime has been radically eroded in the politico-psychological sense. Notably, the development had been largely precipitated by the U.S. pulling out of the 1972 ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) treaty and refusing to ratify the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) agreement. To emphasize, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty generally amounts to pushing China towards building up its own nuclear weapons arsenal, which in turn would force India to take some countermeasures, with Pakistan most likely responding in kind.

2.8.1. There is some probability that the latest developments in the given area might spur a mini-nuclear race within the confines of that “triangle.” Arguably, that sort of development would give rise to fresh attempts pursued by some of the contiguous countries to acquire nuclear weapons. In this connection one can talk primarily of such countries as Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Iran. These are the most likely candidates to seek accession of the nuclear club within the next 10—15 years. What is more, the deeply-rooted destabilization in the Middle East forces any observer to review the problem of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

2.8.2. Also, other nations would be seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and disparate WMDs on account of the accelerating instability in the Islamic East, rapid shifts in the balance of power in Asia as a whole, growing national consciousness and anti-Western feelings in the relatively well-to-do countries of the Asia-Pacific and Far Eastern regions. Likewise, there are the persisting effects from the “Yugoslav syndrome” and “Persian Gulf syndrome” that might easily get compounded should Saddam Hussein’s Iraq happen to be attacked. Construction of new nuclear power stations in the region, which most certainly continues, would create objective conditions for nuclear proliferation.

2.8.3. As many as 43 countries are now maintaining nuclear power plants or nuclear research reactors capable of generating assorted nuclear materials. Importantly, some of those nations can hardly be categorized as stable societies over the foreseeable future. A large-scale effort is currently under way to secure the requisite expertise and skills to handle nuclear materials, with the numbers of knowledgeable nuclear engineers expanding at a steady pace. Over a hundred countries are known to run hundreds of research laboratories that hold stocks of radioactive materials (potentially including weapons-grade ones) that are largely stored without due safeguards. To underscore, most of the current nuclear aspirants capable of acquiring WMDs are situated near the Russian southern periphery or are coming closer to it by way of obtaining affordable long-range delivery systems.

2.9. This analysis also can largely be applicable to bacteriological, radioactive and chemical weapons. Importantly, when compared to nuclear weapons, any effort to acquire or produce most of these sort of WMDs would come in less costly by quite an order of magnitude. Meantime, the job of countering the proliferation of these dangerous weapons or their components has proven to be rather a daunting task. Such an effort is particularly needed by Russia because of its proximity to the region of persisting instabilities, or to countries equipped to fabricate and assemble WMDs. In theory, the probability of terrorists using WMDs within Russia continues to rise. Importantly, Russia would gain politically from actively countering any attempts to proliferate WMDs, especially given that this is where Russia’s security interests and those of other major powers concur.

2.9.1. Another danger might come from a number of countries and research communities persisting in their efforts aimed at developing advanced weapons based on new physical principles. Should such weapons come to exist, they might become proliferated, with the more resourceful terrorists sooner or later finding a way to get hold of those tools of destruction. Given the risk, urgent steps ought to be made by the international community right now to prevent proliferation of any weapons yet to emerge.

2.10. Admittedly, while being viewed as a principal bulwark against nonproliferation of WMDs, Russia has largely been pursuing rather a passive policy line in that regard, thereby becoming a target (rather than an active player) for the strategy aimed to police the established WMD nonproliferation regime. Still possessing vast arsenals of fissile materials and chemical weapons inherited from the former Soviet Union, Russia badly wants international assistance to get rid of that useless lethal patrimony. Notwithstanding the circumstance, Russia’s defensive stance and conspicuous passivity on the matter in question, at some stage, produced the impression that our country had emerged as a major security threat in terms of risk of WMD proliferation and also that Russia was less interested than other major powers in countering the spread of the existing WMDs.

Obviously, the protracted inaction and unwillingness to make a difference in this area also served to devalue (among other things) the skills of hundreds of thousands of technicians, engineers and researchers that persevered (despicable living conditions here and there notwithstanding) to overcome the pressures in order to provide for national security and safety of nuclear materials stored within the Russian Federation. Importantly, they accumulated a tremendous body of experience related to maintaining those sophisticated safeguards under conditions approaching extreme.

2.10.1. Western policies with regard to Russia maintaining its huge stocks of WMDs and relevant industrial facilities have, on occasion, been rather preconceived and unbalanced. Not infrequently, Russia continues to be labeled a major WMD proliferation threat. As a consequence, the West (particularly Washington) keeps hitting the wrong targets. This ill-devised approach definitely needs to be reconsidered, with the issue necessarily having to be addressed at all pertinent levels.

2.10.2. Apparently, Russia would be well advised to amend its policies in this area and grow to become a major player in the effort to counter the spread of WMDs, particularly given the tremendous danger that might emanate from proliferation of those weapons. To add, Russia has something to offer in this field of endeavor, some of the available capabilities including a unique body of experience, unrivaled skills, bes

Last updated 10 november 2002, 19:40

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