Nuclear deterrence is the only reason why the world did not plunge into a nuclear conflict during the Cold War and is not sliding down that path now as we are living through a new Cold War which is even worse than the previous one. This view was stated at the Valdai Club by Sergei Karaganov, Dean of the School of World Economics and International Affairs at the National Research University—Higher School of Economics.
Do you think nuclear confrontation should be regarded as a positive factor that can prevent war?
Karaganov: When there are no channels of communication between major powers, and nuclear powers in general, this becomes extremely dangerous. This is why we are living through a much more dangerous period than ever before since the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the Cuban Missile Crisis and after we were in constant touch with the United States, and there were only two global payers. Now there are many players, and it is necessary to think about how to create a system of consultations between nuclear powers, present and future, because it is absolutely clear to me that unless it perishes, North Korea will become a nuclear power, too. It is very likely to be followed by South Korea and subsequently by Japan. We must understand all this and get prepared.
Does you forecast mean an unlimited arms race?
Karaganov: Not necessarily. Nuclear weapons, on the one hand, stimulate an arms race, but on the other hand, they contain it. This is especially true of conventional weapons. The nuclear factor does not allow any country to gain a decisive advantage in conventional forces. A country that is stronger economically and militarily cannot use weapons limitlessly in order to achieve its political goals without facing the consequences of possible destructive retaliatory strike.
Indirectly this means that existing nuclear deterrence treaties between certain states are bad for global stability.
Karaganov: No, they are not. Treaties play a stabilizing role. The problem is that they can fall apart one after another. And yet, the most important thing is stable ties between the military of nuclear powers, which are simply nonexistent at the moment. India and Pakistan are perhaps the most dangerous places on the planet from the point of view of possible use of nuclear weapons. As far as I know, the military of many nuclear powers lack such ties. The situation has degraded since the late period of the previous Cold War when we had a ramified system of consultations, communication and agreements, which reduced the risk of nuclear weapon use and big war in general almost to zero. Nowadays the risk of war is much greater than in the past. One of the reasons is that there is no system of agreements, no hot lines and no channels for consultation between the defense ministries. We have prevented a war in Europe by disrupting plans to involve Ukrain into Western alliances. If Ukraine had become a member of NATO, a war would have become unavoidable. People have become used to living without war and they think that this is how it will always be. But it may not be so all the time. There are new types of weapons that erase the watershed between nuclear and non-nuclear warfare. Cyber weapons have probably de facto become weapons of mass destruction. Certain players in North Korea may already have them, and terrorist organizations may get hold of them too. Cyber weapons are the cheapest weapons of the poor. But if they are used deftly, the consequences can be as disastrous as those from real weapons of mass destruction.
Is a new global armed confrontation inevitable? Or is it just one of the unlikely scenarios?
Karaganov: During the late Cold War such threats were virtually nonexistent. Naturally, when the Cold War ended, the level of threat went further down. But the West greedily decided to grab former Russian and Soviet assets. This unleashed a new Cold War between Russia and the West, which we are witnessing now. But it has also started between the United States and China, because the U.S. is tightening its grip on China, trying to prevent it from expanding its zone of influence in the Pacific.
What should Russia do in this situation?
Karaganov: We are not waiting it out. We and China are the main providers of security in the world today. We have warded off a war in Europe by upsetting plans on Ukraine. In Syria we have stopped, among other things, a series of color revolutions that had destabilized huge regions. China is providing economic security; we are providing military-strategic security. Unfortunately, there are almost no other security providers. Europe is getting increasingly focused on itself, while Americans are destabilizing the world in an apparent bid to shirk the responsibility they assumed, for they think that this responsibility costs them too dearly and imposes too many restrictions upon them.
In other words, we are doomed to always live on the edge of armed conflicts?
Karaganov: I do hope that we will not get involved in some of them. But if we choose to stay away entirely, conflicts themselves may come our way. So we cannot hold ourselves completely aloof. All of the existing world orders, except the one emerging in Greater Eurasia and pivoting around Russia and China, are crumbling. The liberal economic order established in the West after World War II and subsequently expanded to the rest of the world, is falling down. One of the reasons why this is happening is that the United States is politicizing foreign economic relations as it sees that this order is benefitting its competitors. We can see some sort of deglobalization taking place in the world. The so-called minor Atlantic order is beginning to come apart as the United States is withdrawing from Europe. The same is happening to the Middle Eastern order which was established by colonial powers. Things have been set in motion there again for objective reasons but also due to external interference. As for the so-called liberal world order, which ostensibly existed since 1945, this is not true. It emerged around 1991 when the West reigned supreme in all areas. But it was neither liberal that is f free. Neither it was an order. All countries were expected to accept one model, one leader and one ideology. And it certainly was not an order because the West broke loose and committed one act of aggression after another. This happened also because Russia was weak and could not, or was not ready to deter the West. As a result, the West felt it could do whatever it wanted and go unpunished. This led to the tragic events in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya, and many other less known activities. Russia is in fact consciously destroying that caricature of an order.
This angers the West. But I think what is happening is a very important phenomenon. The world is moving towards an order where every country would have a freer choice and where sovereign states would be able to make their own decisions. Countries like Russia, China, Egypt, Brazil or India welcome these prospects. We are becoming new powers and can guarantee the status quo. But the West does not like this, and it is resisting that direction of the development of world affairs. This is perhaps the biggest cause of all tensions and hysterias in the world. I am far from stigmatizing the West as the main threat to the world, but I think there is no doubt that it is the West and its weakness that are the cause of many problems. This does not mean that things will always stay this way. The situation may change in the future and the West will reemerge on a completely new basis.
Do you agree with the statement made by a Valdai Club Chinese expert that global governance is lagging behind economic globalization?
Karaganov: I personally heard this idea stated by outstanding thinker Henri Kissinger twenty years ago. He said that the main problem of the world was that it was globalizing, while its governance was being nationalized, that is, deglobalized. He was absolutely right. It is a fact of life now. But stating the fact alone would not be enough. As I said, we are witnessing violation of all rules. This is why we should, first, start building something, and second, understand how dangerous the situation is. The danger lies at its core, in its very structure, regardless of whether someone does something or not. If such instability and such shifts are not regulated, they will create a large array of unpredictable risks.
Who will have the right to regulate a new world order? Will the hierarchy of states remain in this new world order?
Karaganov: It will be a completely different hierarchy. If we live through this period without the horrors of war, we will see a new balance of power emerging some twelve or fifteen years from now. It will serve as the basis for building new relations. I think something is going to happen in Greater Eurasia where Russia and China will be the core states, joined by Europe or some part of it, India, Iran, Turkey, Egypt. This does not mean that Greater Eurasia will not cooperate or maintain no contact with the United States. I think there will be two centers. But we have to wait, because something else may pop up as well. It is most important to understand that we are living in one of the most dangerous periods in history. We must give history a chance to continue.
Speaking at the Valdai Club, a representative of Egypt said that a multipolar world would be unstable and harder to manage. Does this mean that we are seeking to build a world that will be even more unstable than the present one?
Karaganov: I do not think that a multipolar world is ideal. The multipolar world concept emerged as a counterbalance to the unipolar world that allegedly existed in the 1990s and early 2000s. The world has in fact become multipolar, a world of chaos, where all are fighting all and establishing on-off relationships. But I think it should eventually become more stable, for example with the two centers I mentioned above. Multipolarity is not a goal in itself. It used to be. Now it is just a transitional period in the history of international relations.
European political scientists say that Europe should not be discarded and that it would persevere through its current hardships and emerge even stronger. Are they right?
Karaganov: A new world order will be based on a new military-political foundation. There will most likely be twelve nuclear states, as a minimum. This can hardly be called good news. If the nuclear deal with Iran is upset and pressure on Iran continues, Iran will create nuclear weapons too, followed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So the situation will remain extremely unstable in the next ten to fifteen years. Two centers are likely to emerge on this new military-political foundation. The Great Eurasian one will form around China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, joined by Russia as a player in its own right and other countries. The other center will form around the United States. A European center is unlikely. There was a chance to create a major third center, Greater Europe, as we proposed. This could have been possible only if Russia and Europe pooled together and joined their strengths and capabilities. But this did not happen.
The United States no longer needs Europe and it wants to focus on its own problems. It more and more often views Europe as a competitor, while Europe is less and less capable of addressing international problems and helping the U.S. So the United States is leaving. Europe is trying to cling to it but with no much success so far.
I hope that Europe will become stronger in the future. Its real rise began only in the 16th century when, for a number of reasons, mainly military supremacy, it proposed and imposed its rules, values and system upon others. That period is over now. The European Union project is facing a crisis for a number of objective reasons, and I do not expect it to be able to resolve it in the next five, ten or fifteen years. The European Union in its present form no longer plays any significant role. But I do hope that Europe will overcome its current crisis in the future and will become strong, or individual European countries will once again become global players as they were just thirty years ago before they plunged into their current project.
What role do you foresee for Russia in a new world order in ten or fifteen years’ time?
Karaganov: The road to a new world order will be long and thorny, but we must travel it. Let me say again: avoiding war is the most important thing. I think priority attention should be paid by all, including Russia, to avoiding war in the next fifteen years, thinking about the future and starting to build it together. Russia and the United States are trying to start something on international strategic stability, but their talks can be effective only if they are joined by other great powers, primarily China. If Russia does not fail, and I think it should not, it will once again be one of the three key global players. We are now in a very favorable situation due to historical reasons, primarily the shift of the global center to Asia and China’s pivot to the West. We were out of luck for a long time, but it is back now.