A New Testament for a Multipolar World
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Vyacheslav Nikonov

Doctor of History, President of the Polity Foundation,  Deputy Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Russia in Global Affairs journal.

“After the attacks of Sept. 11 the world underwent a radical
change.” While this may be the belief of many people, it is
definitely not the belief of Yevgeny Primakov. Primakov knew better
than anyone else how dangerous the world had been before the Sept.
11 tragedy, so it did not come unexpected to him the way it did to
other people. In his new book Primakov, a prominent Russian
politician (former prime minister, foreign minister and head of the
country’s Foreign Intelligence Service) and an insightful analyst,
appears as a brilliant writer and very much the same Primakov who
once ordered his Washington-bound aircraft to turn around over the
Atlantic to protest against the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia.

In concise and graphic terms, Primakov lays out his views on the
major contemporary problems, such as terrorism and Islamic
extremism, the Israeli-Arab conflict, and the role of the United
States in today’s world. He also discusses scenarios for a future
world order and Russia’s place in it.

Primakov argues that modern terrorism has two distinctive
features. Firstly, it is shifting from governmental structures
(Iran, Libya, Iraq) to separatist religious and political
movements. He points out that al Qaeda and the Taliban were the
unwanted by-products of the CIA and Pakistani army intelligence,
rather than some creation from Baghdad or Teheran. Secondly,
terrorism is spreading far beyond national frontiers, as terrorists
are now acting globally. A real or potential access to weapons of
mass destruction, information technologies, not to mention the
equally important access to increasingly greater financial
resources, makes the threat of extremist groups, and terrorism in
general, all the more severe.

Challenging Samuel P. Huntington’s concept, which, in Primakov’s
view, allows for a new division of the world along cultural and
religious lines, the author defends the Islamic world. In his
words, it is possible now to “observe the modernization of Islamic
society.” The great majority of this society does not support the
extremist forces while the “new generation of Muslims, unlike the
previous one, is much more vocal in its defense of democratization,
pluralism and the freedom of expression” (p. 47). Primakov’s ideas
are of no small importance for modern political thought; he has an
optimistic outlook for the future of Islamic democracy, which is
already capable of assimilating traditional values, as well as
cooperating with the international campaign against terrorism. One
essential requirement involving the war on terrorism is the
formation of an agreement that would commit states to refusing
shelter to extremist organizations on their territories, as well as
avoiding the obsolete formula of “self-determination up to the
point of separation.” The various national intelligence services
should engage in information exchange, together with its mutual

On a slightly different note, Primakov believes that the main
reasons for the continuing failure to settle the Mideast conflict
are the position of the United States, which is geared toward
separatist solutions, and Russia’s actual exclusion from the
Mideast peace process. Meanwhile, he candidly reveals that the
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, when he headed it, was very
well informed about the development of the secret negotiations
between the Israelis and their Palestinian counterparts. And what’s
more, he did not receive his intelligence from the Palestinians (p.

Another aggravating factor in this crisis derives from the
position of the Israeli leaders, who have long declined Russia’s
involvement in the peace settlement (Shimon Peres personally told
Primakov of the need to have only one intermediary – the U.S.).
From the time Ariel Sharon – “who never renounced the use of
terror” – came to power, the Israeli side has been blocking all
progress at a resolution, and brushing aside the very thought of a
Palestinian state. Hence, the bitter attitude toward Arafat and the
ongoing attempts to isolate him. However, it goes without saying
that the author strongly condemns all terrorist attacks against

Primakov identifies the key to peace in the region with an
“external” force that will take upon itself the task of “not just
renewing the Israeli-Palestinian talks but elaborating a compromise
peace plan”

(p. 86). In this context, he espouses the efforts of the Mideast
Quartet (the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the
European Union) and their “Road Map to Mideast Peace,” which
provides for a phased withdrawal of the Israeli troops from the
occupied territories, an active engagement with the Palestinians in
the fight against terrorism, Palestinian elections, the
establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders and,
finally, a comprehensive settlement of the Palestine status issue.
The latter problem is the most complicated one: the final
resolution of the issues concerning Palestinian state borders, the
status of Jerusalem, refugees and the Jewish settlements in the
occupied territories can only be imposed on the conflicting parties
by the world community.

Consistent in his attitude toward U.S. policies, Primakov
denounces its unilateral actions, its concept of humanitarian
interventions and preemptive strikes. This approach runs counter to
international law, to the principles concerning the territorial
integrity of sovereign states and to the recognition of
non-interference in internal affairs. This policy circumvents those
mechanisms established by the UN and has proven to be
counter-productive in solving international problems.

In proposing a new level of cooperation with the U.S. after the
tragedy of Sept. 11, Russia was motivated not only through sympathy
toward the stricken nation, and the mutual interest in apprehending
Osama bin Laden and breaking the Taliban, but also by the desire to
interrupt a string of unilateral security actions on the part of
Washington. Primakov believes that by embarking on such cooperative
efforts with the U.S., Vladimir Putin was taking great political
risks given the anti-American sentiments persisting in Russian
society and the political Establishment, particularly in regard to
the U.S. military presence within close proximity to Russia’s
border. While admitting that the reorientation of some CIS
countries toward the U.S. was due to a series of miscalculations in
the former policy decisions of Russia, the author certainly has no
supportive words to greet this transition, nor does he welcome the
military presence of the U.S. in Central Asia and the South
Caucasus. This move has already changed the geopolitical situation
in favor of the U.S., specifically by strengthening its ability for
accessing the Caspian energy resources, as well as finalizing the
“process of surrounding China with American military bases” (p.
112). It is exactly against this Central Asian context that the
author reinforces his old idea of establishing a “stabilizing
triangle” between Russia, China and India.

Primakov speaks of the poor efficiency of the U.S. antiterrorist
operation in Afghanistan: the Talibs have dispersed and are now in
hiding; there is no rapprochement between the Pushtun population
and the Northern Alliance, which puts the Hamid Karzai government
in a precarious position. Furthermore, drug production is on the
rise, while the situation in Pakistan has grown ever more

Primakov voices an even stronger criticism regarding the
so-called “axis of evil” designation, together with the U.S.
administration’s intensifying plans to combat terrorism, especially
those involving strikes on Iraq, which presents no significant
threat. “The perpetuation of the antiterrorist war is fully in line
with the new military doctrine of the U.S., which centers on
preemptive strikes against adversaries arbitrarily made up by the
U.S. itself” (pp. 135-136). If the use-of-force policy prevails,
Washington will run the risk of losing its broad international
support, which is absolutely indispensable for building a global
antiterrorist coalition – the only viable force capable of
addressing the challenges of terrorism.

Primakov’s views on the contemporary world order rest upon the
doctrine of a multipolar world. It could hardly be otherwise with
an individual who has been one of the most ardent advocates of such
a doctrine, in both theory and in practice. The collapse of the
bipolar world structure has caused many other changes on the
international stage: Europe and Japan are becoming more independent
players; China has become more powerful; there is a broad
diversification within Russia’s foreign policy; the world has seen
the emergence of new nuclear powers (Pakistan, India). Finally,
there is a growing discontent with the unilateral decisions and
actions of the United States. Despite the U.S. claims to the status
of the world’s only superpower, there appear to be escalating
tendencies toward “not a single-polar world, but rather a
multipolar world” (p. 141). The U.S. tries to thwart this trend by
promoting NATO enlargement, with a view to tightening its control
over the “European center,” and by developing the National Missile
Defense system. It is also attempting to downplay the role of the
United Nations. Primakov flatly discards the idea of a single-polar
world in which “inequalities between the states will manifest
themselves mainly through antagonistic forms” (p. 155). Such order
is a utopia since “even the dominating power will not be in a
position, historically speaking, to establish a single-polar world
order” (p. 155). What the world community really needs is a new
spirit of cooperation, improved living standards beyond the “golden
billion,” and agreements on such closely related issues as the
demilitarization of outer space, the development of joint
anti-missile defense (AMD) systems and the prevention of nuclear
proliferation by all possible means. It is important, however, that
the broad gamut of “all possible means” should be spared the
outright use of military force against those pretenders to ‘nuclear
club membership.’

Primakov definitely sees Russia as one of the centers of the
multipolar world. The bottom-line question is: will Russia be the
leading player on the international stage, or will it be one of the
followers? He describes in rather unflattering terms the
“pseudo-liberals” of the 1990s to whom the West showed its
preference. He decries the foreign policy initiatives under Andrei
Kozyrev who “maintained that the world is divided into two parts –
a civilized one and a ‘savage’ one – and that Russia, following its
defeat in the Cold War, should join the ‘club of civilized states’
and play by the rules of this club bossed by the U.S.” (p. 184). In
Primakov’s view, a secondary role for Russia is not acceptable:
suffice it to say that not a single Russian leader in favor of such
a role would be able to stay in power long.

At the same time, those who support the values of “liberalism
and statehood,” with whom Primakov seems to identify, do not rule
out the possibility of a rapprochement with the U.S. Yet, the
future of Russia’s cooperation with the U.S. depends upon the
latter’s moves today when “positive changes in the relations
between the two states commenced.” Primakov’s main conclusion is:
“Russia can be a reliable partner of the United States if the U.S.
comes to terms with the real prospects of a multipolar world,
abandons the idea that it can and should solve major issues of
international stability and security independently and if it gives
up attempts to draft a code of conduct in the international arena
for other countries” (p. 189).

But what if the U.S. refuses to act in this way? What
alternative foreign policy can Russia adopt if the U.S. rejects the
concept of a multipolar world completely or in part? In a world of
a zero-sum game the answer would be all too clear. In our much more
complex world there seems to be no alternative to Russia’s
integration into the global system, which is unthinkable without a
high level of constructive cooperation with the leading countries
of the West.