A Positive but Confusing Security Strategy
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
Tel.: (+7) 495 980 7353
Address: Office 112, 29 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 115184, Russia

Last week, President Dmitry Medvedev signed Russia’s national
security strategy to 2020. The document reflects the uncertainty in
the minds of Russia’s leaders regarding the path of the country’s
development in the 21st century. As before, Russia is in a state of
transition, but we are not sure exactly where it is transiting

The fact that such a far-reaching document was developed is an
indication that the Kremlin is serious about trying to understand
the complex international context in which the country now finds
itself. The strategy document is not the typical perfunctory
bureaucratic empty talk. On the contrary, it reflects painstaking
effort on the part of its authors to articulate its strategic
priorities and goals.

The main positive aspect of the document is its departure from a
narrow interpretation of national security as a military or
geopolitical concept. Russia has traditionally relied on a «hard
power» vocabulary when constructing its doctrines and strategies,
and therefore much more emphasis was always placed on the needs of
the military-industrial complex than that of civil society.

But in an era of global interdependence, it is no longer simply
a question of military strength or economic indicators, but also
many other factors, such as demographic strength, the quality of
human resources and the quality of life. All of those factors found
a prominent spot in the new national security strategy. The
document admits that a state’s social, economic and humanitarian
condition is no less important for providing security than the size
of its army. Factors such as the wide gap between the country’s
rich and poor, the level of unemployment and the condition of
health and education are included as fundamental components of
Russia’s national security. This is an important acknowledgement
and a step in the right direction.

The overall tone of the document is less aggressive than it had
been in recent years. Much more attention is given to the analysis
of domestic problems than to the search for external enemies. The
statement that «the forces guaranteeing national security» are
carrying out their tasks «in cooperation with institutions of civil
society» occurs several times in the text. It is noteworthy that
the importance of civil society is mentioned so many times in a
document prepared by the siloviki.

Although the overall tone of the document is constructive, the
actual substance of the document is full of confusion. The
description of the global arena does not contain anything new and
repeats old issues of increased competition between states
(primarily for energy resources) and the threat of new military

The United States emerges as the potential source of most of the
external threats listed, although it is not referred to directly by
name in this context. Although the document mentions «hegemony» —
probably out of inertia or tradition — it lacks the same
inflammatory tone that we have grown accustomed to in previous

It is also interesting that other security challenges are not
even mentioned, such as the shifting balance of power toward Asia,
which will have a significant impact on Russia’s standing in the
world. In fact, this shift will only gain momentum in the years up
to 2020. With China gaining strength on Russia’s far eastern
doorstep, Moscow might see an advantage to cooperating with the
United States as the only other superpower on the planet capable of
projecting its strategic potential in the region. But the national
security document states that Russia will seek a «strategic
partnership based on equal rights» with the United States.

All the foreign policy goals are listed but without prioritizing
or differentiating between the members of the Commonwealth of
Independent States and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Europe
and the United States.

In addition, the document contains odd passages that give the
impression it was prepared in haste. For example, it states that
one of the necessary conditions for energy security is
«multilateral cooperation to develop energy resource markets in
compliance with principles formulated by the World Trade
Organization.» But because the WTO does not regulate global energy
markets, it is unclear why the authors mentioned the organization
in this context.

It creates the impression that the strategy was not thought out
thoroughly and is nothing more than a random collection of
conceptual elements without any logical connection between them.
This reflects the level of Russia’s disorganized government
apparatus, the general condition of its poorly functioning
structures and strategic thinking. The bureaucratic quality of the
previous national security strategy published in 1997 and revised
in 2000 is clearly higher, although the current version is richer
in content.

The strategy fails to give a developed vision of the future. It
would have been more realistic to extrapolate from current
conditions and make a projection of not more than a decade into the
future. Objectively speaking, the situation in the world is so
complex and unpredictable that it is hardly possible to formulate a
long-term strategy. For this reason, it is a little strange that
the authors boldly attempt to predict events more than 10 years in
advance, although the current rate of change could easily alter the
situation far beyond recognition by that time. Just read
predictions made 10 years ago about how today’s world would look
and it becomes clear how far off the mark they typically fell.

In the past year, the Kremlin has shown a fondness for producing
all-embrasive policy documents. For example, the world did not have
time to understand fully what Medvedev intended with his proposed
Russia-European Union security pact when the Kremlin introduced a
new set of energy principles. The president has made a number of
speeches regarding Kremlin programs, and in less than a year two
major concept documents have been issued concerning foreign policy
and national security.

Institutions governing international relations are still weak,
and Russia’s place in them is unclear. The world is changing so
rapidly that new solutions are needed constantly. For too long,
Moscow has used strategies borrowed from other countries, so the
attempt by the Kremlin to develop its own line of thinking is a
welcome change.

But in the end, the development and presentation of the ideas
and the quality of the document as a whole falls far short of the
authors’ desire to respond to the challenges of the time. Russia is
unable to define its own goals and strategies clearly. Therefore,
the concepts it presents to the world will be perceived with the
same confusion.

» The
Moscow Times»