It is unpopular now in most of Europe, including Russia, to cite
with approval anything the American president says. In his recent
national security strategy, though, he put forward an idea that
many of us had thought about but very few of us had dared to
After including all the proper words of respect toward the
civilization of Islam, George W. Bush stated: «The struggle against
militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of
the early years of the 21st century and finds the great powers all
on the same side —- opposing the terrorists.»
From now on, it will be harder to pretend that the clash of
civilizations is not happening and could not get worse.
Russia finds itself in an especially awkward position.
Physically, historically and geographically, it sits simultaneously
over at least two divides —- between the Christian and the
Muslim civilizations, and between the affluent world and the
In addition, we were the first country to take up arms in the
struggle against the spread of militant Islamism. We achieved a
victory in Chechnya at a horrible cost. It was a victory in a
battle but not in the war.
We have a lot of experience to offer. But before making some
recommendations, let me start with a few widely acknowledged facts
It is relatively obvious that most of the countries of the
traditional «larger Middle East» are living through a period of
economic and social degradation. The reason is a mixture of
cultural, economic and social factors. This degradation has been
slowed by the surge in oil prices, but it is there.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most of the
countries of the region feel vulnerable, threatened or suspicious
of their neighbors and of the outside world. The
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is cited as the main source of these
feelings, but there are many. The mistaken U.S. invasion of Iraq
only made the suspicions worse.
Indeed, something like a Weimar syndrome is being formed in the
larger Middle East. As a former Soviet citizen, I can understand
this better than others, as we were also defeated in a competition
between civilizations, though of a different kind. We are only now,
after a period of conservative and economic consolidation, leaving
that dangerous state of mind behind.
Communism was a combination of a religion and a way of life. It
should not be compared with the great Islamic civilization, which
has been successful in many centuries and in many countries. Yet
there is something to be learned from the containment of communism.
This time, the struggle is for the success of the Islamic world,
not for its demise.
To avoid the looming «war of civilizations,» we need to adopt a
common strategy aimed at weakening the roots of radical Islam and
terrorism, preventing a nuclear arms race in the region and helping
countries in the larger Middle East to modernize and prosper.
Washington is proposing a single method: democratization. This
adherence to lofty principles should be admired, but when such a
recipe is followed on the ground it is likely to bring disaster. I
am saying this not because I come from a country that is suffering
a backlash against the chaos of a half-baked democracy.
We also remember European history. One of the worst dictators of
all time —- Adolph Hitler —- was brought to power by a
democratic vote. Experience has made us wary of attempts to bring
democracy to the larger Middle East. The day American and NATO
troops leave Afghanistan, having proclaimed it democratic, the
situation in the country will deteriorate into the chaos of the
past, if not worse. The same will happen if U.S. and allied troops
withdraw from Iraq.
The first-ever municipal elections in Saudi Arabia were swept by
Islamic radicals last year. The terrorist organization Hamas came
to power legitimately through free elections. The «Tulip
Revolution» in Kyrgyzstan has brought mostly chaos and cleared the
way for narcobarons and Islamic radicals. Do we want other
countries of the region to follow the same path?
Instead, all influential and responsible countries of the world
should unite behind a common strategy to help the larger Middle
East. It could include:
- A meaningful and wide-ranging dialogue of civilizations, which
has been proclaimed but is almost absent;
- Assistance in modernizing their societies, starting with the
- Steps to fill the existing security vacuum by helping to create
a regional security system, or systems, guaranteed by the great
- The creation of a nondiscriminatory system of a closed nuclear
cycle, while helping willing states to build nuclear reactors under
the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
- A common commitment to deter the most extreme Islamic radicals
and terrorists by all means available, with no policy of
Only through such a common and comprehensive approach can we
create the preconditions for the eventual democratization and
modernization of the larger Middle East. This is a policy worthy of
consideration by the larger Group of Eight (or G10 or G11), instead
of the many secondary issues now on the agenda. Though at this
juncture, I am not very optimistic they will find the will to