23.06.2021
Biden’s Summitry Was Reassuring for the West. Now Comes the Hard Part
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

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

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Global Memo By: Chatham House, CEPS, GRF, SWP, CIGI, and SVOP

Transatlantic relations were boosted by nearly a week of summits marking U.S. President Joe Biden’s first diplomatic travels. But the months ahead will test the ability of alliances, great powers, and multilateral groups to advance global health, security, and economic opportunity, as well as whether the United States can lead the effort, say experts at leading global think tanks, featuring, among others, Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP).

 

Overhyped Biden-Putin Summit Still Gives Modest Hope

 

Since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s meetings with U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, no summit has generated as much hype as the Geneva talks between Presidents Putin and Biden. Why?

Relations between Washington and Moscow are essential—at least because they have the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. But this relationship is not the core of international politics, as it was forty years ago. Likely no one expected any breakthroughs in Geneva because the mistrust runs too deep. Mutual threats now, though, are hardly comparable to the peak of the Cold War. Fears on both sides are more products of internal confusion and insecurity than of external menace.

The attention on this summit has to do with the nature of the world today. When Gorbachev met with his U.S. counterparts, they discussed how the world should change from the Cold War they were experiencing—a fairly stable international arrangement—to something better. Gorbachev believed in the equal convergence of two systems but failed because his system collapsed. The U.S. presidents expected liberal democracy and market economies to spread around the globe—to everyone’s advantage—and saw no reason to discuss this with anyone opposed to the idea.

The wheel has come full circle. Russia did not find a place in the proclaimed international order of the late twentieth century. Then the order itself started to erode, unable to manage its ever more numerous deviations from the liberal canon.

Those who launched the transformation—Washington and Moscow—bear the responsibility to restart it. Many elements of the Cold War seem to have resurfaced. In terms of structure, everything has changed; in terms of atmosphere, far less has. Biden’s summitry with the G7, NATO, and EU looked like a way to revitalize the bipolarity of the Cold War—us vs. them. But “them” is now led by Beijing, not Moscow. A desire to structure the increasingly chaotic international environment is understandable, but it remains to be seen if that framing is still apt.

Exchanges between Washington and Moscow since the mid-2010s almost destroyed the prospects of good relations.

Paradoxically, the United States and Russia first have to return to a civilized and rational confrontation.

Only then can they start to look for ways out—following principles that will likely serve better than those of more than thirty years ago. The spirit of the Geneva summit provides hope that the two countries can find a viable path and follow it.

More: Council on Foreign Relation

Global Memos are briefs by the Council of Councils that gather opinions from global experts on major international developments.

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