Diplomacy in the XXI century
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Alexander Yakovenko

Alexander Yakovenko — Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

There was an ambassadors’ conference in July in Moscow, where President Vladimir Putin made a speech. The president spoke of increased unpredictability of the international situation, of events compressed in terms of time. That leads to a greater role for diplomacy, puts additional requirements to the Diplomatic service, which must operate robustly and with dignity, but as well as sense of tact and measure. As a matter of fact, our partners do not contest the nation of a greater role for diplomacy in the present conditions, especially when all the experts predict the return of international relations to the XIX century or even to some earlier point. However, as this conference showed, this is one of key issues in the world of today, it requires a clear interpretation, understanding why it is so.

For example, nobody is expecting “big wars”, i.e. wars between the leading states of the world. On the contrary, everybody is convinced that these states have had enough wars, and the overwhelming majority of conflicts are internal conflicts, the product of dysfunction of national development. They seem to occur at the periphery of Europe and the rest of the world. If we talk specifically, in terms of today’s reality, we get the following uneasy picture of the complex transformation of the world, including international relations. To understand the nature of the events is the essential task for diplomacy, which should contribute to the creation of favourable external conditions for country’s development.


The recognition of the new reality is practically common for all the leading politicians and expert political analysts. To credit of Russian diplomacy, it should be said that we were the first to notice this transformation of the world and formulated the requirements to the country’s foreign policy arising from it. This was done in the Russian concepts of the foreign policy in 2000, 2008 and 2013. Our international partners, who are blinded by the “unipolar moment”, required a global crisis and sad results of the George Bush Jr. presidency to come to the same positions.

Generally, it is about the return to the values of classic diplomacy. Incidentally, this was once recognised by the current coalition government of David Cameron and the ex-US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The other thing is that this reality, or its glimmers, has become the victim of the current aggravation of relations between the West and Russia, which requested (contrary to common sense and the new international reality) the ideological justification of the return to the previous state of cold war, which is also intellectually and psychologically habitual for the majority of political elites. If we leave this last turn in European affairs out of brackets, the need for classic diplomatic tools seems to be quite natural. The bipolarity of cold war times, with its bloc discipline, minimum of diplomacy, which was really decided between Moscow and Washington within the strictly set limits, simplified ideology-driven categories and pseudo stability, was some kind of aberration, a time warp against the general background of global historic development. The main thing is that it turned all the richness of the international palette into a confrontation between two military and political unions.

When the cold war ended, things radically changed, although the understanding of this and the substance of these changes did not dawn upon us at once. On the one hand, as the current global crisis shows, issues of internal development of states come to the fore. Sustainability of internal development, primarily social and economic development, is the key foreign policy resource. This was even admitted by the US military, in particular, by JCS Chairman, Admiral Michael Mullen, when the continuation of war in Iraq started clearly to run counter to the interests of the US development. This is where we get the general mood of Americans, the majority of whom, according to polls, believe that their country should mind its own business internationally. Accordingly, issues of comparative effectiveness of development models and systems of values, i.e. “all cats are grey”, if we switch off the light of ideologies, became the focus of global competition. The final criterion is effectiveness, be that Protestant ethics, Confucianism or just developmentalism.

In fact, it is about the “death of ideology” in the way it ruled in international relations and in the internal development of states in the post-war period. It should be noted here that the ideological confrontation of cold war times did not get outside the framework of the European civilisation: different products of the European political thought were used on both sides of the dividing line. Because of that bipolarity objectively was a means of ensuring the domination of the European civilisation in global development and international affairs.

On the other hand, the world loosened up, and a lot of states acquired the freedom of creating history. The world became freer in full sense of this word. This emancipation is ensured not only by de-ideologisation of international relations. The multiplicity of centres of economic growth and political influence representing (especially if we take the emerging regional powers) all the cultural and civilisational diversity of the world becomes a guarantor of it. This multipolarity goes beyond the narrow framework of the geopolitical triangle – Russia-US-China. Yet even this triangular structure in conditions of Russia’s abandoning the previous ideology and participation of China, which is conscious of its own identity as an independent civilisation, excludes a formation of rigid permanent alliances of the past within it, because there are simply no grounds for them now.

All the leading states of the world really have had enough fighting in their history. For some of them the First World War was enough, for the others – it was the Second World War. The principle of mutually assured destruction kept peace in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, and therefore in the entire world. The maintenance of strategic stability preserves its significance even now, because nuclear weapons continue to exist.


This does not mean that the military force ceased to play its role in international relations. The experience of the last two decades shows that we do not have less various conflicts, on the contrary. We saw this during the Caucasian crisis six years ago. Multilateral operations to suppress hotbeds of terrorist threat, in particular, in Afghanistan, are other examples. With regard to the interests of our country, the events of August 2008 have showed that diplomacy, which is supported (if we quote US political analysts) by “a credible threat of use of force”, remains in the toolbox of modern states, including Russia. This is where we need diplomacy, which should provide an adequate analysis and forecast for such exclusive political decisions. Here we need to differentiate two types of situations.

The first is the experience of the George Bush Jr. administration, who started a war in Iraq contrary to the clearly expressed will of the international community and national interests of the United States. In this case, I mean the use of military force as an element of self-destruction of states, not only of their international positions, but of their internal development in a more general way – as the key point of transformation of the leading states of the world, which cannot be radically transformed from outside, as it was in the case of Germany and Japan as a result of their defeat in the Second World War.

Another situation is, when the use of military force is forced by circumstances, i.e. to protect specific national interests, which are clear and understandable to the rest of the world. The Caucasian crisis and the current Ukrainian crisis are examples of such an approach. Both show that in doing this we need a sober analysis, consideration of the totality of factors, including the will of the population in the respective territories and international law in its development, as well as political moderation, i.e. the ability to know where to stop, not to be guided by military potential and military technologies. Military force should not call the tune for policy and diplomacy, it should be their tool. As to the Ukrainian crisis, then, according to the assessments by the London International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Royal United Services Institute (UK), Russia has demonstrated the image of its armed forces corresponding to the requirements of the XXI century in the past months, while NATO in its response, i.e. air patrolling along Russian borders and military and naval demonstrations, has remained at the level of the XX century. As to international law, we need not only its complex consideration, but also modern development with the emphasis on interests and needs of people rather than interests of states, if their interpretation by elites does not coincide with interests of the population.


 In any case, both the Caucasian crisis and the current Ukrainian crisis confirm that big wars are impossible, but the ability to respond by force, not necessarily response by force itself, can be decisive in case of hidden aggression or aggression by proxy countries, where there was a relevant “regime change”. In general, the attempts to return the European/Euro-Atlantic policy to the past, this time by way of undisguised policy of containment of Russia, although futile in a multipolar world, are able to become a source of serious destabilisation in the region, not to mention respective states. These policies certainly have no prospects in the middle-term and long-term. This is primarily because in conditions of renewal of a normal democratic process, which can be temporarily distorted by actions of nationalist radicals and other extremist forces, real interests of the country rather than those imposed by a minority and from outside, will prevail.

Furthermore, in the new conditions the previous formula of NATO’s raison d’être, which takes shape as a double containment, i.e. of Russia and Germany at the same time, does not work. A certain time potential of such a policy can be related to the immaturity of political elites, intellectual and ideological inertia of the “old geopolitics”, the novelty and seeming unprecedentedness of the current situation in Europe and globally. We should not forget that all the precedents of complex transformation of the world fell on turns of centuries, be that the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars or the First World War, which, according to George F. Kennan, was the “starting tragedy of the XX century”. Now we are talking about the end of the cold war, which destroyed the bipolar world order, and the very status of “superpower”, and the global crisis, which was launched by another systemic crisis of the western society, including liberal capitalism, political systems, the decline of the middle class and quality of elites.


Globalisation and what will become of it also raise a range of complex issues, which require a serious analysis by diplomats at level of regional and country studies, studies of global problems and a range of other issues. Like on the eve of the First World War, globalisation started to contradict interests of development of western states: sources of global economic growth were left beyond the historical West, artificial sources of growth in the financial sector stopped working, investment stratum of the population start to play the role of rentiers, dooming their countries’ development, like it happened in France a hundred years ago. This is where the trend of deglobalisation comes into a play, which is evident also in regionalisation of global affairs in the area of trade and economic integration, including creation of regional trading blocs.

It is interesting that there can be attempts to bring the previous geopolitical considerations, i.e. to integrate not for the sake of something, but against somebody, for the purpose of isolating countries, which are considered to be geopolitical rivals. Thus, it is widely believed that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is being created to isolate China, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is targeted against Russia. There is no surprise that neither of them are successful, because the considerations, which exist in the minds of certain elites, are contrary to the new reality and real interests of development of potential member-states. If we take Russia, its participation in ensuring European energy security is a reality, which is not undone by the “shale revolution” in the United States: we are still far off from supplies of American LNG to Europe, and it will hardly be cheap; it is also not known how the situation in the Persian Gulf region will play out in the nearest future, which is not only the situation in Iraq, but also resolution of Iranian Nuclear Programme, relations between Persian Gulf states and the fact that the al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal is control over the Arabian Peninsula and its Islamic … sites.


 Eurasian integration and “integration of integrations” in Europe – through WTO norms and the implementation of EU standards, as well as trilateral projects between the EU, Russia and our joint neighbours, including Ukraine – fit into this common global trend. On the contrary, the current crisis in Ukraine shows us what other policies may lead to. A country, which has become a target of such a geopolitical game is destabilised and is being destroyed turning into a geopolitical trusteeship territory of the cold war times. However, the fundamental problem, namely the flaw of these calculations, is that such a control requires large financial resources and respective “total commitments” on the part of sponsor countries. Ideological imperatives of cold war ensured the presence of both. It is a problem now, because there are neither political resources, nor respective political will, which is proved by the tactics of dragging this geopolitical project of the European Union through the back door, without serious debate, without any analysis of all the consequences and arguments, both in the European Union and Ukraine. This ambiguity is artificially resolved through non-invitation of Ukraine to the EU. The attempt to have a “deep” association with the EU brings the situation to an unchartered territory with absolute unpredictability of all the following developments, and primarily in Ukraine itself.

Now we see that the country is being destroyed which reminds Europe of the threat of radical nationalism, which has led to the Second World War. Does this truly mean that it is the unfinished business of that war? To be frank, there were attempts to use the German nationalism, which was pushed over the edge, as means of fighting Russia, at that time the Soviet Union.

This is mainly because these events are contrary to the economic reason and remind us of the tragic experiences of Europe of the XX century, that the situation around Ukraine is more frequently perceived as a conspiracy against Europe, as an artificial conflict, where the leading European capitals act not as direct participants, but as mediators between Washington and Moscow.

We need to remember that after the Crimean war and the unification of Germany, Russia almost lost the ability to have decisive influence on European affairs. Finally, we ended up in the role of the led and were forced to share the common tragedy of the First World War, which was the result not only of the systemic crisis of the western society, but also the legacy of the Franco-Prussian War, which resulted in the occupation of a territory of one major European power by another power, and in Anglo-German contradictions. That robbed us of Stolypin’s “twenty years without war”, which were needed for evolutionary transformation of Russia. It was not the Soviet Union which was to blame for the flaws of the Versailles system and the lack of will in the western countries to guarantee Eastern borders of Germany. From this we see how tragic the consequences of the insufficient role of Russia in European and global affairs can be for our own interest, as well as interests of Europe and the entire world. Now, in new conditions and from qualitatively new positions of self-assurance, Russia can and should carry out comprehensive policies on the entire spectrum of topical problems in Europe and globally. This also means that we substantially participate in the rebuilding of the European security architecture according to the requirements of our time. We have paid too much for not being at the “main table” of the European politics at the end of the XIX century or at the beginning of the XX century. If our experience teaches us something in this regard, then it is that there can be no alternative to a truly collective security system in Europe. This is the minimum we need, without which we will have no mutual trust, which we require for resolution of many other European and global problems.


Largely, I mean a pragmatic and multivector/multilateral diplomacy, which considers real interests of our country and the need to participate in various open geometry alliances of interest. The growing significance of the foreign policy work is also confirmed by the need to identify new threats and challenges, as well as new opportunities, which is vital to ensure strategic planning of the development of our country in all its aspects with more surety, including the military. Moreover, everything tells us that the current moment of transformation, which has its roots in the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, is coming to an end-game: processes are accelerating, extending almost to all the areas of global and national development. Although we will be able to judge about the new picture of the world only after the global crisis ends, many things can be predicted and anticipated even now. Such analysis gives our country clear competitive advantages, which should not be underestimated, because they have a quite specific material dimension. Suffice if to say that many successes of our foreign policy of the latest years, which were ensured by foreign policy independence of our country, were mainly the consequence of our correct understanding of prospective trends of global development, of what is real and what is not working any more, what is outdated, but still exists only in the minds of western elites, who turned out to be unable (we do not need to go far for examples) to intellectually prepare for the transit from the cold war to the world of the XXI century.