Don’t Throw Stones in a Glass House
No. 3 2008 July/September
Alexey Arbatov

Full Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Director of the International Security Center at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations; a member of the Russian delegation to the START I negotiations (1990); and Deputy Chairman of the Defense Committee of the State Duma (1994-2003).

Russia in Global Affairs has for a number of years kept
internationally high standards in the systemic approach to and
topicality of the issues selected for publication, and it has been
a high benchmark of professionalism and style of the materials.
That is why many of the articles appearing in this journal
sometimes provoke a desire to express one’s own ideas on the
problems discussed. One such thought-provoking article, A Time to Cast Stones, was written by Timofei
Bordachev and Fyodor Lukyanov and published in the April/June

Its main theme is cited as an epigraph to an entire section of
this journal:

“A transition from the Cold War model to a new status quo of
some kind – the character of which is yet to become clear –
continues, and in this situation it would be risky for the Russian
state to begin ‘to gather stones together’ in an attempt to build a
new system of relations with its outside partners. There is a great
risk of being peppered with stones thrown by those who continue to
toss them.”

The authors substantiate their idea by the claim that the world
has grown out of control, as the previous world order gave way to
chaos rather than a new world order. U.S. pursuits to spread its
hegemony worldwide and NATO endeavors to create a system of
security in the Euro-Atlantic zone and beyond are beginning to
collapse. Global financial, economic and energy systems are getting
out of control, while the UN, the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and international institutions of the
past era have failed to adapt to the new realities and it looks
like their time is coming to an end. The system of treaties aimed
at restricting the proliferation of armaments is falling apart.

These developments have led Bordachev and Lukyanov to the
conclusion that those who play by the old rules or try to restore
them will certainly lose. Russia is correct in not feeling remorse
anymore over acting in discrepancy with international agencies,
norms and treaties once it changed over to a “powerful and rigid
promotion of its fundamental interests” in the early years of this
decade. This line is revealed in Moscow’s tough criticism of the
OSCE, the intractability toward the IMF, and a diminishing interest
toward the World Trade Organization and toward a new general
agreement with the European Union. It can also be seen in Russia’s
resolve to veto Kosovo independence at the UN Security Council,
suspend the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE),
and possibly abandon the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
(INF). The authors recommend keeping the same line in the future as

Frankly speaking, such a “machismo” – completely down-to-earth,
highly anti-idealistic and rigidly pragmatic – position by Russia
cannot but evoke a strong response from the majority of the
national elites and the general public. This hard stance looks
especially appealing if one recalls the na?ve idealism of the late
1980s and the political tossing about and humiliations of the
1990s. Still, let us clarify the essence of some basic assumptions
and conclusions.


For a start, let us plainly state that the governability of the
world in the 20th century as compared to the 21st-century world is
grossly overstated. Even if one leaves out the two World Wars and
focuses entirely on the period from 1945 to the end of the Cold
War, the current impressions about the past reveal a sense of
nostalgia rather than an unbiased historical analysis. This is easy
to explain psychologically: bipolarity is naturally associated with
stability, all the more so that present-day Russia’s predecessor –
the Soviet military superpower and global empire – was one of the

However, governability and predictability were by far much more
an illusion rather than a reality after 1945. For almost forty
years the world lived in fear of a total thermonuclear war that
might erupt in the wake of a sudden aggression, a sudden escalation
of a crisis or a technology failure. The great powers inadvertently
drove themselves to the brink of a nuclear war on at least four
occasions – in 1957, 1961, 1962 and 1973 – and they almost stepped
over the critical line during the Cuban missile crisis in October
1962. At that time humanity was saved more by a stroke of luck
rather than by cautiousness on the part of the Kremlin or the White

The superpowers did not co-govern the world; they just split
Europe and the Far East into spheres of influence silently, while
the terror of a nuclear catastrophe forced them to avoid direct
confrontation in the course of geopolitical contentions elsewhere.
Nonetheless, the period was marked by dozens of large regional and
local conflicts that claimed more than 20 million lives. More often
than not, these conflicts would erupt all of a sudden, progress
uncontrollably, have undeterminable ends, and result in defeats for
the great powers. Suffice it to recall the war in Korea, two wars
in Indo-China, four wars in the Middle East, the wars in Algeria,
Hindustan, the Horn of Africa, Angola, Rhodesia and Afghanistan, to
say nothing of incalculable internal coups and bloody civil

Dividing the world into “friends” and “foes” would regularly put
the superpowers in the face of unpleasant surprises. China, for
instance, was the Soviet Union’s “great Eastern friend” at first,
but eventually turned into a major military, political and
ideological adversary. Egypt, Moscow’s main Middle Eastern client
under Nasser, veered off to the U.S. under Sadat.

Take France – when it pulled out of NATO, thus dealing a heavy
blow to the alliance’s rearward infrastructure. Also, there was
Iran – the pillar of American influence in the Persian Gulf that
purchased huge amounts of weapons from the U.S. under the Shah, but
then became its bitterest foe with the arrival of the ayatollahs.
Iraq, which attacked Iran, was a U.S. ally at first; but then it
invaded Kuwait and turned into America’s number-one enemy. This
list could run on and on, yet one can already see clearly how
fictitious governability was during the Cold War.

There is no arguing that after the onset of variegated
globalization the world has become far more complicated to
understand and, consequently, to govern by concerted efforts of the
leading powers. Nor is there any doubt that the post-Cold War
euphoria and hope for a general harmony has proven to be na?ve. But
in spite of all the contradictions and competition between the
great powers, there are not any antagonistic contradictions between
them now. There is no threat of a major war and no one is willing
to destroy anyone. Whatever the degree of displeasure, the leading
countries have with one another, not a single one of them (except
for the marginal political lunatics that one can find everywhere)
wants to see a collapse or disintegration of the U.S., Russia, the
European Union, China, India, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Ukraine
or Kazakhstan. All of them realize that the unpredictable
aftermaths of black holes formed by the elimination of rivals will
bring far greater damage than benefits.

The fundamental community of interests of the multipolar world
and its economic and social interdependence dictate a greater
necessity of “corporate solidarity,” restraint and a much more
careful selection of instruments for attaining objectives than the
fear of a nuclear catastrophe did in the past century. There are no
conflicts between the leading powers and their allies that would
compare in scale and number of victims with the regional wars of
the 20th century. The only exceptions are the wars in Yugoslavia
and Tajikistan, spontaneous violence in the failed states of
Africa, and the terrorist campaign going on in Iraq under the
U.S.-led occupation. Still, these are neither direct nor mediate
conflicts between the great powers.

In other words, there are many more favorable prerequisites now
for resolving current international problems – the financial
crisis, the shortage of energy resources and global warming –
however complex they may be, and the world has gained more security
in general than it had during the Cold War. There is a certain
reservation about the spread of nuclear missile armaments and
international terrorism, which opens up the possibility that
nuclear weapons might be used by third countries or terrorist
groups, but reacting to that threat, as well as the solution of
other problems, depends on the subjective policy of the ruling
order in leading countries, and it is in that very policy where the
biggest problems lie.


After the era of bipolarity drew to an end, Washington had a
unique historical opportunity to tie international policy to the
supremacy of legal norms; to leading legitimate international
institutions – first of all the UN and the OSCE; to a selective
nature and legitimacy of the use of force for self-defense or for
ensuring peace and security as stipulated by Articles 51 and 42 of
the UN Charter. It is quite obvious that the U.S. blatantly missed
its chance to take the helm in the process of creating a new
multilateral world order based on a balance of interests.

The U.S. unexpectedly found that it was the world’s only
remaining superpower and its political elite plunged into euphoria,
narcissism and smugness. It would increasingly often substitute
international law for the use of force; legitimate UN Security
Council decisions for the directives of the U.S. National Security
Council; and OSCE prerogatives for NATO actions. The military
operation against the former Yugoslavia in 1999 offered the boldest
instance of this. After the Bush Administration gained power in
2001 and after the jolting shock of the attacks of September 11,
2001, this line of conduct became absolutely prevalent. Following a
justified, legitimate and successful operation in Afghanistan, the
U.S. invaded Iraq (under a contrived pretext and without UN
sanctions) with the hope of further reformatting the entire Greater
Middle East in order to suit its own economic, military and
political interests.

As a result, the U.S. became mired in a hopeless war of
occupation in Iraq that could have a more telling defeat than the
Vietnam War; undermined the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan;
and split the antiterrorist coalition. Washington’s policies
triggered an unprecedented surge of anti-American sentiments around
the world, generated a new wave of terrorist activity, and spurred
the proliferation of nuclear and missile armaments.

NATO’s ungrounded eastward enlargement is behind a new standoff
between Russia and the West, for which neither side has either the
motives or the resources and which runs counter to their economic
and political interests. By overfocusing on geopolitical
expansionism for the past fifteen years, NATO has proven to be
unable – and reluctant – to reform itself (quite like the Russian
Armed Forces in the absence of a genuine civilian leadership). NATO
– the world’s most powerful military alliance – maintains a 1.8
million-strong army in Europe for God knows what purpose, but is
unable to find several supplementary helicopters and battalions for
the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan.


NATO was an offspring of the Cold War and the difficulties it
has run into at present are quite explicable, although they do not
evoke any sympathy. The problems faced by the EU arise from its
hasty and irrational enlargement, but they will most probably be
solved over time. The UN is a different story, though. Bordachev
and Lukyanov surmise in this connection: “The UN was founded in
conditions of tough confrontation between two poles of power […].
Now it cannot be readjusted to meet the demands of either an
imperial or a multipolar world”

The latter thesis is a questionable assertion. The UN was
established in 1945 when the anti-Nazi coalition was still alive
and it envisioned formalization of the executive ‘concert of
nations’ consisting of victorious powers in the capacity of
permanent members of the Security Council – that is, multipolarity
– plus an international lawmaking parliament in the form of the
General Assembly. But the UN dived into an almost forty-year-long
paralysis and turned into a forum for propagandist polemics exactly
because the coalition split and the Cold War set in.

The UN experienced a short-lived Golden Age after the end of the
Cold War, and for the first time in history it got down to
performing its primordial functions as a legitimate institution in
charge of ensuring international security. Remember that 36 out of
the 49 peacekeeping operations ever held under UN auspices were
organized after 1988. And although not all of them were successful
– due to local conditions – they were much less expensive and much
more fruitful than unilateral actions by the U.S. or NATO to coerce
anyone to peace.

It was not multipolarity or the new sophisticated problems at
all that dealt a blow to the UN’s efficiency in this decade. That
blow came from the unilateral policy of the U.S. from the position
of force. No one will argue that the world has changed beyond
recognition since 1945 and the UN needs a profound and well
thought-out reform. But contrary to what Bordachev and Lukyanov
say, it is not the genetic inadequacy of the UN that should be
blamed. The root cause of the problem lies in the deteriorating
discords among the Security Council’s permanent members and
Washington’s resolve to act beyond the format of international law
when the Security Council counterparts appear to disagree with

The U.S. administration has already paid dearly for such
policies in Iraq. In all probability, the administration likely
wishes it could reverse the march of time and that it had listened
to the arguments that Russia, France, Germany and China offered
against the ill-grounded military operation in 2003. Similarly, the
West has yet to pay a huge price for its methods of resolving the
Kosovo problem. The U.S. got bogged down in Iraq and it does not
have enough vigor to attack Iran unilaterally. The U.S. itself
undermined the UN Security Council’s authority, thus furnishing
Tehran with a pretext for ignoring four consecutive resolutions on
the Iranian nuclear program.

The system of international treaties on disarmament has not
become an anachronism after the end of the Cold War either. As
evidenced from the events of the past twenty years or so, the
nuclear nonproliferation regime will be unviable if it does not
rest on a solid platform of disarmament systems and processes.

There is a myth suggesting that the end of the Cold War whipped
up the spread of nuclear armaments, but this is not true either. As
many as seven countries – the Big Five, Israel and South Africa –
became nuclear during the four decades of the Cold War, and three
more countries – India, Pakistan and, with some reservations, North
Korea – did so after its end. The biggest breakthroughs in
disarmament came from 1987-1999: the INF and CFE treaties; the
Chemical Weapons Convention; the Protocol of Control over the
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention; the START-1 Treaty;
simultaneous reductions of tactical nuclear weapons in the U.S. and
Russia; the START-2 Treaty; the framework agreement on START-3 and
on theater defense missiles; the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty; and the Adapted CFE Treaty.

This period was certainly the most productive in terms of
nonproliferation, and this was not accidental, as 40 countries,
including nuclear powers like France and China, signed the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, which was prolonged indefinitely. The
world community put into effect an Additional Protocol designed to
strengthen the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy
Agency, and seven countries – South Africa, Ukraine, Kazakhstan,
Belarus, Brazil, Argentina and Iraq – gave up their nuclear weapons
voluntarily or were compelled to do so.

However, Washington’s reckless policies brought forth a
dismantling of the disarmament system in this decade, beginning
with the Nonproliferation Treaty and ending with the bulk of the
aforesaid agreements. The U.S. did all that it could to get a free
hand in promoting national defense programs, but in effect it
untied the hands of countries seeking to obtain nuclear weapons and
missile technology and thus undermined cooperation between the
great powers.

At present, the nonproliferation system and regimes are creaking
at all the seams. North Korea has pulled out of the treaty and has
held a nuclear test. Iran is moving steadily toward the same
objective through dual nuclear technologies, and a dozen more
countries have made public their plans to follow this example. The
market for contraband fissionable materials and technologies is
broadening, and terrorists may get access to a nuclear fuse through

Russia, on its part, imposed a moratorium on the CFE Treaty
recently and hinted at a possible withdrawal from the INF. After
START-1 expires in 2009, the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty
(SORT) signed in 2002 will lose any significance as well. The
latter document is effective through 2012 and stipulates that the
U.S. and Russia must reduce their nuclear warhead arsenals to 1,700
to 2,200 items, but it does not have a control system of its own
and is unrelated to START-1 regulations.

Nuclear disarmament will be slashed then to the Partial Nuclear
Test Ban treaties of 1963 and 1976 and several symbolic documents.
If so, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty will also become
practically defunct.

This cannot but incite a feeling of alarm, but what does it have
to do with “multipolarity arising amid a dilapidation of global
” that Bordachev and Lukyanov write about?
What we are witnessing is a deliberate and irresponsible pulling
down of those institutions and norms, which is largely orchestrated
by the U.S. administration and supported by some of their allies.
Alas, Russia has joined them too by now.


It is unlikely that anyone will object to the policy of “a
build-up of its [Russia’s] own relative strength
” and “a
powerful and rigid promotion of Russia’s fundamental
”. The only problem is with the way one interprets
these interests. Some ex-liberal TV commentators in Russia have
been tossing around a theory suggesting: “Grab anything that’s not
in the right place and then wait and see.” Another option
presupposes determining one’s own foreign policy priorities and
real capabilities and projecting the results of what one will do
several steps ahead.

What benefits would Russia get from pulling out of the INF
Treaty? A deployment of several divisions of longer-range SS-26
Stone missiles? But this would furnish the U.S. with a powerful
argument for a further ramification of the missile defense
structure in Europe and with a legitimate opportunity to
rehabilitate the Pershing II missiles. Or to deploy newer missile
systems with shorter flight times – in the Baltic countries this
time, not in West Germany.

A formal recognition of the independence of Abkhazia, South
Ossetia or the Dniester Republic would change nothing in their
material status above the broadening of economic and humanitarian
ties with them, started by Moscow. On the contrary, it will play
into the hands of those who advocate NATO’s encompassing Ukraine,
Georgia and Moldova and will motivate these countries toward a
military untangling of secession problems, all the more so that
none of the CIS countries except Russia – and possibly Armenia –
will recognize the breakaway territories. China, India and many
other partners of Russia that currently criticize NATO for its
stance on Kosovo will also dissociate themselves from that
recognition. In the future, armed separatism may again raise its
head in Russia itself and get direct support from abroad,
especially in the face of growing demographic problems.

Moscow had enough grounds for changing the “rules of the game”
that took shape in relations with the West in the 1990s. The
paradigm of this relationship dates back to the time when Moscow
had to meekly take its policy cues from the U.S. and to put up with
the arrogant treatment of its own interests and opinions, but this
is totally unacceptable today. Russia has gained much more economic
and political strength now, while the positions of the U.S., EU and
Japan have weakened – largely due to their own fault. The problem
of Russia’s foreign policy is not in its growing activeness or
independence. It is the thesis about the importance of a continued
“throwing of stones” that invites the biggest objection.

It is not enough to simply say ‘No’ to something. It is vital to
construct a fruitful and well-specified alternative to the main
issues. For instance, it would make a lot of sense for Russia to
clearly formulate a long-term vision of relations with NATO and
former Soviet republics while it protests the engulfing of Georgia
and Ukraine by the alliance. Military organizations and forces as
strong and ramified that both NATO and Russia have cannot
peacefully coexist without paying attention to each other and
engaging solely in their own business. They will either start a
closer cooperation and integration, or they will become suspicious
of each other over hostile designs and preparations for an armed

The campaign fanning fears about a renewed “threat from the
East” that started in the West recently – citing reports on the
flights of Russia’s strategic aviation, long-distance exercise
cruises of ships and firing exercises of naval detachments –
provides a vivid example. The same suspicions are aroused by
Russia’s new voguish defense doctrine of a “threat from space” and
the development of a potential for rebuffing it, which in practical
terms implies a major war with NATO.

Russia needs to decide for itself whether it should count on a
military confrontation or on deepening cooperation with the U.S.;
setting up a joint rapid deployment corps for peacekeeping
operations in Europe and beyond; for fighting terrorism and for
checking the illegal trade in nuclear materials. All of this
suggests a new type of a defense union and a profound reform of
NATO’s and Russia’s military organizations. The present situation
leaves little hope for an initiative from the West in that sphere,
and it is Russia that could put forth a long-term project while it
continues to re-emerge as a great power. In this context, any
objections to the alliance’s enlargement would look quite
convincing, while sabotage by NATO’s new members would be much
easier to overcome.

Proposals aimed at resolving the problems of neighboring
countries and guarantees to their sovereignty and territorial
integrity, as well as plans for economic and humanitarian
cooperation on the condition that those countries maintain
neutrality would be very instrumental in this sense. On the other
hand, all the talk about the secession of Abkhazia, South Ossetia,
the Dniester region, the Crimea and the Donetsk coalfields
consolidates the public and the political leadership in the
respective countries on strictly anti-Russian sentiments and
prompts them to turn to NATO as the only guarantor of their
territorial integrity.

The U.S. plan for building a defense missile system in Central
Europe offers a different case. Moscow was right to reject this
plan since a missile threat from Iran has not materialized so far
and the missile defense base will have a marginal capability for
intercepting several Russian antiballistic missiles. Russia offered
to cooperate in that sphere in the form of jointly running a radar
station in Azerbaijan and establishing a Joint Data Exchange Center
for the exchange of information on missile launches. However, by
recognizing in this way the presence of a missile threat from the
south, Russia cannot cite the radar and the center as an
alternative to the missile defense system anymore, as they would
need supplementary radars and interceptor missiles. The situation
requires either the presence of a broad Russian national missile
defense system or the construction of a joint missile defense with
the U.S. and NATO, and this in itself implies a new type of
military union.

Russian policies in both spheres have been sending encouraging
signals of late. After the April 2008 summit in Bucharest, Dmitry
Medvedev and Vladimir Putin made clear statements suggesting that
it would be reasonable for NATO to focus on developing better
relations and cooperation with Russia instead of a hasty eastward
enlargement, as many conflict issues would be seen in a different
light then. Also, concerning the problem of missile defenses, Putin
said that he could see a future solution to the problem in a joint
missile defense system embracing Russia, the U.S. and Europe.
However, these ideas need a well-conceived defense/political and
defense/technological content so as to look as something more than
just a political declaration. This is where a whole host of work
opens up, but neither government departments nor expert communities
in Russia are in a hurry to offer their proposals. Many do not take
the national leadership’s statements seriously; others are
unwilling to assume any responsibility or to burden themselves with
extra work; still others purposefully sabotage any such initiative
in the hope that their positions inside the country will
consolidate amid a growing confrontation with the West, even though
this line of conduct inflicts huge damage on Russia’s national
interests and security.

Bordachev and Lukyanov recommend throwing stones as long as
a transition from the Cold War model to a new status quo of
some kind
” continues, but this wait-and-see period may never
end. In contrast with a unipolar or bipolar international system,
the multipolar system is dynamic and changes by virtue of its very
nature and it will never get any permanent status quo. Naturally,
the current international system is immeasurably more complicated
and globalized than the 19th-century European “concert of nations,”
yet it, too, puts into a more lucrative position the nation or the
coalition that builds better relations with other centers of power
than the relations these centers have between themselves.

The construction of fruitful relations with other countries and
international amalgamations presupposes agreement on crucial
issues, greater efficiency of existing institutions and the setting
up of new structures. A great power must not destroy a new system
of international relations but, rather, should build it until
others organize it without account of the great power’s interests.
One should not follow the U.S. example and succumb to the lure of
razing shattered international institutions and treaties to zero so
as to grab quickly everything that comes into one’s hands. This
policy has led the U.S. to disaster and undermined its world
leadership despite America’s economic and military supremacy and
huge influence on international organizations and institutions.

As Russia launches a new phase of its economic and democratic
reforms, it is able to simultaneously wield a large productive
influence on the formation of an entirely new system of
international relations. But naturally, this is possible only if
Moscow develops an awareness of what it really wants and if it
begins to abide by strong principles and to display a coherent and
predictable line of conduct – something that a great power should
do. It must have an adequate picture of the world around it and
measure its wishes against its capabilities.