Three years ago, when everyone commemorated the World War One centenary, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers topped the best-seller list. The book describes how the leaders of great powers, consumed with vanity and ambitions but not actually seeking confrontation, plunged Europe into a senseless massacre. It destroyed the world order and caused instability that lasted over three decades and included a new world war.
It is generally believed that mankind has learned its lessons from that tragedy and acted more responsibly in the second half of the twentieth century. It is probably true. Despite fierce collisions and the standoff between systems, no global conflict occurred. That confrontation ended surprisingly peacefully as one of the sides simply disappeared, leaving the other side in a state of sweet euphoria. But that played a low-down trick. The “habit of peace” mixed with the confidence that one is on “the right side of history” created a situation where amassed contradictions were not resolved but blurred over.
Our authors are looking into the future without excessive optimism. Timofei Bordachev writes about “strategic frivolity” that dominates the policy of major states and is fraught with grave consequences similar to those that precipitated the tragic events in August 1914. Alexander Losev anticipates an era of new mercantilism with the harshest and most egoistic forms of interstate rivalry. Dmitry Yefremenko analyzes the situation in the Middle East where great powers have been most active in the first quarter of the current century and even used force. He believes that Russia cannot simply leave the region, as this will damage its interests and upset prospects for stabilization. Ivan Safranchuk studies the causes of changes in the U.S. domestic policy which impact the situation in the whole world.
Alexei Arbatov takes a close look at the key issue of international security—nuclear arms control. In his opinion, there is a high risk that the system of measures which guaranteed stability in this sphere in the last century can fall apart, bringing unpredictable consequences. Alexander Savelyev calls for preserving at least one legacy of the Cold War era—nuclear arms reduction talks. He believes, however, that reviving the clear-cut concept of strategic stability, created through trial and error in the second half of the twentieth century, is hardly possible. Alexander Kolbin mulls over how conceptual approaches to strategic stability can absorb the radical changes that have taken place in the world after the end of the Cold War. Julien Nocetti and Elena Chernenko examine a new area of confrontation—cyber space. Although the gloomiest forecasts have not come true so far, the risk that they may materialize is growing fast.
Andrei Lankov focuses on the nuclear troublemaker, North Korea, and tries to understand whether there is a real solution to the problem. Vladimir Khrustalyov considers a scenario which was unthinkable just recently but which is actively mooted now: a U.S. war against North Korea in which the world may see the first-ever exchange of nuclear strikes. Konstantin Asmolov studies the positions of different countries on North Korea and comes to the conclusion that all key players are faced with an unavoidable and unpleasant choice between “bad” and “very bad.” He is hopeful, however, that Russia’s position and active efforts, and the road map which proposes going ahead “without preconditions, step by step, showing mutual restraint” may tip the scales towards the most favorable scenario for global security.
The last section in this issue is about the eternal which, however, is directly related to the present. The more turbulent the world around, the more important it is to ensure internal stability of societies, especially as complex and multicomponent as the Russian one. Sergei Kravets explores Russian self-consciousness, paying special attention to the role of the Russian Orthodox Church. Alexander Gronsky delves into the notion of the Russian World that can help form Russia’s identity but needs to be specified. Dmitry Andreyev discusses conservatism and traditions, how they work in Russia and what they mean.
There is an increasingly strong feeling of countdown—towards even more drastic changes. The world is moving somewhere along the sparkling moonlit path.