The Present and the Future
of Global Politics
No. 2 2007 April/June
Sergei V. Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister since 2004

The world we
inhabit is no longer the place we knew just several years ago. Many
things have become much clearer; most importantly, that a unipolar
world has not taken shape for lack of military, political,
financial, economic and other resources required for imperial
construction in the age of globalization. For many years, the
“unipolar world” myth guided the minds and behavior of many states
that believed in this myth and made political investment in it.
Today, the realization of the real state of affairs does not come
easy to them.

It seems to be an
appropriate time for an unbiased analysis of the present stage in
the development of international relations. After all, there has
been a realistic correction – or reduction – of the U.S. role in
world affairs, a clarification of the true value of the Russia
factor in global politics, and the experience of the last 15 years
to guide us.

Recently, a
serious attempt to rethink the new international realities was made
by Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP) in a
report prepared for the Council’s 15th Assembly (March 17-18,
2007). The report also contained recommendations on the country’s
foreign policy. I cannot say I share all its conclusions. In
particular, its excessive alarmism and pessimism seem


developments – which include Russia’s diplomacy in the last few
years, as well as statements by President Vladimir Putin on
foreign-policy matters, above all his Munich speech – leave no
doubt that Russia’s political leadership has a well thought-out and
time-tested strategy regarding international affairs. The same
conclusion follows from a review of the country’s foreign policy,
prepared by Russia’s Foreign Ministry in cooperation with political
analysts at the president’s request.

It concluded that
the choice made in 2000 in favor of pragmatic, multivector
development, together with the firm but non-confrontational
upholding of national interests in foreign affairs, has more than
justified itself. I assume that some individuals might argue that
Russia decided in favor of a moderate policy and multilateral
diplomacy from the position of weakness. However, even the
currently strong and self-confident Russia does not renounce these
fundamental principles of its foreign policy.

Our vision of the
world at that time rested on common sense, together with a sober,
earthly assessment of the tendencies now shaping modern
development. History – if a period of six to seven years can be
called history – has justified Russia’s decisions. Analysts are
already busy writing brief histories of the early 21st century.
Thomas Friedman, for example, in his recent book comes to the
conclusion that the world has become “flat,” meaning that
globalization has gone beyond the framework of Western
civilization, and leaves no room for various kinds of hierarchical
structures. Horizontal ties, which make up the essence of modern
international relations, call for network diplomacy.

I would also like
to quote a famous phrase by Richard Haass: “The U.S. does not need
the world’s permission to act, but it does need the world’s support
to succeed.” If this is so, we must reach agreement on what is to
be done – and how. Putin’s Munich speech has opened many people’s
eyes. The Boston Globe, commenting on President Putin’s speech,
wrote: “Moscow, ahead of Washington, has come to comprehend a key
fact: The world is becoming a polyarchy – an international system
run by numerous and diverse actors with a shifting kaleidoscope of
associations and dependencies.”

I cannot agree
with the opinion that a real alternative to a “unipolar world” is
“chaotization” of international relations due to a “vacuum” of
governability and security. I would rather speak of vacuum in the
consciousness of national elites, because, as we have witnessed on
other occasions, it is unilateral reaction – particularly, the use
of force – that has increased the likelihood of conflict in world
politics while fueling old problems. This is how the conflict space
expands in global politics.

It is
understandable that many people across the Atlantic still cannot
make themselves say the word “multipolar.” But it is absolutely
groundless to suggest that multipolarity increases the likelihood
of confrontation. Yes, there emerge new centers of force; they
compete with each other, among other things, for access to natural
resources. However, things have always been this way, and there is
nothing fatal about it.

Emerging trends
of informal leadership amongst the world’s leading states – in
addition to international institutions, most importantly, the
United Nations – offer ways for solving the governability problem
in the contemporary world. It is another matter altogether that –
in this case – individual pretensions to truth, be it by the U.S.,
the European Union or Russia, are simply ruled out.
The paradigm of contemporary international relations is rather
determined by competition in the broadest interpretation of the
word, particularly when the object of competition is value systems
and development models. However, this is not at all equivalent to
confrontation. The novelty of the situation is that the West is
losing its monopoly on the globalization process. This explains,
perhaps, attempts to present the current developments as a threat
to the West, its values, and very way of life.


Russia is against
attempts to divide the world into the so-called “civilized
mankind,” and all the others. This is a way to global catastrophe.
I am confident that the choice of Russia, and other leading states,
including such civilization-forming countries as India and China,
in favor of a unifying policy will be the main factor in preventing
the world dividing along civilizational lines.
Globalization raises truly existential issues for mankind. It is
already obvious that natural resources are limited; therefore, it
is simply impossible to ensure consumption for all at the level of
industrialized countries. German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, shortly
before he would be nominated as Pope Benedict XVI, in his address
at the Catholic Academy of Bavaria in January 2004, spoke of the
need for self-restraint. He was also critical of manifestations of
“Western arrogance,” meaning claims to universality from “both
great cultures of the West – the culture of Christian faith and the
culture of secular rationalism.”

Ratzinger put
forward an idea that is very close to what the Russian Orthodox
Church strongly advocates these days, namely, that the human rights
concept must be supplemented with a teaching about man’s duties and
possibilities. I am convinced that in this way it would be possible
to restore the common moral denominator of the main world
religions. The harmonious development of all mankind is impossible
without this.


The way the SVOP
report presents the terrorist threat seems to be disputable. The
report’s conclusions are based on very contradictory assessments
which, on the one hand, exaggerate the possibility of forming a
consolidated Islamic factor in world politics, and on the other,
emphasize deep conflicts among Islamic states. The main mistake, as
I see it, is that this issue is considered in total isolation from
the need to solve real problems – above all in the Middle East –
that obstruct the implementation of the Arab-Moslem world’s
potential to meet the challenges of modernization.

speaking, the report underestimates the ability of politics to
solve crises that provide the fertile ground for extremism. The
policy of force must be renounced, and measures must be taken that
will help solve global problems, like poverty, for example, on a
global scale.

The experience of
the last six years convincingly shows that any attempts to ignore
the reality of a multipolar world ultimately end in failure.
Whatever examples we may take, the conclusion remains the same:
modern international problems cannot be solved by force. Attempts
to do so only aggravate and throw the situation into a stalemate.
The deficit of security, or a sense of deficit, also stems from
stagnation in the disarmament sphere, which increases the threat of
the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

I believe the
present significance on the use of force is a temporary phenomenon.
Objectively, the role of force in global politics will decrease.
One can draw a parallel here with the 1992 presidential elections
in the U.S., when not everyone realized the importance of the
economic factor: “It’s the economy, stupid!” Now, already on a
global scale, nations are emphasizing ways to ensure stable
economic development, as well as meeting their energy requirements.
The increased economic interdependence of states serves as an
important factor for maintaining international stability. These
tasks cannot be solved by force, occupation, or military presence

We view reliance
on force as a fundamental vice of our partners’ policy. Their
approach is detrimental to “soft power” options, the significance
of which is on the rise. In the past, such a mentality produced a
phrase attributed to Stalin: “How many divisions does the Pope
have?” Now, when we propose working out a collective strategy with
regard to Iraq, we often hear in reply: “Is Russia ready to send
its troops to Iraq?” So, again our partners are thinking only
through the prism of use-of-force scenarios. This approach
dominates Washington’s foreign-policy strategy.
What is needed is renouncing attempts to re-ideologize and
re-militarize international relations, while strengthening the
collective and legal principles in them.


The realization
that the world must be free, and that all states should be allowed
to decide for themselves, in line with their own understanding of
their national interests in the new conditions, is a fundamental
idea today. Bloc or ideological discipline no longer works
automatically, although attempts are being made to replace it with
the solidarity of one civilization against all the others.
The notion of “freedom of speech,” for example, which we apply to
internal developments in every country, is necessary on the
international scene as well. Any suppression of dissent, and
sweeping disagreements under the carpet, has negative consequences
for the entire international community and dilutes its intellectual
resources. Naturally, everyone is free to pursue an irrational
policy. But in the present conditions everybody ultimately pays for
an errant policy, as is witnessed in Iraq and the surrounding

The primary
importance of Putin’s Munich speech is that it helped to foil a
conspiracy of silence on fundamental issues concerning the global
security architecture, that is, on issues that directly concern
everyone. The president’s speech outlined the borders for a
“territory of freedom” – freedom of thought and freedom of speech
in international relations. The present situation brings to mind
the Soviet times when people discussed many burning issues in their
kitchens. Unfortunately, the same situation has emerged in global
politics today, where “kitchen” stands for conversations behind
closed doors, behind the backs of those for whom criticism is
intended. Obviously, this unhealthy and conformist atmosphere does
not meet the interests of the international community.

In former times,
uncertainty about the future world order was largely due to
Russia’s weakening phase during the initial post-Soviet period. It
was easy to get the impression at the time that Russia was simply
written off as material for a new territorial and political
repartition of the world – a prospect Russia already faced, for
example, at the beginning of the 18th century. At that time, the
problem was solved by the accelerated modernization of the country,
which was the main content of reforms carried out by Peter the
Great. Once again, we have responded to the challenges of the times
with radical political and economic reforms, which, as in the past,
are in line with a European choice, but with the preservation of
Russia’s centuries-old traditions. As a result, Russia has restored
its foreign-policy independence – as a sovereign democratic

Thus, for the
first time in many years, a real competitive environment has
emerged on the market of ideas for the future world order that are
compatible with the present stage of global development. The
establishment of new global centers of influence and growth, a more
balanced distribution of resources for development, and control
over natural wealth, represent the foundation for a multipolar
world order.

These and other
factors have predetermined the nascent transition to a new stage in
world development; counteraction to the present challenges and
threats serves as an objective basis for broad international
cooperation. Meanwhile, multilateral diplomacy is gaining
increasing recognition as an effective instrument for regulating
international relations at the global and regional levels. The role
of the United Nations, which possesses unique legitimacy, is
growing. Thus, I disagree with the underestimation of the
significance of this world body in the SVOP report. The course of
events causes everyone – including those who are not prepared to
give their due to the UN – to work with this global organization
and act through its mechanisms.


It goes without
saying that the international reaction to Russia’s increased role
in global energy supply must be thoroughly analyzed. First, no one
has ever proved that the accusations of “energy blackmail” have any
grounds, or that we have violated even one of our commitments or
contracts. Second, there are hidden pitfalls in this rhetoric, as
attempts are made to impose on Russia the dubious status of an
“energy superpower.” Certainly, there are those who wish to exploit
this label in order to perpetuate Russia’s role as an
energy/raw-material niche in the international division of

It is another
matter that the possibilities produced by energy sale revenues,
together with the strengthening of Russian raw-material companies’
positions in transnational business, must be used for boosting
Russia’s integration into the global economy, and for steering our
own economy onto the path of innovation-based


It would seem
that Russia’s disagreements with Ukraine, Belarus and other members
of the Commonwealth of Independent States over gas prices should
have convinced the West that we have no imperial plans but seek to
build normal, market-based relations with our neighbors. Meanwhile,
it is the politicization of economic relations that could promote
suspicions against Russia. But such politicization does not exist,
yet the suspicions persist, which suggests the conclusion that this
is not a case of altruism. The CIS space has turned into a sphere
for geopolitical “games,” which involves such instruments as
“democratorship.” Let us be frank, the main criterion used to
measure a nation’s level of democracy seems to be its readiness to
follow in the footsteps of other countries’ policies.

In the CIS space,
in its bilateral and multilateral relations, Russia seeks to
strengthen elements of objective commonality and interdependence –
economic, cultural-civilizational and other. No more and no less
than this. We are ready to contribute to building non-politicized
relations with a view to stabilizing this region, provided the
interests of local states are respected and the tactic of
“harassing actions” toward Russia are renounced.

It must be
understood that it is no use trying to keep Russia in a regional
“shell.” We have long abandoned such a possibility in the course of
our development.


We are ready to
participate in the search for solutions to problems produced by
unilaterally launched projects. First of all I mean Iraq, where the
situation can still be saved. It is hard to argue with Henry
Kissinger’s words that sooner or later “Iraq has to be restored to
the international community,” and that “other countries must be
prepared to share responsibilities for regional peace.” However,
sharing responsibilities presupposes the need for mutual
cooperation in devising optimum solutions.

We are told that
the situation in Iraq is now our “common trouble.” Malignance and
the wish to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune have always
been alien to Russia. But here our American partners must radically
change their Iraqi strategy, bringing it into line with the
prevalent analysis both in the U.S. and in other countries. A
multilateral conference, held in Baghdad on March 10, proceeded in
the same vein. This process must be used for working out a new and
collective strategy in Iraq.

Such a correction
of policy must involve all of the political forces in Iraq, its
neighbors, the UN, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic
Conference, and the G8. This would help realize the objective
harmony of interests between Washington and Teheran, for example,
which pin their hopes on one and the same Iraqi

There is no doubt
that real political processes do exist in Iran. But the
international community can influence Iran in the appropriate
spirit only through its involvement, rather than its
For all the importance of continued multilateral efforts at finding
a solution to the present situation involving Iran’s nuclear
program, one must realize that this problem, just as with the
Korean Peninsula nuclear problem, was largely caused by
Washington’s reluctance to normalize its bilateral relations with
Teheran (and Pyongyang) on the basis of generally accepted
principles. In its relations with North Korea, however, the U.S.
displayed flexibility and pragmatism, withdrew its ultimatum and
agreed to resume negotiations with Pyongyang without any
preconditions. North Korea reciprocated with conciliatory moves of
its own – and the result was soon forthcoming. The same approach is
required in the Iranian issue. Then, measured pressure from the UN
Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency will

At the same time,
our partners should display consistency and logic. If elements of a
U.S. missile defense system are being deployed near our western
borders, for example, under the pretext of an “Iranian threat,” or
if sanctions are introduced against Russian companies, then why
create a commotion in the UN Security Council? I hope our American
partners will think about this, especially since they are inviting
us to combat a hypothetical, “anticipated” threat, while, at the
same time, creating a real threat to Russia’s – and not only
Russia’s — security.


We advocate a
comprehensive approach to solving problems within the Euro-Atlantic
region, which may involve broad interaction in a trilateral format
– amongst Russia, the European Union and the U.S. These types of
frameworks for cooperation are already forming in practice – in the
UN Security Council, the G8, the Middle East Quartet of
international mediators, and the group of six countries dealing
with Iran’s nuclear program. Importantly, if the trilateral format
is imparted a comprehensive and truly partnership nature, it would
remove unnecessary suspicions with regard to what is happening
between two other members of this “triangle.”

Russia does not
intend to drive a wedge into transatlantic relations. Nothing can
do more damage than the disagreements over Iraq. However, we do not
want to see consolidation of the transatlantic link at our


Speaking of
Russian-American relations, the crucial stage in building a global
security architecture brings us to the main problem, namely,
determining modalities for collective interaction in international
affairs. This must form the essence of discussions; President Putin
invited all our partners for this purpose in Munich.

Russia has no
claims to any special rights in international relations, but nor
should we be put in the position of being led either. Full
equality, including in the realm of threat analysis and decision
making, is an indispensable factor.

One distinctive
feature of Russia’s foreign policy is that we are beginning to
uphold, perhaps for the first time in our history, our national
interests in full, using all our competitive advantages. We now
have enough resources for addressing various key tasks of the
country simultaneously: retooling the economy, solving social
problems, modernizing the Armed Forces, strengthening
foreign-policy instruments, and supporting Russian businesses on
international markets.

Russian and U.S.
political analysts now speak of an inevitable “pause” in the
development of our bilateral relations in view of the forthcoming
electoral cycles in both countries. I think such a development
would represent a bad choice. I would like to see the U.S. not
retiring into itself in the face of the Iraqi tragedy, but
participating in a renewed partnership with Russia on the basis of
equality and mutual benefit. We are ready to act precisely in such
a manner, thereby speeding up the transition to a “more unified and
rational policy.”

Opportunities for
the positive evolution of Russian-American relations are opening up
in many areas, including in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear
Terrorism; there are efforts to harmonize the initiatives of the
Russian and U.S. presidents for the safe development of nuclear
power engineering in the world. This will provide such energy
resources to all interested states, provided they observe their
nonproliferation commitments. Further proof of our capacity for
compromise is the signing of a bilateral protocol with the U.S. on
Russia’s accession to the WTO (I hope there will be no backtracking
on this issue, and President Bush will fulfill his promise to
support our application at multilateral negotiations). Our dialog
focuses on the struggle against terrorism and drug-trafficking, the
nonproliferation of WMD, the settlement of regional conflicts and,
of course, strategic stability. If we fail to achieve mutually
acceptable solutions to these issues, “nominal consent” would not
be a bad alternative. We do not deny the U.S. a right to decide for
itself on important issues, but this means acting at one’s own risk
and at one’s own expense.

Speaking in
Munich, Vladimir Putin never uttered the notorious “nyet” – a
negativist approach is basically alien to our foreign policy. We
have advocated and will continue to advocate a positive agenda for
international relations and constructive alternatives in addressing
existing problems; and herein lay the essential meaning of what the
president said. SVOP Chairman Sergei Karaganov rightly commented
that “in Munich, Putin voiced the bitter truth about the present
and the recent past.” But we go beyond this statement and propose
realistic methods and joint solutions out of the present

In our relations
with the U.S. – or any other country – confrontation is not
predetermined, which means that there are no objective grounds for
a new Cold War whatsoever.

criticism of U.S. foreign policy in the SVOP report suggests a
degree of fatalism and messianic determinism in America. At the
same time, it underestimates the pragmatism of the Americans,
which, in former times, prompted them to adopt strategies of a
different kind in foreign policy. By way of example, I would refer
to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s line within the anti-Hitler coalition.
This historical example proves that the Americans can reckon with
circumstances, while at the same time accepting a moderate policy
and line of conduct in accord with other leading states of the
world. Now, it seems those times have appeared again.

As regards
anti-Americanism, it is of course dangerous and intellectually
problematic. But this problem must be solved “at the source,”
meaning, first of all, the present line of U.S. conduct in
international affairs. Globalization leaves no possibility for
self-isolation (especially considering the U.S. economy’s
dependence on external financial injections – about one trillion
dollars a year – and external sources of energy resources). In our
dealings with the U.S., a broad, objective view of the issues must
prevail. The fact that Washington has heeded advice from the
neoconservatives should not determine our fundamental attitude to


Russia is opposed
to “strategic games” in Europe that are aimed at creating a
confrontational potential for no reason; it also opposes a European
policy according to the friend-or-foe principle. The implementation
of U.S. plans to deploy elements of the National Missile Defense on
the continent provides a perfect example. There are collective
alternatives to this unilateral project – in particular in the form
of a Theater Missile Defense in Europe involving NATO and Russia.
Such plans were already considered within the framework of the
Russia-NATO Council.

An American
Missile Defense in Europe will directly affect our relations with
NATO. If the alliance is unviable as a collective security
organization, and if it is turning into a cover for unilateral
measures that are detrimental to our security, then what is the
point of our relations with it? Where is the added value of the
Russia-NATO Council then? In any case, new missiles in Europe would
be a bad case of d?j? vu with all of the predictable consequences
witnessed in the 1980s.

When the U.S. was
in the process of making its decision on the missile defense
system, it did not consult with NATO, nor with the European Union,
which now seeks to find a role for itself in the sphere of foreign
policy and security in Europe.

understands the difficulties being experienced by NATO, and it is
ready to help, for example, in Afghanistan where the Alliance is
also undergoing a viability test. We assign great importance to
success of multilateral efforts in that country, as the matter at
issue is our security in a critically important region. We made
serious contributions in the operation against al-Qaeda and the
Taliban at its various stages, and made decisions that were not
easy to make. Therefore, we have a right to expect a positive
result. But if the international military presence “presides” over
a situation where the Taliban may return to power, this will also
have the most serious consequences for our relations with the

We are alarmed
that organizations and instruments that we inherited from the past
– NATO, the OSCE, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in
Europe, and others – are evolving into means of reproducing a bloc
policy in the present-day conditions. I am confident that such a
situation cannot last for long. There is a real danger that the
situation – without an overall reform of the European security
architecture – may acquire a life of its own, thereby
predetermining a real split of Europe for decades to come. This
represents a turning-point in the present stage of European
politics. An answer to this challenge can be found only in serious,
meaningful discussions concerning a collectively coordinated and
mutually acceptable configuration of European security.


Russia’s foreign
policy fully conforms to the present stage of its internal
development. The broad consensus in society on key foreign-policy
principles and areas proves this. Meanwhile, the recently
established Inter-Party Conference on Foreign Policy will help to
preserve and strengthen this consensus. For the rest of the world
we wish the same thing as for ourselves – progressive development
without upheavals.

Other countries
sometimes make excessive and unilateral demands on Russia and its
actions on the international scene. Frankly, they want us to give
up our independent role in international affairs. We are also
criticized due to our lack of ideology, which allegedly stems from
Russia’s foreign-policy pragmatism. But pragmatism, however, does
not mean a lack of principles. We just proceed from the realities
of life, from the real needs of the country and its citizens. The
ideology of common sense suits us completely. It serves as a firm
doctrinal basis for our independent and non-confrontational
foreign-policy strategy, which is greeted with understanding among
an overwhelming majority of our international partners.

Russia is now in
a favorable international position. But such a position is never
guaranteed in an evolving international environment. We can
preserve, as well as increase, our achievements only through our
active involvement in international affairs.

We harbor no
illusions about the difficulties that lie ahead of us. But we are
convinced that the crystallization of many aspects of global
politics has already taken place. In terms of foreign policy, our
country is well prepared for further changes, and this gives us
grounds for an optimistic view of the future.