12.07.2006
The Rise of Asia, and the Eastern Vector of Russia’s Foreign Policy
№3 2006 July/September
Sergey Lavrov

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

© «Russia in Global Affairs». № 3, July
— September 2006

Sergei Lavrov is Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation
and member of the Editorial Board of Russia in Global
Affairs.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has recently been conducting an
increasingly active and productive dialog with domestic political
analysts. This dialog meets the fundamental task of involving civil
society institutions into various spheres of state activity, and
foreign policy cannot be an exception. This is in line with the
general tendency in the development of international relations
where nongovernmental organizations now play an ever-greater role,
often generating forward-looking ideas and initiatives. Thanks to
the contribution being made by civil society, Russia’s role in
international politics will grow, acquiring new facets and due
depth. This is one of priority areas in efforts to bring the
resource potential of Russia’s foreign policy into line with
requirements of the times.

I would like this article to be viewed as a contribution to the
discussion, The Future of Asia and the Policy of Russia, held in
early March of this year at the 14th Assembly of the Council on
Foreign and Defense Policy, which regrettably I was not able to
attend. Judging by pre-Assembly papers, Russia’s political analysts
differ greatly in their views on the above subject and other
related issues. I believe that open and fair discussions will be
useful to all and will promote better and deeper understanding of
Russia’s foreign policy inside the country and abroad. Yet several
of our analysts hold views on Russia’s Asia policy, as well as on
particular aspects concerning the present development of
international relations, which I simply cannot agree with.

MULTIVECTOR FOREIGN POLICY

First, I cannot agree with the idea that there is the
possibility of an imminent conflict between the European and Asian
vectors of Russian diplomacy. Equally unfounded are statements
about “the preservation of a predominantly European orientation of
Russia,” which is also seen as a “guarantee” of the country’s
modernization in order to prevent its “inevitable return to Asia.”
(I guess ‘Asia’ here stands for ‘backward and savage Asia’ – a
notion savoring of prejudice and quite out of line with the actual
state of affairs.)

This opposition between different aspects of Russia’s foreign
policy is artificial and far-fetched. Multifaceted orientation is
one of its key characteristics outlined in the Foreign Policy
Concept of the Russian Federation, endorsed by the president in
June 2000. Abiding by this principle means only one thing: each
vector is valuable per se for us, and any mutually exclusive or
‘compensatory’ patterns are unacceptable. Using some partners in a
game against other partners would be, to put it mildly, an unwise
line of conduct – quite in line with Big Game politics, however,
which no longer meets the nature of international relations in
their modern perception: the factors that shape today’s
international relations include globalization with all of its
contradictory consequences.

The rise of Asia and the rapid involvement of many countries –
above all China, India and the member states of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – in the international economy and
international politics was largely a result of globalization.
(Incidentally, ASEAN, a key regional actor, was somehow ignored in
the aforementioned pre-Assembly papers.) Both processes are
interconnected; hence the phenomenon known as the “Asian face” of
globalization. For this and other reasons, I consider an opposition
between the two major vectors of Russia’s foreign policy
groundless.
Russia can join the integration processes in the vast Asia-Pacific
region only through the economic growth of Siberia and the Russian
Far East; in other words, the modernization of these regions is an
axiom. Therefore, there does not exist any contradiction between
the general vector of Russia’s internal development, described as
“the European choice,” and the objectives of our policy in
Asia.

I

The opposition between different aspects of Russia’s
foreign policy is artificial and far-fetched
 

 cannot pass over in silence statements to the effect that
Russia’s policy in Asia may contain some anti-Western or
anti-American implications, or that some people in Moscow’s
corridors of power have yielded to the temptation to take advantage
of the “weakening of America.” I do not know how such suspicions,
characteristic of certain political circles abroad, have made their
way into expert opinion in Russia. Each vector of Russia’s foreign
policy presupposes the solution of specific tasks. However
difficult its relations with the European Union might become, they
cannot be substituted by relations with other partners. The same
rule applies to all the other vectors, including the Asian and
North American ones.

As for the West, any attempts to restore the bygone
trans-Atlantic unity as an isolated aspect of international life
can have only partial success. The Western Alliance suffered
following the end of the Cold War, and the last decade has seen
developments that were of momentous importance for it: these
included the consensus-based military operation of the North
Atlantic Alliance against Serbia, the lack of NATO participation
after the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, and, finally,
disagreements over Iraq. Most importantly, the very coordinate
system of international relations has drastically changed.
Additionally, following the disappearance of the ‘Soviet threat,’
there emerged political and philosophical disagreements between the
United States and Europe on many issues, among them the
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the creation of a
Bioconvention verification mechanism, the Kyoto Protocol, the
International Criminal Court, and the death penalty. There is also
disagreement between the stringent Anglo-Saxon model of economic
development and the more socially oriented policy of Continental
Europe.

This is only one of the numerous consequences of the
“unfreezing” of international relations after the end of the Cold
War. This is why Russia’s foreign policy in the West cannot have
only one vector; actually, at the present time there are several
vectors. In particular, the presence of the North American and the
EU aspects in Russia’s foreign policy reflects the difficult
reality that it is facing, and is not at all an attempt to “drive a
wedge” into what has long ceased to be a monolith. (Formerly, the
latter was bonded together by ideology, by an ideological
confrontation.)

A BRIDGE BETWEEN CULTURES AND CIVILIZATIONS

It would be useless to try to scare us by various kinds of
threats from the East. On the international scene we pursue a
pro-Russian policy – not more and not less. We are guided by our
own interests, as is done – and very effectively – by all of our
international partners, which rely on their centuries-old
experience. Russia’s existence at the junction of different
civilizations, through constant efforts to achieve
inter-civilizational accord, in many respects has had a negative
effect on its own development. Today, its role – which is not of a
shield but of a cultural and civilizational bridge – is needed as
never before. It not only organically fits in with the collective
needs of the entire international community, but also meets our
vital national interests and helps Russia to solve the task of its
historical predestination. However, it is important that our
partners should not view this only as a possibility to use the
bridge to their own benefit, without taking our needs into account.
Perhaps, ‘bridge’ is not the best word here. It would be more
correct to speak of interfacing the interests of the West and the
East for the purpose of solving acute problems of the present.

In the long run, this is the significance of, for example,
Russia’s contacts with the Hamas movement. In the situation where
this movement has won elections in Palestine, recognized by all as
free and democratic, the international community’s policy on the
Middle East settlement – without initiatives like those made by
Russia – may reach a deadlock, while decisions of the Quartet of
international intermediaries may remain on paper. Flexibility,
ensured by Russia’s position, gives the Quartet’s efforts a second
wind. Democracy is a double-edged weapon and, simultaneously, a
remedy for the wounds it inflicts. By bringing the agreed position
of the international community to the notice of Hamas, we started
the process of involving it into open politics – a process in which
the Arab world actively participates. It is worth noting that many
West European countries have supported Russia’s efforts, and
judging by our partners’ reaction to the results of the Moscow
negotiations with Hamas, none of them view it as an attempt to
engage in an “independent game” at someone else’s expense.

I think the problems concerning the perception of Russia’s
foreign policy are largely rooted in a lack of understanding of the
essence of the disagreements over Iraq. If we analyze the events in
the UN Security Council prior to the beginning of the war in Iraq
(March 2003) from today’s positions, we cannot but come to the
conclusion that the role of Russia and China, however important it
was, was not at all the only factor. The main factor involved the
wish of two major European nations, France and Germany, to uphold
their foreign-policy independence and to defend international law
and order in accordance with their fundamental national interests.
Here our positions coincided, as now do the positions of all
members of the international community as regards the need to
normalize the situation in Iraq as soon as possible, to stop the
spiral of violence, restore the sovereignty of the Iraqis over
their country, and prevent its breakup. This is why it has become
possible to return to political work on Iraq in the United Nations
and within the framework of other forums.

At the same time, however, the initial framework for political
settlement in Iraq, set down unilaterally, has not seen any
essential changes despite its obvious drawbacks. This explains the
abnormal and even tragic situation where an overwhelming majority
of the world’s leading countries are unable to actually influence
the course of events, however much they wish to improve the
situation. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons for the
insufficient participation of China and India in the region’s
affairs, which was justly pointed out in the materials of the
Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. I am confident that these
two great countries will be ready to contribute to truly collective
and equitable efforts for achieving a settlement – for example, in
the event an international conference on Iraq is convened. The
convocation of such a conference is becoming increasingly
important.

On this point, it would be appropriate to mention the belief
that continuous foreign military presence is ostensibly salutary
and serves as an instrument of “social and political engineering.”
The very fact that coalition members continue to withdraw their
troops from Iraq shows that these countries are drawing opposite
conclusions from their practical experience and analysis of the
situation. I am convinced that such instruments for pursuing one’s
national interests in international affairs are counterproductive.
Such a foreign presence distorts the development of internal
processes and creates the temptation to use force; ultimately, it
underestimates the potential of political and diplomatic
settlement.

As regards the situation in Iraq, we have no grounds not to
trust the well-known opinion of the representatives of the
conservative political elite in the U.S. (Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew
Brzezinski, etc.). Furthermore, it is correct that the “residual”
foreign military presence in the region following the Gulf War of
1991 invited the breakup of the entire former geopolitical
structure in the Middle East. The strength and efforts of the UN
Security Council, implementing its unique legitimacy, help to
remove a significant part of the negative effects of military
force. By way of example, one can site Afghanistan where
UN-mandated and NATO-led international security forces are
deployed. But even in Afghanistan, despite UN support, the
internationally agreed strategy of settlement and the absence of
disagreements similar to those over Iraq, things have not been
developing as planned. Why, then, should anybody be surprised at
what is happening in Iraq, where the settlement process began in an
absolutely different situation?

In this context, there arises the issue of military bases of
outside powers now operating in Central Asia. There is no pressure
on Russia’s partners in the antiterrorist coalition. But it is
important to remember that the military presence was requested
exclusively for the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan.
Attempts to use it for other purposes would radically change the
situation. The countries that offered their territories for the
military bases understand this issue precisely in such a way.

OLD ALLIANCES AND NEW ACTORS

The “old” alliances existing in new conditions are faced with
the difficult challenge of transforming themselves. This fully
applies to NATO. The former purpose of its existence no longer
unites the members of such alliances; they must search for a new
purpose. Even more difficult is to come to agreement in assessing
and reacting to threats. Previous commitments, which no longer seem
unequivocal, often turn into burdens.

Yet, here too, the fact that international relations are now
free from the rigid bloc discipline of the Cold War years has a
salutary effect on global politics. Old commitments do not prevent
countries from finding areas where their interests coincide with
the modern realities. It seems that the political analysts
underestimate the phenomenon of the fundamentally new relations
between Russia and those countries that are tied up by military and
political bonds inherited from the Cold War. I am referring to
Greece, Turkey, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states.
Our interests are successfully combined in each of these respective
regions, thereby promoting the creation of a balanced regional
architecture, be it the Black Sea region, Northeast Asia, or the
Middle East. These are all visible signs of real change.

Former alliances can play a positive role in the modern
conditions – in particular, by checking nuclear proliferation and
combating terrorism and drug trafficking. In my view, NATO’s
survival in the modern conditions lies in its ability to transform
itself in order to find answers to unprecedented threats and
challenges. Simultaneously, it should establish contacts with new
regional security organizations, such as the Collective Security
Treaty Organization, especially since their efforts can be pooled,
for example, in Afghanistan. Within the frameworks of the
Russia-NATO Council we seek to advance precisely such cooperation,
which meets the requirements of the times.

The globalization of the North Atlantic Alliance is a special
issue, which encompasses the globalization of tasks (here it can
and should act in cooperation with all other states and regional
organizations) and the issue of membership in the Alliance.
Potential candidates include even countries in the Asia-Pacific
region. Is it really necessary in the present-day conditions? Such
developments would hardly be welcomed in Asia, which has different
traditions, and where even the faint resemblance of another’s
superiority, let alone the establishment of an ‘axis,’ is
unacceptable.

In Russia’s policy there is no anti-Americanism; this policy
could not be otherwise. Russia has once and for all given up
confrontational approaches in international affairs. The
foreign-policy goals pursued by Russia and the United States,
including in Asia, coincide in principle: we want more security and
predictability in the world. If there are disagreements between us,
they are primarily of a politico-philosophical nature and pertain
to views on a new world order. This factor explains why we
sometimes have more difficulty understanding each other’s views on
certain issues today than we did during the period of the
“negative-stable” bipolar world order.

Now that we have learned the lessons from our experience with
the Soviet Union, we cannot agree with the logic of
“transformation,” according to which the complex processes of
building forms of political and economic life in various countries
and regions are artificially and rapidly induced from the outside.
Also, we do not believe in the possibility of achieving “absolute
security” by trying to achieve manifold military superiority over
any country in the world. Formerly, these attempts only succeeded
in introducing the Cold War. Our national interests will not
necessarily coincide in some specific situations, let alone in
competition in trade and economy. This is a natural thing, however,
which does not stand in the way of our close interaction in a wide
range of issues or prevent us from being allies in the
antiterrorist coalition.

Another important factor is that the international role of all
states is changing. Russia has already passed through this painful
process; we had no choice: we were faced with the reality, and our
only option was to recognize it. Other countries had more freedom
of choice, while the United States probably had even more freedom
than the rest. Nevertheless, the role of the American factor in
global politics is being essentially modified as well – Henry
Kissinger wrote about this in his book, Diplomacy, in 1994. These
changes have resulted in the development of conditions for the
formation of a global “orchestra” of the leading powers. This
orchestra would be able to consolidate the collective principles in
global politics and put an end to the practice of creating various
kinds of balances of forces in the world. I am sure that collective
leadership of this kind would be welcomed by an overwhelming
majority of states.

There is yet another peculiarity in the Asia-Pacific region:
developments there can be described by China’s return to full-scale
participation in regional affairs. For a long time its legitimate
place was occupied by other actors, which now have to adapt to the
new conditions. But this is an objective process accompanied by the
establishment of economic interdependence between China and other
countries; therefore it should not be considered a crisis-provoking
factor. An overwhelming majority of countries in the region share
this view. As everywhere else in the world, the Asia-Pacific
architecture is undergoing a correction, which should be viewed not
as a threat but as an opportunity to seize.

RUSSIAN STRATEGY

Asia is justly described as one of the main driving forces of
global development, whose importance and role will keep growing in
the foreseeable future; hence, the importance of Russia’s Asia
policy. Moreover, our domestic and foreign policy interests
converge in Asia as in nowhere else, because without economic
progress there cannot be a solid foundation for our policy in this
region. In turn, this policy directly depends on the social,
economic, infrastructural and other development of Siberia and the
Russian Far East.

Asia is highly resistant to various kinds of crisis. The
economic growth in the region results in a higher demand for
marketing outlets and, to an increasing degree, for modern
technologies and energy resources. Energy security may well become
an increasingly important issue in multilateral and bilateral
interaction in Asia. These factors also determine Russia’s
contribution to the region’s development, namely the development of
manpower resources and the innovation sector of Siberia and the
Russian Far East.

Rapid integration processes, both in sub-regional and pan-Asian
formats, which often overlap and are mutually complementary,
characterize today’s Asia. The enhanced activity of multilateral
associations in the region reflects the general tendency toward
shared decision-making. By way of example, there are about a dozen
authoritative institutions operating in the region, among them the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN, and the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization.

The tendency toward broader and deeper integration processes in
Asia will continue to increase. Unlike Europe, for example, the
Asian space is not culturally, historically and politically
homogeneous, and each sub-region there has specific features of its
own. This factor explains the rapid and steady growth in the number
of multilateral associations and the absence of an all-embracing
organization like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe. There are grounds to believe that the general trend toward
multilateral processes in the Asia-Pacific Region will continue to
dominate. Respective mechanisms will take upon themselves the
ever-growing burden of addressing pressing regional problems, as
well as creating effective patterns for cooperation among
themselves and with outside actors. Russia took into account this
objective tendency two years ago when the Tashkent initiative was
put forward at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
for establishing a partner network of multilateral associations in
the Asia-Pacific region. Efforts to fulfill this initiative have
already resulted in the creation of mechanisms for the SCO’s
interaction with ASEAN and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Furthermore, documents are being drafted for cooperation with the
Collective Security Treaty Organization and the United Nations
Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
(UNESCAP).

While recognizing the objective nature of globalization, Asian
countries hold that the “expenditure burden” of this process should
not be borne only by them. For example, the APEC’s activities,
which some of its members originally sought to orient toward
economic and trade liberalization to their own advantage, have
taken forms that better meet Asian ideas and traditions. An
overwhelming majority of Asian countries prefer gradual economic
modernization, while preserving their social and political
stability as a major condition of their national life.

After the Cold War, the security factor has not lost its
importance for Asia. Moreover, new threats and challenges have come
into the foreground: terrorism, extremism, drug and human
trafficking, illegal arms trade, epidemics, natural disasters, and
others. Combating these threats requires a joint effort, and the
Asian countries justly argue that such interaction must not
undermine their sovereignty. If we are against the use of double
standards, then the same approach must be displayed toward the
countries of Central Asia. In the same way, the Middle East states
would also respond to the challenges of modernization on such a
basis.

The above peculiarities of the Asian integration processes
create an objective basis for Russia’s effective integration into
them. Russia has a powerful potential for finding solutions to
practical problems in the region. At the same time, we consistently
uphold the fundamental norms of international law, the principles
of mutual benefit, recognition and respect for legitimate
interests, national peculiarities and traditions of all members of
the international community, and dialog between religions, cultures
and civilizations. The latter acquires special importance in the
present conditions. The specific nature of that extensive region,
including its cultural and civilizational diversity and unique
methods of development, makes it a perfect place for building a
comprehensive strategy model for keeping inter-civilizational
accord in the world.

Russia’s Asian partners understand that the relationship is a
two-way street: Russia needs an economically mobile and politically
stable Asia, while Asia is interested in a prosperous Russia.
Meanwhile, there is a more pragmatic consideration: without
Russia’s energy, scientific, technological and intellectual
potential, Asia will find it difficult to achieve its goal of
general economic prosperity – the primary objective of Asian
integration.

Naturally, foreign-policy efforts must go hand in hand with our
own well-planned policies (social, economic, energy, migration,
infrastructural and ecological in context) in the regions of
Siberia and the Russian Far East. Such a strategy could become what
is justly called a “new dash to the Pacific Ocean.” Yet, there are
occasional suppositions that this goal could be achieved only
within the framework of a project for multilateral,
investment-based development of Siberia and the Russian Far East.
However, this internationalization of the country’s internal
development bears a strong resemblance to another epoch. And if it
implies an attempt to initiate a partition of the “Soviet
heritage,” especially now that Russia is on the rise as a sovereign
nation, this would sound like something from the domain of
political fantasy.

I am convinced that we can fulfill this task on our own, while
attracting, of course, investments from all interested countries of
the region on a balanced basis. However difficult the task of
developing the Asian part of the country may be, we will not
renounce our sovereignty, nor share it with others. Only we can see
to it that all of the resources of those territories, including
manpower resources, are put to use and that the areas are
developed, above all, in the interests of those who live or want to
live there.

This is a fundamental issue, and no pseudo-geopolitical reasons
can override it. We must not play a U.S. or Chinese card with
regard to the access to our resources, as some political scientists
propose. Instead, we must clearly outline terms for cooperation in
developing resources on the basis of Russian laws. It is for this
consideration, rather than out of energy egoism, that Russia has
chosen global energy security as the priority subject for its
chairmanship of the Group of Eight – without giving up its
legitimate rights, though.

The above considerations obviously suggest practical conclusions
for Russia’s policy in Asia. The main conclusion is that, while
continuing to further develop neighborly partnership ties over the
last few years, most importantly, with our immediate neighbors (our
colleagues in the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian
Economic Community, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as
well as partners in other associations), we should also step up our
participation in promising multilateral organizations within the
Asia-Pacific region.

Much has been done of late to fulfill this task. As regards the
multilateral nature of our policy in Asia, it would suffice to
mention some recent events. First, there is the start of practical
cooperation in the fields of security and economic interaction
among the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Then, there is the raising of the Russia-ASEAN dialog to the summit
level, Russia’s initiative participation in the APEC, Russia’s
admission to the Asia Cooperation Dialogue as a member and to the
Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as an observer.
Finally, Russia’s head of state will participate in the first East
Asia Summit.

To sum up, there are necessary prerequisites for adding a new
quality to Russia’s mutually advantageous partnership with the
Asia-Pacific countries. The recognition of Russia’s importance as a
constructive factor in the Asia-Pacific region has brought about
markedly new opportunities for regional integration and for
consolidating the independent role of the regional states in global
politics. At the same time, this partnership attests to Russia’s
genuine deep interest in Asia, which we belong to as well.