16.01.2014
Towards the Global Market via the Customs Union
Opinions
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Piotr Dutkiewicz

Piotr Dutkiewicz is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute of European and Russian Studies at Carleton University, Canada. He is also a Permanent Fellow of the Center for Civilizational Studies, Russian Academy of Science. 

What will happen after the much anathematized unipolar world order folds? What kind of world order will replace it, and what will Russia’s place be in it?

Opinions on the first question vary, but personally, I share the views of Mike Davis, who believes “a realistic extrapolation of current economic turbulence, given the Eurozone’s implosion and China’s ominous real estate bubble, would be another decade of moldering U.S. hegemony over a fundamentally stagnant world economy.” At least for the next 8-10 years. In other words, we need to realize — as Emmanuel Wallerstein points out that the ostensibly unipolar world we are living in is no longer all that unipolar.  

Over the past five to ten years, the United States has had to deal with a growing amount of direct and indirect resistance to its actions on the global stage. The US hegemony is breaking down, but the weakening of the United States as “the global hegemon” does not mean that another superpower is rising to replace it.

In itself, the weakening of US power will not result in the development of a comprehensive multipolar system, contrary to what some Russian and Chinese experts believe. Many would welcome the rise of multipolarity, but multipolarity will not necessarily bring about a more stable or better governed international system. Without strong international institutions to regulate global political or financial/trade relations, there is no guarantee that international tensions and conflicts will ease off in a multipolar world.

Multipolarity is certainly an attractive idea for many reasons, but above all because it suggests the development of an “inclusive” and more balanced world order. However, the movement towards multipolarity should be complemented with the necessity to restructure of global governance institutions, including the strengthening of the G8 and G20. Otherwise one day we will wake up amid global chaos, the first signs of which can already be seen in the Middle East. The inevitability of Europe’s decline may be exaggerated, but it is certain that Europe will not lead the world in its new direction.

Zygmunt Bauman, a famous macro-sociologist, writes that Europe is “a disposal bin for globally produced challenges and a leading laboratory” for finding solutions to these challenges. Europe, then, is certainly not to be written off, and in fact a strong Europe may hold important keys to solving the global crisis … if it succeeds in finding a local solution to its global and local problems. 

The rise of the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – is greatly overstated, although it has indeed changed the global balance of economic and political forces. China’s influence is growing, but this growth largely depends on international markets and hence global economic fluctuations.

What all that means for Russia? As for Russia, economist Vladimir Popov once said very strongly that Russia missed several opportunities to become the new economic center and is now “an ordinary developing country.” I do not share this opinion, but we must admit that, considering its economic and institutional problems, it will take Russia many more years to become “an ordinary highly-industrialized power with good laws and   wealthy society,” and that only if she becomes even deeper integrated into the global market.

To begin with, market globalization is not evil incarnate. American expert Peter Katzenstein stated that global capitalism has mostly benefited not the Wall Street or European bureaucrats, but the half a billion Chinese who have risen from poverty and the hundreds of millions of the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and Russians who have become the growing middle class.

Of course, global capitalism has many negative consequences, starting with inequality, unemployment, environmental degradation, and ending with the interference of private and transnational actors in the sovereign affairs of states, to mention only just a few problems.

All said, we are living in a global and rapidly changing world, and these changes will only gather momentum. How will the world change, and what can we do so as not to be left on the periphery of the new world order? In fact, multipolarity and a world order without a “global hegemon” will only increase chaos in international relations over the next few years, because the old institutions and standards of global governance cannot adequately respond to the new global and regional challenges. Considering Russia’s interests, it should focus on adapting mechanisms such as the G8 and G20 to the new conditions, so that they become the real coordinators of global politics.

The role of bilateral relations and ad hoc coalitions set up to resolve concrete problems is expected to grow. At the same time, in this nascent era of new-regionalism, countries should also work to strengthen (or to create) regional economic and political organizations to uphold their interests at global and regional levels.

Russia’s leadership in the Customs Union is evidence that the country is moving in the right direction, even though it is no plain sailing. However, the union should limit itself to coordinating economic policies and should keep away from the delicate sovereignty issues of its member countries.

Military power will no doubt feature prominently in the development of geopolitical agreements, and so strengthening one’s defenses is a must.

And lastly, while forming economic groups and associations, all countries should demonstrate readiness for cooperation, and determine whether the other parties are ready to reciprocate in dealing with global challenges, such as the regulation of financial markets and offshore zones, global diseases, terrorism, and environmental degradation. We can compete with each other and hold different opinions on many aspects, but there are some key issues on which we should cooperate at global level to ensure humankind’s survival.

| Valdai Discussion Club