Twenty Years in Absence of the Soviet Union
№4 2011 October/December
Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club. Research Professor, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

It is not our practice to publish special issues devoted to one topic. This time, however, we have made an exception. The 20th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which fell on the end of December 2011, is a good occasion to think about what changes have occurred in the world over the twenty years since the collapse of the bipolar world order. The Cold War era was not only marked by an acute military, political and emotional confrontation between the two blocs, but also by a stable situation when firm rules of the confrontation were strictly observed and ensured stability. When the Cold War was over, the world entered a long period of transition, although many people thought that it had reached its destination. Two decades after the demise of the Soviet Union, the illusions have vanished, and no one now dares predict how the world will develop in the future.

Throughout the entire post-Cold War period the United States dominated world affairs; this supremacy was absolute in the early 1990s and was much challenged in the early 2010s. Alexei Bogaturov writes about a new trend emerging in international relations – the U.S. policy of “coercion to partnership” with regard to countries in which Washington is interested for one reason or another. In the author’s opinion, this policy has changed the meaning of war, which is now used not to destroy an enemy state but to turn it into a loyal, subordinate partner.

Anatol Lieven points out that the catastrophic failures of the Soviet Union helped mask U.S. problems which had been piling up since the mid-20th century. The present decline of American might is simply a continuation of the trend that has long been evident. Charles Kupchan believes that the current difficulties can be overcome, but he admits that the monopoly status of the West and America in the international system is now over. Ramesh Thakur discusses the United States’ attempts to actually displace the United Nations and why these attempts have failed. Alessandro Politi writes about a direct relationship between the way the Cold War ended and the shocks to global financial markets and the world economy we are witnessing today.

Europe was viewed as another apparent victor in the Cold War, as it peacefully united, achieved prosperity and reached an unprecedented level of integration. Today, everything looks different. Olga Butorina describes the current unfortunate economic state of the European Union, which has found itself hostage to a bold experiment to introduce a common currency, as this experiment has gone out of control. Vladislav Inozemtsev, on the contrary, is confident that the EU will emerge from the crisis more consolidated and stronger, and will take leading positions in the world. In contrast, he describes the United States and Russia as weakening powers in a confused state. Simon Tay and Aaron Choo discuss the impact of the global political changes of the past two decades on Southeast Asia, a region that attracts increasing attention due to China’s growing ambitions and influence.

The past twenty years have brought mixed results for Russia. On the one hand, all the authors note that, considering the scale of the decline that this country experienced in the 1990s, its fast return to the top league of world politics is impressive. On the other hand, Russia remains highly vulnerable, while the potential of its restorative growth model has been exhausted. Joseph Nye writes that Russia has never found a new stable place for itself in the international system and has not set its priorities. Igor Ivanov, paying tribute to Russia’s diplomatic achievements in the recent past, points to the need for a new, “smart”, resourceful policy. Nikolay Spasskiy urges to change the attitude towards work and life. He believes Russia will be able to change the trajectory of its development if it intensifies industrial production as a factor of hard power. Only countries engaged in material production have a chance to take leading positions in the world. Vladimir Orlov discusses nuclear weapons and the nuclear industry in general – namely, how Russia has been handling this asset of the Soviet superpower capability.

Vyacheslav Morozov analyzes what has happened to the notion of democracy since the years when this form of social and political organization won a crushing victory over other options. The past years have largely confirmed the well-known truth that the winner of a dragon risks becoming a dragon himself. Piotr Dutkiewicz looks at this problem through a different prism: the global triumph of the market economy has turned democracy into a “commodified democracy.” Like any other commodity, it has positive and negative features. Alexei Miller turns to history, which in the post-Cold War years is used as a political tool and sometimes even as a weapon.

In our next issue, we will follow up on this subject. We will focus on the territories of the former Soviet Union and discuss what has been achieved over the past 20 years and what has remained from the past.