Diversity of Power and Balance

14 april 2013

Fyodor Lukyanov is 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 International Discussion Club.

Resume: What is the power of states today? What determines their might? Money, weapons, or the ability to manage information? Or is it something else?

What is the power of states today? What determines their might? Money, weapons, or the ability to manage information? Or is it something else? These questions were at the center of discussion at the international conference “Russia in the 21st-Century World of Power” held in December 2012 to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and the tenth anniversary of Russia in Global Affairs. The intensive discussions proved rich  in  approaches and ideas, yet they covered only a small part of this vast subject. They inspired us to delve more into the subject, and this issue largely follows up on the ideas expressed at the conference.

Military power of states still determines a lot in interstate relations, yet this alone is not enough as it cannot compensate for a state’s weakness in other areas, Alexei Arbatov writes. Sergei Dubinin shares this view and maintains that imperial policies of the past, based on military-political expansion, have long become outdated; today a state’s position is determined by its economic power and efficiency. Yevgeny Primakov discusses ideas and images that shape the perception of a country by other actors in international relations. The patriarch of Russian politics writes that over the last two decades Russia has lost much in the eyes of other countries, as it has been carried away by mistaken  liberal postulates. These three articles further develop the ideas expressed by their authors at the conference. Other reports at the conference are available on our website www.globalaffairs.ru.

The power of states in the international arena increasingly depends on how confident they feel at home. No country can isolate itself from external effects. Mikhail Vinogradov summarizes tumultuous events in Russian politics in 2011-2012. He comes to the conclusion that the old political model has run out of steam, but no one has been able to offer anything new instead; so the uncertainty will continue. Nikolay Spasskiy warns against “rocking the boat.” Whatever flaws the modern Russian state system may have, its collapse would result in much more serious consequences.

What happens when changes occur spontaneously is demonstrated by the Middle East – the Arab Spring continues, while doubts about its results keep growing, including among those who initiated it. Pyotr Stegny writes about what has happened to the Arab World and how to minimize the damage. Alexander Aksenyonok, in his analysis of the situation in Syria, says that the failure of the international community to properly respond to the crisis proves that the old approaches are no longer efficient and that a new approach, free of ideological bias, is needed. He emphasizes that external factors are inseparable from internal dynamics. Mark Katz draws an interesting conclusion that the turmoil in the Middle East has diminished the importance of  the main problem of the region that persisted for decades – the Israeli/Palestinian conflict – for the broader politics of the Arab World.

When it comes to global politics, everyone habitually speaks of Moscow-Washington relations, although today they are far from being central in the international agenda, as they used to be a quarter of a century ago. Andranik Migranyan analyzes the current state of U.S.-Russian relations which he describes as working and normal. Breakthroughs are nowhere in sight, but pragmatic cooperation between the two countries will continue. Alexey Fenenko looks ahead to the future and comes to the conclusion that the burden of the past will continue to hinder Russia and the U.S. from moving towards a truly new agenda. Yelena Chernenko discusses one of the issues of this agenda –  information or cyber security, which is quickly moving to the top in the list of priorities for major countries. Whereas in classical wars there were at least some rules of conduct adopted by most players, cyberspace is still more like an arena for fighting with no rules. Andrei Zhuravlev and Yekaterina Kuznetsova look into new areas for cooperation between Russia and the European Union that would help the parties, now lagging behind America and Asia in influence, to multiply their power.

Much is said today about whether the balance of power in the world, lost with the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of bipolarity, can be restored. Nikolai Kosolapov analyzes the BRICS association, which many analysts view as a possible counterweight to the West. The author doubts that the association’s member-states are interested in a confrontation, yet he does not rule out such a scenario – but only if more fundamental changes take place in the world. Vassily Kashin discusses how serious Russia’s concerns are about China. Officially, relations between the two countries are almost perfect, but economic disparities bring about uncertainty. Central Asia is one of areas where the interests of Moscow and Beijing intersect.

Valentin Bogatyrev presents a view from Bishkek on the Collective Security Treaty Organization. He continues our series of articles about how Moscow’s allies view the CSTO. Another such article was contributed by Sergei Minasyan, who explains why Armenia values the Alliance.

Our next issue will discuss the current state of Russian society, the boiling Middle East, the Arctic, East Asia, defense budgets in the era of reduced spending, and other pressing problems.

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