Foreign Policy: The End of Unanimity?

7 october 2012

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: The current developments in the world can best be described by the word ‘uncertainty.’

The current developments in the world can best be described by the word ‘uncertainty.’ And it is not just the rate at which the events occur or their abundance, although by these parameters the change has no precedent. The international environment is undergoing a qualitative change that calls into question not only practical approaches but even the very methods of analysis. Yevgeny Gontmakher and Nikita Zagladin say the paradigm set by the Age of Enlightenment has been exhausted due to the non-uniformity and non-linearity of the globalization’s effects.

The general situation in the world continues to deteriorate; one crisis follows another, while attempts to resolve them only make things worse, as a rule. Against this background, Russia has entered a new period in its development, as the political model, which worked more or less successfully in the 2000s, needs updating. The renovation may involve foreign policy, as well.

Russian foreign policy is based on a consensus in society and the political class. But this situation will hardly last for ever. The awakening of social energy has shown that society is becoming more mature and that it is no longer willing to follow the general party line. The universal foreign policy towards “revival in general” and the strengthening of prestige, which was characteristic of Putin’s previous presidency, does not meet the full range of Russia’s interests. Most likely, soon there will arise a demand for a targeted and prudent foreign policy, aimed at achieving concrete goals. But the formulation of these goals will not be based on a strong unity of views, as before. In this issue, we will make the first attempt to understand what factors, ideas and interests may influence the rethinking of the foreign policy agenda.

Tatiana Romanova proposes using a relatively new theoretical tool for analyzing the changing Russian reality – the concept of neo-classical realism, which combines structural principles of realism with the interests and perceptions of international players. Mikhail Vinogradov writes that the Russian ruling class has so far shown little interest in foreign policy outside agencies and departments in charge of foreign policy (the Foreign Ministry, subdivisions of the government’s administration and staff, parliamentary committees, etc.). However, Russia’s growing involvement in global processes makes the elite pay more attention to them, but their understanding of these processes is poor. Konstantin Kosachev discusses the concept of soft power, which is believed to be an increasingly important factor in the success of any country in the global arena, and analyzes Russia’s soft power resources, which obviously need improvement.

Boris Kozlovsky and Pavel Lukin offer a liberal view of what Russia’s policy should be. They hold that Moscow has not rid itself of Soviet instincts, which are absurd and counterproductive in the 21st century. The authors see no other way but to renounce, once and for all, the Soviet Union’s legacy. Boris Kagarlitsky analyzes the situation in Russia from leftist positions and, on the contrary, proposes following the example of the Soviet Union which offered a large-scale ideological alternative to the existing world order. He admits, however, that there is no specific program to achieve this ambitious goal yet. Mikhail Remizov formulates geopolitical views of Russian nationalists, the political force whose presence on the Russian stage is becoming increasingly noticeable. Rinat Mukhametov describes sentiments and preferences of the large community of Russian Muslims, whose voice is rarely heard in foreign-policy discussions.

Ivan Danilin analyzes what foreign policy would promote Russia’s innovative development. In addition to the predictable statement about the need to avoid even a rhetorical confrontation with the major developed nations, the author comes to an unconventional conclusion: Russia’s modernization success requires a big idea that would compensate for the country’s technological lagging behind developed countries. Vassily Kashin discusses the defense industry’s interests and concludes that Moscow’s current policy is optimal for this sector of the economy.

The articles in this issue do not cover the full range of possible views and interests. For example, they do not reflect the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, truly conservative views, or the points of view of the Russian regions. Meanwhile, priorities differ greatly for people living in the Russian Far East and the European part of the country, or in the Arctic regions and the North Caucasus. We will discuss these issues in our next issues. Obviously, as more democracy is achieved in Russia, its foreign policy will become more and more complicated and the predictability of actions will decline.

Another major theme of this issue, related to the first one, is Afghanistan and Central Asia. Developments in the region will surely have a significant impact on Russian foreign policy. The likelihood of stability in Afghanistan is inversely proportional to the degree of foreign, above all American, involvement, Ivan Safranchuk writes. Afghans should be allowed to establish a balance of power in their own country. Under a worst-case scenario, this country can become a source of terrorist and extremist threats to the whole of Central Asia and, through it, to Russia.

The main organization that is intended to prevent destabilization – the Collective Security Treaty Organization – is barely capable. Arkady Dubnov tries to figure out whether there is a chance to consolidate the CSTO on some ideological/political basis that would be acceptable to all its member states. Rafik Saifulin explains the recent suspension by Uzbekistan of its CSTO membership by its disbelief in the CSTO potential. At the same time, he says, this decision should not affect Tashkent’s bilateral relations with other CSTO members, which should only be strengthened. Murat Laumulin emphasizes the importance of the CSTO but acknowledges the difficulties faced by efforts to improve the organization’s efficiency. Anatoly Adamishin recalls the events in Central Asia in the early 1990s, when Moscow led efforts to end the civil war in Tajikistan.

Many of the threats of those times are still there. The struggle for power in Afghanistan in the middle of the 1990s provoked instability in neighboring countries. Now that situation can happen again. Mark Katz draws a surprising parallel between past and present events. He says that, just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 vitiated the Kremlin’s political achievements in the Middle East in the preceding decades, Russia’s support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria threatens to negate the achievements of Putin’s foreign policy towards the Middle East.

In the next issue, we will again discuss the politics of the Asia-Pacific region, which has been attracting more and more attention in the world, issues of nationalism, the political situation in the U.S., and other topics.

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