The Present and the Future
of Global Politics

13 may 2007

Sergei Lavrov is Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

Resume: The primary importance of Putin’s Munich speech is that it helped to foil
a conspiracy of silence on fundamental issues concerning the global security architecture, that is, on issues that directly concern everyone. The president’s speech outlined the borders for a “territory of freedom” – freedom of thought and freedom of speech in international relations.

The world we inhabit is no longer the place we knew just several years ago. Many things have become much clearer; most importantly, that a unipolar world has not taken shape for lack of military, political, financial, economic and other resources required for imperial construction in the age of globalization. For many years, the “unipolar world” myth guided the minds and behavior of many states that believed in this myth and made political investment in it. Today, the realization of the real state of affairs does not come easy to them.

It seems to be an appropriate time for an unbiased analysis of the present stage in the development of international relations. After all, there has been a realistic correction – or reduction – of the U.S. role in world affairs, a clarification of the true value of the Russia factor in global politics, and the experience of the last 15 years to guide us.

Recently, a serious attempt to rethink the new international realities was made by Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP) in a report prepared for the Council’s 15th Assembly (March 17-18, 2007). The report also contained recommendations on the country’s foreign policy. I cannot say I share all its conclusions. In particular, its excessive alarmism and pessimism seem ungrounded.


Recent developments – which include Russia’s diplomacy in the last few years, as well as statements by President Vladimir Putin on foreign-policy matters, above all his Munich speech – leave no doubt that Russia’s political leadership has a well thought-out and time-tested strategy regarding international affairs. The same conclusion follows from a review of the country’s foreign policy, prepared by Russia’s Foreign Ministry in cooperation with political analysts at the president’s request.

It concluded that the choice made in 2000 in favor of pragmatic, multivector development, together with the firm but non-confrontational upholding of national interests in foreign affairs, has more than justified itself. I assume that some individuals might argue that Russia decided in favor of a moderate policy and multilateral diplomacy from the position of weakness. However, even the currently strong and self-confident Russia does not renounce these fundamental principles of its foreign policy.

Our vision of the world at that time rested on common sense, together with a sober, earthly assessment of the tendencies now shaping modern development. History – if a period of six to seven years can be called history – has justified Russia’s decisions. Analysts are already busy writing brief histories of the early 21st century. Thomas Friedman, for example, in his recent book comes to the conclusion that the world has become “flat,” meaning that globalization has gone beyond the framework of Western civilization, and leaves no room for various kinds of hierarchical structures. Horizontal ties, which make up the essence of modern international relations, call for network diplomacy.

I would also like to quote a famous phrase by Richard Haass: “The U.S. does not need the world’s permission to act, but it does need the world’s support to succeed.” If this is so, we must reach agreement on what is to be done – and how. Putin’s Munich speech has opened many people’s eyes. The Boston Globe, commenting on President Putin’s speech, wrote: “Moscow, ahead of Washington, has come to comprehend a key fact: The world is becoming a polyarchy – an international system run by numerous and diverse actors with a shifting kaleidoscope of associations and dependencies.”

I cannot agree with the opinion that a real alternative to a “unipolar world” is “chaotization” of international relations due to a “vacuum” of governability and security. I would rather speak of vacuum in the consciousness of national elites, because, as we have witnessed on other occasions, it is unilateral reaction – particularly, the use of force – that has increased the likelihood of conflict in world politics while fueling old problems. This is how the conflict space expands in global politics.

It is understandable that many people across the Atlantic still cannot make themselves say the word “multipolar.” But it is absolutely groundless to suggest that multipolarity increases the likelihood of confrontation. Yes, there emerge new centers of force; they compete with each other, among other things, for access to natural resources. However, things have always been this way, and there is nothing fatal about it.

Emerging trends of informal leadership amongst the world’s leading states – in addition to international institutions, most importantly, the United Nations – offer ways for solving the governability problem in the contemporary world. It is another matter altogether that – in this case – individual pretensions to truth, be it by the U.S., the European Union or Russia, are simply ruled out.
The paradigm of contemporary international relations is rather determined by competition in the broadest interpretation of the word, particularly when the object of competition is value systems and development models. However, this is not at all equivalent to confrontation. The novelty of the situation is that the West is losing its monopoly on the globalization process. This explains, perhaps, attempts to present the current developments as a threat to the West, its values, and very way of life.


Russia is against attempts to divide the world into the so-called “civilized mankind,” and all the others. This is a way to global catastrophe. I am confident that the choice of Russia, and other leading states, including such civilization-forming countries as India and China, in favor of a unifying policy will be the main factor in preventing the world dividing along civilizational lines.
Globalization raises truly existential issues for mankind. It is already obvious that natural resources are limited; therefore, it is simply impossible to ensure consumption for all at the level of industrialized countries. German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, shortly before he would be nominated as Pope Benedict XVI, in his address at the Catholic Academy of Bavaria in January 2004, spoke of the need for self-restraint. He was also critical of manifestations of “Western arrogance,” meaning claims to universality from “both great cultures of the West – the culture of Christian faith and the culture of secular rationalism.”

Ratzinger put forward an idea that is very close to what the Russian Orthodox Church strongly advocates these days, namely, that the human rights concept must be supplemented with a teaching about man’s duties and possibilities. I am convinced that in this way it would be possible to restore the common moral denominator of the main world religions. The harmonious development of all mankind is impossible without this.


The way the SVOP report presents the terrorist threat seems to be disputable. The report’s conclusions are based on very contradictory assessments which, on the one hand, exaggerate the possibility of forming a consolidated Islamic factor in world politics, and on the other, emphasize deep conflicts among Islamic states. The main mistake, as I see it, is that this issue is considered in total isolation from the need to solve real problems – above all in the Middle East – that obstruct the implementation of the Arab-Moslem world’s potential to meet the challenges of modernization.

Generally speaking, the report underestimates the ability of politics to solve crises that provide the fertile ground for extremism. The policy of force must be renounced, and measures must be taken that will help solve global problems, like poverty, for example, on a global scale.

The experience of the last six years convincingly shows that any attempts to ignore the reality of a multipolar world ultimately end in failure. Whatever examples we may take, the conclusion remains the same: modern international problems cannot be solved by force. Attempts to do so only aggravate and throw the situation into a stalemate. The deficit of security, or a sense of deficit, also stems from stagnation in the disarmament sphere, which increases the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

I believe the present significance on the use of force is a temporary phenomenon. Objectively, the role of force in global politics will decrease. One can draw a parallel here with the 1992 presidential elections in the U.S., when not everyone realized the importance of the economic factor: “It’s the economy, stupid!” Now, already on a global scale, nations are emphasizing ways to ensure stable economic development, as well as meeting their energy requirements. The increased economic interdependence of states serves as an important factor for maintaining international stability. These tasks cannot be solved by force, occupation, or military presence abroad.

We view reliance on force as a fundamental vice of our partners’ policy. Their approach is detrimental to “soft power” options, the significance of which is on the rise. In the past, such a mentality produced a phrase attributed to Stalin: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” Now, when we propose working out a collective strategy with regard to Iraq, we often hear in reply: “Is Russia ready to send its troops to Iraq?” So, again our partners are thinking only through the prism of use-of-force scenarios. This approach dominates Washington’s foreign-policy strategy.
What is needed is renouncing attempts to re-ideologize and re-militarize international relations, while strengthening the collective and legal principles in them.


The realization that the world must be free, and that all states should be allowed to decide for themselves, in line with their own understanding of their national interests in the new conditions, is a fundamental idea today. Bloc or ideological discipline no longer works automatically, although attempts are being made to replace it with the solidarity of one civilization against all the others.
The notion of “freedom of speech,” for example, which we apply to internal developments in every country, is necessary on the international scene as well. Any suppression of dissent, and sweeping disagreements under the carpet, has negative consequences for the entire international community and dilutes its intellectual resources. Naturally, everyone is free to pursue an irrational policy. But in the present conditions everybody ultimately pays for an errant policy, as is witnessed in Iraq and the surrounding region.

The primary importance of Putin’s Munich speech is that it helped to foil a conspiracy of silence on fundamental issues concerning the global security architecture, that is, on issues that directly concern everyone. The president’s speech outlined the borders for a “territory of freedom” – freedom of thought and freedom of speech in international relations. The present situation brings to mind the Soviet times when people discussed many burning issues in their kitchens. Unfortunately, the same situation has emerged in global politics today, where “kitchen” stands for conversations behind closed doors, behind the backs of those for whom criticism is intended. Obviously, this unhealthy and conformist atmosphere does not meet the interests of the international community.

In former times, uncertainty about the future world order was largely due to Russia’s weakening phase during the initial post-Soviet period. It was easy to get the impression at the time that Russia was simply written off as material for a new territorial and political repartition of the world – a prospect Russia already faced, for example, at the beginning of the 18th century. At that time, the problem was solved by the accelerated modernization of the country, which was the main content of reforms carried out by Peter the Great. Once again, we have responded to the challenges of the times with radical political and economic reforms, which, as in the past, are in line with a European choice, but with the preservation of Russia’s centuries-old traditions. As a result, Russia has restored its foreign-policy independence – as a sovereign democratic state.

Thus, for the first time in many years, a real competitive environment has emerged on the market of ideas for the future world order that are compatible with the present stage of global development. The establishment of new global centers of influence and growth, a more balanced distribution of resources for development, and control over natural wealth, represent the foundation for a multipolar world order.

These and other factors have predetermined the nascent transition to a new stage in world development; counteraction to the present challenges and threats serves as an objective basis for broad international cooperation. Meanwhile, multilateral diplomacy is gaining increasing recognition as an effective instrument for regulating international relations at the global and regional levels. The role of the United Nations, which possesses unique legitimacy, is growing. Thus, I disagree with the underestimation of the significance of this world body in the SVOP report. The course of events causes everyone – including those who are not prepared to give their due to the UN – to work with this global organization and act through its mechanisms.


It goes without saying that the international reaction to Russia’s increased role in global energy supply must be thoroughly analyzed. First, no one has ever proved that the accusations of “energy blackmail” have any grounds, or that we have violated even one of our commitments or contracts. Second, there are hidden pitfalls in this rhetoric, as attempts are made to impose on Russia the dubious status of an “energy superpower.” Certainly, there are those who wish to exploit this label in order to perpetuate Russia’s role as an energy/raw-material niche in the international division of labor.

It is another matter that the possibilities produced by energy sale revenues, together with the strengthening of Russian raw-material companies’ positions in transnational business, must be used for boosting Russia’s integration into the global economy, and for steering our own economy onto the path of innovation-based development.


It would seem that Russia’s disagreements with Ukraine, Belarus and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States over gas prices should have convinced the West that we have no imperial plans but seek to build normal, market-based relations with our neighbors. Meanwhile, it is the politicization of economic relations that could promote suspicions against Russia. But such politicization does not exist, yet the suspicions persist, which suggests the conclusion that this is not a case of altruism. The CIS space has turned into a sphere for geopolitical “games,” which involves such instruments as “democratorship.” Let us be frank, the main criterion used to measure a nation’s level of democracy seems to be its readiness to follow in the footsteps of other countries’ policies.

In the CIS space, in its bilateral and multilateral relations, Russia seeks to strengthen elements of objective commonality and interdependence – economic, cultural-civilizational and other. No more and no less than this. We are ready to contribute to building non-politicized relations with a view to stabilizing this region, provided the interests of local states are respected and the tactic of “harassing actions” toward Russia are renounced.

It must be understood that it is no use trying to keep Russia in a regional “shell.” We have long abandoned such a possibility in the course of our development.


We are ready to participate in the search for solutions to problems produced by unilaterally launched projects. First of all I mean Iraq, where the situation can still be saved. It is hard to argue with Henry Kissinger’s words that sooner or later “Iraq has to be restored to the international community,” and that “other countries must be prepared to share responsibilities for regional peace.” However, sharing responsibilities presupposes the need for mutual cooperation in devising optimum solutions.

We are told that the situation in Iraq is now our “common trouble.” Malignance and the wish to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune have always been alien to Russia. But here our American partners must radically change their Iraqi strategy, bringing it into line with the prevalent analysis both in the U.S. and in other countries. A multilateral conference, held in Baghdad on March 10, proceeded in the same vein. This process must be used for working out a new and collective strategy in Iraq.

Such a correction of policy must involve all of the political forces in Iraq, its neighbors, the UN, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the G8. This would help realize the objective harmony of interests between Washington and Teheran, for example, which pin their hopes on one and the same Iraqi government.

There is no doubt that real political processes do exist in Iran. But the international community can influence Iran in the appropriate spirit only through its involvement, rather than its isolation.
For all the importance of continued multilateral efforts at finding a solution to the present situation involving Iran’s nuclear program, one must realize that this problem, just as with the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem, was largely caused by Washington’s reluctance to normalize its bilateral relations with Teheran (and Pyongyang) on the basis of generally accepted principles. In its relations with North Korea, however, the U.S. displayed flexibility and pragmatism, withdrew its ultimatum and agreed to resume negotiations with Pyongyang without any preconditions. North Korea reciprocated with conciliatory moves of its own – and the result was soon forthcoming. The same approach is required in the Iranian issue. Then, measured pressure from the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency will work.

At the same time, our partners should display consistency and logic. If elements of a U.S. missile defense system are being deployed near our western borders, for example, under the pretext of an “Iranian threat,” or if sanctions are introduced against Russian companies, then why create a commotion in the UN Security Council? I hope our American partners will think about this, especially since they are inviting us to combat a hypothetical, “anticipated” threat, while, at the same time, creating a real threat to Russia’s – and not only Russia’s - security.


We advocate a comprehensive approach to solving problems within the Euro-Atlantic region, which may involve broad interaction in a trilateral format – amongst Russia, the European Union and the U.S. These types of frameworks for cooperation are already forming in practice – in the UN Security Council, the G8, the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, and the group of six countries dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Importantly, if the trilateral format is imparted a comprehensive and truly partnership nature, it would remove unnecessary suspicions with regard to what is happening between two other members of this “triangle.”

Russia does not intend to drive a wedge into transatlantic relations. Nothing can do more damage than the disagreements over Iraq. However, we do not want to see consolidation of the transatlantic link at our expense.


Speaking of Russian-American relations, the crucial stage in building a global security architecture brings us to the main problem, namely, determining modalities for collective interaction in international affairs. This must form the essence of discussions; President Putin invited all our partners for this purpose in Munich.

Russia has no claims to any special rights in international relations, but nor should we be put in the position of being led either. Full equality, including in the realm of threat analysis and decision making, is an indispensable factor.

One distinctive feature of Russia’s foreign policy is that we are beginning to uphold, perhaps for the first time in our history, our national interests in full, using all our competitive advantages. We now have enough resources for addressing various key tasks of the country simultaneously: retooling the economy, solving social problems, modernizing the Armed Forces, strengthening foreign-policy instruments, and supporting Russian businesses on international markets.

Russian and U.S. political analysts now speak of an inevitable “pause” in the development of our bilateral relations in view of the forthcoming electoral cycles in both countries. I think such a development would represent a bad choice. I would like to see the U.S. not retiring into itself in the face of the Iraqi tragedy, but participating in a renewed partnership with Russia on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. We are ready to act precisely in such a manner, thereby speeding up the transition to a “more unified and rational policy.”

Opportunities for the positive evolution of Russian-American relations are opening up in many areas, including in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism; there are efforts to harmonize the initiatives of the Russian and U.S. presidents for the safe development of nuclear power engineering in the world. This will provide such energy resources to all interested states, provided they observe their nonproliferation commitments. Further proof of our capacity for compromise is the signing of a bilateral protocol with the U.S. on Russia’s accession to the WTO (I hope there will be no backtracking on this issue, and President Bush will fulfill his promise to support our application at multilateral negotiations). Our dialog focuses on the struggle against terrorism and drug-trafficking, the nonproliferation of WMD, the settlement of regional conflicts and, of course, strategic stability. If we fail to achieve mutually acceptable solutions to these issues, “nominal consent” would not be a bad alternative. We do not deny the U.S. a right to decide for itself on important issues, but this means acting at one’s own risk and at one’s own expense.

Speaking in Munich, Vladimir Putin never uttered the notorious “nyet” – a negativist approach is basically alien to our foreign policy. We have advocated and will continue to advocate a positive agenda for international relations and constructive alternatives in addressing existing problems; and herein lay the essential meaning of what the president said. SVOP Chairman Sergei Karaganov rightly commented that “in Munich, Putin voiced the bitter truth about the present and the recent past.” But we go beyond this statement and propose realistic methods and joint solutions out of the present situation.

In our relations with the U.S. – or any other country – confrontation is not predetermined, which means that there are no objective grounds for a new Cold War whatsoever.

Unfortunately, criticism of U.S. foreign policy in the SVOP report suggests a degree of fatalism and messianic determinism in America. At the same time, it underestimates the pragmatism of the Americans, which, in former times, prompted them to adopt strategies of a different kind in foreign policy. By way of example, I would refer to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s line within the anti-Hitler coalition. This historical example proves that the Americans can reckon with circumstances, while at the same time accepting a moderate policy and line of conduct in accord with other leading states of the world. Now, it seems those times have appeared again.

As regards anti-Americanism, it is of course dangerous and intellectually problematic. But this problem must be solved “at the source,” meaning, first of all, the present line of U.S. conduct in international affairs. Globalization leaves no possibility for self-isolation (especially considering the U.S. economy’s dependence on external financial injections – about one trillion dollars a year – and external sources of energy resources). In our dealings with the U.S., a broad, objective view of the issues must prevail. The fact that Washington has heeded advice from the neoconservatives should not determine our fundamental attitude to America.


Russia is opposed to “strategic games” in Europe that are aimed at creating a confrontational potential for no reason; it also opposes a European policy according to the friend-or-foe principle. The implementation of U.S. plans to deploy elements of the National Missile Defense on the continent provides a perfect example. There are collective alternatives to this unilateral project – in particular in the form of a Theater Missile Defense in Europe involving NATO and Russia. Such plans were already considered within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council.

An American Missile Defense in Europe will directly affect our relations with NATO. If the alliance is unviable as a collective security organization, and if it is turning into a cover for unilateral measures that are detrimental to our security, then what is the point of our relations with it? Where is the added value of the Russia-NATO Council then? In any case, new missiles in Europe would be a bad case of d?j? vu with all of the predictable consequences witnessed in the 1980s.

When the U.S. was in the process of making its decision on the missile defense system, it did not consult with NATO, nor with the European Union, which now seeks to find a role for itself in the sphere of foreign policy and security in Europe.

Russia understands the difficulties being experienced by NATO, and it is ready to help, for example, in Afghanistan where the Alliance is also undergoing a viability test. We assign great importance to success of multilateral efforts in that country, as the matter at issue is our security in a critically important region. We made serious contributions in the operation against al-Qaeda and the Taliban at its various stages, and made decisions that were not easy to make. Therefore, we have a right to expect a positive result. But if the international military presence “presides” over a situation where the Taliban may return to power, this will also have the most serious consequences for our relations with the Alliance.

We are alarmed that organizations and instruments that we inherited from the past – NATO, the OSCE, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, and others – are evolving into means of reproducing a bloc policy in the present-day conditions. I am confident that such a situation cannot last for long. There is a real danger that the situation – without an overall reform of the European security architecture – may acquire a life of its own, thereby predetermining a real split of Europe for decades to come. This represents a turning-point in the present stage of European politics. An answer to this challenge can be found only in serious, meaningful discussions concerning a collectively coordinated and mutually acceptable configuration of European security.


Russia’s foreign policy fully conforms to the present stage of its internal development. The broad consensus in society on key foreign-policy principles and areas proves this. Meanwhile, the recently established Inter-Party Conference on Foreign Policy will help to preserve and strengthen this consensus. For the rest of the world we wish the same thing as for ourselves – progressive development without upheavals.

Other countries sometimes make excessive and unilateral demands on Russia and its actions on the international scene. Frankly, they want us to give up our independent role in international affairs. We are also criticized due to our lack of ideology, which allegedly stems from Russia’s foreign-policy pragmatism. But pragmatism, however, does not mean a lack of principles. We just proceed from the realities of life, from the real needs of the country and its citizens. The ideology of common sense suits us completely. It serves as a firm doctrinal basis for our independent and non-confrontational foreign-policy strategy, which is greeted with understanding among an overwhelming majority of our international partners.

Russia is now in a favorable international position. But such a position is never guaranteed in an evolving international environment. We can preserve, as well as increase, our achievements only through our active involvement in international affairs.

We harbor no illusions about the difficulties that lie ahead of us. But we are convinced that the crystallization of many aspects of global politics has already taken place. In terms of foreign policy, our country is well prepared for further changes, and this gives us grounds for an optimistic view of the future.

Last updated 13 may 2007, 17:25

} Page 1 of 5