A Positive but Confusing Security Strategy

20 may 2009

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: Last week, President Dmitry Medvedev signed Russia's national security strategy to 2020. The document reflects the uncertainty in the minds of Russia's leaders regarding the path of the country's development in the 21st century. As before, Russia is in a state of transition, but we are not sure exactly where it is transiting to.

Last week, President Dmitry Medvedev signed Russia's national security strategy to 2020. The document reflects the uncertainty in the minds of Russia's leaders regarding the path of the country's development in the 21st century. As before, Russia is in a state of transition, but we are not sure exactly where it is transiting to.

The fact that such a far-reaching document was developed is an indication that the Kremlin is serious about trying to understand the complex international context in which the country now finds itself. The strategy document is not the typical perfunctory bureaucratic empty talk. On the contrary, it reflects painstaking effort on the part of its authors to articulate its strategic priorities and goals.

The main positive aspect of the document is its departure from a narrow interpretation of national security as a military or geopolitical concept. Russia has traditionally relied on a "hard power" vocabulary when constructing its doctrines and strategies, and therefore much more emphasis was always placed on the needs of the military-industrial complex than that of civil society.

But in an era of global interdependence, it is no longer simply a question of military strength or economic indicators, but also many other factors, such as demographic strength, the quality of human resources and the quality of life. All of those factors found a prominent spot in the new national security strategy. The document admits that a state's social, economic and humanitarian condition is no less important for providing security than the size of its army. Factors such as the wide gap between the country's rich and poor, the level of unemployment and the condition of health and education are included as fundamental components of Russia's national security. This is an important acknowledgement and a step in the right direction.

The overall tone of the document is less aggressive than it had been in recent years. Much more attention is given to the analysis of domestic problems than to the search for external enemies. The statement that "the forces guaranteeing national security" are carrying out their tasks "in cooperation with institutions of civil society" occurs several times in the text. It is noteworthy that the importance of civil society is mentioned so many times in a document prepared by the siloviki.

Although the overall tone of the document is constructive, the actual substance of the document is full of confusion. The description of the global arena does not contain anything new and repeats old issues of increased competition between states (primarily for energy resources) and the threat of new military conflicts.

The United States emerges as the potential source of most of the external threats listed, although it is not referred to directly by name in this context. Although the document mentions "hegemony" -- probably out of inertia or tradition -- it lacks the same inflammatory tone that we have grown accustomed to in previous years.

It is also interesting that other security challenges are not even mentioned, such as the shifting balance of power toward Asia, which will have a significant impact on Russia's standing in the world. In fact, this shift will only gain momentum in the years up to 2020. With China gaining strength on Russia's far eastern doorstep, Moscow might see an advantage to cooperating with the United States as the only other superpower on the planet capable of projecting its strategic potential in the region. But the national security document states that Russia will seek a "strategic partnership based on equal rights" with the United States.

All the foreign policy goals are listed but without prioritizing or differentiating between the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Europe and the United States.

In addition, the document contains odd passages that give the impression it was prepared in haste. For example, it states that one of the necessary conditions for energy security is "multilateral cooperation to develop energy resource markets in compliance with principles formulated by the World Trade Organization." But because the WTO does not regulate global energy markets, it is unclear why the authors mentioned the organization in this context.

It creates the impression that the strategy was not thought out thoroughly and is nothing more than a random collection of conceptual elements without any logical connection between them. This reflects the level of Russia's disorganized government apparatus, the general condition of its poorly functioning structures and strategic thinking. The bureaucratic quality of the previous national security strategy published in 1997 and revised in 2000 is clearly higher, although the current version is richer in content.

The strategy fails to give a developed vision of the future. It would have been more realistic to extrapolate from current conditions and make a projection of not more than a decade into the future. Objectively speaking, the situation in the world is so complex and unpredictable that it is hardly possible to formulate a long-term strategy. For this reason, it is a little strange that the authors boldly attempt to predict events more than 10 years in advance, although the current rate of change could easily alter the situation far beyond recognition by that time. Just read predictions made 10 years ago about how today's world would look and it becomes clear how far off the mark they typically fell.

In the past year, the Kremlin has shown a fondness for producing all-embrasive policy documents. For example, the world did not have time to understand fully what Medvedev intended with his proposed Russia-European Union security pact when the Kremlin introduced a new set of energy principles. The president has made a number of speeches regarding Kremlin programs, and in less than a year two major concept documents have been issued concerning foreign policy and national security.

Institutions governing international relations are still weak, and Russia's place in them is unclear. The world is changing so rapidly that new solutions are needed constantly. For too long, Moscow has used strategies borrowed from other countries, so the attempt by the Kremlin to develop its own line of thinking is a welcome change.

But in the end, the development and presentation of the ideas and the quality of the document as a whole falls far short of the authors' desire to respond to the challenges of the time. Russia is unable to define its own goals and strategies clearly. Therefore, the concepts it presents to the world will be perceived with the same confusion.

" The Moscow Times"

Last updated 20 may 2009, 11:45

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