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03.06.2015. A 21st Century Vienna Concert

The year 2015 is a year of many jubilees – 70 years since the Great Victory and the end of the Second World War; 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent unification of Germany; and 40 years since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act and the subsequent creation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

These events have overshadowed the glorious jubilee – the 200th anniversary of the victory over Napoleon in the European war and the Congress of Vienna. In Vienna, in the course of informal consultations, as we would call them now, Russia’s strength, the idealism and wisdom of Alexander I, and the diplomatic genius of Metternich and Talleyrand helped European nations to forge the Concert of Nations which ensured almost absolute peace on the continent for several decades and a relatively peaceful order for almost a century – the most brilliant era in European history. The main achievement of the Congress of Vienna was that the post-war order was relatively fair and built without any humiliation of defeated France.

Alexander and the great diplomats had the feeling that they were working for decades ahead. Maybe that was why they succeeded. The Concert of Europe proved to be effective due to the relative homogeneity of the political powers that founded it: some of them were semi-feudal and others semi-capitalist, but all of them were harshly ruled by monarchs or narrow ruling classes, which shared common values.

The Congress of Vienna of 70 years ago, when the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other institutions were established at a series of conferences in San Francisco and Bretton Woods, did not create a new Concert of Nations. There followed a bipolar division of the world, which did not result in a new world war only because God, through the hands of Kurchatov, Oppenheimer, Fermi, Lavrentyev, Sakharov, Teller, Korolev and von Braun, gave mankind the nuclear “weapon of Armageddon,” which saved and still saves it.

There emerged no “Congress of Vienna” after the Cold War, either, although the solemn words and commitments of the 1990 Paris Charter looked like a historic accord on “eternal peace.” Many experts, including this author, suggested something similar to the Concert of Nations. Instead, the Atlantic part of the former bipolar system decided in favor of a soft variant of one of the most shameful episodes in its history – the Treaty of Versailles, which put Germany in an intolerable position after World War I and led mankind to the second world war in a generation. In addition, the Paris Charter was built on the illusion that the parties to the conflict could quickly move to a shared social and political path. Meanwhile, the West quickly switched to post-European values, while Russia abided by traditional European ones – sovereignty, a strong state, and Christian ethics and morals, from which it had been forcibly separated during the communist era. Some of the value differences were hard to predict. But one was evident, although some people tried not to notice it: Russia could not abandon its basic, genetic values ​​– its millennial desire for sovereignty and security, and (since the times of Peter the Great) its habit to feel a great power.

Now Russia is breaking this second edition of the Versailles policy – hopefully, without a big war.

The Cold War was followed by a ten-year illusion of a unipolar world. Later, the West began to decline politically, morally and economically, while the non-West began to rise. Thus the present-day world, which is called multipolar, has come to exist. But I think that multipolarity is also a temporary phenomenon. It reflects the rejection of a unipolar world (the term came into being precisely as its negation), as well as the current inability or unwillingness to see macro-trends which are already working.

This term also hides another upcoming reality. The 500-year-long domination of Europe and, later, its powerful nephew, the United States, is coming to an end. Probably, the slow end of the centuries-long military, economic, ideological and cultural hegemony of the West in the world and the rise of the non-West is the major feature of this stage of world development.

There are many factors that caused these changes. They include various kinds of crises in the West (I would not like to discuss them now that political relations between Russia and the West have become aggravated, as that might sound like schadenfreude).

But the most important factor is the growth of economic and informational g of the non-West – ironically due to the globalization provided by the West. Countries and peoples of the former periphery have received access to technologies, education and advanced social practices. The technological revolution in transport has linked markets. New countries have got an opportunity to compete on the global level, using their relative advantages.

This large-scale and relatively conflict-free redistribution of power became possible due to the presence of nuclear weapons which made it impossible to stop the rise of new forces militarily, without risking self-destruction.

The civilizing role of nuclear weapons is evident especially now when the decencies have been cast aside and when the losing West has begun to act without hypocrisy and gloves, breaking almost all moral, legal or political standards which it itself proclaimed in the years of its prosperity and might.

I invite readers who remember the bombings of defenseless Yugoslavia, the aggression against Iraq under a false pretext, the attack against Libya which had relinquished its nuclear program, and attempts to overthrow the unwanted regime in Syria with the support of much gloomier regimes and forces, to try to imagine what would happen with the rise of China if the latter did not have nuclear weapons and if a massive attack against it could not provoke an escalation of the conflict, involving super-nuclear Russia. I am afraid China would now lie in ruins, instead of enjoying growing prosperity and might. Judging by the current rage in the West over the rise of Russia, which has demanded respect for its interests, it would have been finished off in the years of its weakness but for its nuclear potential, preserved in the 1990s through the heroic efforts of half-starved engineers, scientists and military. I have repeatedly heard regret at international discussions that Putin cannot be “punished” like Milosevic was.

The United States’ semi-withdrawal from Europe and the Middle East is one manifestation of the tendency towards the weakening (possibly historic) of the West. Deliberately or semi-consciously (not a single document or serious U.S. study proclaims the strategy of controlled chaos), the U.S. leaves behind crises and conflicts. Maybe, it plans to return later, relying on its still enormous military power, or to make its European allies depend on it, or, perhaps, it has lost its strategic benchmarks and is simply incompetent in the conditions when the world is following unforeseen scenarios.

The U.S. already “semi-exited” once in the past half a century – after the Vietnam War which had morally exhausted the country. Yet it came back.

Now this withdrawal may have a more severe outcome. Some of the U.S. allies, especially the UK, are desperately urging Washington to return, as they fear to be left without powerful protection. But a return on the former terms will hardly take place. The world is filled with new powers which do not want to see the former hegemony. Although it often helped to maintain relative stability, it ceased when America lost its counterweight – the Soviet Union.

If the trend towards the West’s weakening persists, which is likely, considering the vector of changes in the balance of power, the “international community,” and not just the West which is trying to speak on its behalf, will be faced with the problem of controlling this process and avoiding destabilization. Just a decade ago the world discussed how to manage “the rise of new powers.” The weakening may take an era and proceed relatively calmly. I think Europe will continue to give in – resisting the process, of course. There is no confidence about the U.S. policy. For all its problems, the United States is still a vigorous nation.

The super-harsh and even painful reaction of the West to the Russian policy aimed at ending the inertia advance on its interests through attempts to involve Ukraine into the zone of its influence and control is further evidence that the process will not be easy.

The weakening of the West will likely be a major feature of the coming era, and the continuation of the tendency towards renationalization of world politics may be another important feature, along with a return of traditional geopolitics, contemptuously rejected just a few years ago, on a global level.

But this will be a different kind of geopolitics. For all the importance of the military factor which used to play the key role in it, now the economy will play the decisive role – largely due to one more key tendency in world development, namely, the new democratization. The interests of the masses increasingly influence the behavior of the ruling circles, even in not very democratic countries. And the main demand of the masses is well-being.

Along with the process of world politics’ economization, there is a growing tendency towards de-globalization or a different globalization. The WTO is in an impasse; more and more regional trading and economic blocs are being formed; and countries are moving away from the dollar and the euro and from the IMF and the World Bank in favor of regional development banks.

The U.S. is trying hard to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), aimed to limit the growth and influence of China, and the Transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) which is intended to keep the EU in its orbit, although the TTIP is not economically advantageous to Europe, according to most experts. Those in Europe who advocate this project are driven by fear of being left without U.S. protection in the conditions of the EU’s crisis and the recovery of Russia.

Earlier, in the Cold War years, the role of U.S. driving belts was played by military alliances, which have since vanished or have become almost forgotten – PATO, CENTO, SEATO, ANZUS. Now the emphasis is made on “containing” competitors using economic instruments.

De-globalization received a powerful impetus when the West used an “economic nuclear weapon” – sanctions – against a major world player, Russia. The sanctions have shown to doubters the danger of relying on Western institutions, rules, payment systems and currencies.

The new countries have seen that the old West, which created the modern globalization, is departing from it, as it benefits other countries, too. They have begun to build institutions and economic blocs of their own. One of them is being formed in Latin America which is breaking from the U.S. hegemony. Another bloc, potentially the strongest one, is emerging in continental Asia. Russia and countries gravitating towards it are among its potential members. Let’s call this still nameless association a Greater Eurasia Community.

It will be formed around a renewed and expanded Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). A major and potentially historic step in this direction was made in May of this year, when the leaders of Russia and China met in Moscow and agreed to integrate the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative – China’s large-scale plan to promote the economic and logistical development of western Chinese regions and countries west of China. The West tried to set the two projects in opposition to each other, but things went the other way around.

This project will no doubt be open to the EU and its members, and it can give new momentum to their slowing-down development.

In this context, a dialogue between the EU and the EEU, a belated subject of discussion among European colleagues who, after the Ukrainian crisis, seem to regret having refused to create unified economic and human spaces with Russia, is losing relevance. Perhaps, this dialogue should be conducted in a broader format, such as between the EU and a stronger and expanded SCO.

There are many territorial and other disputes in Greater Eurasia. To the south and west of the region lies the Middle East, which has for decades been torn by conflicts and which is a source of instability for other regions. The problem of European security is also hard to solve, at least within the frameworks of former parameters and institutions. But if a problem is unsolvable, one should go beyond it.

Therefore, the idea suggests a creation of a Forum for Eurasian cooperation, development and security, a kind of new “Congress of Vienna” which could try to work out new rules and regimes for the entire Eurasian continent. This should be a forum “not against” but “for” – not against the old system (let European countries wishing to stay in NATO do that) but aimed at creating a new system that would be consonant with the 21st century realities.

The success of the new “Congress of Vienna” is possible, naturally in the long term, because the world seems to be moving through tough competition to a new convergence of social and political models. The market economy, in different variants, has won almost everywhere. The new countries (let’s call them leader-type, non-liberal democracies) are increasing democratic elements in their models, while most liberal democracies will increase authoritarian elements under the influence of challenges – or they will lose.

The United States’ role in the proposed concept of world development is not clear. But this is a question to the American elite which itself should decide what it wants. Does it want to hide into semi-isolation, resentful at a world striving for independence, and leaving behind ruins to return later? Or does it want to cling to the “unipolar” moment which, it seems, almost no one wants to come back? Or does it want to become a responsible builder of a new, more democratic, equitable and fairer world?

Russia, with its globally minded elite, high-class diplomacy and advantageous geographical position, can actively promote the construction of such a world, a new “Concert of Nations” – to its own benefit and that of its partners.

// This is a translation of the article, which was originally published in Rosiiskaya Gazeta, June 3, 2015, Federal Issue 6689 (118)