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07.12.2007. New era: what should be done?

Of the most interesting articles published in this country’s Russian-language press this month, Diplomat has chosen the one written by Sergei Karaganov, dean of the world economics and politics department at the Higher School of Economics. It first appeared in the September 12 issue of the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

On top of economic globalization, the information revolution, the political awakening and galvanization of billions of people produced by the information revolution, the decrease in the manageability of international security, the old rift between the Islamic and Christian worlds, and the gap between the countries of the rich North and the poor South, there is now the fierce competition for energy resources and the competition between the countries of the “old capitalism” of the liberal-democratic trend and more dynamic countries of the “new capitalism” that is characterized by a greater degree of state capitalism and a more authoritarian development model, in short, between the countries of the old West and those of the “new world”- the southeast Asian countries, China, and Russia.

The competition between the different models mentioned is not just for the right to feel morally superior. What took place from the late 1980s to the beginning of the next century was a gigantic redistribution of human and other resources in favor of the states in which, it seemed, liberal-democratic capitalism gained the upper hand definitively and irrevocably. In the new century, the process has stopped and even reverted to some extent.

What took place from the late 1980s to the beginning of the next century was a gigantic redistribution of human and other resources in favor of the states in which, it seemed, liberal-democratic capitalism gained the upper hand definitively and irrevocably. In the new century, the process has stopped and even reverted to some extent.

As for the energy sector, a truly revolutionary change has occurred there. Until the second half of the 1990s, the bulk of the energy resources were owned and controlled by Western oil giants, but then the situation started to become totally different. At present, the bulk of the resources are owned by the producing countries and their companies. The energy vulnerability of Western, notably European, countries has increased significantly, even if only theoretically.

Many think the present-day political and propagandist campaign against Russia was triggered by the strengthening of this country’s position on the international arena or the centralist authoritarian trends of its policy. This is only partly true, however. Russia’s regaining its position coincided with a weakening of the countries of the old West and a decline in their attractiveness and foreign policy capability due to the U.S.’s failure in Iraq and the European Union’s feebleness caused by yet another systemic crisis that hit the EU. The former winners launched a counter-offensive to prevent the further weakening of their positions.

Russia’s regaining its positions coincided with a weakening of the countries of the old West and a decline in their attractiveness and foreign policy capability due to the U.S.’s failure in Iraq and the European Union’s feebleness caused by yet another systemic crisis that hit the EU. The former winners launched a counter-offensive to prevent the further weakening of their positions.

So, the principal reasons behind the new standoff are deep. Russia has largely become a symbol of these powerful shifts in world politics and the economy. This is why both the competition now and even confrontation promise to be even greater than just a response to Russia’s strengthening, though this confrontation may not necessarily be long-lived.

In the face of new challenges and “cracks,” attempts at a new rapprochement of the poles of the traditional American and European West that drifted apart in the wake of the Cold War are likely. Their relative unity, however, may only be restored if this or that type of systemic military confrontation is renewed. The U.S. will keep pinning its hopes on NATO to retain its positions in Europe and perhaps also to stir up a new military-political confrontation.

There is an unrealistic plan of transforming the North Atlantic Alliance into the military-political core of a global “alliance of democracies” by including such countries as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand in it. The idea to set up a community of powerful and responsible states that would lead the fight against new threats menacing the world order is quite sensible per se. Yet, in the “new era” of competition of all against all, such a thing is not only improbable but plain harmful, for it could sow the seeds of a new ideological division and systemic confrontation.

The powerful shifts occurring in the world economy and in politics and the rapid redistribution of forces and resources heighten the feeling of an unpredictable external world. This is why “the new era” will most probably be characterized by a continuation of the remilitarization of international relations and even an arms race. As to the enlargement of NATO, it will be even more likely if Russia swallows the bait and begins to rekindle the fire of global remilitarization.

The attempts to restrict the economic expansion of the countries of the new “authoritarian” capitalism and their companies are sure to intensify. The liberal states are adopting the protectionist practice of countries embracing state capitalism by limiting foreign investment in “strategic branches.” The manifest desire to use old international organizations as tools in the new round of competition threatens to undermine the importance of these organizations. The influence of the IMF has decreased dramatically. The World Bank is losing ground. Attempts to use the WTO in the interests of the organization’s founders, the “old capitalism” countries, can be observed. That would be destructive to the world economy. An increase in protectionism and trade and investment differences has generally been one of the precursors of military clashes.

No doubt, competition will intensify in the ideological field as well. Democracies have already launched a counter-offensive. The U.S. will go about sprucing up its image. It is unfortunate that in an atmosphere of fierce competition, the struggle for lofty democratic values will almost inevitably assume the nature of a geopolitical standoff. This will hinder the likely process of liberalization in countries of the new “authoritarian capitalism,” such as Russia. We should not forget the lessons of the Cold War when strong pressure from outside strengthened the positions of the reactionaries and conservatives within the Soviet Union. So it will be easier to say those striving for the necessary reforms are agents of competitor countries.

A lowering of the intensity and quality of international cooperation to meet global challenges-the spread of weapons of mass destruction, environmental pollution and growing Islamic extremism- may be the most unpleasant repercussion of the new multi-factor competition.

A lowering of the intensity and quality of international cooperation to meet global challenges-the spread of weapons of mass destruction, environmental pollution and growing Islamic extremism — may be the most unpleasant repercussion of the new multi-factor competition.

The time framework of “the new era” is foreseeable. In 5 to 7 years, Europe is most likely to get out of the current systemic crisis and its economic development will speed up. After withdrawing from Iraq and getting rid of “the Iraq syndrome,” America will return to a slightly more rational policy. Russia, for its part, will overcome its current euphoria and will pursue a no less active but more cautious policy. There will appear the political and economic prerequisites for overcoming today’s irrational confrontation over energy issues and for establishing an energy union in Europe. It will also be possible to partly overcome the ideological basis of the new confrontation and competition between the two models of capitalism. These models are not as incompatible as “real socialism” and capitalism.

The global challenges, which the fierce competition of “the new era” hinders meeting now, will require closer cooperation even more. A new round of such cooperation promises to prove more consistent than in the 1990s. Back then, cooperation went ahead under the diktat of the Cold War winners, which is why the initiative was doomed to failure. An era of greater cooperation will only begin if mankind, Russia included, does not make the systemic error of structuring and militarization of the new competition and if no major war breaks out. The latter is most probable in the Middle East. Stiffer competition ending in a systemic standoff could slide into a series of major wars and even a world war.

What should Russia do in that situation?

First, we should discard our flag-waving and overconfident mood that was explicable after long years of losses and humiliation and do it as soon as possible. All forecasts of world economic development suggest that in the foreseeable future Russia will not be able to exceed the present share of about 2.5 percent of the world GDP. And if we fail to attain a sustainable growth rate of 8-10 percent annually, our share will tend to go down. Moreover, most factors that have contributed to Russia’s success the last few years (less manageability of the world, soaring energy prices, and China’s great accomplishments) are fraught with serious problems in the long term.

Second, the new era of confrontation requires going over to an economy of knowledge. The advantage of energy resources is only of a temporary nature. There has got to be continuous modernization of the political system in order for it not to slide into stagnant authoritarianism. If semi-authoritarian and state capitalist methods are not used to go over to a new development model in the period of a favorable economic and geopolitical situation, Russia’s downfall in the next era will be inevitable.

Third, any remilitarization and institutionalization of the new competition that is unprofitable from the standpoint of mid- and long-term interests must be avoided by all means. Thus the policy of trying to prevent the further expansion and consolidation of NATO as well as caution in concluding alliances and conducting disarmament talks. Past experience tells us that they can be used for the militarization of politics. Countering remilitarization does not mean that we should refuse to restore our armed forces on a new basis and revise our military doctrine. Besides, reasonable restoration of one’s might should be based on unilaterally identified needs rather than on responses, even if asymmetric ones, to the actions of others.

Fourth, we need to cooperate with all responsible forces to prevent any further proliferation of nuclear weapons and the outbreak of new large-scale conflicts, especially nuclear ones. They could cause an uncontrollable degradation of the international political atmosphere. The struggle for peace is yet again becoming one of the top priorities of world politics. What’s more, it is most likely to become one of the most important areas of the new ideological struggle.

Fifth, the world is getting ever more complicated. Russia’s dependence on the external world has increased greatly compared to Soviet times. More money must be invested in studying this external world and training professionals who will be able to protect and promote Russia’s international positions and its corporations at the new stage and by new methods.

Sixth, now that the acute phase of the “new confrontation era” is unfolding, which will be signified by a harsh counter-attack by the West that is now suffering a setback, it is senseless to make any concessions to it. They will be seen as a sign of weakness. At the same time, we should avoid unwarranted manifestations of inflexibility which will be provoked and which can only erode the little margin of strength that Russia has recently got.

Russia is no longer a loser, a country trying to catch up. We should once again begin to smile politely, not maliciously. And we should not react to minor provocations. But, most importantly, we should take the lead in building the new world rather than just regain our lost or foolishly relinquished positions. Unless big errors are made, after “the new era” will come another era that will-there is every reason for hope-be marked by the higher degree of cooperation that the global challenges of a new world call for now.

Russia is no longer a loser, a country trying to catch up. We should once again begin to smile politely, not maliciously. And we should not react to minor provocations. But, most importantly, we should take the lead in building the new world rather than just regain our robbed or foolishly relinquished positions.

// Diplomat