A review of an essay by Sergey Karaganov and Dmitri Suslov
By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
The essay “A New World Order. A view from Russia” by Sergey Karaganov and Dmitri Suslov is part of a new book which was published September 2018 under the title “Multipolarity: The promise of disharmony” in the German Campus Verlag (Editor Peter W.Schulze).
The two Russian strategists Professor Sergey Karaganov (Dean of the School of World Economics and Foreign Affairs of the National Research of the University) and Dmitry Suslov, influential Valdai Discussion Club member (Deputy Director for Research at the Council on Foreign and Defense policy studying US- Russian relations), analyze the reasons of the crisis of the existing International World Order and discuss the Russian approach for the establishment of a new International Order. Both authors are in the leadership of the Valdai Discussion Forum “Russia- Agenda for the 21 Century” (October 15 to 18, 2018 in Sochi) assembling strategic experts and defense analysts from East and West.
The essay is a reflection about what issues at present are most preoccupying the thinking of leading Russian Strategists.
Aside the affirmation that Russia is willing to actively shape the future new world order, what is noteworthy in the essay is that at some points the authors self- critically reflect about Russia’s strategic as well as economic shortcomings, which is a necessary precondition for an honest and frank dialogue between Russia and the West in the future.
The authors’ main thesis is that with the election of Trump and the rapid increase of “US containment of Russia and China” — the period of collapse is opening up possibilities for the creation of a new order. Yet the establishment of a new world order will take time and in the meantime serious conflicts and crises could occur. In order to prevent a large scale war, Russia intends to act as key security provider through its foreign and defense policies. Russia wants to deter an arms race, and create preconditions for dialogue with Washington.
The country’s pivot to Asia will continue and the “Greater Eurasia comprehensive partnership” concept will gradually be substantiated and thus become a zone of stability and a powerful unit within the global order,” according to the authors’ thesis.
Neither major European allies nor Asian allies of the US support further escalation of the Russia-West and US- Russia confrontation. Hence Russia’s policy will be to be tactically as flexible as possible for eventual crisis, but also be more strategic, peaceful and comfortable for Russia. They both plead for a “long term view” since first the present western elites have to rotate out.
The old international order crumbling
Elements which underline that one deals with a collapse of world orders are on the one side – as the essay states – “the end of the 500 year long dominance of the West”– firstly Europe, then the US and its allies in politics, the economy and ideology. This is chiefly due to the loss of military superiority the West had possessed since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and based on this was the drive of Europe to conquer the Americas, Africa, South Asia and subordinate China. Colonial possessions led to redistribution of the global gross national product in Europe’s and the West’s favor. This in turn stimulated the flourishing of European science and culture and military power.
Also Russia at that time was part of the west- an illustration is its quick conquest of Siberia, and it’s conquering of Central Asia. The threshold moment in the centuries old history of Western military supremacy and political and ideological ascendency -according to the authors- however occurred in the middle of the 20th century when the West’s opponents, the USSR and then China obtained nuclear weapons.
The West lost supremacy over half of the world. This was followed by the US failure to win the Korean War and its subsequent defeat in Vietnam (1950ies and 60ies). There was a brief period 1991-2007, when the Soviet Union fell apart and ceased to be a military political balancer while the West declared a “unipolar moment” and proclaimed that the US- led “West centric liberal world order” should become universal and global. Yet, after political losses in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria that “sense of primacy is now falling apart”, according to the authors and the Trump administration was the first to recognize the loss of US military pre- eminence. (US National Defense Strategy —according to which everywhere the US sees itself contested from all sides.)
The irritation with Russia has also geopolitical causes. As the authors state, Russia is both symbolic of and largely the reason of the loss of US military supremacy. It is intentionally opposed to US led liberal world order and attempts to universalize it. It has opposed NATO expansion since the 1990ies and opposed events in former Yugoslavia 1999, the war against Iraq and Libya.
Russia is seen as cause and symbol of the world order which is crumbling and political positions of traditionalist elites are weakening across Europe as shown by populists. Russia intends to keep the US at bay through a strategy of “preemptive deterrence”: An expression for this having been Putin’s 1rst of March speech 2018 to the Russian federal assembly, underlining that the US attempt to regain military superiority would be ineffective and expensive.
Security challenges: Nuclear proliferation
The authors in their essay describe the Crimean incorporation within Russia as “geopolitically necessary and historically fair.” However they also state that “the action broke the pledge in the 1994 Budapest memorandum- designed to reward Kiev for abandoning Soviet nuclear weapons (Memorandum on Security Assurances 1994) to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
The authors are very concerned about possible nuclear proliferation which may involve Iran if threats against Iran’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JSPA) will continue, which could lead to Iran acquiring sooner or later nuclear weapons followed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. While stability is in decline and nuclear conflict growing, new kind of weapons are emerging: nuclear, non-nuclear and conventional cyber weapons. And the dilemma is that while the old system of nuclear arms control is crumbling there is no serious discussion of new threats.
The authors qualify the recent foreign policy of Russia as extremely “successful” and outline from their point of view why they consider it as a success: Combined with it they see a historical wave of: renationalization; reassertion of sovereignty; negative responses to globalization in many societies and a growing role of military –political factors.
“Sovereignty”, the primacy of security issues has returned to the fore and a majority of the Russian elites have changed their geopolitical view.
According to the authors Russia’s swift takeover of Crimea and its support of the rebellion in the Donbass have prevented further expansion of the Western bloc.
This expansion could have resulted in large scale war. “Russia’s remarkably successful involvement in Syria has enabled it to regain the status of top level player. For the first time in 30 years Russia has proved capable of not just preempting a regime change by projecting power in a country outside of the former USSR, but also of creating a new geopolitical environment disregarding US preferences.”
Russian success in Syria has influenced the Middle East more broadly by encouraging regional powers to diversify their foreign policy and security relationships. The sense of victory and regaining of great power confidence, paired with West’s angry reaction, have so far rallied Russian society; nationalized elites and marginalized comprador sentiment: “Russia has established a historically unique partnership with China.”
The authors also describe the problem which Russia is facing: “Apart from the objectively growing threat of war, the primary challenge is the lack of a coherent strategy for economic and social development.”
The “fat” which Russia accumulated in the 2000s is “thin”: “Foreign policy successes are important in themselves, but poor compensation for social and economic troubles”, the authors warn and that it would also be risky to engage in premature withdrawal from conflicts, as some in the Russian elite suggest. So far Russia has acted intelligently and swiftly, they state, but failures are possible and likely to occur.
Russia’s relative economic weakness has limited its partners’ desire for friendship and encouraged opponents to feud with it. “If economic stagnation continues, geopolitical mishaps could ruin any aura of victory and expose economic weakness. A strategy of technocratic, conservative modernization has been declared but is still to be implemented.” So far the only area where Russia has undergone profoundly successful modernization, from the authors’ viewpoint is its military.
Russia has not yet arrived at a coherent strategy to improve international security and its relations with the West are at their worst. Russia is also in part at fault because of its past weaknesses, foolishness, its giving concessions in hope of gratitude and its reluctance to foresee the inevitable problems in Ukraine for years on end. They underline that Russia needs to make changes , “look at the situation from a different angle, and give up its obsession with the West in pro and anti- Western forms.”
What Russia could do
According to the authors the collapse of the previous international order requires Russia’s creative participation, on parity with other centers of global power, in the building of a new and balanced world order. They suggest that the cornerstone of Russian strategy should be “leadership in prevention of large scale war and a transformation of itself into a leading provider of international security.” This should be made possible by developing a doctrine and capabilities of deterrence and by strengthening international strategic stability, by “promoting a system of dialogue which would increase transparency and reduce risk of escalating conflicts.” Russia and China should start dialogue and invite other allies or have a series of unofficial dialogues with China, USA and specialists from other countries to strengthen international strategic stability. “Once the foundation of the future world order is built through mutual deterrence and dialogue between leading powers, a discussion of the principles can commence: cooperation; respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; and the freedom of political, cultural and value choices.”
Most promising for Russia in the future is a further pivot to the East to create comprehensive partnership in Greater Eurasia. Russia has supported Chinas OBOR (one belt, one road) which can provide foundation for future partnership. Again the authors note self critically that China has supported the Eurasian Economic Union and agreed to enlarge the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to include India and Pakistan- which are necessary steps to establish the institutional foundations for Eurasian partnership. “But then Russia suffered a loss of initiatives, apparently due to Russian character: we make a breakthrough and then relax.” It is useful to study the essay which offers a rare insight into the present thinking of leading Russian strategists but also into the real problems of Russia, which still await new answers.