By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
“How to Win a Cold War” is the title of an essay which the influential Russian strategist Professor Sergej Karaganov (Dean of the School of World Economics and International Relations at the National Research University) published September 4th in the magazine “Russia in Global Affairs”. The author develops the concept for a new Russian foreign policy in which Russia should contribute to construct a new “World Order”. Karaganov’s main thesis is that we are today confronted with a “new Cold War” which nobody will win and that “it is about time to draft a truly new foreign policy concept as the previous narrative has exhausted itself, being more of a ritual than a guide to action.” Since nobody will win the new cold war, he advises Russia to use its present strategic advances in order to actively help construct a new world order.
The author states that there are many “repetitions” from the previous Cold War confrontation: this includes the military build- up programs designed to draw Russia into a new arms race, as was the case in the past, as well as “sanctions” to slow down Russia development and a “massive propaganda campaign” by the media to undermine Russian international prestige through provocations. In his argumentation Karaganov seems to be sometimes carried away by his ideological fervor. While the Soviet Union suffered a “strategic defeat” 30 years ago, “today’s Russia has every chance to succeed, as it acts not by itself but a vanguard of a non- Western world, which is rising and asserting itself on a global stage”, Karaganov argues. He refers to the new “Russia- China alliance”, the “Eurasian Economic Union” which is open for many more members to join, including from Europe, as well as to Russia’s “new role in the Mideast”.
The author emphasizes that the West today is fighting in a kind of “rearguard action” against China, whose rise it helped to pave. But that in order to “target China” the West needs to “get Russia out of the way first by getting it morally crushed and defeated.” Karaganov situates this in the context of a global balance of power situation which over the last 10 to 15 years has changed dramatically and helped Russia to “restore (d) its strategic capabilities and will to fight for its own sovereignty and security.” While the past Cold War ended with a break- up of the Soviet Union, the West in the 1990ies “missed the historical chance” by committing the mistake “out of arrogance, triumphalism and intellectual shortsightedness, not to respond to Russia’s elite and society wish to join the western world in decent terms ”, according to the author. The West essentially demanded economic, ideological and geopolitical subordination to the extent of having its sovereignty limited which was clearly at odds with the country’s overall historical tradition. Despite that Russia within a relatively short period of time “regained its status as a leading global player, largely due to restoring its military capabilities, which changed the global balance of power dramatically.”
In addition a fundamental “shift of values” has occurred in the Western elite in the last years where priority is given to individualism, dogmatic tolerance, cosmopolitanism, combined with a rejection of faith and family and other traditional values. Most of these values are based on post- modernist values, which the majority of citizens in Russia and non- Western countries ignore and consider as “alien to their local tradition.” Karaganov describes at length, what he perceives as the crisis of the West, the discontent among the middle class and the erosion of democratic ideals.
How to get out of the arms race spiral
The author observes that one of the problems of today’s Russia is that it can’t afford to remain “fixated on the West and the desire to fight back.” What Russia needs instead is “to spur the economic growth and develop its social welfare system.” Opposite to the previous Cold War, when most soviet citizens lived in a very poor standard of living, this situation has improved in the last two decades. “Most people live modestly and incomparably better than in Soviet times.” One of the main reasons for Russia’s relative prosperity, according to Karaganov, is that the country has stopped the arms race, which bled the soviet economy dry, and abandoned costly foreign policy based on ideological dogmas. The Soviet economy was essentially a “war economy”, by spending almost a quarter of GDP for defense (which was five or six times the current defense budget) and enormous sums of money were wasted in order to subsidize socialist leaning countries and the Third World, before the collapse of the Soviet Union occurred. With the disappearance of “unreliable and costly allies” in Eastern Europe, a huge burden was taken off the country and Russia carried out military reforms to create armed forces which are less costly but much more efficient, from the military- technical and moral psychological points of view,” (ignoring the burden of the Ukraine and Syria intervention.)
Russia has de facto won the present arms race, Karaganov concludes in unusual propagandistic exuberance, by “having created a new generation of high precision strategic systems, including hypersonic ones, announced by President Vladimir Putin on March 1, 2018. (..) Russia has de facto won the arms race without getting drawn into it.” He underlines that in addition the economic sanctions – which from the European side may stay there for years to come- have facilitated “successful import – substitution “in certain industries , primarily agriculture and helped improve Russia’s food security. Strategically Russia operations in Syria have strengthened Russia’s positions in the Mideast and in general while Russia is turning east towards rising Asia. This means that the Russia top elite no longer feels like being a “European periphery”, but becomes increasingly “Central Eurasian.” Karaganov predicts that trade volumes with Europe and Asia will level out in a couple of years.
The premise for Karaganov’s thinking is based on the fact that in comparison to the past Cold War, when Russia stood against the West a n d China “now Russia and China have established de facto long term partner relations approaching allied ones. China is almost destined to become the World’s number one country in terms of aggregate power within ten to fifteen years,” he states. He concludes that the “inevitable rivalry between Washington and Beijing is likely to give Moscow additional foreign policy opportunities and broaden its room for manoeuver which has been reduced by confrontation with the West.” If China becomes first among equals in Greater Eurasia and remains committed to maintain the state of equilibrium, Karaganov reasons, “the two countries will keep up close a relation which is going to continue to change the global balance of power dramatically.”
From Karaganov’s point of view, Russia should neither “fixate” itself on an anti- American position nor follow a “Europe centrism”, which however does not “mean an end to useful cultural educational and economic cooperation. There should be strategic joint political initiatives and in the mid -term , interested European partners ought to be brought into the Eurasian projects, as this may in fact be the only way for them to maintain positive dynamics and retain international weight.” Karaganov’s advice is that Russia should “diversify its foreign economic activities and instruments in order to become as “independent” from western institutions as possible. It “should team up with its partners to build new ones: deepen and enlarge the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Eurasia Economic Union and show the world its vision of the future not only through resolute actions like around Ukraine and in the Middle East.” He concludes his essay by underlining that Russia needs “strategic patience” and that on the whole, “the situation is changing in our favor and future agreements may probably be more advantageous than those offered to us now. There can be no complete victory in a cold War and therefore it should be brought to an end on terms that would be acceptable to everyone.”