Areg Galstyan on who will create a new system of international relations.
The coronavirus pandemic both created and aggravated the issue of forming a new system of international relations. Who will form this system, how will it be formed, and what role does Russia have in the process?
Since the breakdown of the bipolar system of international relations, mankind has been in a constant state of turbulence. The rules of the game, established after World War II in Yalta and Potsdam, were not perfect: just remember the two crises in Berlin and the Caribbean, which could have very likely transformed the Cold War into a nuclear one. However, strategic misunderstandings and conflicts served as the basis for seeking the most mutually beneficial compromises, created necessary red lines and cultivated a culture of restraint in difficult situations.
The world is diverse, extremely nuanced and heterogeneous; therefore, a unilateral system itself was initially destined to fail.
In other words, it is impossible to take sole responsibility for the future of all humanity on the basis of subjective notions of good and evil. Even for superpowers such as the United States.
One of the first to become aware of this was George H.W. Bush, the last president of the U.S. during the age of bipolarity.
The transition of power from the experienced realist, Bush (who served only one term), to the neoliberal experimentalist, Bill Clinton, was as abrupt as the transformation of the architecture that has defined a system of international relations since the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
It’s necessary to understand that the problem is much deeper; after all, the Yalta-Potsdam plan was not new. It merely arranged fundamental principles into a single matrix, which were considered the “sacred pillars” of international relations: noninterference in internal affairs (Westphal), balance of power (Vienna), collective responsibility (Westphal-Washington) and the division of zones of influence (Yalta-Potsdam). These rules were broken quickly and relentlessly for the benefit of the new theory of the democratic world, in which Washington did not take responsibility for a number of follies and catastrophes, including the Rwandan genocide.
Thus, America became a hostage to its own ambitions, and the country’s politics became more emotional as the world became unpredictable and dangerous.
The monopoly on global sheriffdom is not so much a privilege as a curse. It leads to the overexertion of power, disorientation and the total dissolution of the borders between national and corporate interests. Nevertheless, Washington is doomed to carry this weight until other players provide mankind with other means.
The Chinese threat, which Donald Trump insists on constantly, is entirely the result of American politics. Washington entered a completely meaningless conflict with Russia, deprived Europe of subjectivity, focused on its interests in the military intelligence lobby in the Middle East and deliberately eliminated major technology corporations in allied countries.
It is unlikely that the Chinese company Huawei, declared a serious threat by the White House in the pre-coronavirus world, would have totally captured the same European market if the French company Alcatel and the German company Siemens had had the influence that they did (before the Americans weakened them). Now, the U.S. cannot figure out what to do with Beijing, so it is forced to act reactively, while China is always one step ahead.
The issue is not that the post-unipolar system will be based on the idea of the Group of Two (the big two being the U.S. and China), but a matter of who will become the dominant party in this pair. Beijing is patiently gaining power, and does not agree to the role of junior partner. Subsequently, the trade war, declared by the Jacksonian protectionist Trump, will gain momentum, being by no means the only tool in a long-term strategy to weaken China.
At some point, the Middle Kingdom will be ready to declare its vision for the further development of the world, and this will mark the transition of countries to an acute phase of ideological confrontation.* (In the U.S. Steve Bannon has been assigned the role of chief ideologist regarding China.)
The toughening of accusatory rhetoric from Washington and the intelligence alliance “Five Eyes” (the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand) against Beijing in connection with COVID-19 is a clear indicator that escalation is not far off.
Whether or not Russia can expand the future format to G-3 is a difficult question. On one hand, the United States and China cannot objectively ignore the opinion of the world’s largest empire, which owns nuclear weapons and has developed a military-industrial infrastructure. On the other hand, Moscow is not ready to offer a third way of developing international relations.
The idea of multipolarity does not have a future, because by definition, Brazil cannot expect to be equal to the United States in either regional or world politics, just as China cannot view Japan as an equal.
This is not only related to the geopolitical perception of the strong as weak, but also to the availability of pragmatic resources to execute the challenges that are undertaken. Of course, the Russian president’s attempt to bring the “nuclear five” together for a discussion of future world order deserves attention. But, this is seen as a desire to return to one of the conditions of the Yalta-Potsdam plan, which Washington and Beijing, the main players, are unlikely to accept as a term.
The success of exporting ideology directly depends on the domestic conditions and attitudes of a particular state, which are formed by very specific people.
In modern Russia, there are few systemic ideologists capable of thinking in global terms and creating an appealing ideological product on that basis.
Some repeatedly return to the topic of unusual means, others advertise Eurasianism, others resurrect the Russian world and still others revive the concept of Moscow as the “Third Rome.” All of these narratives are dated and are of no interest to the world, as even their own country has no demand for them.
Of all the existing ideologies in Russia, the concepts of “sovereign democracies,” “balanced societies,” and “realistic distribution of power” (authored by ex-presidential aide Vladislav Surkov), which to a certain extent form the basis of the current domestic political system, may have a chance at succeeding. From them, we can try to design a new Russian model of envisioning the future of world relations.
In other words, the current configuration should force Moscow one way or the other to act pursuant to counter-realism, as realism does not provide the chance for equal dialogue with Washington and Beijing. The time has come for ideologists and unorthodox solutions.
*Editor’s note: China called itself “Middle Kingdom” because it believed it was the center of the world.