Russia » Politics
Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Lavrov: The fundamental apect of the present stage of world development

In contemporary international relations it is difficult to find a more fundamental question than defining the present stage of world development. This is important for any country in order to correlate its development strategy and its foreign policy with a vision of the world in which we live. It appears that consensus is already on its way in this regard, although so far at the level of the expert community – Russian and foreign alike. This state of affairs results largely from the debates on which Russia has insisted. Moreover, a sketch of that agreement reproduces to a significant extent the analysis that is set forth in Vladimir Putin’s speech at Munich in February 2007 and which has become a starting discussion position of Russia.

It is obvious that without sizing up the “big issues” in world development, without reaching a common understanding on them the international community just cannot succeed in coping with particular problems in world politics.

I shall try to outline some of these questions having a direct bearing on the arrangement of the foreign policy strategy of Russia.


There is no longer any doubt that with the end of the Cold War a lengthier world development period came to an end, spanning 400-500 years during which European civilization had dominated in the world. The historical West had consistently advanced on the edge of this dominance.

There are two principled approaches to assessment of what the content of the new stage in human development consists of.

The first – the world should gradually, via adopting western values, become a Greater West. In its way, this is a version of the “end of history.”

The other approach, which we share, consists in that competition now becomes truly global, acquiring a civilized dimension; that is, value guidelines and development models are becoming an object of competition among other things.

The new stage is occasionally defined as “post-American.” But, of course, this is not a “world after the US” and even less so without the US (see article of Richard Haas “The Age of Nonpolarity” in this issue of the magazine). It is a world where as a result of the rise of other global power centers and the strengthening of their influence, the relative significance of America’s role is dwindling, as has already been the case over recent decades in the global economy and trade. Leadership is an entirely different question though; it’s above all the question of achieving consensus within a circle of partners and of the ability to be the first, but among equals.

To define the content of an emerging world order, such terms as multipolar, polycentric, and non-polar are also put forward. In particular, Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former director of policy planning at the US Department of State, favors this last definition. It’s hard not to agree with him that power and influence are becoming more diffuse. But even he acknowledges that a core group of major powers is needed to ensure governable world development under the new conditions; that is, in any case it is about the need for collective leadership, of which Russia has been consistently supportive. Of course, the world’s diversity requires that such collective leadership be truly representative, geographically and civilizationally.

We do not share the concerns that the current reconfiguration in the world unavoidably leads to “chaos and anarchy.” There goes the natural process of the formation of a new international architecture – political as well as economic and financial – which would correspond to the new realities.

One of them is Russia’s comeback to global politics, economy, and finances as an active and full-fledged “player.” This concerns our place in the world market (not only of energy carriers, but also of grain) and our leader positions in space and nuclear energy and our capabilities in land, air and sea transit and the ruble’s role as one of the most reliable world currencies.

Unfortunately, the Cold War experience has distorted the consciousness of several generations, the political elites in particular. Many believe that any world politics should be ideologized. Even now that Russia is guided in international affairs by comprehensible, pragmatic interests, devoid of any ideological motives whatsoever, not everyone is in a position to take this adequately. “Wounded feelings,” “hidden agendas,” “neo-imperial aspirations,” and things like that are being ascribed to us.

This situation is unlikely to change soon, because at issue are factors of a psychological nature – after all, at least two generations of political elites have been raised in a definite ideological system of coordinates and sometimes are simply unable to think in terms lying outside of it. Quite specific understandable selfish interests also declare themselves, resulting from the privileges that the existing global economic-financial architecture provides for certain countries, for example.


Russia conceives itself as part of European civilization that has common Christian roots. This region’s experience offersmaterial that enables modeling future global processes. Thus, even the most perfunctory analysis suggests definitively that the Cold War termination did not solve the ways of social development problem. Rather, having removed extreme attitudes, it helped to approach its solution on a more realistic basis, especially given that the ideological considerations had used to distort the play of market forces, as well as the notion of democracy at every step.

The rigid Anglo-Saxon socioeconomic model is now again, as was the case during the 1920s, beginning to wobble. This time around, the structural breakdown between the real sector and financial system in the US makes itself felt. On the other hand, there is the socially oriented West European model, resulting from the evolution of European society during virtually the entire 20th century, containing the tragedy of two world wars, the Cold War and the USSR experiment. It was not the least role that the Soviet Union had in this process – it not only signified a “Soviet threat” that rallied the West, but also served as a stimulus for “socialization” of the economic development of the western part of Europe.

Therefore, as it proclaims the aim of creating a socially oriented economy, the new Russia draws upon our common European legacy. Herein is one more proof of Russia’s compatibility with the rest of Europe.

Attempts to bring the development of our continent into line with the Anglo-Saxon model coincided with the end of the Cold War. But one has the impression that Europe is unlikely to part with its own development model, which corresponds to its attitude towards the world and has a more solid economic and financial foundation beneath it. Rebalancing acts on both sides of the Atlantic are possible and, apparently, inevitable. The New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt comes to mind in this context; a policy that denoted a moment of convergence in America’s development.

It is probable that one of the determinant world trends in the foreseeable future will be a kind of synthesis of different models – notably as a process, not the end result. Accordingly, the multiformity of the modern world will remain in place, reflecting its more fundamental characteristic, that of cultural and civilizational diversity. One may also assume that the global “rules of the game” in these conditions, in order to be effective, should be freed of the “ideological load.”

A different, unifying, approach leads to interventionism – a strategy which is hardly realistic as its effectiveness can be ensured only in the conditions of a shift to global imperial building. Movement in this direction would trigger growth of tension in global and regional politics and would aggravate the unsettledness of practically the entire range of global problems. The present exacerbation of the global food crisis points to this, for example.

All of this certainly speaks in favor of pluralism across a broad spectrum of parameters for social development as the unalternative and, most importantly, nonconfrontational method of existence of the international community at this stage.

Whatever the concrete circumstances of what is called the “revalorization” of natural resources, this trend establishes conditions for movement forward along the road of equalizing development levels in the world today. The task is to create the modalities and mechanisms of effective use of reallocatable global financial resources for the purposes of universal development. Thus, sovereign wealth funds already participate in refinancing the US banking system.


International experts, including American, speak in favor of such analysis when they write about the “world turned upside down,” criticize the “weak-dollar” policy and so on. For example, Henry Kissinger in the pages of the International Herald Tribune (May 30, 2008) calls the International Monetary Fund as presently constituted an “anachronism” and even speaks of the necessity of restoring the moral component in economic and financial activities.

One cannot but agree with the Kissinger thesis that a gap has emerged between the global economic and political orders. And here let’s get a couple of things clear.

Firstly, there is no reasonable alternative to the global political architecture with reliance upon the United Nations Organization and the rule of international law. Let us not forget that the UN was established with focus on a multipolar international system even before the start of the Cold War. That is to say, its potential can be fully unfolded only now.

Secondly, the global economic and financial architecture was largely created by the West to suit its own needs. And now that we’re witnessing a shift of financial-economic power and influence towards the new fast-growing economies, such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, the inadequacy of the previous system to the new realities becomes all too obvious. In reality, an economic and financial basis is needed which would conform to the polycentricity of the contemporary world. The manageability of world development can’t be restored otherwise.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke of this at length in Berlin and at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. Reforming international institutions was one of the themes at the Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido, Japan. So the urgency of the issue evokes no doubt among our G8 partners, either. Russia is ready to participate constructively in this joint work.


As soon as these important issues are duly grasped, all the others, including the set of problems in relations within the Euro-Atlantic Region, are going to be tackled more easily.

In his day Fyodor Tyutchev wrote that “by the very fact of its existence Russia negates the future of the West.” We can refute Tyutchev only together, by building a common future for the entire Euro-Atlantic Region and the world as a whole, in which security and prosperity will be truly indivisible.

New things are always scary. At the same time they’re inevitable. And there is only one rational response to this challenge: accept this reality. When they are threatening us with the danger of “anarchy” in the modern world (which is very Russian-like, but done, as a rule, from the outside), they forget that any system can be self-regulatory. Effective, adequate institutions are needed for this purpose, and they’re going to be created.

I would like to say it loud and clear: Russia, as no other country, understands the painfulness of the changes occurring. No one can get away from them. Moreover, as experience shows, adaptation at the level of foreign policy can only result from serious changes within the states themselves. Therefore Russia has quite realistic expectations regarding when changes should be awaited in the foreign policy philosophy of its international partners.

In contemporary conditions it is hardly appropriate to use the terms of a “challenge” thrown down by some states to others. This only gives rise to an obsession of foreign policy strategy with virtual dangers. The interdependence brought on by globalization practically leaves nobody any stimuli to “throw down the challenge” to whomsoever. And Russia is the last one to need this: we’ve got enough on our plate just dealing with our own problems of which we are fairly well aware, while at the same time understanding the interests of our partners. Dangerous is another thing, notably – being uncooperative and holding aloof from the problems of a partner – all that which makes collective action to tackle common tasks impossible.

All countries and peoples have had enough national catastrophes and tragedies in their history. The longer is the history, the greater the number in it of all kinds of moments, positive as well as negative. I fully agree with Vladislav Inozemtsev in that “the Soviet Union and the United States, even in a standoff with each other, remained remarkably alike” (see his article “Post-American World: Dream of Laymen and Uneasy Reality,” published in the World Economy and International Relations journal, March 2008). Often our actions, which used to be taken in the name of asserting opposed ideals, were remarkably similar in the means involved and their practical consequences.

Alexis de Tocqueville predicted a common future for our countries. An interconnection has always existed between Russia and America. This interconnection also found reflection in the US gradually and in some respects even unwillingly replacing Russia in the European balance after 1917. That there is currently no need for Europe to have any external balancers, be it Russia or the US, is another matter. We are perfectly well aware of this – and hence favor equal relations in a triple format between Russia, the European Union and the US.

In the 20th century this interconnection was borne out by convergence episodes, not limited to the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt and allied relations within the Anti-Hitler Coalition. Thus, the election of John Kennedy as US President may be attributed to, among other things, the reaction of America to the upswing of the Soviet Union, not only technological and military-technical, but also spiritual, at the level of its entirely new attitude to the world, stemming from the Thaw and the completion of postwar reconstruction.

John Kennedy undertook a bold attempt to abandon the logic of militarization of foreign policy thinking, of whose dangers his predecessor had warned. Unfortunately, the pendulum of foreign policy philosophy swung toward politics based on instincts and ideological prejudices subsequently. Now everyone’s wondering when this pendulum will swing backwards, on which depends what kind of America the world will have to deal with.

Russian-US relations would have gained strongly if an atmosphere of mutual trust and mutual respect had been established in them. Although distinctive of the relationship between the presidents of both countries during the last eight years, it was not always manifest at the lower floors. It sounds paradoxical, but there was more mutual trust and respect in the Cold War period. Perhaps this was due to there having been less lecturing on how one should behave. There was awareness of the need – alongside the wish – to deal with truly significant issues for our two countries and the world as a whole.

We understand that the tasks facing America are not easy ones.

Among the positive tendencies we see that comprehension is beginning to prevail: first of all, they are the problems of America itself, including the necessity to accept “a world with a diversity of voices and viewpoints” (see Fareed Zakaria’s book The Post-American World [W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008] and his article “The Future of American Power” in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008). Intellectual rigidity will only restrain America’s inherent ability to adapt to changing realities. History “happens” to all nations and peoples and of Russia this can be said to a significantly greater extent than of any other country. But this teaches tolerance, without which empires do not survive and normal equal relations between states are impossible.

It is gratifying that in the course of the current presidential campaign in the United States voices resound ever more loudly in favor of preserving and developing the disarmament and arms control process. Such cooperation alone would be enough to ensure the stability of our bilateral relations until there appears a mutual readiness for their substantial modernization in line with the requirements of our time.


The question of the destinies of diverse European civilization presents itself in a new way. On the political level there is demand for equal interaction among its three autonomous, but related component parts. The confrontational paradigm of Cold War era relations within Europe is giving way to a cooperation paradigm. And this means tolerance towards heterodoxy, pluralist views and attitudes. Democracy is always historical and national by its nature.

The proposals of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, advanced in Berlin, rest on a sober analysis of the situation. The Cold War-vintage European architecture precludes overcoming the negative dynamics that are set by the inertia of past approaches and by the contradictions now piling up in European affairs. Only one thing remains: to look further than what we have; that is, try and create something uniting the whole Euro-Atlantic Region at the level of the principles by which we ought to be guided in our relations. It will be possible to move on afterwards. But without this clarity it will be difficult to build up the critical mass of trust needed to construct positive, forward-looking relations in this region.

That principles are important is evident if only from the circumstance that for the space of several years now, at the annual OSCE ministerial meetings, we have been unable to achieve consensus on reconfirmation by all of adherence to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. What other proof is required to show the ill health of the entire Euro-Atlantic politics?

There is a need for a positive process, including convening a pan-European summit, to fill the political vacuum that is forming in the Euro-Atlantic Region and to shape a positive agenda which we lack so badly at present. Over time we could make up our minds about which elements of European architecture are promising and which are not, what stands as a hindrance and what can be taken into the future with us. Why not insure ourselves, especially when much is still unclear?

This would not be a means to lean on any existing structures or organizations. It is about creating a new atmosphere of trust in the Euro-Atlantic Region which could help to look anew, in particular, at the relevance of arms control too. Rather than along bloc lines, let us develop it on a modern universal basis. Otherwise the legacy inherited by us from the previous era will only feed a sense of the lingering possibility of war in Europe.

It wouldn’t hurt us all to think and look around a bit – that’s what the “pause” we suggest is all about. But this means that the disputed projects should all be terminated, be it the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence, the plans to deploy elements of a US global missile defense system in Eastern Europe or NATO’s eastward expansion. Because any striving to complete at any cost by a specific date that which causes categorical non-acceptance by partners and threatens a collapse of the established relations will trigger a reaction. This vicious circle needs to be broken.

What is the alternative? A further accumulation of “electricity” in the atmosphere of Euro-Atlantic relations? Do things need to be messed up any further? Will it be good for everyone if we just merely watch detachedly how, for example, the European Union proves its postmodernism or NATO its capability in Afghanistan? Likewise, we would not want our partners to be left aloof from efforts to implement Russia’s modernization project.

Finally, we all need to step over ourselves and stop conducting the unnecessary talk about “veto power” outside the UN Security Council, about “spheres of influence” and the like. It is quite possible to dispense with all this since there are more vital things where we undoubtedly have common interests. Trust has to be built on, and skills must be honed for joint work on truly significant issues of a strategic nature. Then a lot of things will look different. Let life decide and put everything in its place. What really depends on us and calls for political decisions is this. We must stop sliding into the past, into an absurdity we will ourselves be ashamed of. And then also history won‘t forgive us. Is it not in our common interest to have “a coherent Europe,” all parts of which are united, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wroterecently, by “workable relations” (see her article “Rethinking the National Interest,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2008)?


Everybody has their own problems; everybody has something to be engaged in. The US electorate is going to have to make a choice. The European Union is living through the process of adaptation. In the EU countries, processes of ethno-religious self-determination are coming to a head, at the level of the indigenous population and in the communities of recent immigrants as well. The “wealthy” regions aspire towards their autonomous existence in order not to pay for the development of the “poor” regions within one and the same state. This is a serious test of strength for the EU commitment to the ideas of tolerance and solidarity.

Psychologically those can be understood who wish to leave everything the way it is, in order to die in the Europe or in the America in which they were born. But the swift changes do not allow any such luxury. They presuppose, inter alia, civilizational compatibility, tolerance not only in word but also in deed. And this will be hard to achieve in conditions when militant secularism acts from positions which differ little from state religion.

No less importantly, the time has come to tackle global problems to which the world never got around during the Cold War. There were other, ideological priorities then. If not now, then when will we fight global poverty, hunger and disease? The international community has not managed to achieve great progress so far.

We see nothing in our approach which would be contrary to the principles of rationalism, intrinsic to Europeans’ attitude to the world. Acting differently means to pile up problems upon problems and make the future of Europe and of the entire Euro-Atlantic Region hostage to hasty and rash decisions. This would be a huge waste of time, resulting in a multitude of lost opportunities for joint action. We do not hurry anybody; we only urge all nations to think together about what awaits us. But a breakthrough into our common future requires new, innovative approaches. The future belongs to them.


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