Beyond liberal order – a new era of great power conflict?
A little over two weeks ago we all witnessed the leaders of our countries taking part in the events in Paris commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It gave us an opportunity to recall what people in Europe and across the world had been hoping for a century ago, in November 1918. A wish that such a terrible war would never be repeated was not their only aspiration. They were also looking forward to seeing in place of the four powerful empires – as you may remember, the end of the First World War also marked their fall, a “new world”, an era of universal prosperity and well-being would come.
Meanwhile, we know from the course of history that followed, this was not to happen. Moreover, all historians agree that it was exactly 100 years ago that the seeds were sowed of a downslide to an even more terrible and horrifying Second World War. And nothing came out of the “new world”, symbolised by the League of Nations. Neither did the events that unfolded in the same logic after the end of the Second World War – a split of Europe and the world into two opposing camps – become a miracle solution to prevent mutual hostility and new conflicts.
Nevertheless, faith in the liberal world order still dominates in many European countries. And this same faith was the basis for considering the end of the Cold War as the beginning of universal prosperity and well-being – hence, a third attempt in a hundred years. It was from the early 1990s that portraying the world order based on dogmas of liberalism started being presented as the only right philosophy giving answers to all questions. Such an approach is very similar to a famous phrase by Vladimir Lenin that evolved into one of the most favoured formulas of communism: “The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true”. In the same manner proponents of forced and sometimes belligerent liberalism are trying to persuade themselves and all others that it is the mainstream course of development of humanity.
I won’t go into detailed description of the most radical manifestations of this teaching. You are surely acquainted with the idea of “the end of history”, expressed in particularly eloquent terms by Francis Fukuyama. I would like to note something else. A quite natural and generally inevitable crisis of this dogmatic doctrine that we are all witnessing today opens up the danger of a new era of conflict between the great powers, the same way as decades ago. An unwanted question arises: has mankind failed to learn anything throughout a hundred years? Though I do not want to adopt a pessimistic approach in this regard. I believe that the crisis of the liberal order only reflects the fact that it is imperfect and even inadequate.
However, this crisis constitutes a backdrop for some events that cannot but raise concern. I think that attempts to break up the current system of arms control and strategic security must become quite an alarming message to all. JCPOA, zipping apart at the seams, does not add to restoring calm either. Unilateral actions devaluing collective agreements are becoming a habit. The potential of force, in its different aspects, including in economic and information dimensions, is being instrumentalised.
Hence, it is not surprising that the European Union, initially created as a trade and economic integration entity, traditionally focused on “soft power”, has notably intensified lately its efforts to develop military and political components of its foreign policy instruments. Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) aimed at securing strategic autonomy of EU member states and establishing a “military Schengen” has been developing for two years already, and recently leaders of major European countries started talking about creating a single “European army”. Meanwhile, Europeans keep repeating and writing down in EU documents a mantra of “internationally recognised rules and norms”, thus substituting references to international law. At the same time, authors of this innovation can hardly explain what the difference between the law and the above-mentioned “rules and norms” is and who and when recognised them.
Why are events unfolding this way today? I can cite several examples when something in the lives of our European partners could have followed a different path, but, unfortunately, the opportunities made available to them were missed. Through almost three decades that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia did a lot to build an architecture of equal and indivisible security in Europe. We agreed to significantly cut our military assets along our Western borders, consistently supported strengthening of pan-European institutions, first of all the OSCE, and harmonising legal framework in the field of European security. Experts are aware of a draft Treaty on European Security we elaborated and forwarded to all our foreign partners back in 2009. In brief, it suggested a legal obligation providing for no state or international organisation in the Euro-Atlantic area being able to enhance its security at the expense of security of other countries and organisations.
It may seem that our approach, together with traumatic experience of two world wars should have convinced Europeans that there is no alternative to joining efforts in building a healthy single system of security on our shared continent. But that was not the case at all.
Instead of practical cooperation with Russia based on combating common challenges and threats NATO started its intensive enlargement to the East, building up its military presence and infrastructure along Russian borders. I have to state with regret that the process of establishing mechanisms of EU-NATO cooperation is conducted today under the slogan of countering “hybrid threats” of allegedly Russian origin.
Another example. Only recently there were attempts to persuade us that the EU “Eastern Partnership” project is not aimed against Russian interests. However, for four years already we have been witnessing quite a sorrow picture in Ukraine that once was presented with an artificial, albeit a harsh choice: either to be with the West or to be with Russia. Today there are attempts to make certain countries of the CIS area and the Western Balkans face a similar choice. Aspirations of Balkan countries to join the EU have never been an issue for us. They are in their own right. We proceed from the assumption that the Balkans should not be an area of confrontation, but rather a platform for establishing mutually beneficial cooperation that would primarily benefit the region.
Generally speaking, instead of explicitly or implicitly trying to teach other countries democracy one could well concentrate on more global and quite beneficial medium- and long-term goals. I am absolutely convinced that in today’s dynamic, highly competitive and quite dangerous world Russia and the European Union, naturally complementing each other, have no plausible alternative to cooperating and uniting their potentials. This is the reason why we are not taking off the agenda the idea of building a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Within this context there is a relevant topical issue of “integrating integrations”, conjugating European and Eurasian integration processes that may start with establishing systemic contacts between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). I admit that the European Union has already come through a kind of intellectual evolution in this regard – from totally rejecting Eurasian integration to showing curiosity and studying it thoroughly. However, ideological blinders that EU countries chose to wear, unfortunately, hinder the rapprochement process, making it quite difficult to see prospects of not only maintaining but also strengthening the position of Europe in a changing and increasingly globalising world.
Even in spite of many unfair actions taken against Russia – first and foremost I mean an anti-Russian propaganda campaign that has already reached schizophrenic proportions – our country is ready for honest, mutually respectful work with everybody who genuinely believes in a coordinated multilateral policy based on common interests, international law, common peaceful future and that very same prosperity for all mankind.
Attempts to artificially exclude or squeeze out some countries to the edge of the field, to solve all the issues within a narrow group of states are a priori counterproductive and even detrimental in the long run to their initiators. I will come back for a moment to insightful events of the past. Following the war of 1853-1856 marking the final dissolution of the “Vienna System” in Europe Russia yielded in the Crimean campaign and was edged out, as it seemed to the winners, to the margins of European politics. We then “concentrated”, in the words of Chancellor Alexander Gorchakov, and overcame these negative repercussions of military loss in quite a short time, but European balance without Russia was seriously disrupted, marking the birth of destructive trends on the continent that ultimately resulted in the First World War.
The future is being shaped today, and we shape it by our aspirations, plans and, primarily, everyday actions aimed at their implementation. The course, either towards confrontation or towards cooperation, is also a choice we make ourselves. And I think the experience of the last hundred years gives us ground for some optimism. Even within free competition of ideas and foreign policy concepts Europeans – living in the smallest part of the world with a permanently shrinking share in the globalising world economy, as EU leaders acknowledge – will manage to preserve what it has always been famous for. I mean their ability to bridge differences in a peaceful way and cooperate on the basis of taking each other’s legitimate interests into account. And in order to accomplish this historic mission Europe should not limit itself to blocs and dogmas of the liberal world order, but rather think in categories not smaller than “from Lisbon to Vladivostok” and common Eurasian economic and humanitarian space. In this case prosperity of all mankind will seem a much more attainable goal.