Russia’s strategy in Eurasia in the 21st century

Today the economic, political and military structure of the system of international relations is undergoing fundamental changes. Global domination by the West, which has lasted several centuries, is coming to an end.
Though the process of globalization has not stopped, other regions are coming to play an increasing role, regions that only recently were objects, not subjects, of world policy.

If before the center of the world economy was in Europe, and then a new pole emerged in North America, now the center of economic might lies in Asia.

The globalizing world of the 21st century is now balanced on the backs of three whales. Europe’s share in the Gross Domestic Product is about 20%, North America’s is roughly 25%, while Asia’s share is over 35% and rising fast.

The current financial crisis has accelerated the redistribution of economic might that was already underway. The United States is losing its role as the main locomotive of the global economy. Its political elite still hasn’t had the resolve to put through the painful structural reforms necessary to normalize the economy. The growth of the GDP is due mainly to China and India which, right up until the industrial revolution, were the world’s largest economies.

Today the law of uneven development is clearly favoring the East, not the West. More than a third of world expenditures on Research & Development now come from Asia, in two decades or so Asian countries will have outpaced the United States and the European Union in this respect.

Economic shifts inevitably affect political influence and military might. However, existing global institutions created in the 20th century do not reflect the new realities. This could lead to a destabilization of the international system, to a worsening of tensions, and an increase in the conflict potential between “old” and “new” centers of power.

In Asia there are a number of sources of tension as it is. An “arc of instability” exists on the continent; it includes zones of military conflicts prompted by internal and external factors. It is here that nuclear arms and ballistic missiles are proliferating.

The United States, with the help of NATO and other allies, is trying to play the role of “policeman” in the Eastern hemisphere. This strategy seems doomed to fail, while provoking an arms race in Asia. In addition to protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, new armed conflicts may soon crop up (Iran, North Korea).

For the multipolar world of the 21st century a new global security system is essential, one that reflects the new distribution of power in the international arena. This system must combine the imperatives of globalization with the tendencies of regionalization. In the modern world, along with sovereign states, regional associations are playing an increasing role. These associations have different forms and functions, but all are turning into real subjects of international relations.

For Russia, whose vital interests are inseparably tied to Europe and Asia, a Eurasian strategy has a special meaning. This strategy should overcome Russia’s alienation from integrational processes in Europe and East Asia, while making the country a key link in the Eurasian sphere.

Such a strategy should avert a fragmentation of the modern world by connecting two of the three main centers of the global economy. Both Europe and East Asia maintain tight financial ties with the United States, but to a lesser degree with each other. A Eurasian strategy would provide stability to the world economy’s main “triangle”, with Russia acting as an “economic bridge” between the East and the West. Our country possesses enormous transport, communications and energy potential for the creation of a new Silk Road. High-speed trains, turbo-conductors, main air routes and the Northern sea route will make transit through the Indian Ocean noncompetitive.

A Eurasian strategy will also allow Russia to form equal relations with neighboring countries in the West and the East, ones which currently have larger populations, GDPs and militaries. Such a strategy should make those countries partners interested in Russia’s successful development, on which their own well-being will depend to some degree.

Today Russia participates in any number of multilateral institutions and forums which represent both European and Asian states. These include the OSCE, CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), EEC (Eurasian Economic Community), CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), SVMDA (Conference on Interaction and Trust Measures in Asia) and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). They differ in terms of composition, functions and effectiveness.

In my view ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting), a forum for state leaders in Europe and Asia, has serious potential. ASEM accounts for more than half of the world’s GDP and 60% of world trade. Today it comprises 45 countries, including all members of the European Union and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), as well as China, Japan and India. This year Russia and Australia are slated to join ASEM. ASEM’s biannual summits focus on trade and economic ties. But in recent years the agenda has expanded to include security matters and global challenges. Moscow may now become one of the leaders of that forum.

It is hard to predict what the institutional infrastructure of Eurasia will look like several decades from now. But the need to create such an infrastructure is clear. Otherwise multipolar chaos may reign in a Eurasia fraught with the use of nuclear weapons. For Russia, strategic isolation is unacceptable. We must have reliable partners in Europe and Asia who take into consideration our legitimate interests.

Unfortunately, at the government level, there is no strategy integrating European and Asian policy. I think we underestimated the approach of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, which for years has shown the need to create a Eurasian union. Surrounded by gigantic neighbors it is understandable that Kazakhstan would strive for integration. Nazarbayev’s conception is based on “voluntary integration with equal rights, joint political and economic development of post-Soviet states, and the common promotion of CIS countries to strong positions in a global world”. In my view, this allows one to arrive at the critical mass necessary for Russia, Kazakhstan and other members of a Eurasian union to successfully defend their interests in interactions with other key players in the Eurasian sphere. The EEC customs union (including Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) is a first step in that direction.

It is important to clearly define Moscow’s objective interests and to propose parameters for a joint position that are acceptable to Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. One should recall that when NAFTA was created the United States made considered concessions to its neighbors as did Germany when the European Union was created. Russia should think in terms of its long-term interests, not short-term profits.

I hope that we will finally shift from declarations of good intentions to an active strategy of adaptation to the new multipolar world, one that considers the economic, political and military realities of the 21st century.

Sergei Rogov is director of the USA and Canada, Institute and a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences

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