Center for Strategic Decision Research


Is a New International Security System Required?

Dr. Vladimir Baranovsky
Deputy Director, Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO),
Russian Academy of Sciences


I have never been in the diplomatic corps and what I could say is by no means representative of the government's position. But this situation could give a speaker some advantages and a wider range of intellectual maneuvers. People who are actual politicians face numerous constraints, even when looking for innovative solutions. People from academia, like myself, could be more irresponsible. They have another burden, however, which is the challenge of intellectual integrity. This does not necessarily mean that academics are more successful than politicians in developing a coherent vision of the world. On the contrary-they often make this vision even more contradictory. But perhaps that is precisely their very function: to remind all of us that the world is more complicated than we tend to believe, that there are no easy solutions for difficult problems, and that the price for a suggested solution could be higher than the positive dividends we expect. This is my first message. I have three more messages. 


One message is addressed to all those who announced enthusiastically one and a half years ago that the dramatic events of September 11, 2001 heralded the beginning of a new era in international relations. I am not underestimating the importance of fighting international terrorism. Moreover, what has happened after September 11 is extremely important. We have developed a unique international coalition against Al-Qaeda and those who supported it. We have promoted an impressive rapprochement between Russia and the United States, between Russia and the West, which gave us a chance to put aside disagreements over issues previously perceived as stumbling blocks but viewed as marginal and insignificant today. We have engaged in cooperation at the level of special services, which in itself is a very significant indicator of a new quality of relationship. And we have other reasons to expect that this issue will continue to operate as a factor promoting joint efforts and cooperation. 

But having said this, I would warn against excessive interpretation of this antiterrorist-related agenda. First, the very fact of presenting this agenda so widely and apologetically may generate concerns that there will be more words than deeds, that propaganda will prevail over the real substance. There is a danger that this issue will be discredited and that we will be less efficient in fighting terrorism if we speak so much about it and if we see it everywhere. Second, there are suspicions that the anti-terrorist rhetoric could be accompanied by, or even cynically used for, very concrete plans that have nothing to do with the struggle against terrorism itself. Third, there are concerns that this might divert our attention from other issues-perhaps not less important and even more challenging. Furthermore, terrorism could become a label inviting a simplified interpretation of some of the problems that deserve a more sophisticated approach rather than a resolute determination to do away with terrorists. 

I believe that the biggest issue the international community faces is not terrorism. It is organizing (or, rather, reorganizing) the international system and the rules that define its functioning. It is the role of major actors, including the one that has an exceptional position in terms of its economic, political, and military might. It is the relationship between the center of the international system and its periphery. It is the availability-and the acceptability-of tools that could be used in the international arena. 

In this regard, what Ambassador Vershbow told us is very important: the task we face right now is perhaps more difficult than the task we faced in 1945. Indeed, the bipolar system-dangerous but simplistic, well structured and predictable-is now being replaced by something more complicated and volatile, where everything is being questioned, and where the notion of security itself becomes a matter of uncertainty. 


My second message is addressed to my Russian colleagues who participate in the foreign and security policy debate. Many of them face a hard political and intellectual challenge because of the new "great lines" of Putin's foreign policy. Indeed, these lines do not fit very well with the approaches that were partly inherited from Soviet times and partly developed in the 90's. We still have bouts of nostalgia about the past. We feel uncomfortable when our political ambitions for our country cannot be supported by its reduced resources. We still suffer from  inertia of confrontational thinking, inertia of suspicions and traditional phobia, and inertia of irritation with respect to those who have abandoned us as allies or who have been more successful. We often feel offended or treated without due respect instead of just defining rationally our own interests and capabilities-and understanding other countries' motives. 

Paradoxically, this runs in parallel with another syndrome-in which the challenges of domestic developments are presented as strong factors that prevent (or should prevent) Russia from getting involved in anything that takes place beyond its borders. This mentality has clear isolationist connotations and  tends to promote a political and intellectual temptation to refrain from assuming responsibilities in the international arena. This seems to be a misleading vector for Russia's policy. It is a big country, it has a unique geopolitical position, and it has an interest, a possibility, and an obligation to play a meaningful international role. If Russia were to turn inwards, it would both undermine its own prospects and damage international security. 


My third message is addressed to our American colleagues. I believe that the United States is facing a very serious challenge, one that is commensurate with its objective position in the world. Indeed, according to many indicators, U.S. predominance will continue for years to come. Economically, politically, and militarily, the United States will remain a major power and its biggest challenge will arise from the notion of "responsible leadership." 

To be a responsible leader, one has to be supported by the other international actors. We all know that there have been some problems in this regard. In Iraq, for instance, the effect of the impressive military victory was undermined by the impressive lack of solidarity on the part of the closest allies of the United States, not to mention its partners (including Russia). 

In a broader sense, any leadership status is fraught with negative attitudes on the part of the other actors. Today, however, too many suspect the United States of hegemonic aspirations; too many blame it for unilateralism, too many believe that its policy disregards the opinion and interests of other nations. Even if such allegations are often unfair or exaggerated, they do undermine U.S. leadership, its quality, and its effectiveness. Changing this image is the responsibility of the United States itself. Leadership has to be convincing rather than imposing, consolidating rather than antagonizing, and it has to offer various choices instead of insisting on a black and white vision. It has to produce friends and cooperative partners rather than enemies. I believe that Americans have to consider these issues very seriously. The image of the country and its own security as well are at stake. 

All my messages have one common motive-the desire to promote more effective and more sustainable global security. I am sure that our countries' joints efforts are essential in this regard. And I am hopeful that our discussions will contribute to a better understanding of both the challenges that we are facing and the opportunities that we should exploit. 


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