Article “World at a Crossroads and a System of International Relations for the Future” by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for “Russia in Global Politics” magazine, September 20, 2019
These days, the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly opens up. So does a new international “political season”.
The session begins at a highly symbolic historical moment. Next year we will celebrate two great and interconnected anniversaries – the 75th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic and Second World Wars, and the establishment of the UN. Reflecting on the spiritual and moral significance of these landmark events, one needs to bear in mind the epoch-making political meaning of the Victory that ended one of the most brutal wars in the history of mankind.
The defeat of fascism in 1945 had a fundamental significance for the further course of world history and created conditions for the establishment of a post-war world order. The UN Charter became its bearing frame and a key source of international law to this day. The UN-centric system still maintains stability and has a large reserve of safety. It actually acts as a safety net, guaranteeing peaceful development of mankind amid in many ways natural divergence of interests and rivalries among leading powers. The experience of ideology-free cooperation of states with different socioeconomic and political systems gained during the years of War is still highly relevant.
It is regrettable that these obvious truths are being deliberately hushed up or ignored by certain influential forces in the West. Moreover, some have intensified attempts to privatize the Victory, to expunge fr om memory the Soviet Union’s role in the defeat of Nazism, to condemn to oblivion the Red Army’s sacrifices for others’ liberation, to forget the many millions of Soviet civilians who died during the war, to scrub away the consequences of the ruinous policy of appeasing the aggressor. Fr om this perspective, it is easy to grasp the essence of the so-called equal approach to totalitarian regimes. Its purpose is not just to belittle the Soviet contribution to the Victory, but also to retrospectively strip our country of its history-assigned role as an architect and guarantor of the post-war world order, and label it a “revisionist power” that threatens the well-being of the so-called free world.
Interpreting the past in such manner also means that some of our partners see the main achievements of the post-war system of international relations in the establishment of a transatlantic link and the permanent implanting of the US military presence in Europe. This is definitely not at all the scenario the Allies were aiming at in establishing the United Nations.
The Soviet Union collapsed; the Berlin Wall, which had symbolically separated the two “camps,” fell; the irreconcilable ideological confrontation that defined contours of world politics in virtually all spheres and regions became a thing of the past – yet, these tectonic shifts, unfortunately, failed to lead to the triumph of a unifying agenda. Instead, all we could hear was triumphant claims about the “end of history” and establishment of the one and only global decision-making centre.
It is obvious today that attempts to establish a unipolar model have failed. The transformation of the world order has become irreversible. New major players wielding a sustainable economic base seek to increase their influence on regional and global processes; they have full reason to claim a greater role as key decision-makers. Demand is growing for a fairer and a more inclusive system. Relapses into supercilious neocolonial policies that some adopt to dictate their will to others are rejected by the absolute majority of members of the international community.
All this naturally causes palpable discomfort to those who for centuries have been accustomed to setting the patterns for global development through monopolistic advantages. The demand fr om the majority of states for a fairer system of international relations and for a real rather than declarative respect for the principles of the UN Charter comes up against attempts to preserve an order where a narrow group of countries and transnational corporations can benefit from the fruits of globalization. The West’s response to ongoing processes shows its true worldview setup. Its liberalism, democracy and human rights rhetoric goes hand in hand with the promotion of approaches based on inequality, injustice and selfishness and with the belief in its own exceptionalism.
By the way, “liberalism” the West positions itself to be seen as defending, focuses on individuals and their rights and freedoms. This begs the question: how does this correlate with the policy of sanctions, economic strangulation and overt military threats against a number of independent countries such as Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea or Syria? Sanctions directly strike at ordinary people and their well-being and violate their social and economic rights. How does the bombing of sovereign nations, the deliberate policy of destroying their statehood leading to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and condemning millions of Iraqis, Libyans, Syrians and representatives of other peoples to innumerable suffering add up to the imperative of protecting human rights? The reckless Arab Spring gamble destroyed the unique ethnic and religious mosaic in the Middle East and North Africa.
Speaking of Europe, the proponents of liberal concepts get along quite well with massive violations of the rights of the Russian-speaking population in a number of EU- and EU-neighboring countries. Those countries in violation of multilateral international conventions have adopted laws that violate the language and education rights of ethnic minorities.
What is “liberal” about visa denials and other sanctions imposed by the West on residents of Russia’s Crimea? They are punished for their democratic vote in favour of reunification with their historical homeland. Does this not contradict the basic right of the people to free self-determination, let alone the right of the citizens to freedom of movement enshrined in international conventions?
Liberalism in its healthy and undistorted understanding has traditionally been an important component of political thought world-wide and in Russia, too. However, the multiplicity of development models does not allow us to say that the Western “basket” of liberal values has no alternative. And, of course, these values cannot be imposed “on bayonets” – without taking into account the history of states and their cultural and political codes. The statistics of grief and destruction as a result of “liberal” aerial bombings are a clear indication of what this can lead to.
The West’s unwillingness to accept today's realities, when after centuries of economic, political and military domination it is losing the prerogative of being the only one to shape the global agenda, gave rise to the concept of a “rules-based order.” These “rules” are being invented and selectively combined depending on the fleeting needs of the people behind it, and the West persistently introduces this language into everyday usage. The concept is by no means abstract and is actively being implemented. Its purpose is to replace the universally agreed international legal instruments and mechanisms with narrow formats, wh ere alternative, non-consensual methods for resolving various international problems are developed in circumvention of a legitimate multilateral framework. In other words, the expectation is to usurp the decision-making process on key issues.
The intentions of those who initiated this “rules-based order” concept affect the exceptional powers of the UN Security Council. A recent example: when the United States and its allies failed to convince the Security Council to approve politicized decisions that accused, without any proof, the Syrian government of using prohibited poisonous substances, they began to promote the “rules” they needed through the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). By manipulating the existing procedures in flagrant violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, they managed (with the votes of a minority of the countries participating in this Convention) to license the OPCW Technical Secretariat in identifying those responsible for the use of chemical weapons, which was a direct intrusion in the prerogatives of the UN Security Council. One can also observe similar attempts to “privatize” the secretariats of international organisations in order to advance interests outside of the framework of universal intergovernmental mechanisms in such areas as biological non-proliferation, peacekeeping, prevention of doping in sports and others.
The initiatives to regulate journalism seeking to suppress media freedom in an arbitrary way, the interventionist ideology of “responsibility to protect”, which justifies violent “humanitarian interventions” without UN Security Council approval under the pretext of an imminent threat to the safety of civilians are part of the same policy.
Separately, attention should be paid to the controversial concept of “countering violent extremism”, which lays the blame for the dissemination of radical ideologies and expansion of the social base of terrorism on political regimes that the West has proclaimed undemocratic, illiberal or authoritarian. This concept provides for direct outreach to civil society over the head of legitimate governments. Obviously, the true goal is to withdraw counterterrorism efforts from beneath the UN umbrella and to obtain a tool of interference in the internal affairs of states.
The introduction of such new concepts is a dangerous phenomenon of revisionism, which rejects the principles of international law embodied in the UN Charter and paves the way back to the times of confrontation and antagonism. It is for a reason that the West is openly discussing a new divide between “the rules-based liberal order” and “authoritarian powers.”
Revisionism clearly manifests itself in the area of strategic stability. The US torpedoing first the ABM Treaty and now the INF Treaty (a decision that enjoys unanimous NATO members’ support) have generated risks of dismantling the entire architecture of nuclear arms control agreements. The prospects of the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (The New START) are vague – because the US has not given a clear answer to the Russian proposal to agree to extend the New START beyond its expiry date in February 2021.
Now we are witnessing alarming signs that a media campaign in the United States is being launched to lay the groundwork for abandoning the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (which has not been ratified by the United States). This calls into question the future of this treaty, which is vital for international peace and security. Washington has embarked up on the implementation of its plans to deploy weapons in outer space, rejecting proposals to agree on a universal moratorium on such activities.
There is one more example of introducing revisionist “rules”: the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme, a multilateral agreement approved by the UN Security Council that is of key importance for the nuclear non-proliferation.
Yet another example is Washington’s open refusal to implement unanimous UN Security Council resolutions on the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the economic field the “rules” consist of protectionist barriers, sanctions, abuse of the status of the US dollar as the principle mean of payment, ensuring competitive advantages by non-market methods, and extraterritorial use of US laws, even towards the United States’ closest allies.
At the same time, our American colleagues are persistently trying to mobilise all of their foreign partners to contain Russia and China. Simultaneously they do not conceal their wish to sow discord between Moscow and Beijing and undermine multilateral alliances and regional integration projects in Eurasia and Asia-Pacific that are operating outside of the US oversight. Pressure is exerted on those countries that do not play by the rules imposed on them and dare make the “wrong choice” of cooperating with US “adversaries”.
So, what do we have as a result? In politics, erosion of the international legal basis, growth of instability and unsustainability, chaotic fragmentation of the global landscape and deepening mistrust between those involved in the international life. In the area of security, blurring of the dividing line between military and non-military means of achieving foreign policy goals, militarisation of international relations, increased reliance on nuclear weapons in US security doctrines, lowering the threshold for the use of such armaments, the emergence of new hotbeds of armed conflicts, the persistence of the global terrorist threat, and militarisation of the cyberspace. In the world economy, increased volatility, tougher competition for markets, energy resources and their supply routes, trade wars and undermining the multilateral trade system. We can add a surge of migration and deepening of ethnic and religious strife. Do we need such a “rules-based” world order?
Against this background, attempts by Western liberal ideologues to portray Russia as a “revisionist force” are simply absurd. We were among the first to draw attention to the transformation of the global political and economic systems that cannot remain static due to the objective march of history. It would be appropriate to mention here that the concept of multipolarity in international relations that accurately reflects emerging economic and geopolitical realities was formulated two decades ago by the outstanding Russian statesman Yevgeny Primakov. His intellectual legacy remains relevant now as we mark the 90th anniversary of his birth.
As is evident from the experience of recent years, using unilateral tools to address global problems is doomed to failure. The West-promoted “order” does not meet the needs of humankind’s harmonious development. This “order” is non-inclusive, aims to revise the key international legal mechanisms, rejects the principle of collective action in the relations between states, and by definition cannot generate solutions to global problems that would be viable and stable in the long term rather than seek a propaganda effect within an electoral cycle in this or that country.
What is being proposed by Russia? First of all, it is necessary to keep abreast of the times and recognise the obvious: the emergence of a polycentric world architecture is an irreversible process, no matter how hard anyone tries to artificially hold it back (let alone send it in reverse). Most countries don’t want to be held hostage to someone else’s geopolitical calculations and are determined to conduct nationally oriented domestic and foreign policies. It is in common interest to ensure that multipolarity is not based on a stark balance of power like it was at the earlier stages of human history (for example, in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century), but rather bears a just, democratic and unifying nature, takes into account the approaches and concerns of all those taking part in the international relations without an exception, and ensures stable and secure future.
There are some people in the West who often speculate that policentricity inevitably leads to more chaos and confrontation because the “centres of power” will fail to come to terms among themselves and take responsible decisions. But, firstly, why not try? What if it works? For this, all that is necessary is to start talks on the understanding that the parties should seek a balance of interests. Attempts to invent ones’ own “rules” and impose them on all others as the absolute truth should be stopped. From now on, all parties should strictly comply with the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, starting with the respect for the sovereign equality of states regardless of their size, system of government or development model. Paradoxically, countries that portray themselves as paragons of democracy actually care about it only as they demand from other countries to “put their house in order” on a West-inspired pattern. But as soon as the need arises for democracy in interstate relations, they immediately evade honest talk or attempt to interpret international legal norms at their own discretion.
No doubt, life does not stand still. While taking good care of the post-WWII system of international relations that relies on the United Nations, it is also necessary to cautiously though gradually adjust it to the realities of the current geopolitical landscape. This is completely relevant to the UN Security Council, wh ere judging by today’s standards the West is unfairly overrepresented. We are confident that reforming the Security Council shall take into account interests of the Asian, the African and the Latin American nations whilst any such design must rest upon the principle of the broadest consensus among the UN member states. The same approach should apply to refining the world trade system, wh ere special attention should be paid to harmonizing the integration projects in various regions.
We should use to the fullest the potential of the G20, an ambitious, all-encompassing global governance body that represents the interests of all key players and takes unanimous decisions. Other associations are playing a growing role as well, alliances projecting the spirit of a true and democratical multipolarity and based on voluntary participation, consensus, values of equality and sound pragmatism, and refraining from confrontation and bloc approaches. These include BRICS and the SCO, which our country is an active member of and which Russia will chair in 2020.
It is evident that without collective effort and without unbiased partnership under the central coordinating role of the UN it is untenable to curb confrontational tendencies, build up trust and cope with common threats and challenges. It is high time to come to terms on uniform interpretation of the principles and norms of international law rather than trying to follow the old saying that “might goes before right”. It is more difficult to broker deals than to put forward demands. But patiently negotiated trade-offs will be a much more reliable vehicle for predictable handling of international affairs. Such approach is badly needed to launch substantive talks on the terms and conditions of a reliable and just system of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia. This objective has been declared multiple times at the top level in the OSCE documents. It is necessary to move from words to deeds. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) have repeatedly expressed their readiness to contribute to such efforts.
It is important to increase our assistance to the peaceful resolution of numerous conflicts be it in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America or the post-Soviet space. The main point is to live up to the earlier arrangements rather than to inventing pretexts for refusing to adhere to the assumed obligations.
As of today, it is especially relevant to counter religious and ethnic intolerance. We urge all the nations to work together to prepare for the World Conference on Interfaith and Inter-Ethnic Dialogue that will be held in Russia in May 2022 under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the UN. The OSCE that has formulated a principled position condemning anti-Semitism should act with equal resolve toward Christianophobia and Islamophobia.
Our unconditional priority is to continue providing assistance to the unhindered formation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership, a broad integration contour stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific that involves the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and all other countries of the Eurasian continent, including the EU countries. It would be unwise to contain the unifying processes or, worse still, to put up fences. It would be a mistake to reject the obvious strategic advantages of the common Eurasian region in an increasingly competitive world.
Consistent movement towards this constructive goal will allow us not only to keep up the dynamic development of the national economies and to remove obstacles to the movement of goods, capital, labour and services, but it will also create a solid foundation of security and stability throughout the vast region from Lisbon to Jakarta.
Will the multipolar world continue to shape up through cooperation and the harmonisation of our interests or through confrontation and rivalry? This depends on all of us. Russia will continue to promote a positive and unifying agenda aimed at removing the old dividing lines and preventing the appearance of new ones. Russia has advanced initiatives to prevent an arms race in outer space, establish efficient mechanisms for combating terrorism, including chemical and biological terrorism, and to agree upon practical measures to prevent the use of cyberspace for undermining national security or for other criminal purposes.
Our proposals to launch a serious discussion on all aspects of strategic stability in the world of today are still on the table.There have been ideas floated recently to modify the agenda and renew the terms. The proposed subjects for discussion vary between “strategic rivalry” and “multilateral deterrence.” Terminology is negotiable, but it is not terms but the essence that really matters. It is now much more important to start a strategic dialogue on the existing threats and risks and to seek consensus on a commonly acceptable agenda. As Andrey Gromyko, yet another outstanding statesman from my country whose 110th birth anniversary we mark this year, said wisely: “Better to have ten years of negotiations than one day of war.”