The military power that is bringing Russia back to the international arena needs to be matched by the power of a diversified economy, and strongly associated with the political willingness to work jointly with others. If not, “achievements” on the military and political fronts in Syria and elsewhere will not be sustainable.
One of the most important characteristics of the 21st century is the rise of Russia with all relative responsibilities. Its rise is clearly manifested in the Syrian conflict and in the greater Middle East. There is no doubt now that no settlement in Syria can happen without the blessing, support and protection of Russia. This makes Russia responsible for the humanitarian aspects of the conflict; it also makes it responsible and accountable for the democratic future of Syria, as well as for the peaceful future of the entire region.
But regardless of its effectiveness, and not withstanding the devastating effects on the humanitarian situation, military power is not the answer. In fact, just as the Americans discovered that military power has its limitations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia will also discover that military power alone has limitations in Syria and the rest of the region. Russia will come to realize that the only way forward is enhancing and building sustainable peace based on inclusive socioeconomic development.
Today’s dilemma is that the rise of Russia is not reinforced by a diverse Russian economy capable of ensuring inclusive sustainable development in Syria or other parts of the world. The military power that is bringing Russia back to the international arena needs to be matched by the power of a diversified economy, and strongly associated with the political willingness to work jointly with others. If not, “achievements” on the military and political fronts in Syria and elsewhere will not be sustainable, and the needs for rebuilding would defeat such “achievements” on the ground.
Thus, it is increasingly evident that only international cooperation can help Russia translate its new position into sustainable realities for the Middle East. The damage in Syria has reached such a level that is beyond the capacity and ability of Russia or the United States, or any other party to rebuild it alone. If the international community does not rebuild Syria on an inclusive political economy, we are only planting the seeds for the next war.
To fulfill the rise of Russia, international cooperation within a reformed United Nations system is a must. We know for sure that the unipolar system of the post-Cold War is over and that we are operating today in an emerging multipolar system. The formation of this multipolar system should not deceive us into thinking that we could eventually move into another unipolar system led by another superpower. Multi-polarity means means working with partners.
In 2016, international relations are more associated with electricity grids, internet networks, and gas and oil pipelines, than with purely political borders. Global value chains and logistics networks are as important in international relations today, as balance of powers based on the Westphalian concept of sovereignty. For Russia to sustain a new leadership role in global affairs, connectedness is a quintessential strategy. Again, the importance of interdependence and cooperation cannot be stressed enough.
It is therefore imperative to move from the confrontational tone in international relations towards a real multipolar system, characterized by interdependency and based on human rights in open societies. Russia does not have a colonial past with the Middle East. This is a great advantage that should not be wasted.
The people of the Middle East have always looked for a balanced international structure which would guarantee a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and offer a sustainable development in their countries. I still believe that those goals are worthy for a new Russian policy, but I also believe that a new Russian policy can only succeed with new tools based on engagement with the international community. This is the only way forward. If Russia moves in that direction, it will have receptive ears in the region and beyond, despite the terrible images on television today.
Dr. Abdallah Al Dardari is former Deputy Prime Minister of Syria (2005–2011), Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.