Session 1. The Conflict Between Differing Geopolitical Worldviews

17.10.2017

On Tuesday, October 17, the first session of the 14th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Club was held, on the conflict of geopolitical worldviews. Participants shared their views of the modern world order and made suggestions as to what kind of world order could come to replace it.

All panelists agreed that the global system is unstable, but their assessments of the dangers of this situation differed considerably. The most pessimistic view was presented by Sergey Karaganov, Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and World Politics of the Higher School of Economics, Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. In his opinion, we are experiencing a new Cold War, which is much more dangerous than the one in the twentieth century. The main goal today is to avoid a real big war, the probability of which is higher than ever.

According to Karaganov, the modern global environment is characterized by the destruction of a number of international orders. The liberal economic order, established in the West after 1945, and spread to the entire world after 1990 is collapsing. The liberal world order, which in reality was the unrestricted hegemony of the West, is collapsing. The bipolar confrontation that some are trying to continue in Europe and create along the eastern perimeter of China is disappearing. The Atlantic world order is blurring, as the United States no longer needs Europe as much. The regional order of the Greater Middle East, created by the former colonial powers and the United States, is disintegrating. The future of the European sub-world order, which could not be extended to the whole continent, is unclear.

The world is becoming rougher, Karaganov said. The destruction of the world order moves international relations to their basic level, the military-political. The new system, he said, will be based on a new military balance, with at least twelve, possibly more nuclear states. This is a dangerous configuration, but as it seems, it is the only one capable of preventing a big war.

Theo Sommer, a columnist for the German newspaper Die Zeit, expressed concerns about the collapse of the old international system. According to him, the international system is disorganized; all leading powers and their groupings are experiencing a transitional period. The world is again split along ideological lines. This time, the fault line passed between countries that share a liberal Western order based on the values ​​of the free market, personal rights and minority rights, freedom of the press, and countries rejecting Western norms, relying on their potential to improve their well-being while maintaining authoritarian political control. Nevertheless, both face the same challenges, be it aging populations, urbanization or climate change. They need not lead an ideological struggle, but jointly solve common problems, Sommer said.

Sommer discussed in detail the current state of relations between Russia and the West. He recalled that after the end of the Cold War, both in the West and in Russia, people believed that Russia would join the Western system, but eventually alienation began, culminating in the events of 2014 in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. According to Sommer, this alienation can be overcome. To do this, we must manage confrontation, prevent escalation, preserve what remains of cooperation and build trust. It is necessary to produce the conditions for a "grand bargain" between Russia and the West, or at least between the EU and Russia.

The West must recognize that Russia was, is and will be a great power with legitimate interests, Sommer said. In turn, the Kremlin must recognize the inviolability of the borders of its western neighbors and take into account their concerns. The way to detente is the compartmentalization of relations and strategic patience, the German expert believes.

Fu Ying, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress, pointed out in her speech that the geopolitical paradigm was insufficient to explain the changes taking place in the modern global system. The main feature of the modern world is the increasing freedom of movement of goods, capital and labor, "the world has become flat." With the change in the geopolitical configuration, the "center-periphery" model is no longer relevant: we all live in the same economic space. Contrary to the principles of classical geopolitics, China was able to combine the features of a continental and a maritime power, becoming a "country-knot" of world trade. It successfully attracts capital and technology from the developed world and supplies it with a wide range of industrial products.

In this context, according to Fu Ying, there is an obvious need for a global governance system and a global security system that is sufficient for the existing global economic system. She called the threat of nuclear proliferation the largest security challenge.

Nabil Fahmy, the former Egyptian Foreign Minister and Dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy of the American University in Cairo, also spoke about the destruction of the geopolitical paradigm and the weakening of the world order. According to him, the old world order was based on the outcome of the Second World War, the recognition of the leading role of nation-states and the contraposition of developed countries with developing ones. In the modern world, the significance of each of these factors is increasingly blurred. The current world order is based on the balance of power, Fahmy said. This will continue, but the importance of a balance of interests will increase.

The theses of William Wohlforth, Professor of Government at Dartmouth College (United States), contrasted with the speeches of session participants from Russia, Western Europe, the Middle East and China. According to Wohlforth, the existing world order is quite stable. Referring to the topic of the Valdai Club session, he noted that it one should not wait for the emergence of a new order from the current conflicts.

Wohlforth explained this for three reasons. First, all world orders, according to him, are born after major wars, whether the Thirty Years, the Napoleonic Wars, the First or Second World War. The current situation is not suitable for such a definition. Second, there are fewer wars in the world than in other historical periods, including the Cold War between the USSR and the US, and the possibility of a major war is precluded by the nuclear status of leading powers. Third, the violation of sovereignty is, he said, a constant in international politics. Wohlforth cited data from studies in which, from 1945 to 2000, the United States or the USSR/Russia regularly tried to influence elections in other countries: every ninth election in the world was conducted under the influence of one major power or another. In this respect, the current situation, in which accusations of interference in the internal affairs of other countries are heard, are nothing new. Moreover, such hypocrisy is the norm of international relations, and the stronger the power, the more hypocrisy it allows itself, he noted.

Experts discussed the future of Europe in different contexts: according to some participants, Europe will come out of the current crisis more influential in the near future, others believe that Europe (and the EU) has finally lost the role of the global political and economic center of power.

It is noteworthy that during discussions no mention was made of a unipolar system, which can be seen as an affirmation of its final departure into the past. The nature of the emerging new configuration caused the greatest controversy: how much the national interests of individual countries are compatible with global goals, what regional groupings will emerge, and how much potential the new system has for conflict. However, all panelists and participants in the discussion agreed that efforts should be made to reduce the potential for tension in the world and to prevent large-scale conflicts between leading powers.

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