Wider Eurasia
Alliances and Allies in a New Era

In today’s rapidly changing international landscape, alliances between nations are no longer seen as a guarantee of a state’s long-term survival, especially when it comes to the major nuclear powers. As a result, we must redefine the role and nature of alliances in the years to come, argues Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club.

In circumstances where the survival of a major power is not at all contingent on the military efforts of allies, the ethical imperatives of collaboration come to the forefront. In this regard, Russia, in contrast to the United States and China, finds itself in a more challenging, yet strategically advantageous position.

Firstly, our foreign policy places a premium on moral integrity, as this is a critical factor in maintaining confidence in one’s own actions and their legitimacy. The trajectory of international development suggests that stable alliances will be a rare occurrence in the coming decades, but this does not imply that a purely self-interested approach will become the “new normal.”

The international political landscape of the 20th century and the first quarter of the 21st century has raised several significant questions regarding the future of allied relations, which have been a key aspect of global stability for centuries. The development of nuclear weapons by a select few powers has created a significant imbalance in power dynamics, making it unlikely that any single third party could assume the role of a critical ally for countries such as Russia, the United States, and China.

This imbalance has resulted in a situation where these powerful actors are no longer reliant on traditional alliances for their survival. Instead, they face a narrow range of potential threats from other states, and allies have become less essential to their strategic goals. In this context, alliances may serve more as sources of tactical support or assets that need to be protected, rather than critical partners for long-term security.

Therefore, for Russia and the United States, the existence of permanent allies (China does not have them as such) is both an opportunity of case of a conflict with an equal, and a headache.

Those countries that are aligned with these two major powers, of course, provide them with additional opportunities in terms of politics and economics. However, they all, to varying degrees, seek to increase their level of independence: more so in the case of Russian allies and to a much lesser extent for US allies. Nevertheless, in both instances, this implies that Moscow and Washington need to constantly consider how to protect their allies from external influences and threats, as well as mind their own vulnerabilities.

Secondly, the strategic setbacks experienced by Europe during the two World Wars of 1914-1945 resulted in its leading nations becoming completely reliant on the United States, effectively losing their sovereignty in military and political matters. Even the possession of some nuclear weapons by France and Britain is of little significance, as their sovereignty has become largely a thing of the past in all other aspects. This is especially true for other European nations that have disappeared from the map as independent actors in global politics, such as Germany and Italy. As a result, European states have transitioned from being potential allies of a superpower to being satellites, incapable of significantly influencing the decisions of their dominant partner.

The loss of Europe’s political autonomy is now the primary foundation for the existence of the “collective West”, and, of course, provides its participants with many advantages in their confrontation with the rest of the world. However, this also transforms European countries from allies of the United States into a mere territorial base for deploying American forces in the event of a conflict with a third party or a source of minor additional military resources.

The disappearance of Europe from the political map of the world is one of the most serious blows at the very concept of allied relations in the traditional understanding.

Thirdly, the increased involvement of Asia in global affairs has brought about a fundamentally new perspective on the very possibility of long-term alliances. Due to geographical reasons, Asia is not accustomed to the tradition of sustained alliances, as its significant distances in comparison to Europe have historically rendered them impractical. In other words, even in Asia, the presence of an ally does not guarantee that they will be able to provide assistance in time due to the distance factor.

The consistent refusal of leading Asian powers to commit to stable and formal alliance obligations is the result of their historical experience, as well as a reflection of strategies developed in the latter half of the previous century. Furthermore, the vast demographic size of countries such as India, China, and Indonesia limits their ability to form long-term alliances. The large populations of these nations require significant attention and effort, making it difficult to restrict their freedom through external commitments.

Japan and South Korea are not included in this discussion, as they have been under foreign occupation since World War II, despite the current allied relationship with the United States. It is unclear how prepared these countries would be to form an alliance with Washington, if American military forces were not stationed in their territories. At the very least, it seems that the American presence is the only factor driving Tokyo and Seoul to pursue a policy of sanctions pressure on Russia in recent years. Without this presence, Moscow might not have significant concerns regarding the region.

Asia and Eurasia
Great Powers and Their Allies: The Experience of Global Confrontation
Timofei Bordachev
In the event that relations between Russia and its allies were assessed in comparison with similar practices in the United States and Europe, then Moscow would have every reason to express continuous dissatisfaction with the behaviour of its junior partners, with the exception of Minsk, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev. But is it possible, and is it necessary, to demand more from them?

Finally, the dynamics of international development work to strengthen states’ desire to assert their sovereignty as much as possible. The phenomenon of the Global South refers to a group of countries that in a difficult global context seek to navigate their own path, without necessarily considering the opinions of major partners if they do not face an immediate threat. The largest among these countries, India, has often pursued policies that have raised concerns among China and even Russia. Nevertheless, the Indian government has not taken any steps to align itself formally with the United States or Europe through alliances. Instead, it remains confident in participating in the BRICS alliance, which is viewed as a potential alternative to Western dominance.

In other words, most countries in the world are not attempting to free themselves from the influence of the West, more or less successfully, in order to simply pursue the national interests of their rivals in Moscow and Beijing.

To summarise, the current features of the organisation of the union of Western countries indicate that this form of state relations is becoming outdated in the previous classical sense. Alliances can no longer be considered essential for a state’s survival in today’s chaotic international environment, especially when it comes to major nuclear powers.

This means that in the upcoming years, we will need to move towards a new understanding of alliances and allied relationships. Given that Russia, unlike the United States, does not intend to deny its allies their independence, there is also no simple answer to this challenge.

In this regard, it can only be hoped that, from the perspective of Russian foreign policy, the factor of commitment to weaker allies will continue to be as motivating as the desire of Western countries to gain unilateral benefits from such relationships.

Russia is a nation that is blessed with resources and has the ability to resolve its own foreign policy issues. This implies that the moral satisfaction derived from its own actions plays a significant role for it, which is fully aligned with physical benefits.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.