Wider Eurasia
Does Foreign Policy No Longer Matter?

Apparently, the growing changes in international life will be so significant that they will affect not only the direct balance of power between the leading nations, but even our fundamental ideas about the degree of importance of certain types of state activity. We already see that the modern state is faced with such serious challenges that foreign policy is everywhere subject to considerations of a domestic, political nature. This applies to the Western countries, Russia, China, India and everyone else, and places the most significance on such things that existing theories are not able to make heads or tails of them, simply due to the methodology they have.

One of the curious effects of the two World Wars and, especially, the emergence of sizable stockpiles of weapons among several powers (the mass use of which could end human civilisation), was a serious increase in the importance of foreign policy activity among the range of tasks for which states are responsible. The gradually growing and ultimately firmly rooted horror about the likelihood that a military catastrophe would be general and irreversible in its consequences firmly placed issues of international stability at the top of the list of priorities of public attention.

In addition, the increasing importance of issues directly related to external factors of development, besides contributing to the emergence of massive wars, has also driven economic globalisation. The latter, to some extent, connected the issues of development and even the very existence of the state with the tasks that it solves in the international arena. This, of course, especially concerned small and medium-sized countries, for which the modern world turned out to be too harsh to offer the possibility of completely independent existence. However, even in the case of the largest powers, foreign policy issues over the past century have turned out to be so significant that they have been placed almost on a par with problems of a purely domestic agenda.

Moreover, the mass market economy and comparative openness have indeed reduced the ability of different governments to completely independently determine the parameters of their internal development. As a result, the idea has solidified that successes or failures in solving the most important tasks to reconcile citizens with the existing internal order are resolved through external relations and the country’s integration into the global system, which itself will resolve most problems. The practical consequence of this has been the growth, unimaginable by historical standards, of the diplomatic apparatus and, in general, of institutions managing foreign relations. A huge number of officials are now responsible for the external relations of their countries, imbued with a sense of the importance of their business and profession.

In this sense, the global system of states was indeed moving towards the European medieval model, in which the government could interfere little in the daily life of its subjects, especially their spiritual life, and was happy to deal exclusively with foreign policy tasks. The preservation of sovereignty in the traditional sense of the word could only be afforded by powers that to the greatest extent preserved the priority of the national over the global. The best example of this was the United States, whose priority of domestic policy over foreign policy gradually became a unique feature that distinguished this superpower from all other countries in the world. However, now this order that suited everyone is beginning to falter.

The first signs that things were moving towards something fundamentally new were associated with the appearance on the agenda of such “universal” problems as various manifestations of climate change, the Internet and information revolution, and later, artificial intelligence. Between 10 and 15 years ago, the late Henry Kissinger was the first among the major thinkers of our time to draw attention to the fact that “the problems are global, but their solutions remain national.” Thus, the outstanding scientist and politician wanted to draw attention to the fact that the world community was not ready to form consolidated approaches to solve problems that concern everyone.
Asia and Eurasia
Kissinger and the Fight for Russia
Timofei Bordachev
In the event that the acute phase of the conflict in Ukraine really turns out to be very long, which, apparently, is the case, then the elementary needs of survival will force Russia to get rid of what binds it to Europe, Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

Rich, poor and growing countries could not make decisions based on a strategy of minimizing everyone's losses while achieving comparative benefits for all. The most striking example has been the development of international cooperation related to climate change – over the course of several years, it finally turned into a set of transactions between states, based on the interests of their corporate sectors and the associated preferences of governments, or, as in the case of Russia, was scientifically justified in terms of state policy in this area, which also takes into account national economic interests. Thus, even during the period of Western dominance in world affairs, and due to this, in fact, states failed to achieve the task of creating a unified “supranational” programme to combat the consequences of a phenomenon that threatens individual regions with serious upheaval.

The matter, however, was not limited to those issues that became relevant precisely as a result of recent changes or the technological achievements of mankind. The distortions which accumulated in national economic systems and the world economy have not yet found conceptual solutions. As a result, for decades, states have relied upon stopgap measures that are ultimately unable to ensure the sustainability of their results beyond short periods of time, or when the specific conditions in which they existed disappear. The most important problem has been the growth of inequality, the concrete manifestations of which have been the decline in income of large segments of the population and the gradual disappearance of such a phenomenon as the “middle class” in most Western countries.

This problem emerged most clearly during the coronavirus pandemic, when the least affluent segments of the population suffered the most. In the USA, this led to enormous human losses, which, due to the uniqueness of the local socio-economic structure, no one, in essence, cared about. In Russia and Europe, the death of citizens from the disease has been compounded by colossal expenses for various social programmes and healthcare. As a result of active efforts by states to reduce the immediate effects of the 2008-2009 crisis and the pandemic in 2020 – 2022 while, at the same time, continuing to take measures to stabilize budgets, the greatest concern has been the future of social insurance programmes, i.e. what underlay the general welfare of the 20th century and was the source of the well-being of the middle class

Soon enough, this leads to a general crisis of the system that provided support for most states in the form of a middle class relying on its savings, and thereby to a general decline in the economic basis of citizens’ consent to the existing domestic political order. This primarily concerns Western countries, but neither Russia nor China have been spared from the negative consequences of the collapse of the system that was at the centre of the modern global economy and was the source of the main ideas and methods of government intervention in the free market. Moreover, such consequences of information globalisation as some erosion of control over the lives of subjects have not gone away. Even in Western countries and China, where state information policy is most consistent and subordinate to the tasks of governments and elites, this is a problem.

As a result, states must increasingly turn to solving their immediate problems, i.e. maintaining peace among citizens in society, as the competition in the internal space tends to intensify. As for China and India, the growing giants of international politics, their colossal demographic size in itself puts internal issues in first place. Foreign policy activity fades into the background and is considered only in the context of the internal struggle for unity (Russia, China, India) or the retention of power by elites, who have become practically irreplaceable in recent decades (the USA and the largest European countries).

This objective process has two consequences that are of interest on a theoretical and practical level. First, there is growing confusion among those whose professional responsibility is to talk about international politics. One of the most prominent American realist scholars, Stephen Walt, in his latest articles, fiercely draws attention to how the foreign policy decisions of the US government diverge from the logic of international life. One can often hear such claims from Russian authors that politics, as such, is becoming dominant over purely foreign policy-oriented rationality.

Second, there is a practical risk that governments, completely absorbed in domestic issues, will actually begin to pay insufficient attention to those issues of international life that remain fundamentally important. So far, the leading nuclear powers are showing their ability to take care of the survival of humanity despite some changes in their own priorities. However, there are suspicions that placing all hopes here solely on the wisdom of our statesmen would be somewhat frivolous.
Global Governance
The Cultural Revolution of the West and World Politics
Richard Sakwa
In 1945 the US agreed to compromise its unfettered freedom of action in international affairs in the belief that engagement with allies and adversaries through multilateral agencies would avoid the pitfalls of the interwar period while rendering US power more legitimate, and thereby more effective. This bargain between power and legitimacy proved remarkably effective, and helped the political West survive and triumph in the Cold War. However, the tension between the autonomy of the Charter (Yalta-Potsdam) international system and the institutions of liberal hegemony were evident, although disguised during the Cold War.

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