A false sense arose among the Israeli elite that their statehood had independent value for the United States. Combined with privileged access to most of the global media, this has indeed left Washington with excessive obligations that it no longer knows how to get rid of, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
In the coming years, Russia’s policy in the Eurasian space will most likely be aimed at avoiding excessive obligations, but at the same time strengthening relations with those countries that are really interested in cooperating with Moscow, as well as strengthening the influence of broad international institutions, particularly the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Such a strategy will have to meet Russia’s most important goals, which are internal in nature and consist of maintaining social stability, social harmony and economic growth. However, there is no reason to fret over talk about Russia’s “loneliness” or its lack of allies. Moreover, in the modern world we increasingly see how an excessive number of external obligations is becoming more of a problem than an advantage of even the most well-resourced foreign policy strategies.
In fact, the real significance of the crisis in the Middle East that has been going on for several weeks is not the problem of relations between Israel, the Palestinian people and their neighbours. Even the most dramatic changes in the fate of the Jewish state itself, not to mention its immediate adversaries at the moment, are unlikely to have a disastrous impact on global security. First of all, because this will not affect the immediate security interests of the most important powers in the world — China, Russia and even the United States, which remains Israel’s main patron. However, the very course of events and the Israeli government’s lack of ideal solutions to the current situation entail a certain crisis regarding all American policy in the region. This, in turn, will not only contribute to the formation of a new international order, but deserves study, so that others may avoid repeating the mistakes made by the Americans.
Throughout its history, Israel has been, in principle, a fairly reliable instrument of US policy in the region. The importance of this policy in providing the world economy with energy resources has constantly increased. All military clashes between the Israelis and their neighbours have ultimately contributed to an increase in the importance of the American presence in the Middle East. This was especially true during the Cold War, when the Gulf monarchies were forced to turn to the United States in order to save themselves from possible encroachments from the USSR and its regional allies. In general, new victories of Israeli weapons have created conditions for the participation of Americans in regional politics as universal peacemakers. Only Washington could seriously influence Israel, and the eyes of its hapless opponents were turned to the United States.
Other regional players, in turn, are playing their own thoughtful, long-term game with the Americans. With the exception of Iran, no country in the Middle East has gone so far as to raise the issue of eliminating Israel as a political entity. They all strive to bring Israeli behaviour into a certain framework: to subordinate it not to bilateral relations with the United States, but to the regional rules of the game. The development of these rules is something the Arab states as well as Iran and Turkey, apparently, see as their own prerogative. Amid such circumstances, Washington will likely need to somehow adapt its policy, including the gradual curtailing of the strategy centred on unconditional support for Israel. Don’t think that such changes can happen all at once. However, over the long term, it is difficult to imagine the United States having a third alternative.
Given that Israel has remained the United States’ main overseas ally for decades, a gradual reassessment of these bilateral relations may be the first step towards revising the entire strategy of spreading commitments that have become the trademark of American foreign policy. Moreover, it increasingly creates more problems for Washington than advantages. “Pact-mania” became a feature of American foreign policy in the immediate aftermath of World War II, and we are well aware of the wide variety of alliances that were created under the shadow of US commitments around the world.
However, its continuation, not to mention repetition, under new conditions is unlikely to be possible. We already see that even American capabilities may not be sufficient to provide the necessary assistance to so many protectorates. In other words, in order to maintain its presence, American policy will have to demonstrate a certain degree of adaptability to changing global and regional circumstances.
For Russia, which has no direct connection to the Middle East crisis, it represents a good experience to learn from. First of all, it demonstrates how short-sighted it can be to rely on a limited number of allies, as well as to take on significant obligations. Just as the United States must adapt to a political milieu in which more and more sovereign states matter, Russia will have to consider the expansion of the circle of participants regarding the issues that interest it. So far, Moscow’s policy in its immediate circle is showing signs of such adaptability to inevitably changing conditions. However, in order for this not to become just a form of retreat, which is delicate for our own pride, we have to solve several more important problems.
First, Russia will be faced with the question of how to find a relatively optimal combination of adaptability to changes that occur against our will, and consistent firmness where the problem is truly of fundamental importance. Now Russia still has some special resources of influence on its neighbours, which is typical for the position of any former metropolis. Using these resources does not at all mean trying to keep other countries in the sphere of the monopoly of influence at any cost. However, it might be worth approaching them not from the perspective of exclusively bilateral relations, but as a diplomatic tool applied in a broader context.
Second, the general crisis of international institutions will inevitably force us to answer difficult questions in the case of those organisations whose condition now looks quite good. The aforementioned SCO, the Eurasian Economic Union or the CSTO — all of these organisations differ in their nature from Western institutions, which are built on the “leader — tribe” model. However, we still have no way of gauging the viability of organisations within which there is no strict disciplinary principle in the form of a patron power. Russia and China, as leaders of international cooperation in Eurasia, will very likely face this hypothetical problem within the next decade.
Finally, we do not yet know very well how to interact with medium- and small-sized neighbours when they find themselves in a crisis. So far, Greater Eurasia is a region with relatively established states capable of conducting responsible foreign policy. However, we must not forget that many of them in the coming years may face serious internal challenges that carry the threat of religious radicalism and extremism. To what extent our bilateral relations, as well as common institutions, are adapted to solve such problems, unfortunately, remains to be tested. These are the questions that will most likely become fundamental against amid the transformation of the international order and taking into account the urgent need to maintain peace in Greater Eurasia.