New World Order

The current international situation demonstrates that the views regarding world development trends, which seemed absolutely obvious 15-20 years ago, have become obsolete.

MGIMO Rector Anatoly Torkunov Discusses the New World Order.

The interconnection of countries, international processes, economies and politics has become dramatic.

Moreover, our views on the structure of the modern world, be it a bipolar, multipolar, or even unipolar model, seem insufficient for explaining and systematizing the processes that develop before our own eyes.

A case utterly saturated with these processes is the situation in the Middle East and its estimates. Suffice it to see how the reality and its perception have evolved from revolutionary romanticism to Islamic quasi-democracy and back to secular authoritarianism, which our Western colleagues have proved ready to reconcile themselves with. True, this has been incapacitated by the reincarnation of an Islamic extremist “state” project, whose prototype seemed to have been defeated by the international coalition in Afghanistan back in the early 2000s. It is clear that all attempts to explain these processes by various concepts, including the legacy of the Cold War, “the great chessboard,” “the end of history,” or “a clash of civilizations,” are operationally unproductive.

To be sure, modern challenges can be countered on the tactical level, including in situations where challenges become threats which, as a rule, are extinguished by the military might of several major powers or their coalitions. It is another matter that over recent years, both the leaders and the professional foreign policy community have evolved a view (hopefully one free of illusions) that the world order can basically lend itself to regulation. Retaining this habit and practices takes at least an understanding of the modern world at a level characterizing the predecessors of the current politicians. In the 1940s- 1950s, it became possible to establish a system of global multilateral institutions (or institutions of the Western part of the contemporary world), which are in service to this day. For all the reproaches with regard to the UN’s efficiency or European integration, there is no replacement for these 70-year-old inventions.

Regrettably, the efforts to create multilateral institutions during the last two decades deserve a more skeptical assessment. An informal leaders’ club is not worth much, if it all of a sudden changes its agenda and expels a member whose approaches to a specific international problem prove different from those of its colleagues.

On the whole, however, the idea of clubs, para-organizations, as lawyers say, or ad hoc coalitions seems interesting and potentially effective. In fact, the successful resolution of crises and conflicts in the post-bipolar world was promoted by parties sincerely interested precisely in this outcome, be it the Madrid process, the antiterrorist coalition, certain episodes of the complicated Yugoslav mosaic, or the issue of Syrian chemical weapons.

The Ukrainian crisis resolution (or at least its foreign aspects) is also calling for efficient multilateral efforts.

Generally, the Ukrainian situation, if we set aside its internal drama, has demonstrated that the effort to build the European system of stability, security and economic interdependence was based partly on double standards and partly on a lack of due responsibility. In Ukrainian affairs, the Cold War logic – “whoever is not with us is against us” – was discernible as early as at the Orange Revolution stage. Possibly, some elements of this logic could be found in what was being done by Russia, but it was our European colleagues that started using it to the hilt, referring to the strict bureaucratic rules of European integration and the EU expansion. A country like Ukraine certainly merits an individual approach.

Given the fuzziness of the current system from the point of view of traditional views on the global order, we can identify one constant that is growing increasingly dominant. I mean the dramatic interconnection of countries, international processes, economies, and policies. The density of the modern world is a factor that has turned it into a highly multi-aspect model which lends itself to calculation with increasing difficulty. It is for this reason that sanctions are seen with philosophical serenity by many in Russia, while what seems to be an undoubted competitive advantage suddenly becomes an encumbrance.

In turn, this raises the issue of admissible methods of competition, competitive advantages, competition leaders, and, by extension, leaders of the modern world.

As a rule, great powers stake out the leader status but are not always able to confirm it. A leader is not just someone who overtakes others but who can lead followers. This, in turn, forms a unique element of responsibility in world politics and economics. Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said that “we are responsible for those we have tamed.” Are there leaders in today’s world who would measure up to this criterion?

Leadership and competition imply that there should be rules of the game, or behavior, on the international scene. The number and quality of modern conflicts and crises, which exceed what was the case in any single Cold War period, suggest that there are no such rules.

For many, the Valdai Club is a well-known expert brand, but it is perhaps high time we reformatted it and gave it a truly international status. Obviously, it is impossible to find an absolutely neutral site for debates on the world political situation, be it even the UN’s Geneva or New York headquarters. The place always influences the nature and themes of discussions. The new Valdai format implies a debate on all topical international issues without a special emphasis on Russia. The Russian soil itself will make adjustments.

This article was originally published in Russian on

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