Asia and Eurasia
The Fate of Alliances in the Modern World

We see that over the past 100 years, the phenomenon of permanent alliances has come to look very archaic. In cases where the leading power is not ready to play the role of a dictator — due to subjective or objective reasons — an alliance no longer becomes an instrument for ensuring the collective interests of its participants, but a factor in diplomatic interaction between them, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

The continuation of the military-diplomatic clash between Russia and Western countries led by the United States raises questions for us, the answers of which seemed obvious until quite recently. Among them is the problem of such phenomena as permanent alliances and allied relations. It is no secret to anyone that the behaviour of Moscow’s formal allies in the CSTO and the Eurasian Economic Union amid the current conditions raises questions in Russia.

Among its opponents, it raises hopes that the presence of these associations is no longer an advantage, but a problem for Russia’s external and defence policy. We have seen examples when individual CSTO or EAEU countries have been less hesitant, if not outright disloyal, in fulfilling the requirements of the United States in matters related to the economic war against Russia. It also cannot be ignored that Moscow’s allies, through their inconsistent behaviour, have created challenges for Russia at a time when all its efforts are concentrated on the West. This makes one wonder: how important and necessary are Russia’s allies in conditions where, like the United States, it cannot exercise authoritarian control over their foreign and defence policy?

Asia and Eurasia
Neighbours and Crises: New Challenges for Russia
Timofei Bordachev
It is unlikely that Moscow would simply observe the processes taking place on its immediate periphery. The real challenge may be that in a few decades, or sooner, Moscow will have to take on an even greater responsibility, which Russia got rid of in 1991, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
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The phenomenon of permanent allied relations is a relatively recent invention in international politics — it appeared after the Second World War and it is completely unknown if it will survive the next round of global upheavals of a similar magnitude. Even if in the coming years we all do not shatter into molecules as a result of a global nuclear catastrophe, the impressive drama of what is happening makes us treat with great uncertainty the prospects for all the phenomena, without exception, that have shaped the fabric of international life in recent decades. Now the standard example of a permanent union of sovereign states is European integration. Another similar example is the NATO bloc, participation in which is sealed by the unconditional authority of a power that is far superior in strength to its allies and does not seek to ignore this.

It is no coincidence that the emergence of the conflict around Ukraine, the first serious war of a new era in international politics, is connected with the development of these two associations. A strong union of states inevitably creates conflicts around itself — this becomes a consequence of the fact that it protects the interests of its participants.

From a theoretical point of view, the phenomenon of alliances is based on the simplest formula: in order to achieve stability, states of different strengths mitigate the inevitable injustice in relations amongst themselves by choosing to see the interests of their allies as their own, or at least attempt to do so. Incidentally, this is also the basis for the idea of collective security, first formulated by Clemens Metternich back in the era of the Vienna Congress. Incidentally, Austria was the weakest power among the nations that defeated Napoleon, and was located in the centre of Europe. Therefore, it was the most interested in safeguarding a relatively stable order. In other words, even relatively permanent alliances are a product of weakness, not strength, and can’t be seen as the best way for a state to survive if it is not able to protect its own interests.

It is not surprising that until the middle of the 20th century, the idea of permanent alliances somehow did not take root — the world which the great European empires ruled did not require permanent relations among them — only arrangements that were situational, or due to a specific interest. Everyone knows how chaotically the coalitions that entered into battle in 1914 took shape. Their final composition was connected not so much with the general views or even the strategic interests of the participating countries, but with a situational calculation of the balance of power and resources necessary for each side to win. Since the ratio turned out to be very high quality, the “Great War”, unlike the impetuous campaigns of the 19th century or the elegant manoeuvres of the century which preceded it, devolved into endless mutual destruction.

However, it was precisely the “decline of Europe”, as the most powerful part of the planet, that formed the meaning of even short-term allied relations — all European wars from the “balance of power” period were wars between coalitions.

The ever-forming military alliances of the powers were caused by the inability of each of them to protect their interests when they were left to rely on their own forces alone. This practice was still infinitely far removed from the unions as we know them now, but already reflected their main meaning — the power capabilities of the participants were combined in order to achieve a specific goal. As a rule, this was a victory over a state that, for internal reasons, acquired impudence in order to claim too much of the pie in the distribution of power in the European political arena. Several alliances were formed against France, a couple of times they were against Prussia, they acted once against Russia and never against Britain — the island position of this state never allowed it to count on depriving the continental countries of significant metropolitan areas.

However, even then, alliances could not be permanent, since for their participants, there was never a question of, in fact, the inability to survive without relying on allies. In principle, we see the same principle now when it comes to the largest nuclear powers — the United States, Russia and China. They also do not need allies to survive, and their main interest is the ability to use their territories as a base for deploying their own forces in the event of a conflict with an enemy of equal strength. Another thing is that the direct organisational forms of relations between the most powerful countries and the rest can be different. However, this already depends not on whether they need allies as such, but on the scale of their own resources necessary for complete control over the satellites. For the United States, these resources are still colossal, for Russia or China they are much less significant, which leads to the peculiarities of the behaviour of those with whom these two powers enter into permanent alliances.

Thus, we see that over the past 100 years, the phenomenon of permanent alliances has come to look very archaic. In cases where the leading power is not ready to play the role of a dictator — due to subjective or objective reasons — an alliance no longer becomes an instrument for ensuring the collective interests of its participants, but a factor in diplomatic interaction between them. Now, Russia’s conditional ally in the South Caucasus can use the presence of the CSTO as a way to put pressure on Russian diplomacy, while removing all responsibility from itself. In another case, we are witnessing a direct military clash between Russia’s formal allies, each of which demands Moscow’s support.

As a result, the very idea of union, in the sense we are accustomed to, loses all meaning. First of all — for its leading participant. The only thing that remains is to maintain such an alliance, since even the conditional main power can use it in its own private and tactical interests. Moreover, no one is ready to liquidate this alliance either — the small participating countries obviously do not have alternative options, either the military, political or demographic resources for completely independent survival.

This helps us solve the problem of the formal preservation of such associations, even if they lose a significant part of their necessary functions and content. However, one must understand that in the future, Russia, like its neighbours, will still have to either give up the idea of institutionalizing its relations, or, if the conditions arise for this, turn to fairly authoritarian methods of governance.

Global Governance
Will International Institutions Disappear in the Future?
Timofei Bordachev
IIt is generally accepted that humanity cannot live without institutions, and if the UN, or any other international structures, have outlived their usefulness, then you just need to create new ones. Or wait until they emerge as a result of a global rebalance of power, writes Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club.
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Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.