Russia has become very adept in playing the diplomatic game, in which victory depends on choosing the right associate or partner. But there are a growing number of claimants to this role in the new horizontal and interdependent world. Aside Syria and Iran, being still important, the new venues for the application of practical diplomacy may well be Ukraine, the East China Sea and Afghanistan.
Recent developments would seem to show that global politics is again entering a period of potentially successful temporary alliances, situational partnerships and agreements.
The bipolar system of the cold war period, the US “unipolar triumph” in the 1990s and Europe’s integration achievements seemed to have reduced many countries’ foreign policy to formal diplomacy. Issues of war and peace and independent choices in partners and allies were the prerogative of a small group of countries and seemed predetermined in a victorious Western world.
“Now there are only two sovereign States: Russia (with satellites) and the United States (with satellites),” Bertrand Russell, a renowned British philosopher and mathematician, wrote in his book, “The Impact of Science on Society”. Since Russia was growing weaker, the global game of geopolitics was over.
The US military-political leadership was badly affected by the military losses it suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan. The economic crisis has undermined the potential of the liberal Western model and forced Washington to abandon its self-assumed role as “the policeman of the world” and to address domestic problems instead (the EU will likely have to do the same). The crisis is also shifting the center of “money power” from the Euro-Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific region.
As the old leaders are growing relatively weaker, the other part of the balance – the strengthening BRICS countries and other G20 states – is making increasingly strong claims to participation in global governance.
Brazil and Turkey have proposed a solution for Iran. China and Japan are disputing the ownership of a tiny island group. France is conducting an operation in Mali to prevent a resurgence of terrorist movements. Saudi Arabia has refused to take up a seat in the UN Security Council because the UN does not have sufficient influence over major international conflicts. Poland and Sweden have usurped the right to act on behalf of Greater Europe within the framework of the Eastern Partnership project.
Bloc mentality is being replaced in global governance by adhocracy, a flexible ad hoc system created to address concrete problems. It was first popularized in 1970s by Alvin Toffler and is very well suited to addressing problems in the chaotic and unstructured world of the 2010s. Coalitions with an ideological leader are giving way to coalitions of actors (and increasingly not only nation-actors) who have practical interests in resolving a particular international issue.
The best examples of transition to adhocracy are the agreements on Syrian chemical weapons and the Iranian nuclear program, and the intergovernmental Arctic Council. A combination of Russia’s desire to prevent an attack against Syria and US unwillingness to interfere has led to the creation of a coalition that is interested in finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. Progress in the Iranian issue was reached in a similar manner. As for the Arctic Council, its establishment helped the Arctic nations put an end to war mongering and start working to delimit their borders, to conduct joint search and rescue operations, to protect the fragile Arctic environment and to discuss mutually beneficial transport and fishing projects.
Considering its weak ideology and limited soft power, in part due to its lack of foreign policy values, Russia will certainly benefit from adhocracy and from the revival of this kind of geopolitics. Russia is so far a weak rival in terms of rhetoric and information support of its policies. Hence Russia finds it so difficult to form coalitions based on politics and ideology.
At the same time, Russia has become very adept in playing the diplomatic game, in which victory depends on choosing the right associate or partner. But there are a growing number of claimants to this role in the new horizontal and interdependent world.
The Syrian and Iranian successes have paved the way to the revival of geopolitics in other regions too. Aside Syria and Iran, being still important, the new venues for the application of practical diplomacy may well be Ukraine, the East China Sea and Afghanistan.
This article was originally published in Russian in Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper.