On Great-Power Rivalry in the Age of Ultimatums
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

Formally, the Valdai Discussion Club’s expert discussion on December 5 was dedicated to Russian-American relations. The experts Alan Cafruny, Dmitry Suslov and Ivan Timofeev transgressed the borders of the topic to reach a more global level, which appeared to be – no more no less, – a great-power rivalry.

At the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, the crisis of global governance manifested as clear as never. As Ivan Timofeev, programme director of the Valdai Club, noted, at the Argentine forum it became obvious that the G20 has ceased to be a structure of global governance aimed at smoothening the global economic crisis and eliminating unbalances. Essentially, the summit is reduced to bilateral deals. Today, the world not only sees how its format changes. It could observe that the new bilateral format creates even more potential and real conflicts, harming the global governance instead of aiding it.

Agreeing with Timofeev, Alan Cafruny, Professor of International Affairs on the faculty of Government, Hamilton College (USA) asserted that at the Argentinian G20 summit, instead of the “Big twenty” the world had the “Big deuce”, when everyone broke up in pairs and began to settle their affairs bilaterally. If in 2008–2009, during the global economic crisis, all countries acted together, refused protectionism and the leadership of the United States was in the air, everything has changed since then: the leaders no longer communicate in a multilateral format, and each of them works only for their own benefit.

G20: A Transition to Bipolarity?
Stanislav Tkachenko
Although the G20 still retains its potential to support the global economic stability, there is an impression that its mission is coming to an end. If this trend is not reversed, then, a summit or two from now, we might see the return of trade wars and competitive devaluations of national currencies. In that case, the current G20 format, built around the US leadership and hegemonic in nature, will not work at all. The nature of the G20 is that of an international forum, not an international intergovernmental organization.

Here, the United States is a glaring example. As Deputy Director at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, HSE Dmitry Suslov said, the United States ceased to be a world’s leader, and pursue a selfish and offensive policy, especially regarding the ascending powers, China and Russia. The great-power rivalry we see on the world stage, which manifested during the Argentine summit, is a verdict to global governance. It just cannot exist in the “cold war” conditions, when the relations of the key global actors (China-US, Russia-US) are hostile. “We cannot force states to interact, if they consider national interests more important than global ones and pursue a hostile policy. The relations between the United States and China, the United States and Russia today are of hostile nature, and the G-20 proofs them increasing”.

According to the expert, generally, the American strategy is to put pressure on the “fears” of its rivals, China and Russia. For example, the United States believes that China’s worst nightmare is a global trade war, so they are hitting this goal. The greatest fear of Russia supposed to be an uncontrolled full-scale arms race (as in the early 1980s). Therefore, America destroys all the arms control agreements, including the INF and START-3 treaties.

“They are beyond saving”, Suslov said, having explained that the bill recently introduced to the US Senate, limiting the extension of the Russian-American START-3 treaty, makes it impossible to extend this treaty unless Russia reduces its potential of strategic nuclear weapons ten times and stops producing new types of weapons. That is evidently unacceptable. At the same time, the United States deliberately does not enter any dialogue and negotiations in order to cause the opponent’s panic and force them to make unilateral concessions.

Russia-US: Prospects for Strategic Arms Control
Sergey Veselovsky
Without START-3 it will be much easier for Russia to develop and put into service both the new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles, and nuclear-powered cruise missiles, as well as other new types of strategic weapons.


Meanwhile, these two cold conflicts (US-China, US-Russia) are interrelated. Withdrawing from the INF treaty, the US administration appeals to China’s growing power and signals the need to include it in arms control as well.

Continuing discussing the China-US “deuce”, Alan Cafruny asserted that at the Argentine G-20, some understanding between the two countries was reached still: Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed to suspend the introduction of new trade duties for 90 days. Moreover, both sides had their own reasons to refrain from open conflict – for a while, at least. Trump does not want to unleash a tariff war before the 2020 presidential elections, and Xi is ready for some concessions if the other side goes to a number of specific trade measures. One should not be too hopeful, though: The Unites States consider the containment of China one of the primary goals, and it would be a mistake to think that it will surrender.

Agreeing to this conclusion, Dmitri Suslov said that the containment of China is not a project of the current administration, but a consensus of both parties and the dominant US policy for the near future. The United States-China “dialogue” is carried out at the level of ultimatums, where one proposes the other to capitulate, which is completely unacceptable, since if tit accepts all the US conditions, it will cease to be able to compete.

With the United States-Russia “deuce”, according to Alan Cafruny, the situation is different. “For Trump, the mid-term elections were not so beneficial, serious economic processes started. He realized that the increase in tariffs on Chinese goods imported into the United States would most likely impact the investors and the market negatively, which gave way to reconciliation”, Cafruny explained. However, if between the United States and China there are significant economic links, they are absent in case of the United States and Russia. Therefore, the same internal political processes in America can harm Russian-American relations. This can affect both arms control and the introduction of new anti-Russian sanctions.

Let us return to the G20. They expected the Buenos Aires summit as both an independent event and a series of bilateral meetings, including that of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. However, at the very last moment the summit was cancelled due to NATO’s allegations that Russia violates the INF Treaty and threats to terminate it. Alan Cafruny expressed the opinion that this happened for domestic political reasons, due to the Muller’s investigation. This turn of events does not worry him much, since “after Trump and Putin talks, it only gets worse”. Dmitry Suslov stressed how exactly the meeting was canceled – unilaterally, without apologies, transfers or substitute meetings at a lower level. This indicates the reluctance of the United States to conduct a normal dialogue and participate in any negotiations.

Suslov said that the US policy towards China and Russia is to win, not to agree, proceeding from the fact that they have enough resources for that. Is it so? Time will tell.