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Russia's Comprehensive Foreign Policy Needs More Than Just Fewer Diplomats

Valdai Discussion Club. 17 января 2014

It is hard to expect coherent and easy to analyze general principles of global politics to emerge within the next few years and it is unlikely that they will take on any distinct or tangible shape even if they do. At the very least, the form they will take will be totally different from anything the analysts and international relations research were used to during the Cold War, i.e. the notorious "global governance" with its institutions, rules and international law. The world of nations is unlikely to develop institutions or laws, or, most importantly, obey these laws any time soon. Chaos, anarchy and a zero-sum game will remain the principles of international politics in the short term.

The world is reverting to more historical forms of interaction between countries, involving chaos and a more or less universal rivalry. In reality, relative order and governability were characteristic of only a very brief period of world history in the latter half of the 20th century. Today the world is reverting to its habitual, normal anarchic state, albeit preserving its rigid military frame underpinned by Russian and US nuclear superiority.

The world will witness the continued process of ever new spheres of human activity falling under government control, with their direct or indirect subordination to state interests and government representatives rather than hands-on management by the state. We can already see this happening in science and academia. A case in point is my own area of research, European Studies, where the amount of EU investment in EU research is such that European scholars are unable to utter a critical sound with regard to those who feather their nest. Few people know that every EU mission in the world has a special official responsible for promoting EU studies in the region. It would be the equivalent of Russia, for example, having an official in its US embassy responsible for how American academics do research into Russia and vice versa. To my mind, this indirect government control is irreversible within the next ten years at least, with the media, social networks, the expert and academic communities, and NGOs to be made "to serve the public."

All of this is happening at a time when the clash of ideologies and the war of ideas are over and will never be revived. The only surviving ideology, liberalism, is engaged in rearguard action and is on its way out for lack of a serious and commensurate foe. Confucianism and Buddhism are wholly local phenomena. Marxism is dead. There is no opposition. But an ideology cannot function or survive as a factor in world development unless it is opposed by some other ideology. First it degenerates into a totalitarian faith and then it dies out.

The ideological struggles that we observed throughout the 20th century have been replaced by a tactical control of the narrative and an ability to create and promote tactical ideas and images for specific foreign policy agendas. The fight of ideas ­ European cakes, Russian pressure, the Euromaidan, the Turkomaidan, etc. ­ is shifting to a tactical game and this trivializing of once powerful ideas and images is for the moment irreversible, which poses a challenge to Russia and its foreign policy.

It is a challenge primarily because we are used to thinking and acting in a grand style, whereas the world of tactical solutions requires accuracy, consistency and ruthlessness in how it achieves its aims and promotes its ideas. The narrative control is emerging as a crucial foreign policy tool on a par with classic "chessboard diplomacy." Russia's classic "chessboard diplomacy" was, in recent years (the "reset" policy, Syria in September 2013, Ukraine and Iran in November and December), extremely successful and created an impression of its overall success in the international scene.

Today, however, it is imperative that Russia build up the effectiveness of its foreign policy, which should become comprehensive. This does not mean that the state's entire activities are to be subordinated to its foreign policy, but the ability of all government agencies, the business community, the Church, the media and non-profit organizations to vigorously interact and substitute each other in promoting national interests and agendas internationally. What is needed is a total interchangeability and complementarity of all players, as well as free movement for all the above categories and all public institutions across the field of foreign policy activities. Foreign policy should be open-ended and involve all national stakeholders, while remaining integral where the most important task is concerned ­ Russia's survival in the global environment and the development of its competitiveness.

What personnel training strategy can we choose to cater to this comprehensive foreign policy? Russia has a unique diplomatic school, the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, which trains top-notch specialists. But, as I see it, modern international politics requires an even higher-level status, where everyone is capable of broad and open interaction with both government agencies and societies. Society, not the state, should engage with societies. I do not believe that the Russian government will be sufficiently effective in addressing the public abroad. It is only the public that can engage the public in other countries. The same goes for the Church, the media, and the social networks. This need to be open is a serious challenge and choice for Russia.

We must work to develop international studies in Russia, not international relations studies, just as is done in the majority of the world's leading universities. International studies would give universal international specialists practical, flexible and multidisciplinary knowledge, preparing them for work in government agencies, the business community and the private sector. Their education would be based on a combination of economic, humanitarian and political sciences that would allow them to forecast and explain the entire spectrum of vertical and horizontal relationships between states. We must create this new school so as to be able to train specialists for the modern world, specialists capable of operating within the paradigm of the comprehensive foreign policy which Russia so desperately needs.