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RIA Novosti
August 14, 2006
I do not want to court disaster, but I have to say... [Russia self-image, international affairs]

MOSCOW. (Sergei Karaganov for RIA Novosti) - The Russian Federation and its president have without a doubt successfully passed a serious test for earning the title of a great power, which the country lost after perestroika and the subsequent years of semi-democratic chaos and economic degradation of the 1990s.

In St. Petersburg Russia did not receive everything it was hoping for. Dozens of articles have been written on this subject. But Russia and its president achieved a lot in St. Petersburg - primarily, prestige. For the first time, Russia chose some of the items on the agenda (such as energy) for the old great powers. When yet another big international crisis developed during the G8 summit, as often happens, Russian diplomacy rose to the occasion. We suggested courses of action which were accepted. The summit's PR was excellent, too.

A really big result of the summit for Russia was that the new leading nations of the world - China, India, South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico - were involved in the preparations for it, rather than merely attending it as guests. This is a serious step on the path to turning the G8 into an efficient organization bringing together the great powers -"a concert of nations" for the 21st century.

Its partners left Russia empty-handed concerning its WTO entry. But it looks like Moscow does not need WTO membership for prestige, and it is not prepared to give in to other members' demands, some of which border on absurdity. The main point is that the WTO-launched liberalization of international trade has obviously run aground. The conditions imposed by Russia's partners, or their puppets, are simply ridiculous. In this stalemate Russia will not be able to enter the WTO in the next two years anyway, and it has only strengthened its position by turning down the demands.

With all due respect for the diplomats who drafted the texts of the declarations adopted in St. Petersburg, these documents are only marginally better than usual. They are mostly empty, containing the usual set of good wishes but few specific commitments.

People like me, who have read such declarations for some 15 years, can only praise them for a more succinct wording.

The G8 may be blamed for its lack of readiness to deal with urgent and important global issues, but such criticism has become trivial. All journalists who are not too lazy have had their chance.

Now I'd like to talk about what I think (from my subjective point of view) should be on the agenda of the G8, or 12, or even 20 responsible states.

A decline in the level of control over international relations calls for new administrative institutions (on a par with and in support of the waning UN). This is common knowledge, but nobody is ready to do anything practical about it.

The U.S. has embarked on a unilateral project, and is failing signally both in Iraq and in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to name but a few.

Meanwhile, a number of conflicts that are brewing now are very similar to the preludes to some of the big wars of the past.

The Islamic world, like different parts of Europe at one time, is overtly against the values and lifestyle of the general (let's call it modern European) civilization. The gap is widening, and tensions are running high.

The crisis in the Middle East (between Israel and its closest neighbors) is obviously going from bad to worse. I hope that the current clash between Hizbollah and Israel does not develop into a large-scale war involving Iran and other foreign powers, and lead to strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, or else there will be a number of big wars in what is called the greater Middle East.

This is all the more relevant because the causes of this "war of civilizations" are plain. But this is a subject for another article.

Almost universally growing trade protectionism is another bad sign. It is aggravating political tensions and breeding mistrust.

The nuclear non-proliferation regime has almost collapsed. Proliferation has started and been practically legitimized with the recognition of India and Pakistan as de facto nuclear powers. Unstable Pakistan may explode at any time, and no one can predict where its nuclear weapons will land.

Now that the U.S. has accepted India as a nuclear power and the two countries have signed an agreement on cooperation in the nuclear field, the world community has no moral or political arguments to use against other countries that want to get nuclear arms. At the G8 summit the leaders of the great powers demonstrated a common, albeit mild, approach to Iran; but they are not likely to remain united when it comes to sanctions, to say nothing of military strikes.

In addition, attempts to prevent North Korea from going nuclear having failed, the chances of a nuclear arms race in the Far East have become very high.

Almost the whole of Africa is in a deplorable condition. More often than not, assistance does not work, even when it is actually given rather than simply promised.

The world community is clearly unable to manage its international relations. In this situation, a provocation or misunderstanding may lead to big trouble.

Many aspects of the contemporary international situation are reminiscent of the circumstances which preceded world wars. I do not want to court disaster, but I have to speak about my concerns as a professional involved in international relations.

What is the way out? I have discussed this issue with my colleagues more than once. The number of those who concur is multiplying, but ours is still a voice in the wilderness. We need a new institution of international control. It can have any name, but the gist should be the same: the powerful and responsible powers should unite and form an organization on a par with the UN, a controlling body, which will sometimes impose definite standards of conduct on the world community. No matter how many countries become members, the organization should act at one. Otherwise, it will get nowhere, and the world will have to go through another series of disasters. This time, it will not happen in Europe, but today's world has become much more interdependent than it was in the past.

The organization may have any name: the "Community of Democratic States" (my colleagues and I liked that one the most in the early 1990s), or the "Union for Development and Stable Peace" (which we favor now).

What's in a name? But there is an objective need to set up an effective union of great and responsible powers, which would be able not merely to proclaim, but to enforce certain rules of conduct to prevent the world from sliding down into a new and much more dangerous situation.

The union should be permanent. It should have a secretariat and be closely connected with the UN, but should not depend on the support of the majority of the latter's members. No matter how many countries join it, they should adopt the principle of a qualified majority. For example, decisions should be made according to the 12-2 principle.

I could go on talking about what I consider an ideal project to create a new world order, but I will stop at this point.

I hope that the G8 leaders will resume the discussion of this idea at their next meeting in Germany. Otherwise, we will be getting pleasant communiques while the world deteriorates into dangerous instability.

Sergei Karaganov is the chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.