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#15 - JRL 2006-184 - JRL Home
RIA Novosti
August 15, 2006
Russia's external challenges in the 21st century

MOSCOW. (Sergei Kortunov for RIA Novosti) - Nearly all of the mid- and long-term forecasts for Russia's development made in this country and abroad are pessimistic. They predict a demographic collapse, a decline in the quality of human capital, economic and technological degradation, the crumbling of democracy, and a return to totalitarianism.

The only possible result of this will be Russia's rollback into the group of third-rate countries on the outskirts of global development, an eventual break-up, and division of the "Russian heritage" among the more successful international players: China, the United States, the European Union, Japan, and the Islamic states.

This is possible, but it's not the only scenario. The good news is that it should mobilize the nation to do something to prevent its coming true. But in order take appropriate actions, the country should put aside the hysterics and emotions and start calmly analyzing the military and political situation. This alone can provide the foundation for making realistic development forecasts for the world and Russia.

I suggest analyzing such realistic forecasts.

External threats to Russia will be minor in the short term (three to five years). It is difficult to imagine any country launching an armed aggression against Russia in this period. NATO has become the dominant military force in Europe, but there are no acute political or economic conflicts between its members and Russia that could develop into a major war.

Russia will maintain its nuclear status, and the arms control system, which ensures military and political predictability, will most likely be a sufficient strategic deterrence and therefore preclude the threat of a surprise attack.

At the same time, Russia cannot hope to sign major new agreements in this sphere with the U.S. Moreover, the nuclear club may expand, and the proliferation of missiles seems likely.

On the whole, the threat of an external attack is now much smaller than the threat of internal socio-political destabilization, a growing divide between the rich and the poor, a demographic catastrophe, continued technological degradation, and natural and man-made disasters (including those brought about by the deterioration of fixed assets).

We must admit that the main threats to Russia's vital interests do not come from without, but are the result of domestic developments and events in the former Soviet republics.

Therefore, Russia should have the following national security priorities: Domestic political and social tasks should come first (protecting human rights and liberties, and building the foundations of a civil society and an effective democratic state). Next should come technological modernization, including the renewal of fixed assets, transition to innovation-based economic development and global competitiveness, and the creation of an affordable, quality social infrastructure, just like in successful post-industrial states: healthcare, education, pension insurance, affordable housing, etc. Taken together, this boils down to improving living standards. And the last task is to protect these achievements from external threats by deterring aggressions and ensuring the country's vital interests beyond the national territory.

In the mid term (10-15 years), external threats may grow, especially in the south. Islamic extremism is gaining momentum in the world, and Russia is coming face to face with the aggressive regimes of the Middle East. If diplomats fail to develop good relations with Islamic countries, disputes with some Muslim countries that seek domination from Bosnia to Tajikistan may develop into confrontation. At the worst, Russia may have to wage several Afghan-type wars in its domestic territory or in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In may be a period of continued degradation of international security mechanisms (the UN, NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, etc.), as well as the main regimes of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, primarily missiles.

East-West relations may also deteriorate, but a direct military threat is improbable. However, Russia and NATO should develop a mechanism for effective partnership, and the latter should change from a closed military bloc into a peacekeeping organization with Russia as a member and stop its military infrastructure from moving to Russia's borders. Otherwise the situation could be aggravated to the point of potential confrontation between Russia and the West.

We must realize that the role of nuclear weapons in ensuring national security will keep diminishing in the midterm. The United States will equip its armed forces with fifth- and subsequently sixth-generation precision-guided weapons with powerful information systems, which will allow it to wage non-contact wars.

Russia is unlikely within the next 10 years to have the technology to rival the U.S., which may deploy tactical ballistic missile systems effective against some (though not all) Russian strategic forces, as well as elements of a territorial National Missile Defense system.

In addition, if Russia fails to start batch production of fifth-generation weapons (including an analogue of the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter), possibly in cooperation with the leading EU countries, Washington will monopolize the global arms market, and Russia will most probably lose its standing as a global arms supplier, which is a major lever for influencing global politics as a whole.

In the medium term, China may enter into serious disputes with Russia's regional allies (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), as well as with neutral Mongolia, which is a crucial nation for Russia. Although there are no grounds for forecasting aggressive Chinese aspirations now, some objective factors point to the possibility of disputes between China and Russia, which might create serious security problems for Russia's regions beyond Lake Baikal and the Maritime Territory. (To be continued)

Sergei Kortunov is deputy chairman of the expert council of the international affairs committee of the upper house of Russia's parliament.