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NG Dipkuryer
No. 8
May 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
Sergei KARAGANOV, presidium chair, Council of Foreign and Defence Policy

It appears that until recently Russia had a wrong view of the US and British motives in the anti-Iraqi campaign. Partly for ideological reasons and partly because of the lack of information, we spoke about the oil factor, the factor of the US striving for global domination, and other factors. Moscow's official standing was based on the assumption that Washington wanted to invade Iraq in order to cleanse it of weapons of mass destruction. Practice showed that the assumption was not quite right.

Indeed, disarmament was one of the more apparent reasons for the US stand. But it was also partly a pretext, especially because the Americans did not have reliable information about the presence of such weapons in Iraq.

In my opinion, the main thing was that Washington had at long last decided to deal with a vital international problem, which nobody spoke about and still does not speak about for reasons of political correctness. The main political problem of the modern world is that states that appeared on the global map in the past 50 year as a result of national liberation revolutions and all kinds of socialist experiments have proved a failure. Only China has survived its socialist experiment more or less successfully.

A large group of countries has developed in the world, mostly in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, which do not develop and are even lagging more and more behind the rest of the world. Some of them are degenerating. But political correctness precluded the discussion of this problem, also because all of these states make up the majority of the UN and its General Assembly.

It took many years for this problem to ripen and all the while nobody admitted its existence. After the September 11, 2001 tragedy in the USA, the world opened its eyes to the terrorist threat and another, less evident but much more serious threat - the emergence of a large group of countries that cannot ensure normal life to their people and are a kind of "political Chernobyls," spreading around them the threats of instability, terrorism, religious fanaticism, drugs, and so on.

Eventually, these states have turned into a danger to themselves and the rest of the world. It was not coincidental that the US scientific community addressed the problem some time ago. So, Washington decided to restore order, acting at will and in its own interests. It launched a modernisation process, above all in the Middle East and Central Asia. This is the main reason for the recent US actions.

This reason can hardly be considered legal within the framework of modern law and world order. But the problem does exist; it is quite real and its presence must be accepted. The Americans did not dare to openly admit the main goal of their actions, hiding instead behind the unconvincing statements on disarmament and launching a bad propaganda campaign before the Iraqi war, which earned them more opponents than supporters.

The second element that remained hidden but has recently become public knowledge is that the USA is the only power capable of effectively applying its might. It has proved this ability in practice. Washington had proclaimed its abilities in the past but many people refused to trust its statements. This is one more new reality for Russian politicians and the rest of the world.

There are grounds to believe that some time later the USA and its allies will deal (not necessarily by military methods) with other regimes. They do not seem willing to begin another conflict. But then, they will not need to regularly use their armed forces after the effective demonstration of their power in Iraq. The Iraqi war was a convincing demonstration and the world accepts now their resolve to act.

It would be extremely dangerous if the USA became giddy with success and started bearing down on each and everyone. If nothing goes unhinged in the USA, there will not be any external resistance to US efforts. There cannot be a new Vietnam War by definition because no country would support such campaign as the Soviet Union and China supported Vietnam in the 1960s. In short, if no internal problems arise in the USA, this policy will be carried on.

What should Russia do in this situation? To begin with, it should accept this new reality. We have been acting within the framework of an old paradigm so far. Regrettably, we could not pursue a serious foreign policy for decades. In Soviet times, our hands were tied by socialist dogmas - but at least the state had money to spend on foreign policy. The number of dogmas diminished in the past decade but no allocations were made on foreign policy, which is why Russia "missed" a decade of incredibly quick global development. We must study the world around us, try to understand it and develop a foreign policy suited to it.

We must study the world and force ourselves to regard the new realities seriously. And we must also carefully evaluate our resources. Russia has many more resources than would seem at first glance. The old resources, such as historical memory or nuclear weapons, must be regularly upgraded.

Russia has one more resource it could use. It stands at the edge of a vast instability region and this geopolitical situation makes it a vital power from the viewpoint of influencing this region.

There is one possibility to increase its role in the world. It appears that instability will rock the main source of oil - the Middle East - for decades to come. This means that Russian oil may become a more important political and stability factor than it is now. We can assume part of OPEC's functions.

We must seriously evaluate these possibilities and gear our foreign policy machinery to them because foreign policy is becoming a more important part of general policy than we would like it to be. The reasons are the growing changes in the development of international relations, the new role of the USA, and changes in Europe. The relaxed mode of operation of the Russian foreign policy machine of the past decade is not acceptable.

And one more thing: We must admit that history is relative but interests are practical. People in Russia and its foreign colleagues and partners are shocked that we have not yet learned to protect our economic interests - in a different way in each particular case.

This means that we are still pursuing a socialist-type foreign policy or even a foreign policy of the 18th century, when geopolitics, prestige and personal relations were more important than the interests of constituent members of the given states or of their population.

When we think of examples of political behaviour, we tend to look up at the USA or fight it and its "wrongful" actions. But it would be expedient to look at China, which hid behind everybody's back - as usual - during the recent developments. Beijing outlined its stand but did not stick its neck out. In the meantime, it forced Pyongyang to agree to talk and became a vital US partner on the issue of key significance to it. In other words, Beijing has outrun Russia in this issue. Russia used to be the USA's first choice in the camp of non-allies. But China, which had been spoken with hostility in the USA and had regarded the USA with deep suspicion only recently, is claiming our role now.

Russia should also review its policy with regard to Europe. In my opinion, this policy is based on unrealistic views of the direction in which the Old World is moving.

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