May 14, 2003
Lessons of the War in Iraq
By Sergei Karaganov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
The war in Iraq highlighted some sources of the crisis of the existing international system, previously obscure or never recognized because of inertness or the new code of political tact.
Most of the countries established by national liberation movements between the 1940's and 1990's turned out to be unable to introduce normal life on their territories. Many of these countries and regimes are unviable and will certainly collapse in the foreseeable future. This is a source of political and military-political instability in a colossal region encompassing a considerable part of Africa, Mideast, Central and South Asia, and a great deal of former Soviet republics.
This lack of stability and degeneration of numerous countries breeds and will go on breeding a considerable number of challenges including proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and religious and ethnic crises.
It is this fundamental destabilization (needless to say, along with the determination to solidify its might and position as super power) that is the major reason behind American actions in Iraq. Washington has itched to start "restoring order" (particularly in strategic regions) and modernizing regimes. There is no need to support these actions on the part of the United States, particularly since they may result in an even greater instability, but it is necessary to understand the roots of these actions.
The UN is in a profound crisis, the Iraqi crisis making the necessity of its reorganization even more apparent. It does not appear, however, that the UN can reform itself without being prodded.
We must have made a mistake in definition of other roots of the American policy as well. Iraqi disarmament was probably just an excuse for the operation to topple Saddam Hussein. There is just no saying whether American leaders themselves believed that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction or used it as a pretext.
As for Russia, it must have swallowed the show with UN inspectors, disarmament, etc, and formed its policy (in the UN as well) accordingly. If Moscow was out to persuade the United States not to attack and to defend the international law, which is out of sync with the modern political and economic realities, then it was a naive policy doomed to inevitable failure. If Moscow was out to defend the UN Security Council and its own position in it, then it acted (and to a considerable extent is still acting) to accomplish just the opposite.
I do not think that all attempts to prove that we were right and the Americans with the British wrong, or questions on "Where is the proof?" etc, are productive now. They will only generate mutual irritation. Preservation of the UN and its successful reorganization are impossible without the United States. Making the UN an instrument of the struggle with Washington, Moscow is but playing into the hands of the forces intent on doing away with the UN altogether.
The Iraqi operation merely confirmed the obvious. The United States is the only super power both in its might and in the readiness to use it. Nobody can point at any tendency indicating that the United States may weaken. Few may like it, but this is a fact not to be denied. Recognition of the fact leads to one conclusion only: being friends with the United States is usually beneficial, while being unfriendly is usually not.
The Iraqi war highlighted another fundamental phenomenon as well - crisis of the foreign political and defense elements of the European Union. Europe has clearly failed to form a quasi-federative state with a common foreign and defense policy. As far as these particular spheres are concerned, the European Union is deteriorating rather than making any progress.
The Iraqi crisis pushed to the surface the deeply rooted differences between the United States and Western Europe in political culture, attitude towards international politics and towards the role of raw strength in international affairs. The differences are unlikely to ruin the basic alliance cemented by common values. At the same time, they will lead to fiercer competition, competition for Russia included. This is where the danger lies. This is, however, what offers another chance.
It certainly seems that the Kremlin believed that France and Germany were ready to challenge the United States seriously, and therefore followed in Paris' wake. And Paris promoted their own goals and objectives, the foremost of them being solidification of the glory of France through harm or even humiliation of the United States. Chancellor of Germany had his own problems to deal with - weak positions of his government and pacifist disposition of the majority of the population of Germany. It is through this pacifist disposition that he hoped to reinforce positions of the government... As a matter of fact, Europe has always been against too close to rapprochement between Russia and the United States that solidifies positions of both countries and particularly those of Russia.
Moscow once again recalled the multipolar world concept (viewed as anti-American), took the stand in the UN Security Council that was a carbon copy of France's, and released a number of stiffly worded statements. Whereas China indicated its fundamental position on the issue but refrained from moving into the forefront. France and Germany are actively seeking reconciliation with the United States now. As for Russia, its positions on some matters of post-war reconstruction of Iraq are even stiffer than France's. The Russian-American relations have been damaged to a lesser extent than, say, the French-American, but neither can we boast of the depth of relations and mutuality of interests existing in the relations between the United States and "old Europe".
Refusal to defend the national economic interests was another mistake. This "generosity" raised a lot of brows.
Reports on some Russian "military advisers" in retirement operating in Iraq, on intelligence data and even military hardware slipped to Hussein's regime left some very odd impressions.
It is also clear now that Moscow was fed inadequate information on readiness of the Iraqi army and determination of Iraqi leaders to defend the country.
A few words on what should be done. There is only one choice if the Russian elite does not want to push the country towards Africanization - i.e. towards what essentially is self-destruction. We should constantly remind ourselves who we want to be with - the strong and successful or the weak and lagging.
While Russia is in its extremely vulnerable condition and its relations with the leading countries are fairly unstable, the model "cooperation - confrontation" with the United States is less beneficial than maximum cooperation. Cooperation does not mean that vital interests of the country should be neglected. I do not think by the way that any vital interests of Russia were encroached on in Iraq.
Maximum cooperation means that Russia will rely on nuclear weapons in politics, at least so as to feel more confident in its contacts with the United States and generally in the world that becomes more and more dangerous.
Rapprochement with Europe should remain a priority, particularly in the sphere of economic, social, and human contacts. Moreover, active foreign political cooperation with the leading members of the European Union is also beneficial. As for the strategic alliance with the European Union in foreign policy and security, it is not very productive for the time being. This is the sphere where Europe will probably become relatively weaker, not stronger, with the passage of time.
The course for the closest possible relations with the United States should not mean abandonment of national interests, either fundamental or specific economic ones. Applied to the Iraqi situation, it means support of post-war restoration of Iraq and its new government even formed without Russia's participation. It is the new government, no matter whom it is composed of, that will play the instrumental role in this country.
As for the UN, we should not be trying to make problems for the United States particularly since the United States overcomes them with such ease. Moscow should use what influence it retains for restoration of Iraq with as much of Russia's participation as possible. Iraq is not Kosovo. There is something to be gained in it. As for Kosovo, our peacekeepers should be pulled out. In Iraq, Moscow should give some serious thought to its potential participation in the next phases of the peacekeeping operation and reconstruction of the country. At the very least, Russia should indicate its economic interests in Iraq - debts, oil production, deliveries of some kinds of goods.
Long-term destabilization of the Mideast - the major oil-producing region in the world - offers Russia a unique chance. For at least two decades the country may rely on acceptable oil prices and the role of the global "energy stabilizer". Smart use of this factor offers Russia a source of income for modernization of the country and ups its geopolitical influence.