Authors: Zhao Huasheng and Andrey Kortunov
The Chinese authorities have never accepted or used the concept of China-U.S. bipolarity. Neither the so-called co-governance (G2) nor the bipolar confrontation between China and the United States is consistent with China’s diplomatic philosophy and policy. The Russian official narrative has also rejected the idea that the world has been moving in the direction of a new bipolarity, insisting on a gradual transformation of the unipolar, U.S.-centered international system of early XXI century to a multipolar (or polycentric) world order.
In spite of this, there are more and more discussions on the bipolarization of China and the United States in academic circles both in China and in Russia. Especially after the COVID-19 outbreak, China-U.S. relations have deteriorated sharply, conflicts between China and the U.S. have intensified, and bipolarization has become a hot issue in academic and political discussions of international politics. More and more often, observers of contemporary international relations look at these relations through the optics of a seemingly irreconcilable confrontation between the West and the East (or between liberal democracies and illiberal autocracies, between Atlanticism and Eurasianism, between maritime and continental powers, and so on). This intellectual flavor of the month calls for an unbiased analysis of what bipolarity means for Beijing and Moscow and how it does or does not fit into the Chines and the Russian perceptions of the emerging world order.
There are at least three forms of bipolarities: political bipolarity, structural bipolarity and value bipolarity. Political bipolarity is the bipolarity in political cognition. It has certain political attributes and shows a number of political implications in terms of international status and influence. For example, bipolar co-governance or bipolar confrontation belong to political bipolarity. Structural bipolarity is bipolarity in material cognition. It reflects the explicit superiority of two big countries over other international actors in terms of material resources that they have at their disposal. Fundamentally, material or structural bipolarity is the foundation for political bipolarity; the latter emerges based on the former. Finally, value bipolarity implies that in defining poles, one should keep in mind value differences between major actors. In particular, libel democracies by definition cannot be divided into different poles because of their value proximity to each other; the borderline between poles should, among other things, reflect a clash in value systems — e.g., between Western-type democracies and non-Western authoritarianism of various sorts.
This triple attribute of bipolarity is an important theoretical presupposition in the analysis of bipolarization and a logical starting point for understanding the cognitive and theoretical differences between China, Russia and the West on this issue. In China, there is a tradition to emphasize the material dimension of bipolarity (or multipolarity). For the Chinese, the international structure has a natural attribute initially. Whether it is unipolar, bipolar or multipolar, these structures merge as a pure reflection of existing asymmetries in international players’ material potentials. If any two actors have material resources far superior to all other actors, we can define the system as bipolar. The term has no inherent political connotation. It is neither naturally confrontational nor cooperative. Its political nature is to be given by decisions of the two “poles” in question. These “poles” can either follow the idea of equal cooperation or pursue a policy of competition and confrontation.
In Russia, they tend to emphasize the political dimension in defining the “poles” in world politics. This approach reflects Russia’s active foreign policy and power projection initiatives, while the country experiences a relative deficit of material resources. In Moscow, they often claim that the United States, China and Russia constitute the top league of global politics. The material weakness of Russia can be allegedly offset by its remarkable ability to focus on achieving specific foreign policy goals, on its capacity to mobilize needed resources, on its readiness to sustain a coherent long-term strategy in various regions, and so on. In this paradigm, Moscow can punch way above its weight, bringing an important dimension to the U.S.-China equation.
In the West, it is common to emphasize the value dimension of bipolarity. This Manichean approach to international relations implies that bipolarity becomes confrontational primarily due to the gap in values, which might exist between major players in the international system. If the descending and the ascending world leader do not have this gap (e.g., the United Kingdom and the United States in the late XIX – early XX centuries), the system is not truly bipolar. At best, we can argue that the system contains elements of bipolarity. However, if the value gap exists (the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War), the system turns bipolar in the full sense of the word.
New Type of Great Power Relations vs “Thucydides Trap”
Based on the theoretical premise that the political relationship between great powers is malleable, China proposes the concept of a new type of great power relationship, meaning an equal, mutually respective, cooperative and win-win relationship. It is opposite to the popular “Thucydides trap” theory, believing that the confrontational nature of bipolarity is natural, inevitable and unchangeable. In other words, China questions the assumption that bipolarity means and can only be a confrontation.
It is at this point that the Chinese and the Western perceptions diverge. If great powers are destined to be antagonistic, the new type of great powers theory raised by China will lose its meaning. On the other hand, if the new type of great powers theory is reasonable, then the “Thucydides trap” is just one of the possible outcomes, and not the only one. Although both in theory or in practice the antagonistic relationship of bipolarity is much easier to appear than a cooperative one, because cooperative relations need to have a common intention of both poles, an antagonistic one could be formed by one side’s intention and behavior.
In Russia, they seem to share the Chinese view that there can be no determinism in the nature of relations between the two most powerful nations in the world. Indeed, even during the Cold War, there were periods of relaxation of tensions and limited détente between Moscow and Washington. Still, the predominant view is that the West (or, to be more exact, the United States) will not abandon its claims to global hegemony in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it will not accept a “cooperative” bipolarity or multipolarity, not to mention a truly democratic and inclusive polycentric world. The overall perception in Moscow is that unless there a fundamental change in the American foreign policy establishment, any U.S. leader will try to get back to the U.S.-led unipolar world, which is likely to result in an adversarial model of bipolarity. This bipolarity should not be “the West against the Rest.” It might take the form of “the U.S. against the Rest.”
As for the West, many political thinkers there assume that though there might be some ceasefires and truces in the U.S.-China confrontation, as well as in U.S.-Russian adversarial relations, at the end of the day, one can reconcile the global system only on the basis of common values. This assumption means that one side is destined to win and the other is doomed to lose. Needless to say, Western-type liberal democracy should ultimately prevail over its illiberal alternatives.
The Western logic of the “Thucydides trap” is that a strong country is bound to seek hegemony and is fight against alternative sets of values. In other words, it equates a strong country with hegemony and value universalism. In this regard, it also forms a division with China’s logic. According to China’s thinking, the relationship between a strong country and power politics is not necessarily corresponding. A strong country does not necessarily adopt unilateralism and move towards hegemony.
Moreover, a weak country does not naturally abide by just and reasonable thoughts and policies. Strength is also relative. Most countries in the world have a dual identity. They are weaker in the face of the stronger, but stronger in the face of the weaker. They can be strong in some fields but weak in others. They might be powerful in their material capabilities but powerless in their commitment to using them. Under different circumstances, nations have the status of transformation between “strong country” and “weak country,” and have the question of policy choice when facing the stronger or weaker country.
Here does not negate the basic role of structure to policy options, nor the basic principle of existence determines consciousness, and also understand the strong historical and realistic arguments of the theory of structural determinism. However, different from structural determinism, what we see in “existence” is not only the structure but also the historical civilization background, political system and culture, the changes of times and international conditions, the development and influence of technological means and other factors. More than that, the influence of existence on consciousness is not an absolutely one-way direction.
With national strength as the index, China’s status in world structure is not for China to choose. It is formed naturally and it’s not the result of a country’s choice. A state may desire for some kind of international structure, but it is only a subjective will, but not necessarily the objective reality.
Suppose that bipolarity has been already formed in material terms and China is one of it, what concept and policy will China choose? According to China’s thoughts, the most reasonable and possible choice is continuing to follow multilateralism. That is to say, China does not take the bipolarity as the center of international politics and does not regard the bipolarity as a super structure above the world, even if China’s national strength is higher than that of the other countries. China will assume greater international responsibilities, but it will still be willing to live with other countries as political equals.
This does not contradict China’s position as one of the two strongest poles, because multilateralism is a political attitude which is optional. The concept of multilateralism is closely related to multipolarization, so it is often treated as a similar or even the same concept, but in fact, they are different. Whether in Chinese, English or Russian, they are all nouns with different meanings. In nature, multilateralism is not only a method, but also a political thought and attitude with value orientation. Multilateralism is based on the principle of political equality, while multipolarization is mainly a policy based on relations of big powers. Multilateralism takes into account the interests of all countries related and is based on the balance of interests of all related countries, while multipolarization attaches importance to power and takes power as the main element. Multilateralism does not deny multipolarity and it can also contain multipolarity, but multipolarization does not necessarily contain multilateralism. It could be both compatible or contradictory with multilateralism.
Now as China’s status as a great power has been firmly established, and China is not only one of the many poles, but also possible one of the two strongest, China’s relations with the world have shifted to how it views relations with other countries rather than worrying about its own status. In this context, multilateralism, which focuses on relations with other countries, is more suited to China’s diplomatic needs. Multilateralism is not linked to a specific international structure and transcends the constraints of it. Therefore, it is not in contradiction with China’s status as one of the supposed bipolarity.
Russian-Chinese cooperation is gaining more ground, growing in all areas from the economic to political and security domains. The Chinese-Russian axis creates opportunities and temptations for neighboring and more distant states, resulting in the rapid institutional development of such entities as the SCO or BRICS. Though in Moscow they still refer to the notion of a multipolar or polycentric world, it seems that in reality, there is an increasing readiness to accept the new bipolar reality with the United States and China as the centers of gravity for this new polarization of global politics.
One might ask the question: is there anything fundamentally wrong about a bipolar world for Russia? Was it not the Soviet-U.S. bipolarity that served as the foundation of global peace and stability for some forty years after the Second World War? Isn’t it fair to say that a bipolar world – with all its imperfections and limitations notwithstanding – is still much better than the potential alternative of a gradual erosion of global governance and the arrival of anarchy and chaos in international relations? So why can’t Moscow simply accept this new polarity as a plausible and realistic option that can define the hierarchy and structure of the international system in the XXI century?
Some analysts in Russia have gone even further and maintain that this new global split has been historically predetermined and unavoidable, being based on “objective” realities. It is often argued that the Atlantic and the Eurasian civilizations have opposed each other from the days immemorial, that “land” powers have always and will always be different from “maritime” powers, that the “global continent” (Eurasia) is the eternal counterweight to the “global island” (America). And that it makes little sense to challenge the laws of history and geography. The logical conclusion is that we should take the emerging bipolarity as a natural and, in a way, even desirable state of affairs. The only realistic goal should be to maintain this bipolarity within a mutually acceptable framework in order to avoid an uncontrolled confrontation with unacceptably high risks and costs involved.
In our view, such a conclusion is at the very least premature. It is hard to deny that a trend towards a new bipolarity has already manifested itself not only in geopolitics, but also in the global strategic balance and the global economy. But whether this trend can be considered positive and whether it should be regarded as inevitable — these are points that can be disputed. Let me briefly outline a couple of arguments against these assumptions.
In the history of intellectual thought, any rigid determinism — be it religious, ethnic, economic or geographical — has always failed to explain and to predict social change and international developments. The period of the Cold War can hardly be described as an era of peace and stability — it included numerous regional wars and crises and an unprecedented arms race. Furthermore, in a number of cases, the world was very close to global nuclear conflict.
It is even more important to underscore the following. The modern world is very different from what it was in the second half of the XX century. Fifty years ago, the world was divided into two systems — the Western (capitalist) and the Eastern (communist) with irreconcilable (antagonistic) contradictions between them. In other words, the bipolar system was based on a solid ideological foundation. This foundation is gone and it is hard to imagine that it will reemerge in the foreseeable future. Nationalism, even in its extreme forms, and religious fundamentalism are unlikely to replace the fundamental ideological divide of the previous century.
Moreover, all of the main international players today have to confront essentially the same set of threats and challenges to their security, which are very different from the traditional threats and challenges of the XX century and earlier periods. Today, state leaders have to deal with international terrorism and political extremism, with transnational crime and illicit drug trafficking, with uncontrolled migration and climate change, with the instabilities of the global financial system and increased risks of technological disasters. Some of these challenges existed during the Cold War, but only in an “embryonic” form, being overshadowed by the all-embracing East-West confrontation.
One of the specific features of this new set of challenges is that most of them are not generated by other (rival) great powers. In fact, these threats have nothing to do with state actors of the international system, except for a small number of irresponsible, radical regimes (rogue states). The new generation of threats and challenges come from subversive non-state actors. They may represent the negative side effects of technological and economic progress, or the growing shortage of natural resources, or the obsolescence of many key international institutions and norms of international public law. This is a fundamental difference between the period of the Cold War and today’s world. Additionally, this is why a new bipolar system, even if it can be established, is unlikely to provide any long-term security or stability.
One should keep in mind another important difference between the contemporary international situation and that of the Cold War. During the Cold War, the Soviet bloc was economically almost completely separated from the West, as the two poles of the world did not depend on each other for their development. Today, in the era of globalization, the level of interdependence between the East and the West, between the “global continent” and the “global island” is unprecedentedly high. Therefore, any political bipolarity, which would have an inevitable impact on the economic, financial, cultural, and humanitarian dimensions of international relations, is likely to have much higher costs for everyone than the Cold War ever had. Not to mention the massive relocation of material and human resources from addressing numerous global problems looming on the horizon.
In sum, the trend towards a new bipolarity is troublesome and dangerous. Even in its modified and “modernized” form, a bipolar arrangement is not likely to successfully handle the critical international questions of this century. If the world is split once again, this will likely have long-term negative repercussions for the whole system despite some tactical gains that can be anticipated by the leaders of the new “poles.” It is in our common interest to avoid this option and move towards a more inclusive, democratic and truly global international system. Since “no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.”
Looking at the current global geopolitical landscape, we have to conclude that, although the triangle is still a popular and useful analytical pattern and one of the possible future scenarios for U.S.-China-Russia relations, no U.S.-China-Russia triangle today resembles that of the Cold War. Instead, for a couple of years, we observed the U.S. policy of “dual containment” with Washington applying more and more pressure on both Beijing and Moscow. This pressure has become an important factor cementing the Chinese-Russian strategic partnership.
This situation is a clear strategic setback for Washington. Since at least the early 20th century, one of the most important goals of the U.S. foreign policy has always been to prevent any consolidated anti-American center of power in Eurasia. U.S. policymakers have perceived a divided Eurasian landmass as an indispensable prerequisite for the global U.S. strategic hegemony. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger understood the critical importance of keeping Eurasia divided better than anyone else did. He was more efficient than any U.S. leader before him in exploiting the growing rifts between Beijing and Moscow back in the early 1970s.
Can President-elect Joe Biden repeat Kissinger’s success and resurrect the U.S.-China-Russia triangle with the U.S. at the top of it? Of course, almost 50 years have passed since the famous trip of Kissinger to Beijing in July of 1971. The world today is definitely very different from the world of the 20th century. The former bedrock theology of geopolitics may look old-fashioned and even antiquated. Still, let us consider the options that the U.S. leadership has in trying to keep Eurasia divided.
The first option would be to read Kissinger literally. That is to support the weaker U.S. adversary against the stronger one. Today, it would mean that Washington should try to bring Moscow to the American side in its predestined confrontation with Beijing. After all, Russia is a communist country no more, and Russian leaders should be concerned about the growing asymmetry of power between their country and China. To play the weaker adversary against the stronger one was a stated goal of the Trump administration, which it failed to achieve. U.S.-Russian relations did not improve under Trump. On the contrary, they fell to historic lows.
It is highly unlikely that Biden can be more successful in pursuing this goal than his predecessor was. The U.S. simply has nothing to offer to President Putin to make him reconsider his current close friendship with President Xi Jinping — be it in economic, political or strategic domains. Even if Biden were considering a new reset with the Kremlin, he would hardly be in a position to go for such a reset: The anti-Russian consensus in Washington is too strong and shows no signs of crumbling. It seems that the U.S.-Russian relationship will be locked in a confrontational mode for many years to come.
The second option for Biden in trying to resurrect the U.S.-China-Russia triangle would be to play on the opposite side of the stage, seeking an acceptable accommodation with the stronger Beijing and putting the squeeze on the weaker Moscow. Turning Kissinger’s geopolitical scheme on its head is certain to find a host of supporters and advocates in Washington. For them, Russia makes a far more convenient opponent than China. America would have to pay an exorbitant price for a full-fledged confrontation with China: a drop in their bilateral trade, which is very important for the U.S., severance of established global technological chains, a rapid increase in military spending, etc. The U.S.-Russia confrontation will cost much less, given that there is very little economic and technological mutual dependence between the two states, and Moscow is far less prepared to engage in costly military competition with Washington.
However, is it realistic for Biden to count on a sweet deal with China? Such a bargain requires the White House to be willing to reconsider its fundamental ideas about the place the U.S. holds in the system of international relations. The U.S. will have to abandon its claim to global American hegemony similar to that of the times of Kissinger. Certainly, neither Biden nor his entourage is ready to do that. If a revolution in the U.S.’ self-perception and its perception of the world ever starts, this is not likely to happen earlier than 2024 and, until that time, Washington-Beijing relations will remain complicated and tense.
Even more importantly, just as Trump repeatedly saw throughout the four years of his presidency that it was impossible to tear Russia away from China, Biden will steadily see that China cannot be torn away from Russia. Beijing needs Moscow regardless of the current state of affairs and the prospects for China-U.S. relations. China’s leadership will be happy to act as an arbiter or “balancer” between Russia and America, but it will not actively support the U.S. in its desire to corner Russia. In other words, if a U.S.-China-Russia triangle could ever emerge, it would be a triangle with Beijing, not Washington, on the top of it.
Thus, the Biden administration will not accomplish a lot if it attempts to resurrect the U.S.-China-Russia triangle. Under the current circumstances, a version of a “dual containment” equation appears to be the most likely approach of this new U.S. administration towards Beijing and Moscow, with China being treated more as a peer competitor and Russia as a global rouge state. To cut the costs of dual containment, Biden will try to mobilize U.S. Western allies in Europe and in East Asia. It will also try to keep Eurasia divided by forging stronger ties to China’s adversaries in Asia — above all, to India. By doing so, Biden will inevitably push the world closer to a new geopolitical bipolarity instead of a modernized version of the U.S.-China-Russia triangle.
Multilateralism – A Path for Future China-Russia Cooperation
Over the past years, promoting multipolarization has been an important target for China-Russia international cooperation. Now the situation has changed. China is becoming one of the supposed new bipolarity, the status of China and Russia in the international structure will no longer be the same. It can be felt that Russia’s concern about it may be in an unequal position in Sino-Russian relations is increasing. In addition, it used to be said that China and Russia were a coalition of two weaker states in response to pressure from the sole superpower, the U.S. Now that China itself is becoming a “superpower,” what concepts will serve as the path for future China-Russia’s international cooperation?
Multilateralism certainly could play an important role in this, both as ideas and policies. Multilateralism opposes unipolarity but does not negate multipolarity. It still leaves the door open for Russia as a great power in a multipolar world. Multilateralism embodies the spirit of political equality. It stipulates China and Russia are equal partners both in international affairs and in bilateral relations. Multilateralism is consistent with Russia’s diplomatic ideology as well. Russia itself is a supporter of multilateralism and takes it as the banner of Russian diplomacy. Russia proposes that the future multipolarity should have a just and democratic character and that it should not be based solely on the balance of power, but on the interaction of national interests, patterns, cultures and traditions. This can be interpreted as a moral demand of Russia to international structure, and it is certainly true. Above all, despite all of the changes, China will still pursue the same goals in international affairs, such as anti-hegemony, anti-unilateralism, anti-neointerventionism, maintaining international strategic stability and establishing a more just and fair world order. Therefore, the goals of China and Russia in international politics will remain unchanged.
From our partner RIAC
The Russia-China-Iran Alliance
NATO, the U.S. Government, and all other “neoconservatives” (adherents to Cecil Rhodes’s 1877 plan for a global U.S. empire that would be run, behind the scenes, by the UK’s aristocracy) have been treating Russia, China, and Iran, as being their enemies. In consequence of this: Russia, China, and Iran, have increasingly been coordinating their international policies, so as to assist each other in withstanding (defending themselves against) the neoconservative efforts that are designed to conquer them, and to add them to the existing U.S. empire.
The U.S. empire is the largest empire that the world has ever known, and has approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries, all over the planet. This is historically unprecedented. But it is — like all historical phenomena — only temporary. However, its many propagandists — not only in the news-media but also in academia and NGOs (and Rhodesists predominate in all of those categories) — allege the U.S. (or UK-U.S.) empire to be permanent, or else to be necessary to become permanent. Many suppose that “the rise and fall of the great powers” won’t necessarily relate to the United States (i.e., that America will never fall from being the world’s dominant power); and, so, they believe that the “American Century” (which has experienced so many disastrous wars, and so many unnecessary wars) will — and even should — last indefinitely, into the future. That viewpoint is the permanent-warfare-for-permanent-peace lie: it asserts that a world in which America’s billionaires, who control the U.S. Government (and the American public now have no influence over their Government whatsoever), should continue their ‘rules-based international order’, in which these billionaires determine what ‘rules’ will be enforced, and what ‘rules’ won’t be enforced; and in which ‘rules-based international order’ international laws (coming from the United Nations) will be enforced ONLY if and when America’s billionaires want them to be enforced. The ideal, to them, is an all-encompassing global dictatorship, by U.S. (& UK) billionaires.
In other words: Russia, China, Iran, and also any nation (such as Syria, Belarus, and Venezuela) whose current government relies upon any of those three for international support, don’t want to become part of the U.S. empire. They don’t want to be occupied by U.S. troops. They don’t want their national security to depend upon serving the interests of America’s billionaires. Basically, they want the U.N. to possess the powers that its inventor, FDR, had intended it to have, which were that it would serve as the one-and-only international democratic republic of nation-states; and, as such, would have the exclusive ultimate control over all nuclear and other strategic weapons and military forces, so that there will be no World War III. Whereas Rhodes wanted a global dictatorship by a unified U.S./UK aristocracy, their ‘enemies’ want a global democracy of nations (FDR named it “the United Nations”), ruling over all international relations, and being settled in U.N.-authorized courts, having jurisdiction over all international-relations issues.
In other words: they don’t want an invasion such as the U.S. and its allies (vassal nations) did against Iraq in 2003 — an invasion without an okay from the U.N Security Council and from the General Assembly — to be able to be perpetrated, ever again, against ANY nation. They want aggressive wars (which U.S.-and-allied aristocracies ‘justify’ as being necessary to impose ‘democracy’ and ‘humanitarian values’ on other nations) to be treated as being the international war-crimes that they actually are.
However, under the prevailing reality — that international law is whatever the U.S. regime says it is — a U.N.-controlled international order doesn’t exist, and maybe never will exist; and, so, the U.S. regime’s declared (or anointed, or appointed) ‘enemies’ (because none of them actually is their enemy — none wants to be in conflict against the U.S.) propose instead a “multilateral order” to replace “the American hegemony” or global dictatorship by the U.S. regime. They want, instead, an international democracy, like FDR had hoped for, but they are willing to settle merely for international pluralism — and this is (and always has been) called “an international balance of powers.” They recognize that this (balance of powers) had produced WW I, and WW II, but — ever since the moment when Harry S. Truman, on 25 July 1945, finally ditched FDR’s intentions for the U.N., and replaced that by the Cold War for the U.S. to conquer the whole world (and then formed NATO, which FDR would have opposed doing) — they want to go back (at least temporarily) to the pre-WW-I balance-of-powers system, instead of to capitulate to the international hegemon (America’s billionaires, the controller of the U.S. empire).
So: the Russia-China-Iran alliance isn’t against the U.S. regime, but is merely doing whatever they can to avoid being conquered by it. They want to retain their national sovereignty, and ultimately to become nation-states within a replacement-U.N. which will be designed to fit FDR’s pattern, instead of Truman’s pattern (the current, powerless, talking-forum U.N.).
Take, as an example of what they fear, not only the case of the Rhodesists’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, but the case of America’s coup against Ukraine, which Obama had started planning by no later than 2011, and which by 2013 entailed his scheme to grab Russia’s top naval base, in Crimea (which had been part of Russia from 1783 to 1954 when the Soviet dictator transferred Crimea to Ukraine). Obama installed nazis to run his Ukrainian regime, and he hoped ultimately for Ukraine to be accepted into NATO so that U.S. missiles could be installed there on Russia’s border only a five-minute missile-flight away from Moscow. Alexander Mercouris at The Duran headlined on 4 July 2021, “Ukraine’s Black Sea NATO dilemma”, and he clearly explained the coordinated U.S.-and-allied aggression that was involved in the U.S.-and-allied maneuvering. U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media hid it. Also that day, Mercouris bannered “In Joint Statement Russia-China Agree Deeper Alliance, Balancing US And NATO”, and he reported a historic agreement between those two countries, to coordinate together to create the very EurAsian superpower that Rhodesists have always dreaded. It’s exactly the opposite of what the U.S.-and-allied regimes had been aiming for. But it was the response to the Rhodesists’ insatiable imperialism.
To drive both Russia and China into a corner was to drive them together. They went into the same corner, not different corners. They were coming together, not coming apart. And Iran made it a threesome.
So: that’s how the U.S. regime’s appointed ‘enemies’ have come to join together into a virtual counterpart to America’s NATO alliance of pro-imperialist nations. It’s a defensive alliance, against an aggressive alliance — an anti-imperialist alliance, against a pro-imperialist alliance. America’s insatiably imperialistic foreign policies have, essentially, forced its ‘enemies’ to form their own alliance. It’s the only way for them to survive as independent nations, given Truman’s abortion of FDR’s plan for the U.N. — the replacement, by Truman of that, by the U.N. that became created, after FDR died on 12 April 1945.
New Strategic Report: Development Prospects for Improving Russia’s Policy in Africa
An expert group, has completed its studies of Russia’s policy implementation processes, impact and setbacks, and the development prospects in Africa, and has presented its final report with some recommendations intended to improve and scale up the existing Russia’s influence in Africa.
The report was prepared as part of a programme sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Situation Analytical Report, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, was headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Dean and Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Relations of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics (HSE University). Karaganov is also the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium, Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.
The 150-page report, released in November, offers new directions, some development prospects and recommendations for improving policy methods and approaches with Africa. The report identifies two key factors necessary for determining the long-term importance of the continent: (i) human capital and (ii) natural resources.
These make for the increased interest for investment in extractive industries and infrastructure, booming consumer markets rising at rates much higher than the rest of the world. With its 1.3 billion, it is a potential market for all kinds of consumable goods and for services. In the coming decades, there will be an accelerated competition between or among the external players over access to the resources and for economic influence in Africa.
Nevertheless, despite the growth of external player’s influence and presence in Africa, Russia has to intensify and redefine its parameters as it has now transcended unto the fifth stage. Russia’s Africa policy is roughly divided into four periods, previously after Soviet’s collapse in 1991.
The first historic summit created a good basis for launching or ushering in a new fifth stage of Russian-African relations. The joint declaration adopted at the summit raised the African agenda of Russia’s foreign policy to a new level and so far remains the main document determining the conceptual framework of Russian-African cooperation.
Some of the situation analysis participants, who contributed to the latest policy report spoke very critically of Russia’s current policy towards Africa and even claimed that there was no consistent policy and/or consistency in the policy implementation at all. The intensification of political contacts are only with a focus on making them demonstrative. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa has to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries.
While the number of top-most and high-level meetings have increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda often remains small or scanty. There are little definitive results from such meetings. There are, indeed, to demonstrate “demand for Russia” in the non-Western world; the formation of ad hoc political alliances with African countries geared towards competition with the collective West. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is shortage of qualified personnel, the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.
In addition, insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying, and combined with the lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking were listed among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Under the circumstance, Russia needs to compile its various ideas for cooperation with Africa into a single comprehensive and publicly available strategy to achieve more success with Africa.
In many cases and situations, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, unapproved projects are announced as going ahead. Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is an example. Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers often failed to meet its contractual obligations on time. Right now, there are many agreements signed, before and during the first Russia-Africa summit, and Russia simply fails to deliver, as promised with African countries.
“The situation analysis participants agreed that the lack of project due diligence and proper verification of contracting partners is one of the key challenges for Russian business in Africa. Many projects announced at the top and high political levels have not been implemented. The reason is usually that the projects were not properly prepared before official approval. As a result, budget funding is often spent on raw and unprepared initiatives,” according to the report.
The adoption by Russia of an open doctrinal document on cooperation with Africa will emphasize the seriousness of its intentions and create an atmosphere of trust, in which individual steps will attain greater weight and higher-level justification. In African conditions, this will mean accelerated coordination of essential decisions. It is important to note that such public strategies for the entire continent are a necessary instrument of the other countries that are active in Africa.
Unlike most competitors, Russia can afford to promote a more honest, open, direct and understandable agenda for Africa: sovereignty, continental integration, infrastructure development, human development (education and medicine), security (including the fight against hunger and epidemics), normal universal human values, the idea that people should live with dignity and feel protected. All situation analysis participants agreed with this view. The main advantage of such an agenda is that it may be more African than those of its competitors.
It is advisable to present such a strategy already at the second Russia-Africa summit, and discuss and coordinate it with African partners before that. Along with the strategy, it is advisable to adopt an Action Plan — a practical document that would fill cooperation with substance between summits.
One of the most important tasks critical for the effectiveness of Russian actions in Africa is the centralization and strengthening of the role and capacity of Russian state institutions on the African track, especially in the information sphere.
The report proposes dialogues should be enhanced between civil societies, including expert and academic organizations. In a situation where a rapid expansion of trade and economic relations is difficult (for example, due to economic stagnation or a crisis in the respective country), the humanitarian track can become one of the ways to deepen relations further.
On foreign players in Africa, the report points to China as number one active player. India’s influence continues to grow, as does the involvement of Turkey, the UAE, and Qatar, which are relatively new players in Africa. The influence and involvement of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil in the coming years, are likely to remain at the level of the past decade and will decline compared to China’s influence.
China, the EU, Germany, Turkey, Spain, and others have developed, announced and are implementing progressively their African strategies.
In general, of all the G7 countries, only Germany still has some potential to increase its influence and presence in Africa. Canada, Italy, and the UK, according to the authors, can at best maintain their influence at the same level, but it, too, will decrease compared that of the new centers of power.
At the same time, for its part, Africa will retain its importance for Europe in the long term and may even increase being an important source of a wide range of resources. Europe needs mineral resources (cobalt, gas, bauxite, rare earth metals) in order to carry out the energy transition, and human ones in order to make up for the natural decrease of population. The European banking system and financial institutions traditionally rely on Africa as a source of funding (while African capital often seeks refuge, and instability only accelerates its flight).
The influence of other non-European emerging powers, who often compete with each other, is also growing in Africa. UAE and Turkey may be mentioned among others. Their rivalry is visible in North Africa, West Africa and, especially, the Red Sea, and includes competition for control over both port infrastructure and points of possible military presence. A vivid example of this rivalry is Somalia, where Turkey is interacting and strengthening its position in Mogadishu, while the UAE, which recently lost control of the port in Djibouti, is taking a foothold in Berbera (in the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland).
There are indications that Israel, whose activity in many African countries, particularly in East Africa, has remained traditionally high (especially in “sensitive” areas, such as internal security, the training of security and special forces, as well as in economic, especially agriculture projects), will continue to increase its involvement in the short and medium term.
Making efforts to maintain and expand its presence in Africa, Israel is developing contacts with the UAE and through it with a number of Gulf countries. Africa will be one of the platforms for Israel’s interaction with these countries. It will continue attempts to reduce the influence of Iran that has been carrying out its own diverse activity in Africa, seeking to expand it further.
On July 22, 2021, already after the situation analysis had taken place, it was declared that Israel had obtained an observer status to the African Union.
In the next ten years, rivalry, the balance of power and interests in the Indian Ocean will become a key factor of military and strategic importance, for this is where the interests of China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Arab countries, Iran, as well as the United States, France and other players are likely to collide. These countries will use significant resources to strengthen their positions along the entire coast of Eastern Africa, from Egypt to South Africa, which means both risks and new opportunities for the countries of the region. The military and strategic importance of the Indian Ocean islands (including four African island states) will continue to grow.
The report proposes discussions on possible mechanisms and formats of bilateral and multilateral alliances with interested parties, whose interests in Africa may coincide with the Russian ones. For example, the potential of bilateral cooperation in Africa with India (including outside of BRICS) has not been fully tapped yet. Joint initiatives in Africa in the areas of international development assistance, education, health care, and project financing may be of interest as well. It is also advisable to explore, including at the expert level, the possibility of engaging with countries such as South Korea (widely represented in Africa), Vietnam (showing growing interest), Cuba, Serbia, and several others as part of Russian initiatives in Africa.
Without Africa, Russia would not have so many friendly partners sharing its strategic goal of building a fair polycentric world order. By all purposes, Africa seems to be a favorable region in terms of positioning Russia as a global center of power and a country that defends peace, sovereignty, the right of states to choose development models independently, and as a protector of nature and the environment. Therefore, Russia’s increased presence and influence in Africa does not and should not cause resistance among African countries.
It is also important to move away from the “zero-sum” approach in relations with the West, even though at first glance the interests and aspirations of the EU and the U. S. in Africa seem to be opposite to those of Russia. Russia should build its policy and rhetoric in relation to Africa regardless of its rivalry with the West and should not create the impression that its policy in Africa is driven by the wish to weaken the positions of the United States and the EU on the continent.
The situation analysis participants agreed that Russia’s policy in Africa should be a derivative of Russia’s overall foreign policy goals and objectives, the three key areas being:
a) Ensuring national security. In the African context, this means primarily the danger of new viruses, extremism, anything that may impact Russia’s national security, including competition with other centers of power.
b) Ensuring social and economic development of Russia. Africa is a promising market
for Russian products and services, and a factor that facilitates the diversification and
modernization of the Russian economy. The situation analysis participants agreed that this is the main aspect today. In future, Africa can become one of the important factors in the development of some of Russian non-resource sectors, particularly railway and agricultural engineering, automotive and wheeled equipment, as well as services (primarily education and health care).
c) Strengthening the position of the Russian Federation as one of the influential centers in the modern world. Political partnership with African countries and the African Union as friendly players can make an important contribution to these efforts. As UN votes show, the positions of Russia and most African countries are conceptually identical or similar on many issues. None of the African countries imposed sanctions or restrictions against Russia. The ideological basis for cooperation at this level can be provided by the conceptual documents and ideas recognized and supported by all African countries: the approach of “African Solutions to African Problems” be strictly followed, working within the framework of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the UN Development Goals 2030.
How the Arms Control Approach Could Help Russia Tackle Climate Change
The right approach would probably be to create a special interagency coordinator under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. It is vitally important that whoever heads the office is well respected by international partners: a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.
The energy crunch in Europe; the knee-jerk accusations of Russia having engineered it to win early approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline; and the Kremlin’s riposte, pointing to the EU’s own policy failures, dominate the news. Yet one really important development remains underreported. Moscow’s official view of climate change and energy policy has just undergone a major reversal. Weeks before the COP-26 climate summit in Glasgow, Russia’s Economic Development Ministry has come up with a national goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
This is not a covert attempt by the in-system liberals to begin aligning Russia’s climate policy with the policies of the world’s major powers. Rather, it is the consummation of a sea change that has been brewing for the past couple of years in the Kremlin’s thinking. President Vladimir Putin announced the carbon neutrality goal in remarks at the recent Russian Energy Week in Moscow. Climate change denial is over. Debate about what exactly has caused it is considered politically irrelevant. What matters are the existing realities and the current trends, which amount to all the world’s major economies moving away from dependence on fossil fuels. As a result, the new nexus of efforts to deal with climate change, the energy transition those efforts center on, and the geopolitical impact of that transition are moving right to the top of the Russian foreign policy agenda.
Of course, this is not all or even mostly foreign policy. Energy transition, which is the core issue, will affect not just the oil and gas sector, which in 2020 accounted for 15 percent of Russia’s GDP, but the country’s entire economy and finances, its political economy, and the relative political influence of various vested interests. Given the coincidence of energy transition and the inevitable transfer of political power, this combination is likely to become one of the most important processes shaping Russia’s future for years and decades to come.
Still, the foreign policy aspect of the change is non-negligible. The carbon neutrality pledges already announced by Russia’s main economic partners—the European Union and China; the United States, Japan and others—as well as the UN climate conference in Glasgow next month are all compelling Moscow to come up with a strategy of its own, and soon. Such a strategy will aim to preserve the country’s position as an energy power, but on a much more diverse foundation.
Integrating climate science, energy issues, and geopolitical objectives to produce and pursue an effective strategy could be compared to the task faced by the Soviet Union in the late 1960s–1980s. Back then, Moscow had to come up with a practical way to link nuclear science and weapons development, military force posture and strategy, the capabilities of the defense industry, and wider foreign policy goals. The result was transiting from the sterile rhetoric of universal disarmament to a diplomacy of strategic arms control that eventually produced strategic stability between the Soviet Union and the United States.
What is needed today is for various parts of the Russian government to pool their resources. The offices of the president’s special representative for climate issues and the special representative for liaison with international organizations on reaching sustainable development goals are evidently too small to take control. The ministries of foreign affairs, economic development, and finance; the Russian Academy of Sciences; and the Security Council all have an interest and possess valuable expertise on the issues, but none of them can actually be charged with taking the lead on their own.
The right approach would probably be to create a special unit under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. That unit would become an interagency coordinator among the many ministries that have interest and expertise on the relevant issues. Also, to borrow a page from the history books on Soviet arms control, a permanent mechanism could be organized of principals and deputies from various parts of the government to discuss and prepare decisions on these matters. This would be an analogue of the Big Five on strategic arms negotiations (the Party Central Committee, the Defense Ministry, the KGB, the Military Industrial Commission of the Council of Ministers, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry). It is vitally important that whoever heads the office has direct access to the president and is well respected by international partners. He or she needs to be a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.
The current hike in gas prices in Europe has motivated a number of people in Russia to sneer at green and alternative energy projects and reassert the continuing primacy of traditional sources of energy. Life is never linear, of course. However, even if future economic development does not completely close the books on fossil fuels (and it probably won’t, at least for a long time), the balance of energy consumption by some of the key buyers of Russian oil and gas will most likely change fast.
The speed of change means that temporizing now would undermine Russia’s chances of limiting the damage from the reduction of the world’s demand for its oil and gas. It would also prevent it from participating in developing new global norms and from taking advantage of its vast potential capabilities in such areas as hydrogen energy. Strategic decisions on that score have just been made, and this is a crucial positive step. The task now is to construct well-designed mechanisms to implement those decisions nationally and in foreign policy.
This article was published as part of the “Relaunching U.S.-Russia Dialogue on Global Challenges: The Role of the Next Generation” project, implemented in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy to Russia. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Embassy to Russia.
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