The Modern World: New Realities. Part 2.

Vyacheslav NIKONOV (Russia)

Part 1

2. Another aspect of the modern world is the fact that it quite clearly has resumed the militarization of international relations. After the collapse of the USSR and the end of the bipolar confrontation, military spending actually decreased, and it happened everywhere—not just in the Russian Federation where it dropped like a rock, but in the countries of the West, as well.
This trend has now reversed itself. The brief period of unipolarity led to abrupt remilitarization in the world, and the United States was the main instigator of the new arms race. The United States now accounts for more military spending that all other countries combined. In the 1990s the United States spent more on military requirements than twenty of the countries trailing it, but now it is spending more than all of the other countries on the planet.
In addition, the arms control system that was put in place during the era of the Soviet Union has broken down, and, in principle, it should have continued after the end of the Cold War. The United States has unilaterally withdrawn from a number of treaties, principally from the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, which was signed in 1963; the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-2); and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. None of the Western nations ratified the Treaty on Conventional forces in Europe (CFE), and the Russian Federation withdrew from CFE.
That means that the arms control system has collapsed, and the modern world has not become any safer than it was even during the Cold War. This is evident from the fact that the number of wars on the planet and the number of people who perished in those wars have not decreased, but rather they have increased. Following 1945 there was not a single large armed conflict in Europe, but in our memory a major war was waged against Yugoslavia, and then another was waged in Kosovo. Quite a large a number of armed clashes have occurred in the post-Soviet territory. I fear that there will be more outbreaks of military conflict on the European continent following the end of the Cold War.
The remilitarization of European politics has become an implicit reality. In addition, the number of nuclear states that are not signatories of any treaties to limit or control nuclear weapons has increased since the end of the Cold War. India and Pakistan have officially become nuclear states, and neither Pakistan nor India has joined any nuclear weapons control system, and neither country cooperates with the IAEA—the International Atomic Energy Agency—which monitors all nuclear programs of a peaceful nature. But not even cooperation with the IAEA can guarantee against development of nuclear weapons, as in the cases of North Korea or Iran.
Now, of course, under crisis conditions, it is likely that arms spending will begin to decrease, but there is no guarantee of that—as international experience and the experience of American politics show, no economic crisis has ever forced the United States to tighten the belt of its defense sector.
3. More likely, the period of unipolarity in international politics is over. And this is not because the United States has become weaker, but primarily because other centers of power in the modern world have arisen. The world has become post-unipolar.
There are various possible versions of post-unipolarity The world can again become bipolar, as it was during the Cold War when the global dynamic was determined by a confrontation between two systems. This is possible, but the probability that it will occur is actually low. For the system to become bipolar, a second power pole comparable to the United States must appear. Russia is obviously not up to this role. We fall short of being a superpower according to several parameters—both economic and demographic. And there are not enough other power factors for us to claim the role of a superpower.
China now has much more justification to claim such a role. It has roughly twice Russia’s GDP; its population is approaching 1.3 billion, and by 2020 it will reach 1.5 billion. China is a great power and a great civilization with a long history, as well—modern Chinese civilization stretches back more than five thousand years. China is a traditional country that is capable of becoming a very serious center of power in the modern world.
But it is obvious that for the foreseeable future China will not have a military capability that even comes close to that of the United States. China cannot threaten the security of the United States in a bipolar competition, not to mention the fact that China has no particular desire to engage in such a competition.
Another concept was voiced by Richard Haass, President of the American Council on Foreign Relations: The modern world on the whole is becoming nonpolar. Haass believes that the future will be defined by the interaction of some dozens of actors, including countries—developing countries among them—from the Big Twenty, which may grow into a “Big Thirty;” non-state actors such as transnational corporations; and global international social organizations like Greenpeace.
However, it is very hard for me to imagine that kind of nonpolarity. Strictly speaking, it would mean the disappearance of powerful world powers and the absence of any kind of interaction between them in the framework of special formats like the G8.
Finally, there is the concept of a multipolar world, which has been much discussed and which President Medvedev once again voiced in his address. Actually, this world already exists. But the power centers of the modern world, its poles, if you will, are still the states that retain their sovereignty, that is, the primacy of their governments in solving both domestic and external problems.
In general, there are few countries in the world with true sovereignty. Indisputably, they include the United States, China, India and the Russian Federation. They probably also include Brazil and, in the future, Japan, which in recent years has been rather actively slipping out from under American guardianship and from under the American “nuclear umbrella.”
As far as the European countries in the European Union are concerned, they have virtually delegated the lion’s share of their sovereign state rights to the supranational governmental bodies of the EU. We can speak of the EU as a sovereign, independent center of power in the modern world, but the same cannot be said of Germany, France and Great Britain, which in many respects no longer have even domestic sovereignty over, say, their fiscal and monetary policies.
The Westphalian System, which was at the heart of all international relations after the middle of the 17th century, was based on the premise that peace is the interaction of sovereign states. Since the late 1990s, a huge amount of literature has been generated proving, as it were, that the Westphalian System is already dead and sovereign states mean nothing. And large nations, chiefly the United States, have the right to interfere in the affairs of sovereign states. Thus arose the concept of “humanitarian interventions.”
But the Westphalian System was put to rest prematurely—sovereign states continue to assert themselves, at least, those that have survived. And the current financial crisis may make sovereignty and self-sufficiency even more sought after in the eyes of the elites of many countries. Including our country, where talk has now begun to the effect that it would be nice to start up our own development mechanism to reduce our dependence on the condition of the world financial markets. That is currently being done in China, where the need was expressed at a meeting of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party for promoting development by energizing the domestic market and domestic demand in China itself. Thus the crisis is working more in favor of sovereignty, meaning the Westphalian System, than in the opposite direction.
At the same time, each power center in the modern world is a separate civilization, a fully realized civilization with a history going back at least a thousand years. Each of these countries, with the exception of Brazil and Japan, possesses its own nuclear weapons, which makes the interaction between them more significant and makes the voice of each of these civilizations, each of these centers of power, very, very clear.
But what will relations between these sovereign centers be like? Will the world become more like a jungle, as many in the West now fear, particularly those who yearn for the old days of the unipolar world—the American neoconservatives, for example, who argue that instead of beautiful, unipolar domination by America it will be a war of all against all, meaning global chaos? There are also other concepts: the Chinese concept of “harmony of international relations” in the spirit of Confucius, for example.
Knowing the history of mankind and how decisions are made in the modern world, we must acknowledge that the jungle version is more realistic than the world harmony version. However, it is equally obvious that the jungle variant is the less desirable. In principle, there is one more version—peace based on a balance of forces and interests, on agreements between the main power centers of the modern world regarding common game rules.
4. A system like this worked in the 19th century, during the period between the Napoleonic wars and the First World War. During the 100 years stretching from 1814 to 1914 there existed the so-called European concert of powers, which was based precisely on common game rules and on a balance of forces and interests. And in its time, this “concert” maintained the most peaceful stretch of time in the history of mankind. Of course, there were wars during that period—the Crimean, Franco-Prussian and Balkan wars, various wars on the periphery when Russia was conquering Central Asia, etc. But if we compare this stretch of history with any other in the history of mankind, it turns out that the time of the “concert of powers” was the most peaceful period in mankind’s history. In comparison, the 20th century was a century of bloodshed.
But the 21st century also began as a century of major wars with large amounts of bloodshed. So, in principle, it is possible to achieve a similar “concert,” but a global one this time, which would include the sovereign centers of power, primarily the United States, China, Russia, India, Brazil, Japan, and the European Union.
But how can this possibility be realized? In my opinion, it can only be done by reforming the system of global governance, the global institutions, to allow them to reflect the realities and complexities of the modern world.
The central element of the international system continues to be the UN, and the only anchor of stability in the modern world is international law, which is based on the UN Charter. No one likes international law; the Western countries consider it an anachronism, but for our country it is absolutely imperative to strengthen international law in its unaltered form.
At the same time, there is an obvious need to reform the UN system. This system is based on the primacy of the UN Security Council, whose permanent members with a right of veto are the United States, the Russian Federation, China, Great Britain and France. It is obvious that this Security Council composition no longer reflects the balance of power in the world today, and many proposals have been to reform it in a way that reflects the increased role of such countries as India, Germany, Brazil or Japan.
But will the Security Council become a more effective mechanism for making decisions if it is expanded? Certainly not. It will be even more difficult to come to agreement in such a large club than in a small one. If it were done, however, Security Council decisions would certainly have greater legitimacy.
It is necessary to establish a strong international court capable of rendering verdicts based on international law. The United States actively opposes this, because it does not want the actions of American soldiers to fall under international jurisdiction.
It is necessary to greatly increase the capability of the UN “blue helmets” so that they can carry out actual military operations, for example, in many areas of Africa, where people are currently perishing by the thousands and millions; they call for help but get none.
An idea has taken shape in the United States in recent months, especially among neoconservatives close to defeated presidential candidate John McCain, to create an alternative to the UN—a so-called League of Democracies, to which the center of gravity to make decisions for the entire world would be transferred. The League of Democracies is seen by its supporters as a club of democratic countries that would, in essence, make decisions that would be binding on the rest of humanity.
But that idea seems rather strange.
In the first place, it is unclear who would determine the membership criteria for the “club of democracies.” For those neoconservatives, that usually means “friends of America,” and America will not want to leave on the League of Democracies’ doorstep such new friends as, say, Georgia—which, of course, is a supremely “democratic” country.
Secondly, it is unclear how such a small club of self-proclaimed democracies could solve among themselves problems that require a global response—the problems of climate change, energy security and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, most of humanity’s energy reserves, as well as nuclear weapons, are concentrated in countries that the United States does not consider democracies. Therefore, I do not think that the idea of the League of Democracies will get traction, the more so because Barack Obama does not go along with it.
The “Big Eight” is certainly ripe for reform. If the G8 continues to exclude and ignore the rising centers of power, it will become largely irrelevant. The evolution of the G8 into the G9, G10, etc. appears to be inevitable, and the holding of a global financial summit in a larger format than the G8 is very symptomatic of that idea.
The establishment of institutions to regulate the global financial system is also a pressing issue. At present, there simply are none, and humanity for the first time has suddenly come to the realization that they do not exist. There is the WTO, which developed international trade regulations. However, the volume of world trade is orders of magnitude less than the size of the world’s financial system, and there are no global instruments for regulating this system.
It is necessary to create something like a World Financial Organization, which could also reflect the changed role of the growing economies, in contrast to the World Bank and the IMF, which were obviously established for a different era. As one example—China has fewer votes in the IMF than the Benelux countries. And that is all that needs to be said about the irrelevance of the IMF.
As long as not one nation is interested in the world’s jungles and has no chance of moving to another planet where it can create its own game rules, we have to solve global problems in the cooperative framework of a “concert.”

To be continued…

Vyacheslav Nikonov is the Executive Director of the ‘Russky Mir’ [Russian World] Foundation, Head of the Working Group for International Affairs of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, Chief Editor of the journal “Strategiia Rossii” [Russia’s Strategy],and Doctor of Historical Sciences.

The article first appeared in Russian at the August 2009 ‘Russia’s Strategy’ journal edition.

The English translation published by the ‘New Eastern Outlook‘.


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  3. San Diego Real Estate

    Interesting, I am curious what the statistics are on your first point there…

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