Journal

Europe and International Security Cooperation

By Igor Ivanov Former Foeign Minister of Russian Federation
First of all, let me say that I am very pleased and honored to take part in the World Peace Forum once again. I participated in this exceptional meeting back in 2012, when this initiative was launched for the first time. And since then I never missed an opportunity to come to the Tsinghua University for this yearly event. Without any exaggerations I should say that over last four years the Forum emerged as one of the most prestigious and representative meeting points for security related discussions. In very many ways, it is a unique opportunity for experts, educators, opinion makers and state officials to get together and to frankly exchange views on critical issues of the past, present and future. I believe this opportunity to be critically important not just for the Asia-pacific region, but for the whole world. And, of course, I do hope that our discussions at the Forum will be candid, inspiring and intellectually rewarding.
 
Europe and International Security Cooperation
 
The title might sound paradoxical today, when we are going through a very deep and profound security crisis on the European continent. Without any doubt, it is the most serious crisis we’ve in Europe after the end of the Cold War. As former Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, I am particularly sorry for the current bleak state of affairs: together with my European colleagues we invested a lot of time and efforts into building a stronger partnership between Russia and the European Union, as well as between Russia and NATO. Today, many of our past plans, hopes and expectations look like non-science fiction: they have remote, if any, relevance to current political realities. 
 
How have we got to this point? What has happened to European security institutions? Can we expect that Europe will continue to play an important role in providing for the international security cooperation? In order to address all these questions, let me step back and take a brief overview of the European security history and its impact on the global security system.
 
The Impact of the European Security on the Global Security System
 
For centuries, Europe was defining the basic rules of the game in international relations. The contemporary international public law was to a large extent developed in leading European Universities and enforced by great European powers. The origins of the modern state system and the concept of national sovereignty can be traced back to the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. In the beginning of the 19th century the Congress of Vienna marked the culmination of the Europe-centered world order, which allowed keeping relative peace and stability on the continent and beyond for almost a hundred years.
 
However, the 20th century marked the end of the long lived Europe-centered world. European leaders turned out to be incapable of maintaining a lasting peace after the end of the First World War. The system of Versailles that humiliated Germany and excluded Russia contained many seeds of its inevitable self-destruction. The price that the world had to pay for flaws and deficiencies of the Versailles system was the bloodiest and the most devastating military conflict in the history of mankind.
 
I will not take too much of your time retelling the well known history of the Cold war. Of course, the Yalta-Potsdam system was in no way perfect; in fact, this was a very brutal, inflexible and undemocratic arrangement leading to the bipolar system of global politics. But, in retrospect, the Yalta-Potsdam system turned out to be more reliable and resilient than the system of Versailles; it was able to maintain peace and stability in the world for forty years. However, it should be noted that European powers were no longer in the center of the system; the rules of the game were defined by the United States and the Soviet Union, and most nations in Europe generally had to accept these rules of the game and to follow them.
 
The beginning of the 21st century brought to the fore at least two additional sets of international challenges to European nations. On the one hand, the rise of non-European centers of power called for some kind of adjustment of the international system, for more fair and more democratic distribution of authority and influence in the world. On the other hand, the beginning of the 21st century demonstrated many new threats to international peace and security, including religious fundamentalism and political extremism, uncontrolled migrations and cyber, and so on. It seemed that the end of the Cold war also opened new opportunities for European nations to work with each other in promoting security and prosperity across the continent. Unfortunately, these expectations turned out to be premature at best.
 
Instead of advancing a new bold vision of how the international system should be reshaped and modernized, major European powers – along with the United States – preferred to place their hopes with old institutions, inherited from the Cold war period. The perception evidently was that the mere geographical expansion of these old institutions – like NATO and the European Union - would automatically bring along peace, stability and prosperity. In reality, however, the old structures and institutions turned out to be too slow, too bureaucratic and too loaded with antiquated political luggage to respond in a timely and successful way to modern challenges and threats.
 
To illustrate my point, let me bring your attention to the two recent crises that we had in Europe after the end of the Cold war. The first step that NATO made after the events of August 2008 in the South Caucasus and of February 2014 in Ukraine was to freeze all communication lines to Russia, including the work of the NATO-Russia Council. But the NATO-Russia Council was created in 2002 exactly to hold intensive consultations in order to avoid crises or to manage them! And today we see how NATO is trying to get back to the Cold war posture, labeling Russia as its enemy with all the subsequent consequences including. As for the European Union, this institution has declared more than once its firm commitment to develop an independent foreign and defense policy. But in reality it has failed to move in this direction. As it was the case during the Cold war, the EU is now following the footsteps of the US leadership.
 
The Ukrainian Crisis
 
The Ukrainian crisis has become a very explicit manifestation of the fragility of the European security architecture. Both sides pursued their own policies toward Ukraine without any coordination or at least consultations with each other. Moreover, the question of the “European choice” for Ukraine was raised in the old Cold War logic of the “zero sum game”. I am convinced that with due efforts on both sides we could have avoided the Ukrainian tragedy – at least in the dramatic form that it finally acquired. Rather than emphasizing differences in approaches and blaming each other, we should have looked for what unites us in this extraordinary situation. Above all, neither the West, nor Russia can gain anything from Ukraine becoming a ‘failed state’ in the center of the European continent; such a development would create a whole range of fundamental threats and challenges to everybody in Europe, not to mention countless tragedies and suffering for the Ukrainian people. Today, it is much more difficult to restore the relationship between Russia and Europe than it was only two years ago, but we have no alternative to limiting the damage and moving ahead.
 
What conclusions can we make about the future on the basis of the developments of the recent past? Unfortunately, it does not seem very likely that Europe will regain its formerly unquestionable authority in setting new rules of international relations. It seems more realistic to expect European nations trying to overcome their multiple inner crises and taking conservative rather than innovative positions on broader global matters. The window of opportunity to lead the world to a new global order that was open for Europeans some thirty – twenty years ago, is open no longer. I state this with a lot of sadness and regrets, but Europe, in my view, has missed its historic chance. Now it is up to other nations and other regions of the world to claim leadership in reforming the international system.
 
The growing role of Russian-Chinese partnership
 
Now let me turn east to say a few words about the emerging Russian-Chinese partnership. This topic is relevant to current security dilemmas in Europe because it gives a different perspective on how relations between great powers can and should be managed. These days they talk a lot about “new great powers relations”, referring to potential developments in relations between China and the United States. I would venture to say that such new great powers relations are already being forged between Beijing and Moscow. It is an entirely new type of partnership that has no precedents in history – either the history of the 20th century or in earlier times. The uniqueness of this relationship is defined by a number of peculiar features.
 
First of all, we are not talking about a Russian-Chinese alliance directed against any third countries of coalitions; the relationship between Beijing and Moscow has its own driving forces and its own logic. Therefore, this partnership does not create any threats or challenges to neighboring states or to other great powers. Perceptions about Russia and China forging a union against the West do not hold water and remain pure speculations.
 
Second, in the framework of the “new great powers relations” Russia and China do not balance each other, but rather complement each other – in political, economic, humanitarian and other areas. This is why this partnership does not imply relations between a “senior partner” and a “junior partner”, as it has often been the case in international relations. There may be asymmetries in the Russian-Chinese relations, but these asymmetries do not make the relations hierarchical with the leading power imposing its will on the satellite power. Instead, in each particular case both sides are looking for a fair balance of interests and are ready to compromise, if needed.
 
Third, the current Russian-Chinese relations are a very flexible form of interaction, which can be calibrated and customized depending on the particular area of cooperation. The sides are not constrained by any highly detailed bureaucratic procedures, protracted decision making mechanisms, limitations of national sovereignty and so on. There is no any given institutional framework that might set limitations on future cooperation; the bilateral interaction consists of numerous ‘building blocks’ or regimes, and each of the regimes has its own dynamics and its own modus operandi.
 
Fourth, the “new great powers relations” are based on a complex interaction between states, the business communities, and civil society institutions of Russian and China. Problems of security are closely linked with problems of development, and economic cooperation cannot be separated from cooperation in the social field. It is critically important that all the layers of both societies are turned into active stakeholders of the Russian-Chinese partnership, contribution to stability and further deepening of the cooperative relations.
 
I have no intention to argue that the current state of the Russian-Chinese relations is perfect. It is definitely not the case. We are in the very beginning of a long road, and there are still many obstacles, ambiguities, and uncertainties along the way. It would be unwise and even dangerous to stop reflecting on what might be done better and how we could be more efficient. But the overall direction is clear and, moreover, we have a detailed roadmap to follow.
 
I do believe that further elaboration of basic principles and main components of the Russian-Chinese cooperation is very important not only for our two states, but for the emerging system of international relations of the 21st century as well. This emerging system – on the global level as well as on the regional level – could be gradually built on similar partnerships – big and small, bilateral and multilateral. Of course, Russia and China should not try to impose their experience on anybody, but this experience is likely to be of interest to many international actors.
 
In fact, we already see that the Russian-Chinese experience has an impact on the international system: if you look at such multilateral structures as BRICS or the Shanghai Cooperation organization, you will see that these structures are based on the same principles as the bilateral Russian–Chinese relations. One can predict that such approaches will be utilized in other multilateral organizations and groupings – such as APEC, G20 and, ultimately, the UN system.
 
We need comprehensive approach to international security
 
I think that in the era of globalization it makes less and less sense to talk about the European security or about security arrangements in North Pacific in isolation from other regions of the world. The current security crisis in Europe, for instance, has a profound impact on the security situation in the Pacific; a new outburst of violence in the Middle East would have serious repercussions in Africa and so on. International security today is more indivisible than it has ever been before. If this is the case, we cannot focus only on security challenges in our respective neighborhood; instead all of us should unite our efforts in building a new world order.
 
What do we need to do in order to prevent the world sliding down to a new Cold war as some of politicians already predict? How can we make the world safer, more secure and more stable for everybody? Of course, there are many ideas and proposals on what should be done to reach this goal. All of them can be considered and discussed. As far as I am concerned, I tend to believe that it would be a mistake to invent any new structures, which are not rooted in our history and today’s practice. We already have at our disposal all the needed components to build a reliable system of global and regional security.
 
First and foremost, we have the United Nations to work with. Unfortunately, the UN reform, which was so actively discussed at the turn of the century, has not made a lot of progress. UN remains and will remain an indispensable cornerstone of any international security system. However, the United Nations should reflect new realities and should meet the challenges and threats of the 21st century.
 
The next after UN indispensable component of the security system – a well-developed network of regional organizations and multilateral mechanisms of various types. All of them play a very important role in security matters. It is critically important, however, that in their actions they fully abide by the provision of the UN Charter – particularly when it gets down to a possible use of military force.
 
An essential role in providing for international security belongs to bilateral relations, which have to constitute a thick fabric of state-to-state interaction on matters of international security.
 
And the whole pyramid of international security cooperation at various levels should be cemented by norms of international law. The law has to catch up with the changing international realities, but it can be efficient only if it is universally observed.
 
This year we celebrate seventy years since the end of the Second World War and since the launch of the United Nations. The Second World War ended here in Asia, and this city is going to host many world leaders to commemorate this historic date. We should not forget our common past, our shared history. But we should not forget about our common future either. What is desperately needed today is a high level dialogue about the foundations and principles of the new global security system that should serve all of us for decades ahead.
 
Such a system will be efficient only if it is inclusive, not exclusive. Democratic, not hierarchical. Universal, not selective. Based on a long term vision, not on opportunistic calculations.
 
The time for building such a system is running out for all of us. If we fail in meeting this historic challenge, the repercussions for the world of our children and grandchildren might be tragic. So we cannot take failure for an option. 
 
I hope that discussions at the World Peace Forum would be a significant contribution to the intellectual breakthrough that we all need today.

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