Academic journal article Global Governance

Multilateralism, Multipolarity, and Beyond: A Menu of Russia's Policy Strategies

Academic journal article Global Governance

Multilateralism, Multipolarity, and Beyond: A Menu of Russia's Policy Strategies

Article excerpt

The article examines the main approaches to multilateralism that coexist in Russian foreign policy thinking. It argues that these approaches must be put in the context of the debate on multipolarity, which comes out as a direct opposition to the Western "collective unilateralism." Both as an abstract model and as a concrete practice, multipolarity is not synonymous with multilateralism; certain visions of a multipolar world, such as great-power management, are hardly compatible with multilateralism if the latter is grounded in the idea of equality of all participants in the international system. It is also crucial to take into account the origins of the Russian doctrine of multipolarity in the particular context of Russia's uneasy relationship with the West. Against this background, it is clear that some traditional foreign policy strategies, such as balance of power, can result in both unilateralist and multilateralist outcomes. The article's main conclusion is that the contradictory dynamics of identity and security, in Russia and in the West, seem to produce a trend in favor of great-power management as the model of future international order. If this is true, it means that there is a move toward a type of international society where egalitarian multilateralism is replaced by a more hierarchical structure. KEYWORDS: Russia, multipolarity, multilateralism, great-power management, balance of power.

AFTER THE TERRORIST ATTACKS AGAINST THE UNITED STATES IN 2001, THEN secretary of state Colin Powell famously declared the end of the post--Cold War era. Although this announcement has been contested repeatedly, and many alternative dates have been proposed, September 11 definitely was a major turning point in the development of the international system that was symbolically located almost exactly at the turn of the century. For Russia, however, the twenty-first century began at least two years earlier, ushered in by NATO's Operation Allied Force against Yugoslavia launched in March 1999 and the start of the second Chechen campaign in the fall of the same year. These events concurred--and not accidentally--with the dawn of Vladimir Putin's epoch, thus laying the foundation for Russia as it is today. By the dramatic moment of President Boris Yeltsin's resignation on New Year's Eve 2000, the worldview that was to shape Russian foreign policy and domestic politics in the years to come had already consolidated and become common sense for a large majority of the Russians.

Throughout the 1990s, the new Russian democratic state considered participation in, and cooperation with, Western-dominated multilateral institutions to be largely within its long-term interest. In terms of practical foreign policy steps, the pro-Western attitudes peaked in 1990 when the Soviet Union agreed to the German reunification and supported the US-led coalition in the Gulf War. This, however, was a sign of Russia's weakness at least to the same extent as of genuine belief in the shared interests with the West. As Yeltsin's government consolidated in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, its reaction to the Western policies typically ranged between grudging acceptance and growling resentment. However, it was during that decade that Russia was accepted to the Council of Europe (1996) and to the Group of 8 (G8; 1997) and signed its first comprehensive agreements with the European Union (EU; 1994) and NATO (1997). It inherited its permanent seat at the UN Security Council from the USSR, but used its veto power sparingly. Even if increasingly unhappy with the state of the relationship, Moscow saw no real alternative to integration into the transatlantic multilateral institutions.

The disappointment accumulated over a number of issues such as the situation in the Balkans, the state of affairs in the post-Soviet space, or the criticism of Russia's actions in Chechnya during the first campaign (launched in 1994). Yet it was the war in Kosovo that actually changed the balance: seen by most Russians, experts, and ordinary people alike as a cynical abuse of human rights rhetoric for the sake of geopolitical expansion,(1) it destroyed what was left of trust in Western policies and institutions and, together with rising oil prices, paved the way toward the more assertive and independent foreign policy. …

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