Academic journal article Parameters

Order and Counter-Order: The European System and Russia

Academic journal article Parameters

Order and Counter-Order: The European System and Russia

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This article explores how today's post-modern, interdependent European system of order interacts with a competing system led by a modern, realist Russian Federation. Russia's great power identity is based on a long-standing statist tradition of foreign policy thinking combined with a legacy of conviction in the uniqueness of Eurasian civilization. Key to meeting the Russian challenge is systemic adaptation to engender cooperation in the common economic space, thereby permitting the two systems not only to co-exist, but co-evolve as stable, interdependent entities.


In 2008, Charles King wrote the five-day Russian-Georgian war "will mark a time when Russia came to disregard existing international institutions and begin, however haltingly, to fashion its own." (1) The war was a manifestation of Russia's claim to a key zone of "privileged interests," and shocked the post-Cold War geopolitical order by challenging the expansion of NATO into post-Soviet Eurasia. (2) The true significance of the crisis, however, was twofold. The unilateral intervention signaled Moscow's general distrust of multilateral institutions as organs of global governance, thus affirming a Russian conviction that hard power was the true currency of international relations. (3) Further, the intervention was proof a recalcitrant Russia would no longer accept western indifference to its Great Power aspirations or to its strategic interests in the newly independent neighboring republics.

With US-Russia relations at their lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Obama administration extended an olive branch by proposing a "policy reset." By acknowledging Russia's leading role in the post-Soviet space, ending (temporarily) NATO expansion, reconfiguring the US concept for missile defense in Europe, supporting Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization, and deepening bilateral economic relations, the reset brought the relationship from the brink of collapse towards effective rapprochement. (4) Although the reset policy did not return the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to full Georgian control, it was largely successful. In 2009, President Medvedev steered Russian foreign policy back towards a more pragmatic course of international cooperation and economic modernization.

In 2010, President Obama's National Security Strategy mentioned Russia specifically only 14 times in the document's 52 pages. Each of these references was in a positive light, emphasizing partnership, inclusion and cooperation in recognition of the fact that power in an interconnected world was no longer a zero-sum game. (5) Acknowledging the deepening integration of the European Union alongside the rise of global engagements by China and India, the strategy described Russia as an emergent twenty-first century center of influence, a nation that shared with the United States mutual interests and respect. (6) Russia was not included in the strategy's list of states endangering global security by flouting international norms. Quite to the contrary, the strategy touted cooperation and partnership as key elements to a stable, substantive, and multidimensional relationship with a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia. The strategy identified common ground in terms of advancing nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, confronting violent extremism, forging new trade and investment opportunities, as well as promoting the rule of law, accountable government and universal values. In short, the 2010 strategy clearly signaled the United States' intention to seek Russia's cooperation as a responsible partner in Europe and Asia. (7)

By comparison, President Obama's 2015 National Security Strategy specifically mentions Russia 15 times and while the frequency is almost identical to that of 2010, there is a marked difference in the context. Replacing the 2010 emphasis on partnership, inclusion, and cooperation is an unequivocal condemnation of Russian aggression, coercion, deception and belligerence. …

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