Is the World Really Safer Without the Soviet Union?
In short, the world without the Soviet Union has not become safer, more just or more stable. Instead of a new world order—that is, enough global governance to prevent international affairs from becoming dangerously unpredictable—we have had global turmoil, a world drifting in uncharted waters. The global economic crisis that broke out in 2008 made that abundantly clear.
The West must undertake a critical reassessment of all that preceded this painful crisis. It is more than just a crisis of global finance or even a crisis of an economic model based on a race for hyperprofits and excessive consumption that grinds down the earth’s resources and ruins nature. The crisis grew out of the arrogant conviction of “the collective West” that it had the recipes to solve all problems and that there was no alternative to the “Washington Consensus,” which claimed to work equally well for all countries.
The crisis, the end of which is not in sight, seems to have sobered up some world leaders and prompted a search for collective solutions to global challenges. But the results so far have been slight. International organizations, particularly the United Nations, crippled by the unilateralism of the United States and NATO, are still faltering, unable to fulfill their task of conflict settlement. The G-8 is not sufficiently representative of the global community, and the G-20 has not become an effective mechanism.
Policy-making and political thinking are still militarized. This is particularly true in the United States, which has not renounced the methods of pressure and intimidation. Every time it uses armed force against non–nuclear weapon states, countries such as Iran become more determined to acquire nuclear weapons.
During the first decade of the twenty-first century US military budgets accounted for nearly half the world’s spending on armed forces. Such overwhelming military superiority of one country will make the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons impossible to achieve. Judging by the weapons programs of the United States and a number of other countries, they are setting their sights on a new arms race.
It makes me wonder whether every time there is a crisis or conflict, leaders will try to resolve them by resorting to military force. The only way to break this vicious circle is to reassert the principles of mutual security, which formed the core of our new political thinking more than twenty years ago.
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Finally, there is post-Soviet Russia and its role in the world. During the period following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Union kept relations with Russia in a state of uncertainty. On the one hand, there were numerous declarations of cooperation and even strategic partnership. On the other hand, post-Soviet Russia was not given a voice in resolving key problems, and obstacles were put in the way of its integration into the European and global economy. It seems that while being given occasional pats on the back, Russia is still being treated as an outsider, not as a serious and constructive force in world affairs.
At the same time, the Russian people remember how during the 1990s the West strongly recommended and applauded “shock therapy”—the radical reforms that resulted in the collapse of the Russian economy and plunged tens of millions of its citizens into poverty. In the eyes of many Russians, it meant that the West did not want a revival of Russia—that it wanted Russia only as a supplier of resources that “knows its place.”
Periods of Russia’s weakness had occurred before, and they always proved temporary. Recently, US and EU policies toward Russia have begun to reflect an understanding of that fact. Despite difficulties, the policy of resetting relations with Russia initiated by President Barack Obama produced clear results, such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed in 2010. Though the “reset” has powerful enemies in Washington (and in Moscow), it was an important American acknowledgment that Russia will remain a serious player in world politics and that partnership with it is indispensable.
I am convinced that it is time to return to the path we charted together when we ended the cold war. Once again, the world needs new thinking, based not just on the recognition of universal interests and of global interdependence but also on a certain moral foundation. Today one often hears that politics is a dirty business, incompatible with morality. No, politics becomes dirty and a zero-sum, lose-lose game only when it has no moral core. This, perhaps, is the main lesson to be learned from the past two decades.