America should not allow autocracies to strengthen their positions on the international scene
On November 5, the day after the U.S. presidential election, the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev made a speech in which he announced the possible deployment of Iskander missile-system to neutralize threats coming from the establishment of the American anti-missile shield. A new, post-cold war friction is driven by autocratic forces which find themselves in a proper position to counterbalance ideological trends that stem from the hegemonic stance of the United States.
The hope that after the collapse of the Soviet Union ideological confrontations will come to an end seems to be already lost and the nascent Russian power tends to be a very good example of this assumption. It was not a coincidence that the Russian president announced his new plans on the day after the American elections. The whole world viewed the U.S. election as the decisive moment for the new international order.
Barack Obama’s troop withdrawal plan was widely regarded by the American neoconservatives and realists as a dangerous message to autocratic rulers of the Middle East and a possible signal of American waning power to the enemies. At a glance, this logic seems to be superficial and trivial: for the political rivals of the United States the concession means weakness and the acknowledgment of the multicultural, not universalistic or democratic worldview. But the argument does not lack rationality and must be brought under careful examination. After the end of the Cold War era the notion of “the end of history” was in vogue and the emerging post-Soviet or Chinese liberalism gave a hope of political convergence. During the early years of its post-Soviet existence, Russia tended to adopt the Western political and economic model, but after a certain time it seemed less and less feasible. In the Russian vocabulary, multiculturalism acquired a new meaning as it was applied to the idea of sovereignty which ignored the role of the “International Community.” Western analysts often pointed out the importance of the Helsinki Accords and emphasized Russian commitments to human rights and civil liberties, but Russian leaders did not really embrace the terms, especially when it came to political pluralism and civil society. Choosing the appropriate form of governance is a domestic matter and the international community has nothing to do with this fundamental right. Unfortunately, newly defined autocracies manipulate the Westphalian world order in this way.
The launch of the U.S large-scale military invasion against sovereign Iraq and the toppling of the government of Saddam Hussein had a powerful effect. By largely ignoring the position and opinion of the other NATO members, the United States took a military action and that fueled brewing controversies about the nature of the emerging world order. The tensions escalated after the famous events of August 8 2008, when Russia exceeded the limits of the idea of sovereignty by surging its troops into the territory of Georgia. The traditional rhetoric of autocratic post Cold-War states now revealed the hidden aspects of its quasi ideological dissent.
It is now quite obvious that ideological controversies were never vanquished by the democratic forces even when they showed rare unity and made joint NATO missions in Afghanistan and Serbia. Russia and China looked at those wars with great suspicion as they had their own examples of the Western foreign policy approach showing its bad side by blaming the famous events of the Tiananmen Square or prodding peaceful revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kirgizstan. These growing grievances probably culminated after the recognition of Kosovo by the United States and the West. Russia and China evolved as great powers with stringent political repression and economic liberalization. At the same time, Western democracies unfolded their traditional strategy of economic globalization and hoped for subsequent ideological and political changes. Unfortunately, the latter never happened; on the contrary, autocracies tightened their grip and were encouraged to concentrate even more power in their hands. Especially in the Russian case, Putin’s government came to guarantee the stability and ensure the economic development contingent on the political stability.
The people of Russia, China and Iran do not seem to actively oppose their governments as they associate the autocracy with economic growth and stability. The autocratic rulers, for their part, confirm respectable status by achievements in foreign and economic policy.
Traditional method used by the Clinton and Bush administrations treated autocratic governments in rather benign manner, gradually reducing the number of complaints about the poor performance of their emerging democratic systems. At the end of his tenure, Clinton even allowed resurgent clan of former KGB members to wield the power. And subsequently, the Russian intelligence officers excluded and banished all political rivals and continued to tread the path towards unfettered autocratic rule. The tendency was also sustained by the European Union, which allowed Putin to advance his goals and intensify trade relations with the European countries. The utopian policy of some European leaders went even further, when they tried to find new ways of receiving Russian gas which made them far more dependent on it. European approach seemed to be more complicated as it tried to reconcile the emerging supranational European policy with geopolitical appeasements to the Russians. Despite its contradictory aspects, for some time, this policy made significant benefits that were brought by the trade agreements and specific economic relationships.
The situation changed after August 8, 2008, when Russia demonstrated its resurgent ambitions by violating the principle of sovereignty with which it used to manipulate. It was said that Medvedev and Putin even assumed to take the capital of Georgia and topple the regime, as the USA did in Iraq. Russian plans also threatened Ukraine, the country which made its steps towards the West after the peaceful revolution of 2004, so this brought unprecedented, but predictable agenda before the EU. The immediate action taken by the President of France, brokered peace agreement between Georgia and Russia, but the ongoing tensions remain problematic for the next president of the United States.
When we try to expose the major argument for the containment policy, three aspects are especially important: the first is the specific nature of the twenty-first century’s autocratic great powers, which can be regarded as a source of quasi ideological confrontations (we use the term “quasi” to refer to the specific nature of autocratic governments, as opposed to totalitarian ones), the second aspect has to do with the failure of Western foreign policy, especially of that of the EU, and the third is closely related to the outlines of the new American approach which is more likely to be perceived as weaknesses after the first two aspects are taken into account.
The victory of the Democratic candidate should not be regarded as the failure of the idea of “international community” which allows the rogue states to reassert their influence over neighboring countries and expand to more dangerous positions. By allowing Russia to enjoy its resurgent power, the USA could even lose its influence over other strategic regions, like newly liberalized India. On the other hand, China’s growing influence and the rising discontent over the Global crisis cause new threats for Democratic president, who will face the real challenge during the first years of his presidency as, at first, it will take some time to restore active political ties with the European states, in the period of growing nationalism. Besides, Russia already took its first steps by announcing the possible deployment of Iskander missiles and proposing the extension of the president’s term by two years.
Giorgi Tskhadaia, November 15