The axiom of the Western foreign policy logic is the fundamental impossibility of a just international order. This conclusion was made by our opponents not from scratch, and not simply from the desire to lay an ideological basis for a world order that meets only their interests. It arose during the course of a historical process, on the basis of the colossal experience of the history of interstate relations in Europe — perhaps the richest one, if we talk about such a geographically localized part of humanity.
Several millennia of turbulent social interaction and interstate clashes have served as such a compelling experience that they now constitute the basis of the political culture of the powers with which Russia historically has been in a state of confrontation.
The reason for this rooted injustice, as all Western science and civilization assures us, is that the balance of power of states is connected with objective factors of a geopolitical nature and therefore will always remain the cause of their inequality. It is impossible to solve this problem and, at best, we can only talk about reducing its negative impact on general security. This logic seems to be extremely reasonable.
Moreover, since the mid-20th century, it has been backed up by the factor of nuclear weapons, the possession of huge arsenals of which puts some powers in an immanently superior position to others. Now international politics is entering a new phase of development, but the nuclear factor remains central to the survival of the great powers.
In addition, the past 500 years of world political history have indeed witnessed the West’s complete dominance through the use of force. This allowed its leading powers to form the basis of international law and the rules of the game, which since the mid-19th century have spread throughout the whole world. As Henry Kissinger, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, noted in this regard, “the genius of the Westphalian system and the reason it spread across the world, was that its provisions were procedural, not substantive.”
So, the basis of the modern international order is the procedure created by the countries of the West, and the central idea underlying this procedure is the immanent injustice of international politics. The creation of numerous international institutions in the 20th century has not changed anything in this sense. They, as is widely known, were also formed through the correlation of forces of states and in this sense did not at all affect the continuation of the policy of arbitrariness pursued in past centuries by the strong against the weak. The UN, which we love for the exclusive formal rights granted to Russia, also represents a non-revolutionary solution that would hardly eliminate injustice from world politics. In its current form, it is a product of the intellectual efforts of the West, which allowed it to maintain a dominant position even in the face of the rise of the Soviet Union after the Second World War and the potential growth of China’s importance. If we talk about all the other relatively large international organizations, then they are an instrument of those who, so far, use the most serious opportunities for wielding power.
Under these conditions, the rest of the countries of the international community face a difficult choice, partly even dictating their behaviour. Since the injustice of the world order from the point of view of the West is axiomatic, the struggle of the rest for the expansion of their rights becomes a challenge to the natural order of things. In other words, when Russia, China, or anyone else in the world does not agree with the monopoly of the strongest on establishing order, for the West, and for thinkers thinking in this coordinated system around the world, this is a confrontation with the very nature of international relations. Those who dominate in terms of power so far naturally seek to protect the world order, which is natural in its injustice. The creation of an alternative world order is, therefore, not just a technical, but a philosophical task, which is much more difficult to solve than defeating the West in another tactical clash.
Even after Russia succeeds in Ukraine, it would be somewhat naive to expect our adversaries to change their views on the world, since it is tantamount to demanding a change in their philosophy of life.
Russia has traditionally had a difficult relationship with the Western international order based on power. From the moment of the first contacts between the Russian state and Europe at the end of the 15th century, our neighbours reasonably came to the conclusion formulated by the ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund von Herberstein: Russia is very large and very different from Europe. From that moment on, Russia continues, in Dominic Lieven’s elegant definition, “to fight for its unique niche in world affairs.” And the main, the only, in fact, opponent in this battle is the West, no matter what organizational forms its power has acquired.
Russia’s participation in institutions, formal and informal, has always had the nature of a prize won in a hard struggle and constantly challenged. An example of this today is the Western revision of the entire concept of victory in World War II, which underscores Russia’s formal status in the world. However, Russia itself almost never tried to act as a source and conductor of a certain philosophy of international politics, different from the West and embodying our unique experience and worldview. We know of only two exceptions: the initiatives of Alexander I during the Congress of Vienna and the new political thinking of Mikhail Gorbachev. Also, the Russian contribution to the development of the international order can be attributed to initiatives in the field of international security and arms control in the early 20th century. However, in all these cases, Russia was not strong enough to simply make its views part of the global philosophy of foreign policy and international relations. As a result, all three episodes were among the amusing eccentricities, which, moreover, were purely opportunistic in nature.
China is now striving to come up with its own vision of an international order that not only has a place for justice, but makes it the central element. We do not know well enough the philosophical basis of the concepts put forward by the Chinese leadership. However, experts on China and its culture are sure that the traditional Confucian approach is the basis here, which is really an alternative to Western views on the nature and content of social interaction . There is some hope that the growing capabilities of China, as well as the general weakening of the West, will help the principles declared by Beijing to take place in the system of general thinking about international politics. However, this, of course, will not solve the main problem — the inability of the West, like any political civilization, to change its foreign policy culture.
For Russia, the ability to offer its own picture of the world, in which injustice will not be decisive, is also extremely relevant. First of all, because it is injustice that is the main watershed between our worldview and the views of those with whom Russia will somehow have to interact in order to avoid general destruction. In rejecting what is the core of international politics for the West at the level of our foreign policy culture, Russia will inevitably face the threat of solving that basic problem once and for all. This, however, already contradicts Moscow’s own desire for survival and the desire to still avoid a nuclear catastrophe. Therefore, it’s necessary for Russia to discuss what vision of the future we can offer the international community, even if we are not ready for this, due to our own traditions or state of mind.