Analyst Sergei Karaganov on foreign policy over the next decade

The Foreign and Defense Policy Council has completed a major research project, with initial results published as “The World Around Russia in 2017: Outlines of the Near Future.” Sergei Karaganov discusses what Russia and the rest of the world will be like ten years from now.

“The World Around Russia in 2017: Outlines of the Near Future” is a recently-released collection of essays edited by Sergei Aleksandrovich Karaganov, head of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council. It contains the basic results of a comprehensive research project done by the Foreign and Defense Policy Council and leading political analysts, looking at the external conditions for Russia’s development in the coming decade. The complete collection of forecasts will be released at the end of the year – just in time for the presidential campaign. Thus, it will become a kind of “guidebook” for the next president, or even the next president’s successor.

We asked Sergei Karaganov to tell us what Russia and the rest of the world will be like ten years from now.

Question: A new Cold War between Russia and the United States seems to be breaking out in all earnest. Who will be the ultimate victor in this war?

Sergei Karaganov: It’s not a Cold War – just increasing competition between Russian and the USA, or between Russia and Europe. I think the competition between Russia and Europe might even be stronger. Over the past decade, the world has seen some fundamental transformations in the energy sector: ten years ago, 80% of the world’s energy reserves belonged to private corporations, mostly Western corporations. These days, almost 80-90% belong to state-owned corporations – obviously not Western.

Question: Practically the same situation as in Russia?

Sergei Karaganov: Yes. And this has changed the entire global picture, profoundly – particularly for the Europeans, who are increasingly dependent on energy imports. That’s why they’re feeling vulnerable and weak in relation to us. The second underlying reason is that in the late 1990s, the West thought that the liberal democratic model of capitalism, as represented by the USA and Europe, had won. The West was celebrating its victory. But the celebrations turned out to be premature. The Americans have done themselves a huge amount of political damage with the war in Iraq, bringing their global influence crashing down. The Europeans are bogged down in the European Union’s growth crisis, and are losing real influence. Meanwhile, the new capitalist giants have surged ahead – they are known in the West as the countries of young capitalism, or even authoritarian capitalism. China, Russia…

Question: Does a strong Russia annoy the West?

Sergei Karaganov: That’s not the main explanation. The West is attacking due to its own weakness – striving to hold its ground. This is a counter-attack, not an attack.

Question: So will Europe and the USA continue to grow weaker over the next decade?

Sergei Karaganov: No. Seven or eight years from now, the Americans will have pulled out of Iraq, recovered from the post-Iraq syndrome, and rebuilt their might. The European Union’s acute crisis will have passed. The energy sector situation will have been resolved somehow. The most important thing now is to prevent a farcical Cold War. We cannot permit an acute confrontation with the West and the USA. That would not be advantageous for Russia, since it would be a distraction for our resources. We might end up being a much weaker country nine or ten years from now, because in previous decades we were primarily competing with West European countries, but in a decade’s time we’ll be competing even more intensely with the Asian countries, which are rising very rapidly. And Russia would end up lagging behind – a third world, or even a fourth world, between two powerful economic and social systems: Western and Asian. That would be a tragic step.

Question: So in order to avoid being drawn into an arms race and weakened, Russia should refrain from responding to America’s missile defense provocations? Let the missile defense system cover Europe?

Sergei Karaganov: The missile defense elements in Europe are a petty act of provocation on the part of the United States. The whole story of the Cold War was one provocation in response to another, one act of folly in response to another. We must not do that again. If our side takes any overt counter-measures – as opposed to only hinting at deployin intermediate-range missiles in Europe – then the other side will respond with further counter-measures.

Question: What kind of counter-measures?

Sergei Karaganov: NATO expanding to include Ukraine, for example. That would be a huge counter-strike that could set us back for many years.

Question: And how could we make a more sophisticated response?

Sergei Karaganov: Let them deploy the missile defense elements. If handled properly, this could become a vulnerable point in America’s global strategy. In any event, it would pose no threat to us within the next 15 years. The American missile defense plan for Europe is 80% politics. So they’ve deployed missile defense elements in Alaska – but nobody wants to fund them, because they’re not actually necessary. Now, in order to obtain funding, they’re deploying missile defense elements in Europe – they’ll be more visible there.

Question: Who will be the strongest in ten years’ time? Will the world be multipolar – or unipolar, with the United States taking the lead?

Sergei Karaganov: The world has never been unipolar. Our thinkers made a foolish error in parroting American thinkers who asserted proudly that the United States ruled the world. American has never had the kind of power that’s often attributed to it. And now, in Iraq, it’s lost power entirely. The world’s media have long since become internationalized. People all over the world buy the same consumer goods. International travel is very rapid. Governments have hardly any control over corporations and high finance. More transnational corporations are being created. The world won’t be polar at all; it will be multilayered, interdependent, contradictory. No poles. And over the next ten to 30 years, the center of economic power will shift to South-East Asia and South Asia – South Korea, India, Japan, China.

Question: What should Russia do in these circumstances?

Sergei Karaganov: Think about strategic alliances. The following scenario is optimal, but low-probability at this stage: a strategic alliance with Europe, based on the deal proposed by Putin – an exchange of assets, with Russia gaining assets in the energy distribution networks of European countries, in exchange for Europeans being allowed to work in our energy production companies. This would be a system of energy independence, producing a qualitative increase in Europe’s energy security. It could be used as the basis for an economic alliance and a political alliance. So far, however, the Europeans fear our aggressiveness. And the United States would try to prevent such an alliance, of course, since it would make Europe stronger, with more distance between Europe and America.

Question: Does America want access to our resources itself? Is this possible?

Sergei Karaganov: That’s completely incorrect. America wants wealth and prosperity for itself. Access to our resources – that’s item 34 in Chapter 25 of the list of US national interests. The USA wants our resources to be controlled by international corporations. It wants Russia to be unable to use resources as a means of pursuing its political goals, which may not coincide with American goals. But America has no chance of gaining control of our resources, and will not have such a chance in the foreseeable future.

Question: Might the United States start a war with Iran?

Sergei Karaganov: I don’t rule out the possibility – despite America’s heavy casualties in Iraq.

Question: When might this happen?

Sergei Karaganov: Perhaps while the Bush Administration is still in power. As his term draws to a close, Bush might strike at Iran – explaining that he has no choice. This would rock the Middle East, which is already splitting at the seams. On the other hand, if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it’s extremely likely that Saudi Arabia will also get nuclear weapons – and perhaps Egypt and Turkey as well. That would mean a strategic nightmare in the Middle East.

Question: What should Russia do?

Sergei Karaganov: Try to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And ready Russia’s own military doctrine for any unpleasant developments.

Question: Is it still possible for Russia to disintegrate, or have we passed the point of no return?

Sergei Karaganov: Our forecast extends to 2018-20, and we see no reason why Russia should fall apart. But if we are weak, the trends that would lead to disintegration are likely to re-emerge after 2020.

Question: Will China take over the Russian Far East?

Sergei Karaganov: No threat from China is evident. The major threat is our own lack of attention to Siberia and the Russian Far East. But that’s our own problem – not a problem in relations with China. Still, the situation seems to be changing.

Question: But can Russia cope with this? The costs will be enormous, after all: in effect, restoring order across a quarter of the continent.

Sergei Karaganov: We should invite capital and human resources from other countries. We should balance out the power of China in that region, so that China won’t be tempted to move north and so that we can overcome our fears.

Question: Which countries should be invited? Central Asia?

Sergei Karaganov: Both Asia and the United States. Actually, our home-grown Cassandras have been ranting for the past 25 years about the threat of China taking over our territories. But there are no more than 330,000 Chinese in Russia – even the Russian Empire had several times more. The Chinese are busy expanding into Africa and Latin America – not to the north. China’s attitude to Russia is loyal and positive. No other state in Asia is more friendly to us – apart from Kazakhstan.

Question: Might 2008 be a watershed year for Russia?

Sergei Karaganov: We’re predicting that it won’t be. But the subsequent six to eight years will be very important and difficult for Russia. There will be opportunities for mistakes – and for great gains. Thus, given intelligent diplomacy and resolve, we can succeed.

Question: Would you like to warn Russia’s next president against any particular mistakes?

Sergei Karaganov: Sailing along on the wave of high export prices that will accompany us – fortunately, yet unfortunately – in the years ahead. While on that wave, we could gradually turn into a second-rate power, unless we invest in a new economy and the minds of our people. That’s the first point. And the second mistake would be to get drawn into a confrontation with the West.