The Post-Western World: Implications for Russia and the West

/Baltic Rim Economies/, No. 3, June 2009, p. 28

The second half of 2008 has revealed that the world is entering a principally new stage of development. While the global economic crisis has severely undermined the West-centered model of global economic expansion, the Russia-Georgia war ended the West’s monopoly for unilateral use of force previously demonstrated by NATO’s military attacks on Yugoslavia and the United States’ invasion of Iraq. That Russia choose to use force in the Caucasus in defiance of the West implies de-centralization of hard power usage and promises serious difficulties for Western nations with continuous expansion of NATO’s geopolitical responsibilities at the expense of political arrangements, such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Collective Security Treaty Organization.

It is becoming clear that attempts to dominate others by using tools of military and economic coercion are going to be increasingly de-centralized and undertaken without consultation with Western nations. Observers are increasingly aware that the West-centered world is beginning to unravel. Structurally, it is still the familiar world of American primacy with the Western – especially American – military predominance and the West’s global superiority in political, economic and cultural dimensions. But dynamically the world is moving away from its West-centeredness even though the exact direction and result of the identified trajectory remains unclear.

At this point in history, Russians need to develop a coherent response to changing structural conditions of the international system. In the post-Western world, Russia’s development will continue to be complicated by the expansion of Western military infrastructure and the rise of China. The latter will increasingly present Russia with the challenge of progressive power differentials. As Russia continues to supply China with energy and weapons, and as China grows at a considerably higher rate than its northern neighbor, the risk of Moscow becoming a junior partner in a Beijing-led coalition increases. Although the two’s relations are good, there are signs of China’s increasing assertiveness. They may include Russia’s unwillingness to press environmental claims against its neighbor when it polluted the Amur River, the recently demarcated borders with several territories going to China, and Beijing’s efforts to negotiate energy supplies below market prices. Finally, there is a challenge of oil markets, as Russia remains dependent on their stability for its continued modernization.

In response to challenges presented by the post-Western world, Russia should seek to devise collective security and collective prosperity systems across the world, rather than to merely normalize relations with the West. The international legitimacy of such a strategy may be accomplished, in part, by participation in multilateral arrangements. As a member of several important organizations, Russia may take full advantage of being an international participant. In a post-Western world, security alliances increasingly lose their traditional significance, making it imperative to rely on soft balancing tactics. Issue-specific international engagement is a way to make such tactics more effective, and Russia ought to become more active in regional institution-building. For example, unable on its own to effectively respond to security challenges from NATO, Russia should continue to develop soft balancing coalitions with selected European countries, China and Iran. However, Russia should also continue to build ties with European Union, United States, India, South Korea and Japan as soft balancing tactics to address the issue of rising China. Similar flexible engagements may be relevant for addressing issues of weapons proliferation, terrorism, energy and drug trafficking.

Arrival of the new post-Western world also has important implications for the United States and European nations. Rather than trying to secure the 21^st century as another American or Western century, Washington and Brussels will do well to acknowledge the irreversible – albeit gradual – nature of Western decline and prepare for an honorable retreat from the position of global hegemony. In application to relations with Russia, the latter attitude means the need to act in concert and consultation with the Kremlin, rather than out of expectation of it being helpful in executing the West’s grand plans. Although many in the United States and Europe are skeptical of a serious improvement in relations with Russia, their interests are compatible not just in fighting terrorism and arms control, but also in areas of historical perceptions, energy relations and political development.

If the Western nations continue to act on unilateral and imperial temptations, new challenges will inevitably arise, as the George W. Bush’s era has demonstrated all too well. In this case, the non-Western nations beginning with Russia will act in defiance by unilaterally asserting what they see as their strategic and economic interests. In the absence of sufficiently strong international institutions, such interaction is likely to result in new conflicts across the world. On the other hand, the post-Western world promises new opportunities to those who are willing and able to seize them. A gradual retreat of the West does not have to be accompanied by growing destabilization across the globe, but instead may create an international environment for reducing arsenals of deadly weapons, devising more socially egalitarian and politically responsive institutions, and developing greater cultural sensitivity in the world. The still predominant West would then need to lead by example showing the way not to the new “Western century” but to a controlled disarmament, a new economic order, assistance with regional political institutions, and initiation of innovative cross-cultural learning programs across the world.