Global Leadership Drought – Modern Diplomacy
The beginning of August was marked by two events which, absent their fundamental importance to the global agenda, are essential for understanding what international politics might look like in the future. First, there was a de facto breakdown in relations between China and the small Baltic state of Lithuania after the latter’s authorities decided to de facto recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of the People’s Republic of China. Secondly, it is the first anniversary of the turbulent internal political events in Belarus which followed the presidential elections which were neither recognized by the United States nor the European Union and which caused the discontent of a significant party. of Belarusian society.
In the first case, we see how the behavior of a formally independent state is completely subordinate to the decisions of one of the great powers. Protecting the United States is Lithuania’s most important national interest, as Lithuania itself cannot ensure its own survival due to its lack of potential. In essence, China is now dealing with the implementation of one of the tactical tasks as part of the US survival strategy, although this is formally the decision of a sovereign member. of the international community. In the case of Belarus, the survival of the state in August-September 2020 was also ensured by the full support of Russia, for which the collapse of the Belarusian state would mean the emergence of a threat to Russia. security. At the same time, unlike Lithuania, we cannot say that even now all the decisions taken by Minsk correlate with the development of the situation which is optimal for Moscow.
At the same time, Lithuania and Belarus are themselves in a state of acute conflict. It all started exactly one year ago, when the Lithuanian authorities decided to engage in an active fight against their neighbor. During this struggle, Lithuania has acted as a proxy for the United States and major European states, while Belarus, in turn, is only marginally controlled by Russia, at least from the point of view of Russian observers. the most knowledgeable. But the survival of this country is in the national interest of Russia.
As we can see, in this case the great powers – Russia, China and the United States – are not interacting directly, but with those who on their own cannot take full responsibility for their actions. . This raises the question of how, in modern conditions, the great powers should act and can, in principle, forge relationships with partners who have sovereignty recognized by the UN, but who lack the capacity to lead. their own foreign policy? This question seems important because the choice of diplomatic instruments or power depends on the answer.
From a Russian perspective, this is particularly relevant, as it is surrounded by such neighbors, just as the United States is surrounded by oceans.
In addition, in recent years, it has not expressed the desire to regain full control of its neighbors to dialogue directly with its peers, as was the case at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, when the borders most importantly, the powers of Eurasia were in fact aligned.
The emergence of the problem of dialogue with countries that lack the capacity to engage in fully responsible behavior has become one of the outcomes of international politics in the twentieth century. Over the past 100 years, the international system has been filled with a large number of states unable to survive independently. This process began after World War I, when the victorious powers were interested in creating a significant number of small countries that were absolutely dependent on them. In place of the destroyed Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman Empires, a large group of state entities formed in Eastern Europe.
None of them will be able to play even an insignificant role in the next great war, in 1939-1945. Even Poland, the largest in terms of population, was defeated within weeks and then reborn thanks to the victorious Soviet army. The others may have been more or less successful in developing their own economic base during the “truce” of 1918-1939, but their ability to secure sovereignty over national defense was immediately disproved. All of these countries, with the exception of Finland, either fell under the pressure of internal circumstances or were defeated because they acted as potential or active satellites of the opposing parties.
However, after the end of World War II, the “parade of sovereignties” continued on a global scale. Moreover, after 1945, the great powers acquired exceptional resources to manage international affairs – a colossal power gap that arose as a result of the creation of large arsenals of nuclear weapons. During the period 1950-1970, the main engine of sovereignty was the will of the two great powers – the USSR and the United States – to create a network of their own client states on the basis of European colonial empires, incapable of ensure their survival without help from Washington or Moscow. In fact, the process that took place mirrored what had happened 25 years ago in Eastern Europe, only the other empires were divided – the British and French colonies.
Some time later, albeit on a smaller scale, China also joined this movement. Before that, Beijing’s funds were limited enough that it could reliably promote a strategy of “national self-determination” to protect its own interests. China, in fact, has found itself lagging behind in this race, and now it can only think about how the client states of Russia or the United States can be so insecure about their future that they transfer external governance into the hands of Beijing. So far, we haven’t seen convincing examples of such behavior.
In addition, after the collapse of their own colonial empires, Britain and France were able to regain control of the foreign policy of some of the entities born from their ruins. However, this control is carried out directly in very rare cases and is carried out mainly through institutional mechanisms of interaction, with the European Union or other organizations of the community of market democracies.
Following the end of the Cold War, a significant number of countries needing external support for their survival appeared not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the territory of the former USSR. Some of the newly independent states have shown compelling evidence of a move towards more effective sovereignty. The collapse of the USSR, as well as the collapse of the colonial system in previous decades, has led Russia and China to surround themselves with a number of neighbors with whom they can establish relatively egalitarian relations of the same way the United States can treat virtually on an equal footing with Great Britain, Germany or France.
However, a significant number of these neighbors simply lack human and geopolitical resources. As a result, the two great powers must now move towards the formation of a special foreign policy with a whole group of countries, which would take into account the particularities of their situation. But they are not the only ones. The United States and the main EU countries are also forming specific policies towards those who entrust their survival to Russia or China, taking into account the role that Moscow or Beijing play in their plight. It is the conflict between the United States and Russia that determines the actions of Washington or Berlin in relation to, for example, Armenia or Belarus, and not the bilateral relations as such.
Nor can Russia assume that quite ordinary bilateral diplomacy exists in its relations with Lithuania or Romania. An opposite example is Russia’s policy towards Pakistan, Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan – countries which have the resources necessary for independent survival and responsible foreign policy. China has tried to establish traditional relations with the countries of Eastern Europe, but these efforts now face notable difficulties.
It is very likely that as international politics returns to a dynamic balance of power, the ruling powers will endeavor to ensure that their bilateral relations are confined to the circle of those who truly have the capacity to be responsible in their behaviour. For the rest, we can expect a gradual transformation of the usual diplomatic practice towards a particular model which differs in quality and content. What this new content will be is no longer a speculation, but a practical task. This new kind of relationship can become a kind of proxy diplomacy, which is better than the proxy warfare we all know in any case.
From our partner RIAC