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Scent Petersburg

Balance of power inhibits capacity to overthrow int'l order; agreement on shared values inhibits desire to overthrow int'l order, writes AG Noorani.

india Updated: Aug 15, 2006 05:10 IST
AG Noorani

‘The balance of power inhibits the capacity to overthrow the international order; agreement on shared values inhibits the desire to overthrow the international order. Power without legitimacy tempts tests of strength; legitimacy without power tempts posturing. Combing both elements was the challenge and the success of the Congress of Vienna (1815) which established a century of international order uninterrupted by a general war.” The unipolar order rests on power devoid of legitimacy and risks the dangers Henry Kissinger mentions. The G8 summit at St Petersburg marked Russia’s subtle challenge to this order. Its effort is of great consequence to India.

Since 1919, the international order has been bereft of legitimacy. The Congress of Versailles lacked vision. The UN, based on Great Power compact, was stymied by the Cold War.  Its end in 1989 yielded a unipolar world. Solution to the issue of security has been consistently avoided. Security rests on compact, not domination. To quote Kissinger again, “the stability of an international system depends on the degree to which it combines the need for security with the obligation of self-restraint... For absolute security for one country must mean absolute insecurity for all others.”

The central issue since 1919 has been reconciliation of the security concerns of Western Europe with those of Russia. Hitler threatened both. The West’s indifference drove Stalin to forge a pact with Hitler on August 23, 1939, giving Russia a big chunk of Poland and “spheres of influence” in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bassarabia (Moldova).

But they split on Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Turkey. Prime Minister Molotov and Hitler could not settle the differences when they met in Berlin on November 13, 1940. On December 18, 1940, Hitler issued a directive for war on the Soviet Union. It was launched on June 22, 1941. Germany offered British India to Russia, while claiming northern Africa for itself and Italy and Eastern Asia for Japan. Russia demanded German withdrawal from Finland, bases in Bulgaria and on the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles plus “the area south of Batum and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf” and Japan’s renunciation of oil and coal concessions in Northern Sakhalin.

Stalin pursued these very interests immediately after the war ended in May 1945. He was fortified by a pact with Churchill on October 9, 1944, in Moscow. Churchill recorded, “I wrote out on a half-sheet of paper: Romania/Russia 90 per cent, the others 10 per cent; Greece/Great Britain 90 per cent (in accord with the US), Russia 10 per cent; Yugoslavia 50-50 per cent,  Hungary 50-50 per cent, Bulgaria/ Russia 75 per cent, the others 25 per cent... He (Stalin) made a tick upon it and passed it back to us.” Churchill suggested: “Let us burn this paper.” “No, you keep it,” said Stalin. The deal rested on trust. It collapsed when the trust eroded.

1945: The War That Never Ended is an apt title of Gregor Dallas’ erudite book published recently. Archival disclosures reveal that each side attributed ambition for world domination to the other which neither entertained.

Another historic opportunity was lost when the Cold War ended. Gorbachev told George H.W. Bush at Malta in December 1989 that he did not regard the US as an adversary and accepted the presence of its troops in Europe. He yielded on Germany’s reunification. But his appeal to the Group of 7 in London to support his reforms with a ‘Marshall Plan’ was rejected. The US had no problem raising money for the Gulf war. Gorbachev was ousted from power and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The US’s exultation at its ‘victory’ riles Russia. Vladislav Surkov, Deputy Chief of Putin’s administration, said on June 28, 2006, “We do not believe that we were defeated in the Cold War. We defeated our own totalitarian regime.”

On March 8, 1992, the New York Times reported the Pentagon’s Defence Planning Guidance stating, “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere.” Nato’s expansion eastwards was part of this policy. George Kennan called it “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era”. He predicted that it would “inflame the nationalistic and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; have an adverse effect on the development of its democracy, restore the atmosphere of the Cold War... and impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking”. Nato has reached the borders of Russia with Ukraine and Georgia as possible members. The entire Warsaw Pact membership is in Nato — bar Russia.

Russia is not blameless. Let alone the Stalinist past that “scared the world so much”, as Putin realises, his own policies in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in Chechnya and on the ‘near abroad’ were not calculated to inspire confidence in neighbours.  Even less so his offer to the US after 9/11 which Dmitri Trenin disclosed recently as “acceptance of US global leadership for the US’s recognition of Russia’s role as a major ally, endowed with a special (that is, hegemonic) responsibility for the former Soviet space”. It was rejected, rightly. But the US’s course was as hegemonic. George Bush frowns even at “a unified Europe to balance America”.

Putin was rebuffed when he sought ‘a Russo/German/French axis’. Phenomenal rise in oil and gas prices helped him to turn his back on European integration. “Not everyone was ready to see Russia begin to restore its economic health and its position on the international stage so rapidly,” he said. They saw “a strong Russia as a threat”.

This, Russia is not. But nor is it a pliant follower. It will resist the US’s  power while seeking its technology.  The US too needs Russia — on Iran, North Korea and Iraq. So does Europe. One-fourth of its gas supplies come from Russia. However, no modus vivendi on security is in sight. There is a clash of plans for the present and of visions for the future.

A former British ambassador to the Soviet Union and then Russia, Rodric Braithwaite, warned that “Any European arrangement which is opposed by Russia, which it feels is against its national interests, which leaves Russia as a revanchist power on Europe’s eastern flank, will in the long-run be as shaky as the 1919 Versailles settlement. The West must devise a way of bringing Russia as a satisfied status quo power into the new Europe.”

The US has no time for partnerships. William Pfaff said of this year’s National Security strategy statement, “The only actual ‘strategy’ that can be deduced is that the Bush administration wishes to rule the world.”

Russia and China go along, now cooperating, now contesting. But they will not acquiesce in the order the US imposes on the world for long. Nor should India.