Moving Toward a “"Cold Peace"”
By Dragan Štavljanin
Every generation needs a new revolution.
The “outsiders” – semi-integrated entities, and their role in international relations
Humanity is not heading toward a new cold war – at least, not one resembling those waged since World War II – because Russia is neither capable of conducting it nor eager to jeopardize its progress toward becoming part of the international community. However, the great powers are far from reaching a con¬sensus on which fundamental values and principles a future international system should be based. Such a void leads to instability and friction, first and foremost between Russia and the West. In that respect, it can be said that the world is heading, if it has not already arrived, toward a “cold peace” – a kind of “post-modern war” waged not necessarily with arms, but by other means. That is one of the conclusions of the book: “Cold Peace: Caucasus and Kosovo” by Dragan Štavljanin.
This kind of war necessarily reveals more about the parties’ limitations than their abilities – such as the Russian paradox wherein the less powerful it becomes, the more it flexes its muscles. The “soft power” of the EU, similarly, looks more and more like a weakness and less like the enlightened ideals of the world’s first post-modern community. The United States, too, has shown its vulnerability – as has China, despite its impressive economic growth. Finally, this “cold peace” or “post-modern war” reveals the emptiness of global legal mechanisms that function without real democratic accountability – without reflecting the real will of people seeking self-determination or the legitimacy of a regime’s claim to preserve its territorial integrity.
Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia has consequences that reach far beyond its invasion of Georgia in August 2008. However, the recogniti¬on has changed virtually nothing on the ground, given the fact that Moscow has always enjoyed near-full control over the two breakaway regions. Internationally, Nicaragua remains the only country to recognize the territories. Although relations between Moscow and the West deteriorated sharply in the aftermath of the Russian invasion, the war cannot be said to be a cause. Rather, it’s a symbol of the friction that built up in the events that led to the war. The war signaled Russia’s demand that it be treated on an equal footing with the West, not as a junior partner. At the same time, the war streng-thened the isolationist ideology in Moscow which will shape its domestic scene as well as its relations with other countries for years to come.
Therefore, Russia’s recognition was not enough to resolve the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. To the contrary, it has only made the problem more acute. From a legal point of view, the two Georgian breakaway provinces cannot expect to be integrated into the international community. At the same time, Tbilisi can hardly bank on reintegrating its separatist regions, at least for the foreseeable future. It means that the former frozen conflict – dramatically thawed last year – is now returning to an even deeper freeze with no particular prospects of being solved. Within this vicious cycle, given the lack of any compromise, the only alternative to this new, deeper freeze is another thaw – and, indeed, the threat of a new conflict continues to loom over the South Caucasus. “Solving” the problem, therefore, will involve either postponing it or triggering a new crisis.
It is a second frozen conflict, however, that will serve as the litmus test of developments in the South Caucasus – Nagorno-Karabkah, whose peace process has proven the most complicated in the region.
One side – Azerbaijan – insists on preserving its territorial integrity at any price. The other – Nagorno-Karabakh, with support from Armenia – is bent on full independence. It’s a model for which no solution can be found. For either side to have its demands met would mean the widening of existing divides with the threat of a new war. It is, in the classic parlance, a zero-sum game, which means that the victory of one side is only temporary, because it will evoke the discontent of the other and create fertile soil for new clashes.
In history, of course, there is almost not a single example of a state voluntarily relinquishing a part of its territory. Therefore, any state’s attempt to quell secessionist aspirations of individual ethnic groups should involve a long-term strategy of nurturing a social climate in which citizens, regardless of ethnic origin, will see the country in which they live as a genuine homeland – not as the realm of an occupying force.
Once a state secedes, it becomes too late for such long-term, sustainable solutions that serve the interests of all. One such example is Kosovo. Serbia’s invocation of international law in bolstering its case that Kosovo should remain part of its territory is, at this stage, fruitless. Even if Belgrade succeeded in winning the support of the international community in preserving its international territory, it would simply re-inherit an unstable region inhabited by disenchanted and disloyal ethnic Albanian citizens who would be ready to do whatever needed to lay the ground for a fresh succession.
National interests and power configurations very often rise above principles in the real world. However, that is not the only way to resolve issues. Democracy is not a magic wand, but it does create opportunities for solving the issue of secession in an utterly different, wider context in which the two sides are not necessarily enemies, but rather partners benefiting from one another’s prosperity.
Of course, the world would collapse into an anarchic coup of 1,300 states if every secessionist movement was suddenly granted independence. Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, which has so far been recognized by 62 states, was quickly followed by a similar move by South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both represent a new phenomenon in international relations – the emergence of political entities who are not fully integrated into international institutions (most notably the United Nations) because of a lack of consensus among key world powers. The appearance of these “outsiders” could foment tensions not only between these entities and the states they seceded from. It could also prove a source of new friction between major powers who could use unresolved ethnic disputes to further their national interests on the global stage.
In current circumstances, the right to independence – regardless of what experts on international law say – is in essence a function of real power relationships in the international system.Western countries insist that Kosovo is a unique case, and therefore does not establish a precedent for other ethnic conflicts. But secessionist movements obviously see it different. “If Kosovo can do it, why not us?” they ask. But as the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.
Nonetheless, the mere invocation of international law in attempting to preserve a state’s territorial integrity often sounds very hollow if not underpinned by a principle of legitimacy – or, more precisely, by confidence-building measures meant to persuade separatist-minded communities to see the state they wish to secede from as a genuine homeland instead. There is a desperate need for clear criteria to be defined for creating new states.
One possible approach is the creation of a wider framework for supranational integration, such as the European Union. Despite such a post-modern approach to politics, however, the Westphalian principle of national sovereignty still remains one of the key principles of international relations.
Toward a multipolar world
Instead of longing for Kant’s “eternal peace” or a post-Westphalian “eroding sovereignty,” it has become more and more obvious that states at the end of the 17th century and the early 18th century did a remarkable job of defending their in¬terests. Today, power – not values – remain the key defining mechanism is international relations. Although the process of globalization has had the effect of diluting somewhat traditional state sovereignty, it has on the flip side laid the groundwork for growing nationalism, which has returned with a vengeance. Small nations, which see globalization as synonymous with Westernization and an erasure of all cultural distinctions, have fought to preserve their identities by rejecting globalization or adapting it to local realities. Hence, a new trend has emerged, called “glocalization”. Thus, instead of the “end of history” predicted by Fukuyama 20 years ago, history has returned, as Robert Kagan has pointed out.
Russia has defined its national security in terms of “privileged interests” in its neighborhood – meaning first and foremost the indefinite postponement, if not outright reversal, on NATO enlargement. So what means security for Moscow automatically means insecurity for the other, much smaller, states in the region.
The West has always faced a dilemma in how to approach Russia, which embodies a complicated blend of both European culture and Asiatic despotism – more of a nuclear-armed, resource-rich third world country than a full-fledged post-industrial state.
So the key question is: How to contain Russia without “containment?” Do¬minique Moisi offers the following strategy: “Let’s engage Russia if we can, but contain it if we must”.
In any case, if Russia continues to use its rising power to meddle in Georgia’s affairs or use energy as leverage to intimidate its neighbors, it may force the co-untries in the region to seek protection. Paradoxically, it may also help reunite the shaken ranks of the West, and primarily the European Union. Those countries could seek alternative sources of energy, undermining Russia’s leverage. That would leave Moscow’s defense mechanisms overstretched, and Russia as a whole more isolated and far less prosperous. Such a scenario lends credence to Hans Morgenthau’s warning to idealists against imagining that at some point, “the final curtain would fall, and the game of power politics would no longer be played”.
The stance prevails in historiography that the wars of the 20th century were triggered mainly by ethnic conflicts, economic crises, and the demise of empires. The ethnic conflicts in the Balkans and the South Caucasus which bubbled up in the 1990s following the Soviet collapse resulted in wars. The Great Depression of the 1930s was, among other things, a trigger that allowed for Hitler’s power grab. The current economic crisis most probably will not spur a war, but it could certainly contribute to tensions in already-volatile regions. If China outpaces the United States economically, some predict the fundamental shift in power could send the world skidding toward a new conflict – for example, if Beijing attempts to subdue Taiwan by force, or to wage war against India.
There are other areas of concern as well. As Andrei Tsygankov points out, events that could lead to another Crimean War have yet to be averted. It’s time to learn the lessons of the Russia-Georgia conflict by transforming the security systems in Europe and Eurasia.
Any new system should include the mutual renunciation of force as a met¬hod for solving separatist disputes, a temporary moratorium on NATO expansion, and a comprehensive energy agreement among the major powers that allows for the cooperative, rather than competitive, exploitation of existing transportation routes. It could amount to indulging Moscow, which might view this soft approach as typical Western weakness and an irresistible opportunity to continue its assertive policy in Georgia and the international arena. But allowing relations between Russia and the West to deteriorate any further would only bolster Kre¬mlin aggression. That, in turn, could hinder the former communist Central and Eastern European countries from their long-term goals of forming independent policy, gaining prosperity, and eventually becoming fully integrated in Euro-Atlantic structures.
As Henry Kissinger and George Shultz continue to argue, the security of Ukraine and Georgia should be viewed in a context larger than just mechanically advancing an integrated NATO command to within a few hundred miles of Moscow. That doesn’t, of course, mean appeasing Russia – rather, it means searching for a more creative solution to soften the Kremlin’s iron-clad position.
The future of modernity will be determined by the East
A multipolar concept of world affairs is gaining momentum over the prevai¬ling unipolar model in which the West – specifically, the United States – plays the dominant role. Non-Western powers, primarily Russia and China, are challenging Washington and Brussels – not only in terms of military and economic power, but also by advancing a different concept of international relations that includes their own model of democracy.
Washington has been labeled a “New Rome”. However, in the future, all roads will not necessarily lead to Washington, but instead be rerouted to China and elsewhere in the East.
In an effort to depict liberal democracy as a cover for Western domination, authoritarian states are striving to present an alternative paradigm authoritarian democracy. It sounds seductive to some, especially those who now blame neoli¬beral capitalism for the current economic crisis.
In the case of China, authoritarian democracy comes in the form of market economy combined with a one-party system. Those two elements, so far, successfully coexist. The discrepancy between economic pluralism and political monism is not a cause of public friction. Chinese citizens, at this stage, are mostly consumers who are poised to support the Communist authorities as long as their standard of living is rising.
However, these consumer citizens-in-waiting could, in the long run, be transformed into citizens in the political sense as they grow accustomed to economic freedom. Chinese citizens might someday soon seek the right to free elections and multiparty representation – something that could abruptly draw a curtain on the authoritarian capitalism model.
In Russia, a formal multiparty system has essentially been reduced to a one-party system. It’s not a unique case: rule by manipulation which creates the semblance of democracy by garnering citizens’ support in exchange for economic prosperity – support based not on a coherent ideology or shared values, but a tacit agreement driven by personal interests. Fluctuating oil prices and the global economic crisis, however, could dramatically undermine this legitimacy base in Russia.
In the long run, growing prosperity may well produce political liberalism. But how long is the long run? As Robert Kagan noted, it may be too long to have any strategic or geopolitical relevance. In the meantime, the new economic power of the autocracies has translated into real, usable geopolitical power on the world stage.
Historically, modernity has come from the West. But as Timothy Garton Ash suggests, the future of freedom now depends on new notions of modernity evol¬ving mainly in the East. Globalization, conceived as a mainly Western project, is gaining a distinctly non-Western flavor.
If China realizes its potential and becomes a kind of countrywide Hong Kong, it may surpass the United States. Even if Washington is no longer dominant and has been surmounted economically by China, however, it may still play a crucial role in international relations. Namely, the existing international architecture rail-roaded through by the United States following World War II will still provide the mechani¬sm for China’s development and projection of global power.
In the end, irrespective of criticism of “American imperialism and hegemony,” the fact of the matter is that the Western/American model of democracy is an ideal to which many people in the world aspire. It will remain so for years to come, despite the current crisis of confidence in the neoliberal model. America’s global dominance since WW2 has been the result not only of its economic and military strength, but of the ideas and values that make up the bedrock of U.S. society.
At the same time, it’s not clear if China is capable of laying out a foundation for an alternative social-political model that would prove attractive on a worldwide scale. And without that, it can’t count on world-leader status, even if it begins to economically outperform the United States.
China’s current and future development depends mainly on Western tech¬nology and Western consumer markets. The strength of the United States lies in its huge domestic demands. However, an increasing imbalance is appearing as a cash-strapped Washington relies on loans from China to cover its budget and other deficits.
The EU, in a Similar Catch-22, depends on imports of energy from Russia. At the same time, Russia’s welfare depends on the European market, which ex¬ports the lion’s share of its energy, and provides essential investment and technology as well.
Global trouble spots – Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran – cannot be solved without common cooperation between the West, Russia, and China. This suggests that the world is intractably intertwined. Instead of geostrategic jousting, major powers need to come together on key issues, and quickly. Current calls for “multipolarity” may mean only a reapportionment of powers, rather than an agreement on key principles and values. In such a case, the world finds itself sliding toward an unpredictable course of events, where victories are short-term and Pyrrhic. National interests are critical to the functioning of the very complex world we live in. But it is not acceptable that interests are shown to be superior to values, and pragmatism to ideals.
Of course, if the future isn’t determined, it’s up for grabs. The belief in the enlightened notion of common sense and linear progress is, in practice, constantly challenged. The most dramatic examples are atrocities committed by the Hitler and Stalin regimes. Liberalism prevailed then. It was not, however, a triumph of liberal ideas alone. As Robert Kagan points out, many battles have had to be fought in order to secure those victories that are once again disputed. The Western liberal model of democracy now faces a challenge – in the form of a new model whose very basis, because of the economic crisis, lies in questioning the old model. It is possible that, retreating from the prevailing neoliberal model, the world may revert toward a kind of “welfare state”, or state capitalism with elements of corporatism and authoritarian democracy.
If democracy assumes a set of procedures and norms, then even dictators can utilize it to come to power – Hitler being the most dramatic example. However, if democracy is to truly be a synonym for liberty and equal opportunity, it cannot be achieved without a liberal component. For that reason, the very term “authoritarian democracy” is inherently contradictory – the direct opposite of “democracy”.
Regardless of what label is eventually attributed, there is one model which is the most humane and efficient system mankind has ever created. It is the model which is politically based in liberal democracy, and economically based on market principles – but without the market fundamentalism and Hobbesian internati¬onal arena where “a big fish necessarily swallows a smaller one”, and monopolies are acquired through political loyalty.
For that reason, a liberal democracy – despite its limits – is the only surviving form of political legitimacy. After all, its limits are, in fact, one of the sources of strength in a liberal democracy. Unlike various utopian models of an ideal society which end in dreadful crimes and destitution, the vigor of a liberal democracy is demonstrated not in providing “final solutions” but in fueling a permanent quest for them through reflection, dialogue, and the action of an overwhelming majority of citizens to solve current problems in a way that doesn’t hobble future generations but instead creates conditions to help them face the challenges that arise.
The strength of a liberal democracy is also in the hope it fosters. This is why dictatorship preys on hope. Fortunately, people persevere because of the hope they hold in democratic, free society, even in the most difficult of times. For that reason, Fareed Zakaria is correct in saying that a liberal democracy can go from being a rule to a lifestyle.
Dragan Stavljanin is a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Balkan Service (RFE/RL) based in Prague, Czech Republic. Prior to joining RFE/RL, he worked for several radio and TV stations in Serbia and prominent Serbian newspapers. He also wrote for the Prague based journal "Transition".
He received an MA from the Central European University in Prague/Budapest.
Dragan Štavljanin: Hladni mir – Kosovo i Kavkaz
Radio Slobodna Evropa/Čigoja Štampa