Vienna, July 29 – Russia must expand its economic ties with Asia while continuing to develop its political links to Europe, lest it miss the chance to develop economically or risk losing its national identity, according to Sergei Karaganov, one of Moscow’s most thoughtful and original commentators on geopolitics.
In short, the deputy director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Europe argues in an essay published last week in “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” Moscow must choose to become the “third West” – the Far East is already the second one, he suggests – rather than get bogged down in a choice between Europe and Asia or in the pursuit of some combination like Eurasianism.
As is his customary approach, Karaganov first defines the key features of the particular universe he is discussing – in this case, five aspects of “Asia” as it exists today – and then focuses in on how the Russian Federation is or is not taking advantage of these and what Moscow should do next (www.rg.ru/2008/07/22/karaganov.html).
First of all, Karaganov argues, it is critical to recognize that there is no one single Asia. At a minimum, he continues, there are “three Asias:” a Shintoist-Confucian East Asia of China and Japan, a Buddhist India in the middle, and an Islamic Central Asia and the Middle East Asia, each of which is different and is developing differently than the other two.
Second, he points out, the Chinese and Indian Asias have been developing in recent times at a “fantastic” rate. And they will continue to do so, capturing “many of the traditional branches of industry” long dominated by Europe and the United States, a trend that will present “gigantic socio-economic problems for the “old West” but also for Russia as well.
Indeed, he continues, he “does not see how we with our ever more expensive and smaller workforce will be able to compete except in a very narrow range of sectors” and then only “if we choose them and support them in a timely fashion.” That means “it is necessary to forget industrial policy in the old sense of the word.”
Third, Karaganov argues, “the Asia of the Muslim Middle East lags and will continue to lag for a whole range of reasons behind both the West and East and South Asia,” a trend that has been obscured over the last few years by the unprecedented influx of oil wealth but one that this region cannot long avoid.
That sets the stage, the Moscow commentator continues for “a semi-mythic, semi-real” clash of civilizations not only between the Islamic world and the Christian one but also between “the world of Islam and the world of Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism,” a conflict in which “rapidly developing India and falling behind Pakistan” are on the front line.
Among the many consequences of that double clash of civilizations is an ever greater role for Iran in both, Karaganov says, noting that conflicts in this region are likely to arise in the near term either because of an attack on Iran or the collapse and disintegration of Pakistan, a country which he reminds has nuclear weapons.
Fourth, “all three Asias” are setting themselves apart “in the political, economic and social sense from the recent domination of the West, of Western approaches, and of traditional Western ideological postulates. But he continues, these “new giants” in Asia are continuing to cooperate with the West, in large measure because their economies require that.
And fifth, because of their economic success, both oil-driven and longer term, the Asian countries are acquiring ever greater political influence, but they are doing so in a region where there is not yet a well-developed system of “the regulation of international relations,” a situation Karaganov suggests is why these Asias are actually or potentially so unstable internationally.
In responding to these “Asiatic challenges,” the Moscow commentator argues, Russia needs “not one but at a minimum three strategies,” because the challenges in the region are very different than they were only 15 years ago. Indeed, only in the Persian-Arab Asia is the challenge of instability and great power competition similar to what it was in the past.
Instead, these challenges center on the possibility that the growing economic power of China will reduce Russia to a raw materials supplier, a danger all the more real “because of our confusion and corruption, we are lagging behind it four to five percent a year” in quantitative terms and in qualitative ones as well.
Beijing is investing enormous sums in infrastructure, he points out. “The roads and airports in provincial China rank with the best of ours in the capital. China far more than we is concerned about education. In this still very poor country, universities are equipped better than the majority of Russian ones.”
As a result, “the ‘Chinese threat’ looks now entirely different than past and present ‘Chinaphobes’ present it – as a threat of falling behind and eventually of being marginalized as a result of our own inability to effectively and qualitatively develop and compete” with this new rising power.
Related to this is Russia’s inability up to now “to make use of the gigantic new possibilities which the new and rapidly developing markets [in that Asia] present.” Russian firms don’t invest in that region, preferring instead to do so in Europe as they have in the past, a missed opportunity if there ever was one.
According to Karaganov, Moscow must adopt “a new Asiatic strategy,” one based on global rather than regional calculations because “Asia is now a global player. And that strategy should consist of “three Asiatic strategies.”
First, it should focus on exploiting opportunities rather than parrying threats. Second, it should focus on economics rather than politics as has been the case up to now. And third, it should not be viewed as some kind of “alternative to a European or Western orientation” but rather as a complement to it.
Karaganov argues that “there is no alternative to social and political rapprochement with Europe” because that continent is “the cradle of the best in our civilization, the source of social modernization. Without Europe, we are not Russians: we will lose our national identity.” The country cannot afford to retreat into some kind of mythical Eurasianism.
And he sums up by arguing that Russia must develop its human capital in order to compete in a world in which Russia is “surrounded by the first West in the West and by the second in the East. This is a challenge, but it is also a gigantic opportunity. If we make use of it, we will become the third West” -- something better than Eurasia or “the third Rome.”