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DIFFERENT OPINIONS

The opinions expressed by the authors of the articles in this section are for discussion purposes only and may not coincide with the position of the Russian Government and the Embassy

19.12.2011

“Smart” foreign policy to serve “smart” economy

Transition to intellect-based economy needs retrofitting diplomacy.

12 December 2011 Igor Ivanov, President of the Russian Council for International Affairs, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia in 1998-2004.

Hardly anyone would doubt that the Russian economy today is in want of fundamental changes. It must be less dependent on raw material resources and more on the intellectual potential of the country. It must not only rely on large and super large corporations, but also small and medium-size businesses. Russia’s economy must become really dynamic, innovative and modern, in other words, it has to be “smart” as they now say.

It stands to reason that the transition to “smart economy” is impossible without relevant changes in the social and political spheres. One can argue about the contents, sequence or format of such changes but it is quite obvious that it will be impossible to transform economy without changing everything else in the life of our society. No one ever managed to do this anywhere; Russia’s historic experience like experience of other countries proves that economic, social and political modernization are necessary elements of the integrated process, out of which it is impossible to intentionally single out separate dimensions ignoring or putting aside all of the others for the better times.
What about foreign policy? Foreign policy must correspond to Russia’s potential and seek to strengthen it through its action while contributing to the economic and social progress of the country. Under this logic, one may presume that in the next few years our foreign policy must also acquire new dimensions and explore new instruments. In other words, in order to keep abreast of the times foreign policy as well as economy must be “smart”.

Let me make myself clear, I am not trying to make it look as though the modern Russian foreign policy is “not smart”. This is not true. In general, our foreign policy reflects the structure of our political system, economy and the present state of society meeting the current socio-economic and foreign policy interests of our country. Its limitations are of predominantly objective nature, and do not result from subjective errors or lack of professionalism in those who develop and carry out this policy.

At the moment, Russian foreign policy is undergirded by three instruments: military power (first of all, its nuclear component), energy resources, and membership in key international organizations (primarily the place of a permanent UN Security Council member). With the help of these instruments we have managed to partially restore the international standing we had lost late in the past century, return to the circle of great powers and even create a certain reserve of strength as regards Russia’s position in the global politics. However, as time passes the significance of these tools will be inevitably decreasing. In the 21st century, military power more often creates problems than resolves them, which has been demonstrated by the experience of American military interventions of the last few years. Under the circumstances of economic interdependence, tough energy diplomacy is at least a double-edged sword. As to the central role of international organizations like the UN, the World Band, the G8 and the G20 in world affairs and economy, its future is far from certain.

The qualitative change of the threats and challenges that to a certain extent any country is facing is one of the principle key of the international system of the current century. Firstly, these threats are growing in number. Secondly, they are becoming much more diverse and sophisticated than they were in the traditional system of international relation of the past century. Thirdly, they are harder to predict and provide against. In this new environment, the winners will be those countries who find optimal balance between old and new instruments of foreign policy influence, between national traditions and innovative approaches to international problems, between the consistency of a strategy and flexibility of tactics. “Smart” foreign policy does not dictate that we abandon the habitual instruments of influence, but it means being ready to view these instruments among new, less habitual and yet to be explored instruments.

Apparently, foreign policy assets accumulated by Russia will most likely be subject to “inflation” already in the course if this decade. And it is not about a short-term crisis. The decrease of the foreign policy efficiency is likely to be protracted and scarcely visible even for its participants.

We have several years to prevent a situation when the real role of the Russian state in international affairs starts to gradually decrease, Russia’s opinion on really important issues is ever less taken into account and the country is not able to perform its proper role in the system of international relations taking shape right before our eyes.

That is why it is necessary to start modernizing Russian foreign policy without delay. First of all, it entails a radical increase in the arsenal of instruments we are ready to use in world affairs. It is necessary to note that the dimensions of global politics often deemed by us dangerous or even hostile, i.e. development of communications technologies, drastic growth of migration flows, globalization of education and science, climate change, rising global food problems etc., could be among the most promising for Russia.

Obviously, each of these new dimensions can pose a threat to Russia’s interests. But only in case we remain on the defensive, relying on traditional instruments of Russian influence abroad. On the contrary, "smart policy" must look at these dimensions first of all as sources of new resources and opportunities for the country.

"Smart economy", on the one hand, creates new potential for foreign policy, and on the other - defines the priorities of the latter. For instance, "smart economy" makes the country more attractive for highly skilled migrants but at the same time requires a very well elaborated migration strategy as well as a qualitatively new level of work with Russian diasporas abroad.

"Smart economy" inevitably assumes making Russian universities more competitive at the global education markets, but it also makes it indispensable to create a long term state strategy of global promotion of Russian educational services. In other words, economy is constantly generating new opportunities for international influence, but the efficiency of modern economy in a globalized world depends significantly on how much these opportunities are used by foreign policy.

However, relationship between "smart" economy and "smart" foreign policy are more complicated in practice. Foreign policy should not always follow economy; sometimes foreign policy decisions kick-start important economic processes. For example, Russia’s accession to the WTO will without doubt speed up the transition to "smart economy" just like Russia’s entry to the Council of Europe contributed to the acceleration of the pace of reform of the Russian legal system.

The success of the "smart" foreign policy will be very much defined by the capability to create a broad coalition of state institutions and private sector, think tanks and civil society to achieve the common goals of strengthening Russia’s position in the world. The role of state in launching and fine-tuning these mechanisms will be defining.




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