The Duck of Minerva

Russia wants a return to the post-9/11 status quo?

28 September 2008

This is truly a fascinating bit of rhetoric from the Russians:

Russia called Saturday for a revival of the global anti-terrorism coalition that formed after Sept. 11, 2001 but started to unravel with what it called the subsequent domination by a single power — a veiled reference to the United States.

“The solidarity of the international community fostered on the wave of struggle against terrorism turned out to be somehow `privatized’,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the U.N. General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting.

Lavrov cited the U.S. invasion of Iraq “under the false pretext of fight on terror and nuclear arms proliferation” and questions of excessive use of force against civilians in counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.

And he said the recent crisis over Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia proved again that “it is impossible or even disastrous to try to resolve the existing problems in the blindfolds of the unipolar world.”

I imagine John Ikenberry would have a lot to say about the fact that the Russians are now positioning themselves as the champions of the liberal international order. At one level, statements like Lavrov’s should be read as a rhetorical bid; Moscow hopes to capture the moral high ground after being pummeled in the propaganda war with Georgia.

But the period Lavrov invoked was one in which US-Russian relations were in very good shape, and in which, I am told, the Russians were very willing to cooperate–not only on the “war on terror,” but also on the Partnership for Peace.

Obama, who currently has to be considered the leading candidate for US president, himself calls for the US to embrace a more multilateral foreign policy, to consult more frequent with other countries about relevant policy objectives, and even to seek shared ground with Russia if it can be found, could the Russians be sending their own signals–albeit with requisite digs at US policy–that they’re interested in playing ball?

Aspects of Lavrov’s critique, after all, match Obama’s own assessment of Bush Administration foreign policy; while McCain’s speeches and policy positions seem fully in accord with Neoconservativism 3.0, McCain also has instincts in the direction of traditional Republican establishment foreign policy. It will be interesting to find out if Lavrov’s signals amount to more than cheap talk.