Comments made by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the World Political Forum about the security imperative for the EU to bridge the gap with Russia in order to once again have influence on the global stage are making some news. Here’s his argument – Europe has not had and will not have a “clear and independent” voice on international affairs without some type of close alliance with Russia, and without this support, the United States will achieve a level of “monopoly leadership” which will lead to more and more unpredictability, citing cases such as the conflict in the Balkans and the war in Iraq. Where have we heard this before?
This line of reasoning regarding a vision for a new “multipolar” global order has a familiar ring to it. However it is a novel way to frame the EU-Russia challenge, and like most things that Gorby says, it is at once rational, convincing, and quite problematic. How, for example, can the problems of nationalism which have arisen in the Balkans be blamed solely on the lack of a counterweight to U.S. influence? Furthermore, were George W. Bush’s tragically bungled misadventures in Iraq going to turn out any differently if EU and Russia spoke with one voice? In many respects, the relationship functioned extremely well at this point in time.Gorby is of course 100% correct that it is very important for Europe to have closer ties with Russia, but it is much more problematic to impose false dualities. You are either with us, or against us (Gorbachev even makes a veiled threat to send Russia’s beloved gas to the East, a job usually reserved for Gazprom’s execs). The relevance of Europe’s influence can only be defined in terms of its ability to act against the policy objectives of the United States. Even if the EU has extremely close ties to Russia, won’t their own internal fragmentation disable its ability to project power internationally, as it did in the case of Iraq? Also totally absent from the equation is how much Russia needs Europe to become a global power. This whole line of reasoning seems like Russia is telling Europe they need to accept the new status quo of authoritarianism, energy bullying, and hostility as part of the deal.Perhaps Gorbarchev is looking placate some of those in the Kremlin who were not too amused by his Louis Vuitton advertisement?