The question is when the U.S. is going to leave, and whether there exists the slightest possibility for the world community to prevent Iraqi territory from turning into the breeding ground for instability and terrorism, which would be worse than Afghanistan had been before.
The U.S. is rapidly developing the post-Iraq syndrome. It is similar to the post-Vietnam syndrome, which for six to eight years restricted Washington's ability and willingness to use armed force, and pursue active foreign policy against the backdrop of a sharp decrease in U.S. prestige and popularity.
The fact that the U.S. is developing a new syndrome does not mean that it will not use force in the next few years, or will not encourage its allies to take military action. (During the recent Israeli-Hizbollah war it seemed that some people in Washington were hoping that Israel would strike at Iranian nuclear facilities. Israel has refrained from this so far).
In effect, the strongest military power has lost the war. Moreover, in political terms, this war has been lost by the Israeli army, which is rated the most effective in the world. It was trying to knock Hizbollah out of southern Lebanon, but to no avail. A draw meant Hizbollah's victory. Anti-Israeli attitude has intensified not only in the Arab world, but also among traditional Israeli supporters. Israel's political loss has worsened apprehensions about the long-term future of this country with a substantial nuclear potential.
Iran is also an obvious winner. The war in Lebanon has diverted attention from its nuclear program, and its ally and client Hizbollah has scored a political triumph. It has become clear that Tehran has the political will and ability to win in intricate political situations. It is entering a new round of bargaining for its nuclear future with stronger chips.
The situation in nuclear Pakistan is worsening with every passing day. The growing social tensions may produce an explosion and put in power the radical Islamists; President Musharraf, who is considered to be the guarantor of the Pakistani nuclear potential, is losing political ground. It is becoming increasingly obvious that in the event of his downfall nobody can guarantee that Pakistani bombs will not land in the hands of radicals.
These and other developments are taking place against the background of the situation in Afghanistan, which is not getting any better, to put it mildly. They testify to the growing instability in the "greater Middle East", the continued consolidation of radical Islamists, and a higher risk of the regional race for nuclear weapons.
It has become clear in the last eight months that the leaders of the world community have almost failed to stop North Korea from going nuclear. Moreover, Pyongyang has tested (whether successfully or not is unknown) a series of long-range missiles, and got away with it, increasing the likelihood of the nuclear arms race in the Far East.
The trend towards general chaos has been growing rapidly, and international relations have been increasingly getting out of control. The country that has proclaimed itself the only leader has suffered several setbacks. The European Union has taken another step towards becoming a political dwarf. It has not even tried to take part in real earnest in the settlement of the conflict in Lebanon, and does not seem to be willing to send peacemakers there. The latter arrive from individual countries. One gets the impression that the Europeans are trying to conceal themselves behind the weaker U.S.
The ossified UN has again demonstrated its impotence during the recent crisis in the Middle East. The conflicting parties were almost openly opposed to the UN blue helmets carrying out a peacemaking mission in Lebanon because of their very frequent inefficiency. The helmets will arrive, but will they be able to settle the doubts?
Certain hopes are inspired by the chances of the G8 being joined by the new great powers (China, India, Brazil, and South Africa), which have increased after the summit in St. Petersburg. But at the same time, tensions are increasing among the old great powers. The trend towards gradual deterioration of Russian-American relations was stopped, and even reversed during the summit, but seems to have resumed later on.
Exploiting a favorable situation to the limit of tactical pragmatism, if not over it, and skillfully using PR, Russia seems to have become a winner, too. The decision on the construction of an eastward oil and gas pipeline has finally been made.
But like all the others, we do not seem to have a clear idea of what we should do in the aggravating situation, and are avoiding strategic decisions, which could drastically consolidate our positions in a very complicated world of the future.
Needles to say, my description is far from complete. This task is beyond the scope of a newspaper article.
What can be done? What goals should we pursue in the next few months, or a year?
First. Despite the pressure of rapid changes, we should get down to medium and long-term forecasting of events affecting Russia. Tactical pragmatism is a good thing, but it may lead to strategic mistakes if divorced from the understanding of the perspective. We should update permanently our forecasts at least up to 2010-2017-2020.
Second. We will have to further modernize our military and political doctrine. Militarily and technologically advanced countries lose. It is perfectly obvious that we should modify our nuclear strategy.
Third. We should stay away from anti-American games, no matter how much we are irritated by Washington's policy. We should resist the temptation to exploit its current relative weakness. America will overcome its syndromes, and will continue to be the world's strongest power in the foreseeable future.
Fourth. We should prepare our country, its diplomacy and armed forces for a new, chaotic world, where nuclear weapons are very likely to spread, and which will be much harder to control.
Fifth. Despite the obvious need to concentrate on the post-Soviet space, we should realize that the major challenges and opportunities for Russia are outside it.
The post-Soviet space is important, and is a venue of competition, but if we focus on it, we are bound to lose the games where the stakes are much higher. I'll venture to say that sooner or later this space should cease to be at the top of foreign policy interests of other countries, like it happened with the CIS.
Sixth. Growing outside challenges, exacerbation of competition, and the world which is slipping out of control require a new foreign policy philosophy. We should not give up the idea of forming a club of great powers, which would be able, on a par with the UN, to make the world at least a little more manageable. But this hope is not likely to become reality in the next few years. Therefore, we should be ready to rely on our own forces in the new world. This goal demands serious, albeit relatively insignificant investment into the instruments and intellectual support for our foreign policy. Pragmatism is good, but it cannot replace a concept of our view of the world, and Russia's role in it.
Russia will have a very difficult time if it acts alone, without allied support. If great powers are unable to form an alliance for the time being, we should set up and consolidate regional unions, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization. But we should not lose the prospect of a big alliance. By no means should we create new enemies by spiting someone. Israel was one of our few allies in the war in Chechnya, and it would be foolish to sacrifice it to tactical gambling or to the desire to make a little money by supplying arms to its enemies; all the more so, considering the potentialities of its allies and friends in world politics and the media.
Seventh. Survival and success in this world depend more than ever on the socio-economic model of the state, which we will be able to build. But we may fail as well.
Eighth. A clash of civilizations, and the aggravation of the military-political situation seem to be likely options. It is clear that sooner or later we will have to take sides. But we should be getting ready to make a choice, or else it will be imposed on us.
For the time being, let us maneuver. This is not the best strategy but we don't seem to have a better option. Understandably, these goals will take us years to achieve, but we should start tackling them today, if we do not want to be desperately late.
Sergey Karaganov is dean of the Faculty for World Economics and Politics, Higher School of Economics