Eastern Ukraine
Eastern Ukraine | Photo: boellstiftung | CC BY SA 2.0

“Unfortunately for all of us, the world did not go the ‘European way’”. An interview with Sergey Karaganov

The state of European security was an important topic at this years’s Schlangenbad Talks. Vera Rogova talked to Prof. Sergey Karaganov (National Research University – Higher School of Economics. Moscow) about the usefulness of arms control and challenges to the Liberal World Order.

Vera Rogova: The topic of this year’s Schlangenbad Talk was a possible new world order and Europe’s role in it. But such discussions ofttimes evolve around China, Russia and the US, that is, so-called great powers. Can small and middle powers play a role in influencing this new world order?

Sergey Karaganov: In spite of the fact that we now live again in a world of great powers and in a great power rivalry, great powers – unlike previous centuries – cannot force said small and medium powers into subjugation.

For Europe, however, the situation is somewhat different as it is still structurally dependent on the United States. This is why Europe has less capacity than small and medium-sized powers outside the Western world to influence the big security picture. So if Europe wants to shape the newly developing world order it needs to be looking for a new identity and for a new position in the world. Unfortunately for all of us and for Europe, the world did not go the “European way”, that is emphasizing compromise and non-military means. So Europe will have to find new ways for itself.

In spite of the fact that it is relatively less wealthy, Russia is much better prepared to live in this world. Russia and Europe have basically different views of the world and a different understanding of politics, and unfortunately the world went the Russian way. In a famous interview with Angela Merkel in 2014, she stated that Putin did not “live in the real world”. But it is actually Russia that lives in the real world.

So it is essentially up to the Europeans to change themselves. And I think – of course I am a Russian and I do not want to teach our European friends what to do – but many mistakes have been made by Europe. One is the so-called “Common Foreign and Defense Policy” that brought European influence in the world almost down to zero. Germany, for instance, had much more influence in the world 20 years ago than it does today.

During the conference, we also discussed European security and how it is in crisis which is a frequently-heard diagnosis at the moment. What would you say, what are the most important challenges to European security right now?

First of all, the most important challenge to European security is not an immediate threat of war as it seemed 50 or 60 years ago. If there should be a major conflict it would be started inadvertently, so we are not facing a scenario of 1939 or the period of the Cold War where people were permanently afraid of an attack. So it is rather a 1914 scenario but with a relatively higher level of strategic uncertainty and qualitatively higher level of destructiveness of weapons.

I think that Europe could significantly contribute to not only European, but global security by emphasizing new challenges such as genetic weapons or all kinds of unmanned vehicles. Big powers don’t want to discuss these issues as they are engaged in an arms race in these areas themselves. So it is Europe that could act as a pacifist power here and put these issues on the agenda. I have to say that Europeans are already looking for a renewed global arms control, but their own system of arms control is unfortunately dead. So Europe has to first of all help itself and also help others to find new ways – be that arms control, be that transparency, be that multi-layered dialogues, be that a new understanding of challenges the world is facing.

In your recent article in Rossiyskaya Gazeta you actually argue that arms control isn’t helpful to reduce risks of military escalation.

Well, arms control at times was useful, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, it served above all to reduce animosity and mutual suspicion. But then arms control unfortunately passed away. Also, there were elements in the former regimes of arms control that actually perpetuated arms race and even helped militarize thinking and relationships between countries because country elites were forced to see each other through the lens of arms competition. So arms control is a very time-related instrument and we have to be careful when and if we return to it. But I think that the old ways of arms control are obsolete and unrealistic.

Talking about European security, you in a way opposed Europe and Russia in their approaches to security and the global order. But some would also argue that Russia is of course part of Europe and part of the European security sphere. So whether and how can Russia play a role in Europe’s future security order?

Russia is a net security provider because it keeps the US at bay.

For Europe?

For Europe and for the world. As to our own notion of European security, unfortunately, we passed the turning point sometime in the 1990s, when Russia was willing to join the European security order as a sovereign but integrated power and was rejected. And now, Russia cares for itself. But Russia is still here and is not interested in destabilization and not interested in an arms race. Russia is actually getting more and more content with the security situation in Europe in spite of its challenges as we have stopped NATO expansion.

But do you think “NATO expansion” as you call it is really stopped? After all, both Ukraine and Georgia are now even more determined to join NATO.

It is the Western partners that now understand that they have crossed a red line and if they go any further there will be major trouble. This threat of a major escalation was there, and even now we have not yet passed the possibility of an escalation of crisis in Ukraine. Somebody could try to remilitarize the conflict, for instance by introducing new dangerous weapons or by provoking a new acute crisis. After all, Ukraine is a very badly governed state so all kind of groups could provoke an escalation.

The Schlangenbad Talks are a place where experts and politicians from both Russia and Germany come together to discuss foreign and security policy issues. As an expert in foreign policy, what do you expect from politicians?

This is actually one of my crucial concerns and one of the destabilizing factors in politics in Europe that we observe a rapid decline of political elites. Many politicians have only a short time horizon and a limited understanding of the issues at hand. So as scientists, we have a special obligation to educate the political elites and also the public. However, I do not think there is much hope to really influence politics. After all, there is a great difference between listening and translating the things heard into politics.


The interview was conducted by Vera Rogova.

Sergey Karaganov

Sergey Karaganov

Sergey Karaganov is professor and Dean of the School of World Economics and International Relations at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics in Moscow. His research interests include arms control and strategies of national security, foreign and military policy in Russia and Western-Russian relations. Karaganov is also Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

Sergey Karaganov

Sergey Karaganov is professor and Dean of the School of World Economics and International Relations at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics in Moscow. His research interests include arms control and strategies of national security, foreign and military policy in Russia and Western-Russian relations. Karaganov is also Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

Weitere Beiträge zum Thema

“It is not enough to diagnose a crisis – we also have to actively deal with it.” An interview with Nils Schmid A crisis or even the end of the liberal, multilateral world order is a frequently-heard diagnosis these days. In her interview with Nils Schmid, Member of Parliament for the Social...
Hornberger Schießen in Helsinki Am 16. Juli hat der lang erwartete und vieldiskutierte Gipfel von Vladimir Putin und Donald Trump stattgefunden. Es war das erste bilaterale Aufeinandertreffen der beiden Präsident...
One Year after the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Decision on the South China Sea On July 12, 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague handed down its verdict on the case against China brought to the Court by the Philippines in 2013. The award ...