Igor Yurgens: The Main Problem in Security Cooperation between the East and the West Is the Value Divide

By 19.08.11 No Comments

Global Policy Forum 2011, which this year focuses on the theme «The Modern State in the Age of Diversity», will be held September 7-8. The website of the forum published an interview with Igor Yurgens, Chairman of the Management Board of the Institute of Contemporary Development, one of the organizers of the forum.


— We all know that threats can be global today, but are there any global solutions for them? If national governments are obliged to find solutions for global threats in most cases, does the global character of threats matter at all?

— Certainly, the global character of threats increases the importance of integration and it has certain pluses. Various regional threats with global consequences such as terrorism necessitate integration mechanisms on a regional scale. This is true for the North Africa, Wider Middle East, the Caucasus and the Central Asia and we will discuss it in our section “Global Security and Local Conflicts”. Global threats demand global solutions and despite the fact that we do not have them today, we are moving in the right direction.

— What parameters are important for the conflict resolution? While there is no universal solution, do any multilevel mechanisms of conflict resolution exist?

— There had been a special UN informal group on this issue that had been headed by Gareth Evans, a former Australian Foreign Minister who attended the last year Yaroslavl Global Policy Forum. That group has developed a graduated conflict assessment system which however has never been formalized within the UN. The assessment criteria include an extent of damage to the people caused by the conflict and a possibility of its removing without bigger counter damage. For example, when hundreds of people died as a result of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the international community could not intervene in the conflict even after such mass atrocities because the Chinese military would kill significantly more people in case of any armed clash. Priorities in the graduation system are set in such a way that the most important is to prevent damage to people and only then to infrastructure and material values. This is a very rational logical system that has been developed by intelligent people united in the informal group. Nevertheless, the system did not prove its efficiency in the case of non-standard situations such as terrorism acts.

There are formal laws of war adopted internationally that include conventions on rules of war, prisoners of war and on prevention of damage to civilians. Nonetheless, they are applicable only to classic wars and are useless against such Norwegian fascists as Anders Behring Breivik. These cases demand unique solutions. Another non-standard situation is with cyber-war. People ask whether cyber-threat should be considered a threat. On the one hand, I say certainly “yes”, but on the other, cyber-wars over the last years did not take any human lives and the total damage caused by them did not exceed 2 billion dollar. Therefore, this threat has not yet been as significant as the other ones, but it may be changed in the future, for instance, in case of mass cyber-attacks that could shutdown all radars and consequently result in a large number of airplane crashes. To put it briefly, the graduated conflict assessment system exists, but it is unable to meet new challenges.

— What major flaws mark the international cooperation in confronting new threats? Which flaw, in your opinion, should be removed first?

— The main problem in security cooperation is the value divide between the East and the West that has not yet been overcome. Western security institutions, including NATO, put a priority on democratization and human rights instead of security problems whereas Eastern security structures, including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and to a certain extent The Collective Security Treaty Organization, suggest that the rights of peoples should go before the rights of the individuals. I personally adhere to the opinion that democratization is necessary, but it is not crucial for solving the security problems. This values gap has cultural, philosophical and civilizational dimensions which make it more complicated.

As for the cooperation itself, I think that it is high time we find an appropriate format of coordination of efforts of the existing military-defense and other security organizations. We have a plenty of organizations that operate in this field: our CSTO, the SCO, NATO, OSCE, to a certain extent the EurAsEC and the EU that is developing its military and defense function. All these institutions have their own logic and function separately. This means lesser opportunities for successful conflict resolution and democratic consolidation, for example, in Afghanistan. If the military operation there is not successful, it may create political vacuum and a situation which will be so dangerous and complicated that it could rival the Arab-Israeli conflict. But unfortunately the lack of ties between the organizations reduces the efficiency of a possible reaction to this happening.

— What should we do with the frozen conflicts? Should we “unfreeze” them? At the end of the day, we have the example of Cyprus which has been “happily frozen” for quite a long time already…

— I completely agree with the way you frame this issue. It is counterproductive to ‘unfreeze’ these conflicts without a proper plan. This is the reason why we suggest our Western colleagues to start this process from the Northern Cyprus when they say that it is better to begin from conflicts on the Post-Soviet space. If the West does not have an opportunity to resolve the Cyprus conflict, then we do not understand why we should carry out experiments on the Post-Soviet space which is a more complex region where democratization has not yet been completed. As the British say, ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. Some frozen conflicts can result in bitter quarrels, and probably it could be wise for the international community to concentrate its efforts first on those conflicts that are easier to solve, such as, some say, Transnistrian conflict, although personally I am not so sure about that. Other conflicts, such as Nagorno-Karabakh, will most probably detonate with dire, global consequences. Therefore, I am certain that it is better to approach theoretically some of the frozen conflicts and only then proceed with practical efforts.

— These and other issues will be debated in the Yaroslavl Global Policy Forum where you are a moderator of one of the sections. What are your expectations from the Forum? What do you plan to say and what would you like to hear from other participants?

— The level of the participants of the section on security is indeed impressive: there will be several former heads of state and foreign ministers as well as acting Russian military and statesmen who are in charge of the security and foreign affairs. The section participants are exceptionally interesting people and they will certainly generate some useful ideas. We managed to get involved Wolfgang Ischinger who will join us through videoconference. He is a head of the Munich Conference on Security Policy — the most influential world discussion platform on this subject matter — and he will share with us the vision of his organization on the European security and other issues.

In order to stimulate the discussion the Institute of Contemporary Development has prepared a report on the Central Asian and Afghan-Pakistan regional security issues. It is focused on the genesis of the CSTO that includes seven Post-Soviet countries including Russia, and on the cooperation between the CSTO and NATO in the context of the International Security Assistance Force’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 according to Obama’s pledge. I think that the report would have a practical importance and would provoke discussions that would be useful for the intensification of cooperation between the two most influential military organizations in the world.

The section will also be attended by high-level specialists and experts, former and incumbent politicians from the Middle East, in particular Israel and Arabian countries, a special presidential envoy for cooperation with Africa Mikhail Margelov, a former Polish president Alexander Kvasnevsky and a former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel who established together with the INSOR a new discussion platform called Dialog Europe Russia. All these people will present their own views and initiatives which are extremely important for us. Moreover, I am negotiating with the Global Zero movement which calls for the complete nuclear disarmament to make them prepare a special presentation during the work of the section. Recently Global Zero held a world conference in London and the main conclusions of the conference have been supported by Obama, Medvedev, Cameron and other leaders of the nuclear states. So I guess this presentation will be very useful and interesting.

Interviewed by Yulia Netesova

Translated by George Plaschinsky