Brawn in, diplomacy out... Having borrowed the old Soviet traditions of communicating with the world, Russia relies again on coercion methods in interstate relations. But it will hardly achieve the desired results – and this is why.
Moral and physical pressure in politics is a centuries-old technique. All – from the authors of the maxim “si vis pacem, para bellum” to the inventors of the same-name pistol – used to exercise in intimidating peoples. This is especially true of empires which cannot do without making threats. But, as time goes by, the well-tested gunboat diplomacy is changing. After World War II, direct pressure on the recalcitrant has usually backfired against the strong. People confirm – spiritually and physically – Newton’s laws on reaction to action. This gave birth to a relatively new field of knowledge – the theory and practice of coercive diplomacy. One of its founders, Professor Alexander L. George, has authored a manual for those who flex muscles.
The professor offers US diplomats a formula of “five empty boxes,” each of which being a stage in achieving the set goal: “ultimatum,” “tacit ultimatum,” “try-and-see,” “gradual turning of the screw,” and “carrots instead of the stick.” The essence of the theory is that you should not resort to a coercive tactic if you have nothing to fill all the boxes with. In the theoretician’s view, by declaring their positions, openly or through hints, checking the impact that various influence measures have on somebody, and deliberately aggravating the situation, US diplomatic agencies should always assess the benefits that their vis-a-vis may reap. Otherwise, everything will boil down to banal intimidation and muscle flexing, which is ineffective and dangerous in modern politics.
The Chicago-based political scientist’s findings were complemented by Peter Viggo Jakobsen, Head of the Department of Conflict and Security Studies at the Danish Institute for International Studies.
He has reduced George’s “five boxes” to four principles of coercive diplomacy currently employed in the world. The threat of the use of force is often used because it helps achieve goals at a fast pace and needs small expenses. But this requires a strict schedule of the times when the tactic of threats can be employed – otherwise the process may turn into a protracted face-off, the analyst believes. Moreover, the side that has opted for pressure should make sure that, by applying this method, it will get rid of the conflict once and for all, instead of pushing it off to the future. Finally, the offer and observation of incentives for the object of coercion is the crux of all these measures. I am citing these ideas not from polemical articles or the proceedings of European debates. These excerpts are from manuals and lecturers on the contemporary problems of diplomacy. Moscow’s current tacit ultimatum to Ukraine is quite in the spirit of these recommendations. The only thing that is missing in the attempts to successfully draw us into the Customs Union is the carrot. Why is it not in the Russian pocket when all the other George’s “boxes” have been carefully filled to capacity? Is it because the much-praised generous Russian soul turned out to be not so generous in the prose of interstate intrigues? Or is there a more serious problem here?
What are the countries and communities that exert pressure on us – the US, Russia, and the European Union – offering us as a carrot? On the Western menu there is access to technologies and credit resources, the possibility of entering new markets, security guarantees, and investments. The Eastern cuisine is not exactly rich in such dishes. They have omnipotent life presidents, the all-pervading corruption, and feudal attitudes of bureaucrats… In humanitarian terms, differences are still more glaring: Steve Jobs’ projects and Skolkovo. A sybarite metropolitan and an ascetic Pope. Ferrari and Kalina. Freedom of love and gender restrictions. Grandiose structures and primitive buildings for grandiose money. Pilotless aircraft and pilots without aircraft. Secret services at their fatherland’s service and a fatherland at the service of colonels. The prestige of taxpayers and full contempt for them by tax collectors. Google and Yandex. Sheremetyevo and Heathrow. Design and plagiarism. Songs and remakes. The list of Western carrots in comparison to Eastern rotten potatoes can be continued to infinity. But who will take a prisoner’s ration for a journey?
Is Moscow not aware of these comparisons, even though its open-type and closed-type foreign policy agencies know very well how to gain any information and assess the risks and consequences of their policies? Judging by what Russian journalists write about top officials, they are really not aware of this. I read in an article by my colleague Arina Kholina: “Russian officials don’t understand at all what is really going on in society – be it the society of ‘ordinary people’ or of protesting big-city smart alecks. Like Russian immigrants in Brighton Beach, Russian officials got stuck somewhere in 1975.”
Yes, the bureaucratic milieu, where a position provides access to resources, is still living by 50-year-old ideas, considering Russia as a real alternative to the rest of the world. They are still trying to shape USSR-style policies by means of oil and gas, an enormous army, and the mobilization potential of a boundless country – i.e., respect the attitudes of strong countries, deal shortly with the third world, and not to reckon at all with the interests of allies. Moscow is now applying the model of relations with communist Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and all those who have replaced the lost “socialist camp,” the so-called inner circle. Here, Russian diplomacy is doing things under the old scenario, handpicking presidents, as if they were Soviet-era party general secretaries, and allowing them to turn into dictators. Army groups have given way to military bases and to jammers of “enemy radio voices” to the Ostankino TV tower. All is as before but without carrots – the latter are now lining private pockets, and no one wants to dish them out for free. Therefore, Russia does not offer sweets. Our “friends” carry out coercive diplomacy on the American pattern but sparingly put only candy wrappers into box five. Some of them wrap a primitive society referred to as Slavic brotherhood, others a bygone-day economy… Who on earth will take interest in this? Perhaps one who wants to turn into Aleksandr Lukashenko or Nursultan Nazarbayev… But even the latter two do not trust much their Russian friends.
I recently came across a Reuters interview with the Syrian oppositionist Mahmoud al-Hamza, in which he described negotiations at the Russian Foreign Ministry. “The Russians listened but never spoke, and when we were done speaking, we were told that Moscow is dedicated to human rights and we were told to get on our way,” he says. Speaking about human rights in Russian interpretation seems to me, as it does to the Syrian, somewhat unnatural. The topic is really out of a customary context – otherwise it would sound at the summits of CIS countries where civil liberties are being suppressed not less than in Syria. Apparently, mentioning this is for Russian diplomats the same as a weather chat for their British counterparts – it is a polite hint at the lack of interest. It is not about spy scandals, intimidating notes, and tacit ultimatums in stern and simple words that are quite in line with the image. To quote a wise Frenchman, “diplomacy is the police in grand costume.”