Russian viewpoint in realism

In the Russian discourse the neorealism, polarity and the world of anarchy postulates that the only reliable guarantor is power and might. Yet, while building up their capabilities, states may end up with their security in ruins. A state of anarchy dooms the world to an endless string of wars and peace comes as just a short break between endless conflicts. What is needed is a system or an order that would make it possible to break the vicious circle of the “security paradox”.

The liberal political theory has emerged as a powerful politico-philosophical doctrine that poses one solution to the problem of anarchy. Russian researchers see that the liberal theory of the world order is a critical component of the US foreign policy doctrine. Despite the influence of neorealism, the US doctrine features all the key tenets of the liberal theory such as democracy, free trade and international institutions. Implicit in all this, however, is the idea that the US itself should play the leading role. Symptomatically, the American liberal view of the world lacks the concept of poles. In a liberal world order, there simply cannot be such a useless thing as poles. But such a world is not, in fact, devoid of poles. The stability of the order is underwritten by US leadership and might, thus making it unipolar in essence.

Based on neorealism, Russian scholars criticize liberalism that the world is too complex and non-linear to be squeezed into a single idealistic liberal matrix. Instead of contemplative projects, state policy should rely on pragmatism, common sense and best practices. Social engineering has no place in foreign policy. Power and might are the main currency in international relations. Each state seeks power and hegemony. The only way to protect oneself is to balance the power of others and create an environment where war would be too costly for an aggressor.

Diplomacy should be free from ideology and aimed at finding ideal compromises between states based on their interests. In this view, a world order is possible but temporary by definition. What may be implied is a continuous alternation of world orders. The problem of anarchy cannot be eradicated. But a state must adopt measures to safeguard against the claims of other states.

The main yardstick for leadership in international relations is still military might and power, while it is obvious that military superiority is impossible without an advanced economic and technological infrastructure in place. At the same time, the international system remains asymmetric, with a large number of weak players and just a few strong ones. But it is the strong players that assemble coalitions around themselves and form poles of power. They can afford the luxury of being strategically independent or relatively dependent on others, while the majority shares a dependence on the strong.

A multipolar system creates too much uncertainty, since it is more difficult for several players to agree amongst themselves. A unipolar system is also potentially unstable and short-lived. A bipolar system is the most stable arrangement, although it is not eternal either. Thus, sooner or later the power hierarchy will change.

Neorealism has exerted a strong influence on the Soviet and later Russian theory of international relations. Under the Soviets, it was a fresh and relatively acceptable addendum to the dominant ideology. In the post-Soviet period, when liberalism enjoyed a brief ascendancy followed by a precipitous decline, neorealism became the most popular political philosophy, with Yevgeny Primakov as the most influential intellectual and political proponent of this philosophy.