Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Vladimir Putin, "Unilateral force has nothing to do with global democracy," Guardian, February 13, 2007.

The universal, indivisible character of security can be expressed as the basic principle that "security for one is security for all". As Franklin D Roosevelt said at the onset of the second world war: "When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries is in danger." These words remain relevant today. Only two decades ago the world was ideologically and economically divided and it was the huge strategic potential of two superpowers that ensured global security. This global standoff pushed the sharpest economic and social problems to the margins of the world's agenda. And, just like any war, the cold war left behind live ammunition,
figuratively speaking. It left ideological stereotypes, double standards and other remnants of cold war thinking.

What then is a unipolar world? However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it describes a scenario in which there is one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making. It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And this is pernicious, not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within. And this, certainly, has nothing in common with democracy. Because democracy is the power of the majority in the light of the interests and opinions of the minority.

We, Russia, are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves. I believe that unipolarity is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today's world. The model itself is flawed: at its root it provides no moral foundations for modern civilisation. But witnessed in today's world is a tendency to introduce precisely this concept into international affairs, the concept of a unipolar world. And with which results?

Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished. And even more are dying than before. Many more.

Today we are witnessing an almost unrestrained hyper-use of force - military force - in international relations, a force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible. We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. One country, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.

This force's dominance inevitably encourages a number of countries to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, threats such as terrorism have now taken on a global character. I am convinced that we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security. And we must proceed by searching for a reasonable balance between the interests of all participants in the international dialogue. Especially since the international landscape is so varied and is changing so quickly.

The need for principles such as openness, transparency and predictability in politics is uncontested and the use of force should be a truly exceptional measure, comparable to using the death penalty in the judicial systems of certain states. However, today we are witnessing the opposite tendency, namely a situation in which countries that forbid the death penalty even for murderers and other dangerous criminals are airily participating in military operations that are difficult to consider legitimate. And yet the fact is that these conflicts are killing people - civilians - in their hundreds and thousands.

At the same time we face the question of whether we should remain unmoved by various internal conflicts inside countries, authoritarian regimes, tyrants, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Can we be indifferent observers? Of course not. But I am convinced that the only mechanism that can make decisions about using military force as a last resort is the charter of the United Nations. The use of force can only be considered legitimate if the decision is sanctioned by the UN.

Another important theme that directly affects global security is the struggle against poverty. On the one hand, financial resources are allocated for programmes to help the world's poorest countries - sometimes substantial financial resources (which tend to be linked with the development of that same donor country's companies). And on the other hand, developed countries simultaneously retain their agricultural subsidies while limiting some countries' access to hi-tech products.

And let's say things as they are - one hand distributes charitable help and the other hand not only preserves economic backwardness, but also reaps the profits thereof. The increasing social tension in depressed regions inevitably results in the growth of radicalism, extremism, feeds terrorism and local conflicts. And if all this happens in, say, a region such as the Middle East, where there is increasingly the sense that the world at large is unfair, then there is the risk of global destabilisation.

It is obvious that the world's leading countries should see this threat. And that they should therefore build a more democratic, fairer system of global economic relations, a system that would give everyone the chance and the possibility to develop.

Russia is a country with a history that spans more than a thousand years and has practically always exercised its prerogative to carry out an independent foreign policy. We are not going to change this tradition today. At the same time, we are well aware of how the world has changed and we have a realistic sense of our own opportunities and potential. And of course we would like to interact with responsible and independent partners with whom we could work together in constructing a fair and democratic world order that would ensure security and prosperity not only for a select few, but for all.

· This is an edited extract from a speech delivered on Saturday by the Russian president at the 43rd Munich conference on security policy

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