Moving beyond ‘conflict of civilizations’ to multipolar equilibrium

Ambassador's view
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
Moving beyond ‘conflict of civilizations’ to multipolar equilibrium
It appears that the issues of ethnic and cultural identity play a growing role in international affairs, contrary to what was previously thought.

Not long ago there was a widespread belief that cultural and other differences between nations should be erased to avoid international conflicts.

Many in the West thought that globalization underpins the unification of the world on the basis of universal standards and values. Yet it is clear that wishing away cultural and other differences is a utopia. The price of that misleading notion is very high. The transformation of the Arab countries (the so-called “Arab Spring”) bears witness to this fact.
The American scholar Samuel Huntington foresaw it in his own way, when he wrote about the upcoming “conflict of civilizations.” He understood that “the global empire of the West” couldn’t last forever; new independent actors that represent other cultures and civilizations were stepping onto the international scene, including Russia, China, India and the Islamic world. We are dealing with a new reality. The roots of the conflicts lie in attempts to dictate what institutions should exist and what values shall be upheld by society. This is wrong and counterproductive. We must accept that every nation has its own traditions, core values, politics and public opinion. Imposition of one society’s values on the other can only be mechanical, causing conflicts and undermining trust and misunderstanding between nations.

The only way to avoid the conflict of civilizations is through dialogue. One has to accept the right of every nation and society to have its own values and way of life. This has to be a dialogue of equals based on the existing international order, with a central role for the United Nations and international law. It should include discussions on how to reform the world trade and financial architecture to reflect this reality. Only in this way can we ensure the stability of the global system.

This has to be a dialogue between cultures on ways to find common ground, given a common denominator existing at the level of traditional values, rooted in world religions. But for this dialogue to be successful, all attempts to pass off specific values of one’s culture as universal values, and make their promotion as a part of foreign policy, should be stopped. The world’s cultural diversity envisages different values and models of development.

What is frequently called “the rise” of China, India and Russia etc. doesn’t mean the end of the world for other leading nations. It means only the emergence of real global competition, which in the 20th century was suppressed by a highly ideological bipolar confrontation. That’s why I think that today the world is becoming more stable and natural. We must accept this reality and start harmonizing interests in this new, multipolar international equilibrium.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.