Contemporary History

The global role of the West has drastically changed. From world leadership and world domination (regardless of the moral or political assessment of this), the West has moved, at best, to active defence, to defend what it considers to be its own, writes Valdai Club Chairman Andrey Bystritskiy.

As long as humanity exists, history continues to be written every moment, non-stop. Although it is said that the millstone of history grinds slowly, sometimes the course of events accelerates, and a lot begins to change so radically that we barely have time to realise what is happening. It seems that such a moment has arrived in the history of Central Asia, and perhaps elsewhere.

This doesn’t merely concern the sad end of the twenty-year operation of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, or the overwhelming success of the Taliban. On the contrary, this is just a reflection of global changes in Asia, and, probably, throughout the world.

The most important point is that the region has been developing rapidly over the past 20-30 years. This development has been reflected in rapid economic growth, and in the development of a new sense of self-awareness among the countries of Asia. The new identity they have acquired has entailed a higher position in the world hierarchy, as well as a greater role in the development of all mankind.

And, most likely, right now the time has come for some comprehension of the events that are taking place.

It is necessary to understand how the development of Asia (and the world) will proceed, who will direct it, and how it will be regulated.

Until recently it seemed that the United States and the West as a whole would play an important role in organising harmonious progress, including in Asia. There was, of course, a lot of controversy about what the real role of Western leadership is, how selfish or short-sighted it was, whether it would be able and willing to assert its values and standards everywhere, and whether there will be more harm than good from this. Under discussion were Western civilisation and its universal applicability, the possibility of creating a world order that was comfortable for everyone, and much more.

But today it has turned out that the significance of all these discussions for Asia (and elsewhere), at least has greatly decreased, if not been reduced to zero at all. To a certain extent, this is recognised by the West itself. The withdrawal of US and other countries’ troops from Afghanistan only vividly highlighted this circumstance. Even US President Biden admitted this to some extent. So, in all likelihood, the global role of the West has drastically changed. From world leadership and world domination (regardless of the moral or political assessment of this), the West has moved, at best, to active defence, to defend what it considers to be its own. What it considers “its own” is now no longer the whole world. Moreover, the “friendly” territory seems to be shrinking. In general, there is a question about how adequately the Western elites see the world as a whole, and if they see it at all. Sometimes one gets the feeling that the intellectual optics of the West, at least, are not fully tuned and seriously distort the contours of modern reality.

The events, of course, challenged the countries of Asia. First of all, because they were largely on their own. Their responsibility, including globally, has grown dramatically. Now a very difficult and responsible period, the independent construction of a new Asian order, lies ahead.

The aforementioned rapid development of the region is an indisputable fact. Any development contains many risks and requires skilful manoeuvring in economic, political, social and other waters. In recent years, Asian countries have advanced in this regard. The largest Asian countries are trying to create a kind of control grid for themselves and for other countries in the region. In general, there is a striving for coordinated development. For example, the Belt and Road project is undoubtedly a very useful thing. Nevertheless, the path to a harmonious future Asia is definitely longer and more difficult.

The events in Afghanistan not only highlighted the inability of the West to play a leading role in maintaining and modernising the world order, they also showed how many challenges there are in Asia itself and how difficult it will be to resolve them.

Of course, modern Asia is not the most conflict-plagued zone in the world. But how and what may be measured? Definitely it is not conflict-free. Without achieving at least relative security in the region, it will be difficult to count on sustainable economic development and prosperity. Afghanistan is located in the centre of Eurasia, and has long played an important role in Asian communications and, apparently, can continue to play one. But Afghanistan is not the only problem, even if it is a very indicative one: there is no agreement between Asian countries on the method of action in relation to that country. Incidentally, there is no intelligible, general way of dealing with the pandemic, which is no less typical.

In general, there are many different conflicts in Asia. And they are all difficult, burdened by history. Although one should not overestimate them: confident general development would help to mitigate, if not to resolve them.

Russia, of course, plays a significant role in Asian affairs. Because of its size and position, and because it has a considerable degree of intellectual competence, and because of its highly capable armed forces. But there is one more reason, which is also very important: the historical and geographical, political and cultural closeness of Russia with the countries of Central Asia.

This closeness entails both mutual responsibility and shared opportunities. Again, the developments in Afghanistan have highlighted the need to be very careful about security in Central Asia.

Without the ability to provide effective defence, nothing will come out of it, the security of both Russia and the countries of Central Asia is interconnected.

The strategy of economic development of the Central Asian region is also a common concern of the countries of the region and Russia, especially in the context of the changing global balance of political and economic forces. Many issues of relations between the countries of the region themselves and with the outside world, including the USA, Western Europe, and other major players, are easier and more effective to solve together.

So there are many questions: from security, especially in the light of the Afghan events, to economic, political and cultural interaction in the Central Asian region. All this will be discussed at a conference in Tashkent on September 20. Therefore, the name of this conference is “Russia and Uzbekistan in the Face of Development and Security Challenges at a New Historical Stage of Interaction”. Sometimes the millstones of history speed up.

Originally published in Izvestia

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