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Marcel de Haas, Russia’s Foreign Security Policy in the 21st Century – Putin, Medvedev and Beyond.

Routledge, 2010, 211 pages
Isabelle Facon
Bibliographical reference

Marcel de Haas, Russia’s Foreign Security Policy in the 21st Century – Putin, Medvedev and Beyond.

Routledge, 2010, 211 pages

Index terms

Countries :

Russia

Research Fields :

Political Science
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1Specialists of Russian military and defense policy are familiar with Marcel De Haas’s prolific and in-depth publications on sometimes fairly technical issues. This book, with its broader outlook aimed at providing an overall understanding of Russian security policy in the 2000s, is the product of Dr. De Haas’s years as a Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute (The Hague). In many ways, it constitutes a follow-on to the author’s previous book– Russian Security Policy and Air Power (1992-2002).

2The principal aim of this new book is to present the reader with a comprehensive investigation of Russian security policy at the level of theory and policy formation (as articulated in Russian official security documents) and of practice and implementation. Logically enough given his personal background (see his profile at: http://www.clingendael.nl/​staff/​?id=325), Marcel De Haas focuses on political-military issues and Russia’s external security relations. A key point in his work is to compare both declared and implemented policies under Putin and Medvedev. This approach is useful at a time when foreign observers are trying to understand who is who and who aims to do what within the “Kremlin tandem” in the lead up to the 2012 presidential elections. De Haas accurately demonstrates that there is much continuity between the goals and policies of Putin and Medvedev.

3The basic assumptions and postulates of their shared agenda are the following (as concluded from De Haas’s systematic analysis of Russia’s basic security documents): “Russia has regained a competitive international position as global power, and is capable of formulating the international agenda”, “the significance of military power and use of force in international politics is rising”, “energy has become a vital security aspect”, “the interests of ethnic Russians abroad will be protected by Russia”, “the West is considered a threat to RF national security”, “cooperation with CSTO and SCO is an important element of Russia’s security policy”. All these issues are developed throughout the book.

4As always, De Haas’s work is well structured, and based on an intimate and detailed knowledge of key events, people and decision-making mechanisms as well as on the author’s own experience in writing about the country. This owes much to his extensive use of Russian literature. His book provides recapitulative tables allowing for a synthetic reading of the fundamentals of Russia’s security documents – National Security Concept, Foreign Security Concept, Military Doctrine etc. Russia’s “practical” security policy is described in a comprehensive and thematic way, addressing issues ranging from the Georgia war, the Arctic, Moscow’s European security architecture proposals, its system of political and military alliances (primarily CSTO and SCO) and its energy diplomacy.

5At times the reader will find the profusion of details and facts somewhat burdensome, especially if they happen to be a Russia specialist and would expect more in-depth analysis on some of the key concepts the book touches upon. For instance does Russia really expect to become a “superpower” again, what does that mean exactly (the word “superpower” is generally not used by Russian officials and scholars)? What is Russia’s “massive rearmament” all about in the context of ten to fifteen years of government under-investment in the defense industry and armed forces, with obvious and maybe insuperable negative consequences? Is it so certain that “the Kremlin primarily considers itself to be strong in all aspects”? Obviously, Moscow likes to play the tough guy but may this not be a way to hide and compensate for the country’s incommensurate weaknesses and send its presumed adversaries a signal that they should not try to take advantage of such Russian limitations? The author writes about “Moscow’s increasing assertive and deliberate independent stance towards the West and their corresponding deteriorating relationship”. This situation did not arise overnight, and is not due only to the regrettable setbacks of democracy-building in Russia or to the country’s frustration with its geopolitical decline in the 1990s. This is also the product of a number of key foreign policy initiatives on the part of the West, in particular the Bush administration, which have severely antagonized Moscow and which the author mentions without any real critical assessment. In other words, the reader would at times appreciate a less descriptive account of Russia’s official texts and policies (the author himself stresses their limited operational bearing), in favor of a more detailed explanation of the author’s conceptual ideas.

6Additionally, Russia’s saber-rattling, “prolonged antagonism towards the West” and aggressiveness are explained by Russian traditional features – the “fear for the alien”; “an insatiable desire for security which expresses itself in expansion and buffer zones”; “a feeling of superiority”; “the fact that Russians have no heritage of a democratic tradition”. All these are realities. However, these realities have been challenged and nuanced by Russia’s post-Soviet evolutions and adjustments, however painful or reluctant they may sometimes be. Explaining all Russian attitudes through these characteristics may appear simplistic, and interpreting any change in Russia’s line as a temporary departure from Russian traditions is not satisfactory enough. Indeed, not everyone would agree that “tsarist, Soviet and the successive Russian Federation security thought [tend] to be quite akin”.

7However, this reservation is balanced by the interesting reflection the author offers at the end of the volume on possible scenarios for Russia’s future (an assertive Russia, a threatening Russia, a failing Russia – De Haas concludes by considering “a combined scenario of a failing and assertive Russia to be the most likely in the next decades”) and on potential fields of cooperation for Western-Russian security interaction (including energy security, Afghanistan, political-strategic and military-operational cooperation).

8This book was written mainly for “students of Russian politics and foreign policy, European politics and Security Studies and IR in general”. These readers will certainly find in this new volume by De Haas a rich and methodical tool to become acquainted with the intricacies of the Kremlin’s foreign and security decision-making and policies. Students will be well served by the detailed index at the end of the book, as well as by the synthetic tables describing, among others, the main entries of the security documents of the 2000s (in a comparative perspective), chronologies, and a listing of official statements regarding Russia’s proposals on a new European security architecture. In brief: an excellent starting point for undertaking further research.

Pipss.org is grateful to Kevin Roberts and Dany Hericourt who edited this review.

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References

Electronic reference

Isabelle Facon, « Marcel de Haas, Russia’s Foreign Security Policy in the 21st Century – Putin, Medvedev and Beyond. », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 11 | 2010, Online since 03 March 2011, connection on 24 May 2017. URL : http://pipss.revues.org/3790

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About the author

Isabelle Facon

FRS

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This text is under a Creative Commons license : Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic

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