The global policy forum “The Modern State: Standards of Democracy and Criteria of Efficiency” will take place in early September in Yaroslavl. Nikolai Zlobin, a prominent political scientist and director of the Russia and Eurasia Project at the World Security Institute (USA) will attend the forum. In an interview with RIA Novosti, he spoke about his expectations for the event.
Question: At the forum, experts will participate in four sections and one intersectional meeting. Sections will be devoted to the modernization of the national economy and analyzing models of building democratic states. They will also discuss modern international law and the role of modern states in ensuring global and regional security. How relevant is the agenda?
Answer: I think the agenda is entirely appropriate – it should cover all the most important issues. Moreover, the agenda was set by Russia, and it included all issues that are of interest. This is to be expected. The organizers always proceed from their own interests and identify the problems that they consider the most important for themselves.
There are other national problems as well as other political and domestic political issues that are not on the agenda. But I think the agenda suits the theme of the forum quite well.
Question: The forum will focus primarily on security problems. Do you think this is justified?
Answer: Security is less and less about military security. Increasingly it has to do with non-military security.
There are aspects to security now that have never been discussed in this context before, for instance social, environmental, demographic, economic, and transportation security. There is no military solution to these problems. Today, the problems of the modern state and its effectiveness have less to do with the size and capabilities of its military. This is important, but it is a secondary issue at best. Rather, what’s more important today are factors that we are not always aware of, for instance, domestic threats or the effectiveness and structure of the state as such… In other words, non-military problems are coming to the fore in the discussion about security, and unconventional approaches to national security are beginning to take center stage.
We are lagging very far behind in this respect. We know more or less how to resolve military problems. Over the course of centuries, we have learned how to build armies, conduct wars and develop strategic plans, but what do we do about non-military security?
All countries have neglected this, and we have reached an intellectual impasse on these issues to some extent because the issues of security cannot be resolved militarily, and we don’t know any other way of resolving them.
This is a very urgent problem, and when security issues come up in Yaroslavl, I hope that experts will concentrate less on the military aspect of this problem and more on non-military, unconventional ways of ensuring security. And in general, the very notion of security will be understood and discussed in a completely different manner than just a decade ago.
Question: Do you expect anything new to come out of the discussion on the standards of democracy?
Answer: Our understanding of democracy thirty years ago no doubt looks ridiculous today. I think today it is more important to understand trends rather than standards. I’d call the section “trends in the development of democracy.” I think this would be more appropriate because it is important for us to understand where the world is headed. For all its minuses, democracy is still the best political arrangement and the most sensible, effective and economically rational system. We must understand where democracy is headed, too. We should discuss its evolution, how and why different countries adopt different versions of democracy, the underlying causes and the differences between these versions. These are issues worth discussing.
Question: Do you worry that the discussion in the section entitled “The Standards of Democracy and the Diversity of Democratic Experience” may become vague and evasive?
Answer: Quite the contrary, I believe this name will prevent it from becoming evasive. The name gives the discussion structure. There are some common, obvious principles (“freedom is better than lack of it,” “a person is more important that the state,” etc.) And democracy is so intertwined with the history of a country, its political culture and ethnic and religious traditions that experts should discuss all aspects of this problem.
I think comparing different versions of democracy is pointless, although it is possible to compare its individual aspects: what country has made the best choice? Where are nationality, racial and gender problems best resolved? Where are children best protected? Where is the legal system operating the best?
There probably isn’t one country with an ideal democracy, but any system is good if taken as a whole. In other words, it’s not right to view certain aspects of the system in isolation, something we are so fond of doing. We like to take something from our own experience and say how good or bad this is, or pick out something from the American system and judge whether it’s good or bad… This is not the most productive way to evaluate a democracy – every nation creates a system for itself.
Despite the common foundations of democracy and the growing trend toward democratization around the world, we see that the number of systems that suit various countries is constantly on the rise. Sometimes it is difficult to identify them as traditional democracies that are described in political science textbooks. I don’t mean to say that these books are wrong, but it would also be wrong to say that these systems are not democracies.
The fact is that the times have changed, and history has moved on. Their democracy is very different from democracy in the traditional, theoretical sense. I think we should speak about the diversity and trends in the development of this arrangement of public life.
Question: What are your expectations for the forum?
Answer: When I think about the forum, the word “network” comes to mind. This is a great place to make new acquaintances and have interesting conversations. The biggest problem with the so-called social sciences is their permanent stagnation – they block out fresh new ideas. In fact, we are currently in a kind of intellectual deadlock, and our social sciences do not point us to a way out.
The entire world elite are scratching their heads and wondering about what to do with the world. We do not understand it. We understood it during the Cold War, but we have had a hard time since it ended. There was a moment when we thought we knew where we were going and how we were developing. But now it has become abundantly clear that we do not understand the world. We must understand it. Therefore, despite their somewhat broad agendas, forums like this one that gather thinkers of various levels and views under one roof, where they can exchange ideas for two days, are extremely useful. Its international format is also very useful – after all, we all have more or less similar problems…
These forums can at least provide some hint of what is going on in the world. In this sense, I expect the forum to make some intellectual breakthrough. I don’t expect a revolution, although I was surprised by President Dmitry Medvedev’s speech last year. He said a couple of things that I didn’t expect from him. It was very interesting. Maybe if he speaks in Yaroslavl, he will also say something that will change my idea about his political views, for example.
Question: The economy does not feature prominently at the forum. Do you see this as a shortcoming?
Answer: I’m not an economist, so I’m indifferent. There are several major economic venues in Russia – in Krasnoyarsk, St. Petersburg and Sochi. And there are several major economic venues in the world, but there are practically no forums for discussing politics. In this sense, Russia sets a good example. There are venues for political debates, but I haven’t heard about global forums like Valdai or Yaroslavl anywhere else in the world. This is why I don’t feel bad about the lack of a focus on economic issues at the forum.
For the last decade, we have considered the economy a serious topic for discussion, and we thought that politics is a subject suitable for know-nothings. I’m absolutely against this view. After all, decisions are made by politicians, and economic development depends upon their understanding of this world. The recent economic crisis is proof of this.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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