Interdependence: Can there be too much of it?

Wednesday, 17. September 2008     0 comment(s)
Arkady Moshes
Programme Director - The EU's Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia research programme

I’ve always believed in interdependence as a stabilizing factor in international relations. Of course, as someone who started the career in a section of military-political studies, I also believed in MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction, but I was definitely looking for something more positive and inspiring.

And I still believe in interdependence. I think it is very good that Russia is as unable to stop selling energy, especially natural gas, to Europe as Europe is unable to stop buying it. Russia needs a sustainable flow of export revenue to pay for its food, medicine – and, since recently, luxury – imports, while the alternative transport infrastructure is lacking. And lacking it will be: transporting West Siberian or Yamal gas to China is too costly, while its market is much smaller than the European one.

This fact makes a full-scale confrontation between Russia and the West impossible. And that’s good.

But the problem is that this security analysis cannot be projected meaningfully on the level of foreign policy as such. Russian analyst and energy expert Vladimir Milov defined this dilemma in a way which deserves to be quoted in full. He writes in a paper, published within the joint project of the French IFRI and American CSIS already before the conflict in Georgia, that interdependence “may work to the point where the resource importers know how to convert it into a real political strength. When the importers have no idea how to do this, “interdependence” just does not work, giving way to outright dependence of consumers on the supplier of a limited resource”. Something to think about in the aftermath of the EU extraordinary summit on Russia, isn't it?

I am NOT yet ready to say that for the West it might be worthwhile to decrease the degree of interdependence, or go for asymmetric interdependence. This is by the way perfectly doable by means of creating strategic gas stocks, sufficient for, say, two or three months, just as it was done to prevent another Arab oil embargo. This is a very costly measure, but it removes once and forever all kinds of wrong temptations. Any exporter would hardly be comfortable to face a perspective of simultaneously not having export revenues and, more importantly, flaring the gas, for which there is no adequate storage capacity inside the country.

What I AM saying is that already a serious consideration of such a strategy of risk-aversion would give a quite different look to the discussion about “strong Russia” and “weak Europe”.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

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