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‘Not a Balance of Power but a Balance of Trust’


‘Not a Balance of Power but a Balance of Trust’

Speech by British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in Moscow, 31 October 2001. Source: FCO, London.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In March of last year, Tony Blair flew to St Petersburg to meet Vladimir Putin, two weeks before his election as President of the Russian Federation. He was criticised by some for moving too fast to open a direct relationship with Russia's new leader.

And I know that President Putin's policy of seeking Russia's closer integration into the international community has not been without its critics here, in his own country.

But the value of this close contact has been shown above all since September 11. In dealing with the international crisis, it is unquestionably a good thing that our leaders know each other well enough to pick up the telephone and begin to co-ordinate action straight away.

Terrorism has long been a threat to us all. Both Russia and Britain have had painful experience of it in recent years. But the events of September 11 threw the problem of terrorism into sharp relief.

No one can now doubt that a primary threat to our security comes from groups which act outside states and the rules of the international community, or from places where the state and the rule of law do not function. No longer can any of us afford to ignore distant and misgoverned parts of the world.

A Common Set of Interests

Today it is clear that our individual national interests coincide in a set of entirely common interests.

We have a common interest in removing the threat of the Al QaÂ’ida terrorist networks; in helping the people of Afghanistan to build a stable nation in which terrorists have no place; in ensuring that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into irresponsible hands; and a common interest in tackling the long-running conflicts which terrorism exploits.

These common interests are far more important than whatever differences still lie between us. We have therefore set about translating these common interests into a common strategy to achieve them.

Last week in Shanghai, President Bush had warm words of praise for the Russian Government's role in the fight against terrorism. I want to endorse that message. Russia has been a key ally in every aspect of the international coalition against terrorism - military, humanitarian and diplomatic.

There can be no peaceful co-existence with terrorism or violent extremism. If, as has happened in Northern Ireland and as I hope will happen in Chechnya, there are people who are prepared to abandon violence and come within the rule of law, a different situation is created.

But in Afghanistan the Taliban have placed themselves beyond negotiation. Nor can there be any question of negotiating with Usama bin Laden.

The current military action is therefore an essential part of the overall strategy. There is no other way of dealing with the immediate threat which we all face. The choice is stark: either we confront these terrorists, or by sitting on our hands, embolden them by our weakness to attack us again.

At the same time, military action does not on its own provide the long-term answer.

Long before the terrorists hijacked the airliners which flew into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, they hijacked Afghanistan. The Afghan people have been their biggest victims - in the denial of their human rights, the absence of any strategy for economic development, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid.

By working to restore these basic benefits to the Afghan people, we are undermining the power of the terrorists. The best way of all to help the Afghan people is to remove the threat of the Taliban/A1-Qaida nexus.

For the last five years, Afghanistan has not existed as a functioning state. When this happens to a country, it makes life miserable - or much worse for those unfortunate enough to live there.

But this misery is exported. Anarchy and disorder in Afghanistan are a threat to the stability of that country's neighbours in Pakistan, Iran and Central Asia. The drugs trade and the refugee crisis have already seriously undermined them.

In a world without borders, chaos is now our neighbour wherever we live. 90% of the heroin on British streets originates in Afghanistan. Chaos brings human misery and human trafficking to British ports. On September 11, it brought mass murder to the heart of Manhattan.

We have always had a moral duty to deal with human catastrophes like Afghanistan. Now we know that it is also a profound national interest for all of us to stop them happening in the first place.

Our common strategy for defeating terrorism therefore involves more than just military action. Political and humanitarian efforts are equally important, and indeed action on each of these fronts reinforces efforts on each of the others.

A Common Strategy for Afghanistan's Future

The future direction of Afghanistan will affect us all. Here too we have to have a common strategy. We are agreed that the future must be placed in the hands of the Afghan people. The future Afghan government must be broad-based, and represent the great diversity of Afghanistan's ethnic groupings.

We outsiders, and particularly all of Afghanistan's neighbours, have a clear interest in helping the Afghan people to live at peace within their country and in harmony with their neighbours.

We have to help them to rebuild Afghanistan. But the process of forming a new Government will primarily be for the Afghan people themselves, with the full support of the United Nations and the international community.

To achieve these aims in Afghanistan, our countries need, not just to consult, but to co-operate in practical matters more closely than ever before and certainly more closely than at any time in the last half-century.

We are drawing on each other's experience, and we are talking with, complete frankness - at the highest level, between the President and the Prime Minister, between Foreign and Defence Ministers, and in many other ways.

But co-operation did not begin with the immediate crisis, and nor should it end there.

Burying the last Traces of the Cold War

Over the past decade, we have seen a process of convergence between Russia and the West. Inevitably, perhaps, it has not always been a smooth process. We have had some sharp differences of opinion, particularly over Kosovo.

But more generally, we have not yet managed to bury the last traces of the Cold War. This is not surprising. I, and most of you, grew up in a climate of the deepest suspicion between East and West. It was an era when our relations were founded on a balance of power - even a balance of terror at the depths of the Cold War.

We know in our heads that the Cold War is over, but the suspicion lingers on. It will not be fully over until we no longer need to assure each other that the Cold War has ended.

September 11 changed the world. Tony Blair has spoken of how the kaleidoscope has been shaken. Before the pieces settle, we have a chance to re-order the world.

This gives us the opportunity to construct a lasting relationship of an entirely different kind between Russia and its partners in the West.

We have to seize this opportunity. Where previously there was a balance of power, we now have to build a balance of trust.

It takes time and effort to build trust. There is, I know a sense here that Russia has given a great deal, but has not in return been treated as a fully equal partner.

I see quite often a mirror image of this in the West: a sense of frustration that the West has offered partnership, but has been disappointed when we have failed to combine our diplomacy in our common interests, whether at NATO, in the Balkans, or over Iraq.

On this last point I would hope in particular for greater understanding on Russia's part of our approach of helping Iraq's people while maintaining controls on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

More generally, we all have an effort to make to accelerate the convergence and integration between our approaches for which President Putin and Prime Minister Blair have worked so hard for the last two years.

This month alone, the British Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Defence Secretary and now Foreign Secretary have visited Moscow - an intensity of visits without precedent.

We are working together on a wide agenda.

We have to make the fullest possible use of our joint membership of the UN Security Council and the G8, and make these organisations work better in our common interest and the global interest.

We have to construct a much stronger, much closer relationship between Russia and NATO - a relationship which puts the past behind us and joins us as equals in strengthening the security of our continent.

Relations Between the UK and Russia

We are already working to promote economic integration. Britain strongly supports Russian membership of the World Trade Organisation. And we are pleased that the benefits of stability and restructuring are beginning to show.

The Russian economy has grown significantly over the last couple of years, with growth rates which dwarf those of Western Europe.

And British firms are showing their confidence in Russia's long-term economic performance by investing here in larger numbers.

The UK is the fourth largest foreign investor in Russia, and our firms are looking to increase their involvement with Russian companies, to mutual advantage.

They have the strong support of the British Government. I am delighted to be able to tell you that our Export Credit Guarantee Department is relaunching its cover for Russia.

The work we are doing together on the world stage, in security and diplomatic matters, as well as in the sphere of business and investment, helps to establish the balance of trust which I hope will be the basis for our relations in future.

The relationship between Russia and the West should not be exclusive. You, and we, have crucial relationships with countries in other continents. The balance of trust has to be an element of the global order.

For Russia, as for Britain, it is vital that it embraces the Muslim world. Within each of our countries, we have substantial Muslim communities. Engagement with Islam, and a genuine understanding of the Muslim faith, for which terrorism is as much an abomination as it is for other faiths, are essential for both Britain and Russia.

With its truly global reach and global interests, I believe Russia can act as a bridge between Europe and other regions. Russia is geographically as much Asian as it is European.

But what we in the West have rediscovered in the last ten years is just how European Russia is.

Chekhov and Turgenev, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev have long been as loved in Britain as they are here in their native land. No one ever doubted that they and the many, many other great artists which Russia has produced fit squarely into the mainstream of European culture.

But during the long years when the Iron Curtain severed us from each other, we in the West were sometimes surprised at the extent to which these great European artists were also at the same time intensely Russian. We found it hard to recognise the Russia of Tolstoy and Rachmaninov in the Soviet Union of Stalin and Brezhnev.

But Russia never stopped being European. We share a rich and vast cultural heritage. And that in turn has helped to engender the shared values on which our trust must above all be founded.

Democracy, human rights and the rule of law were not the values of the Soviet Union. The Cold War was based on a conflict of values.

But now Russia has a democratic system, opening the way to a relationship of genuine trust between us.

In the past ten years, society here has seen radical changes. In a country as vast as Russia, of course it takes time to build up anew system - to adopt new laws; to develop, Russia's own model for democratic government; to establish respect for freedom of speech, for the independence of the media, for the impartiality of the justice system, for all of the elements which are fundamental to civil and political rights.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We in the West are often guilty of underestimating the scale of the task which you face and of under-appreciating the progress which you have made.

But we wish to work hand in hand with Russia as you continue down the course you have set for yourselves.

We want to see the development of an ever more prosperous and secure Russian democracy - and of an ever more open relationship of trust between us.

September 11 showed how interdependent we all are. Chaos on the other side of the world brings instability and insecurity to us all. No modern state can succeed without active support from and co-operation with other states. The global system of states cannot function properly where parts of that system have broken down into chaos and anarchy.

What our security depends on now is not competition but co-operation, not rivalry but partnership, not terror but trust. We have to grasp this opportunity to treat each other as equals and trust each other as friends. We are all on the same side now.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).