We have witnessed a dramatic deterioration in Russian-Western relations in which the ‘harder’ policy options like coercion and the use of brute force are gaining the upper hand on both sides. A broader, deeper and more systematic examination of all – also ‘softer’ – ways in which Europe could achieve its longer-term policy objectives towards Russia may enable policy makers to design an options portfolio that delivers superior value-for-money.
Influencing lies at the very heart of international interactions. This makes it all the more astonishing that the concept has been given such short shrift in the international relations literature.
We need to start structuring and thinking through the West’s (but especially Europe’s) high-level (whole-of-government or – better yet – whole-of-society) policy option space for dealing with different future Russia(s) in a strategic balance-of investment context: which policy options offer the best ‘utils’ for our ‘euros’ (value for money) across the board?
The policy debate on Russia should move beyond its presentist obsession with Putin’s current (post-2014) Russia, and we should instead also keep at least a few (representatively) different future Russias on our radar screen. Not in the least to identify and properly value promising policy options that lean in directions that Europe deems more desirable. Does Europe really want to ‘deter’, ‘coerce’ etc. Russia for the next few decades/centuries? Or does it instead want to design more truly sustainable security solutions with a more ‘European’ Russia?
In its attempts to influence Russia, Europe should first and foremost leverage the spheres where it has a competitive advantage, i.e. especially the economic sphere. A much more data-intensive approach could yield considerable dividends here.
Given its history, its size, its unique instantiation of international agency, its (global) performance, legitimacy/attractiveness in many areas that matter to most people (happiness, equality, self-actualization, decent living standards, education, health, transportation mobility, upward social mobility, responsible husbandry of the world’s resources, a ‘human’ and sustainable social safety net, etc.), its considerable global influence and ‘soft’ power as well as its residual raw ‘hard power’ – Europe may have comparative (and even competitive) advantages in ‘influencing’ other parts of the world, and within that world especially its own neighbourhood, and within that neighbourhood arguably even especially Russia. The Netherlands, with its own unique history, still holds a relatively unique and special place in Europe’s engagement with Russia.
This paper suggests that Europe should start doing its homework to realize that untapped potential, and that the Netherlands could benefit from playing a special role in this effort.