Like a good wine, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s famous speech delivered in Munich 10 years ago regarding global security has been rewarded with time. A decade on, the many facets contained in that address have only become all the more enhanced and tangible.
Speaking to a senior international audience at the annual Munich Security Conference, on February 10, 2007, the Russian leader opened by saying he was going to speak about world relations forthrightly and not in “empty diplomatic terms”. In what followed, Putin did not disappoint. With candor and incisiveness, he completely leveled the arrogance of American unilateral power.
He condemned the “aspirations of world supremacy” as a danger to global security. “We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law,” adding at a later point: “One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way.”
But, moreover, Putin presciently predicted that the American arrogance of unipolar dominance would in the end lead to the demise of the power from seeking such supremacy.
A unipolar world, he said, is “a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.”
Ten years on from that call, few can doubt that the global standing of the United States has indeed spectacularly fallen – just as Putin had forewarned back in 2007. The most recent example of demise was the sordid business earlier this month of arm-twisting and bullying by the US at the United Nations over the tabled resolutions repudiating Washington’s ill-considered declaration of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Other examples of fallen American leadership can be seen in regard to President Trump’s reckless threats of war – instead of diplomacy – with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. Or Trump’s irrational and unfounded belligerence towards Iran. The American propensity for using military force regardless of diplomacy and international law leaves most nations feeling a shudder of contempt and trepidation.
Another example of fallen American leadership is seen in the boorish way the Trump administration has unilaterally rejected the 2015 international Paris Accord to combat deleterious climate change. Trump views it as a conspiracy to undermine the American economy, as he alluded to in his recent National Security Strategy. How can such a self-declared global leader be taken seriously, much less, with respect?
Putin’s warning that the unipolar-seeking US would “destroy itself” could not be more apt.
Because in order to seek such supremacy, such a power, by necessity of its ambition, must reject the rule of law and the principle of democracy as being nothing other than bothersome constraints on its hegemony.
President Trump likes to talk at times about the “peaceful coexistence of sovereign nation states”. But whatever virtue he may be intending or paying lip service to, it is totally negated by American ambitions of unipolar dominance – ambitions that have been harbored in successive administrations in Washington since the end of the Cold War more than 25 years ago.
To this view of the world, Putin said: “I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world.”
The impossibility, and impermissibility, stems from the inevitable tendency of unilateral conduct, which rejects the principle of all being equal under the law. The would-be unipolar hegemon, by definition, sees itself as above the law. Such a self-anointed view of oneself leads to tyranny and abuse of power.
Since the end of the Cold War balance of power between the US and the former Soviet Union, the world has been plunged into a state of permanent wars and conflicts, due to the proclivity of the United States to act alone and on the basis that its “might is right”.
Ten years ago in Munich, Putin noted: “Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centers of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished… even more people are dying than before. Significantly more, significantly more!”
The unipolar position sought by the US leads ineluctably to a world of lawlessness, chaos, insecurity, fear, violence, and, in a fiendish feedback loop, reinforces the further deterioration in all such facets.
“Today we are witnessing an almost un-contained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts,” said Putin in Munich.
Recall that the Russian leader was speaking at the height of the US, British and NATO wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those wars constitute perhaps the two biggest war crimes over the past quarter of a century. The violations went unpunished, as befitting the arrogance of unipolar power, and because of that impunity, the lawlessness and abuse of national sovereign rights have only become more exacerbated, as Putin forewarned.
Diplomacy, international law, dialogue and consensus have been all but discarded. Look how the US and its NATO allies demolished Libya in 2011, and how they ransacked Syria covertly through a seven-year proxy dirty war; a war that was only stopped by Russia and Iran’s principled military intervention at the end of 2015. Look how the US and its NATO allies have destabilized Ukraine, yet blame Russia, even as Washington readies in the New Year to supply lethal weapons to the regime in Kiev it installed by a violent coup in February 2014.
The provocative expansion of NATO across Europe with its weapons pointed on Russia’s border was also an outcome that Putin warned against in 2007, admonishing that it would lead to more insecurity and tensions in Europe, not less.
Putin was right to talk straight truth to power in that 2007 speech, rather than using “empty diplomatic terms”, as he put it.
We cannot hope to rectify problems unless we address those problems accurately.
In doing so, Putin deserves immense praise for exposing the corruption of absolute power in world relations.
But there can be little doubt that his courageous speech in Munich in 2007 earned him the hatred of Washington’s imperial planners. Putin was in effect giving notice that Russia was shaking off the vassal status that his predecessor Boris Yeltsin had accepted in the early post-Cold War years.
“Russia is a country with a history that spans more than a thousand years and has practically always used the privilege to carry out an independent foreign policy. We are not going to change this tradition today,” said a defiant Putin.
It was this defiant independence and Putin’s searing analysis of how so much of global insecurity is the direct result of American imperialist arrogance that has since made the Russian leader the target for so much hostility from Washington over the past 10 years.
When you step back, it is amazing to observe the campaign of relentless Russophobia, vilification and slander directed at President Putin by Washington and the mass media under its control. The precedent for this demonization can be found in the Munich speech delivered by Putin a decade ago.
But let’s recap on the point he made about unipolar obsession being self-destructive.
The American penchant for lawlessness and violation of democratic principles does not just stop with its intrigues of regime change and subversions abroad. Those very noxious habits of diseased US statecraft are now eating into the body politics of the US itself.
Looking at the necrotic state of US politics and society – the venal, political infighting and corruption, the lack of respect for its own laws, and the lack of respect for its people’s sovereignty and office of the president – there can be little doubt that the once ambitious superpower is dying a slow death from diseased practices that have turned inward.
Putin saw it coming 10 years ago. And in a classic futile case, they have tried to shoot the messenger ever since.