1024 683 Dominique de Villepin

Speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations

Dominique de Villepin spoke about his vision of the modern system of international relations and underlined the importance of bilateral cooperation between Russia and France at all levels and in different spheres. The guest also mulled over the prospects of the Trianon Dialogue, noting the need to renew the conceptual foundations of the interaction between the two partners. Indeed, this task is essential in times of political conflict and contradictions as only an in-depth cooperation of the civil societies of France and Russia can serve as a basis for the political class to create a productive and long-lasting political relationship.

The meeting was attended by MGIMO Rector Anatoly Torkunov, the Russian Ambassador to France and Monaco (2008-2017) Alexander Orlov, the founder of the World Public Forum «Dialogue of Civilizations» Vladimir Yakunin, the Head of the Department of Corporate and Project Management at MGIMO also Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights Boris Titov, the Vice-Rector for Graduate and International Programs Andrey Baykov and the Dean of the School of Governance and Politics Henry Sardaryan.

Dominique de Villepin first visited MGIMO in 2004, when he was French Foreign Minister. On that occasion, he presented the Russian-language edition of his book «100 Days or the Spirit of Sacrifice».


The road to multipolarity

Lomonosov University 21st Feb. 2018

Estimated Rector,

Estimated Vice-Rectors,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Students and Alumni,

I am happy to be here in the Lomonosov State University known throughout Europe as a symbol of excellence. We should always remember that in the eighteenth century, when Denis Diderot, the French writer and philosopher, came to St Petersburg to stay with Catherine the Second, Mikhail Lomonosov went to study in Marburg, in Germany. This shows well the community of spirit, culture and knowledge that was prevailing throughout Europe at that time. Thank you to Rector Sadovnichy for his kind invitation. Thank you to Dr Iakunin for supporting such initiatives favoring exchanges for peace and culture.

It is an important moment for the relationship between our two countries on the eve of the visit of Emmanuel Macron to the St Petersburg forum. Since the war, and the shared history of the Normandie-Niemen Hunter Fighter Regiments, we had the will to maintain strong ties of dialogue and cooperation.

And it is today more important than ever with tensions rising in the Middle East, in the Korean Peninsula, in Africa, as well as in Europe… all this in the framework of a multipolar world, lacking the capacity of stabilization that we had known in the past, in the cold war era.

Are we heading for war with the risk of recreation of two antagonistic blocks or can we work for a better world’s dialogue and cooperation?

To understand where we are going, we need to go back to the main sources of problems and misunderstandings in our world, and that is the shock of 1989, the fall of the berlin wall, and 1991, the fall of the Soviet Union.

With the crises of 1989/1991, we entered in a period of transition. This crisis was a global and a total shock for everybody. First of course, it was a trauma for the Eastern Block. It triggered the fall of the Soviet Union and the whole world order based on the two pillars of bipolarity. It also caused its economic and social disarray. Russia’s GDP fell a 25% between 1989 and 2000. The fast liberalization movement created a gold rush for sometimes-ruthless entrepreneurs.

The shock of 1989 in the East explains also the toughening of China’s domestic policy after the Tiananmen Square protests. The Chinese Communist Party, which had adopted a new strategy since DENG Xiaoping’s reforms in 1978, of openness and modernization, grew more concerned about domestic order as the USSR collapsed.

1989 was a shock not only in the East, but also in the West, especially in the US because it created a sudden feeling of absolute power, with the temptation of unilateralism. It created the paradox of hyperpower. Without rivals, the US were in an unprecedented situation of absolute power. Their military spending alone represented half the whole world’s military expenditures, above two-thirds with their NATO allies. But, without rivals, they were also, in a way, without potential partners for peace, facing the burden of absolute responsibility. This is what President George H. Bush acknowledged in his speech “Toward a New World Order” in September 1990, announcing “a new era”, while engaging against Iraq in the First Gulf War.

This extreme power created the hubris of neo-conservatism legitimizing the use of force. It is based on three key aspects. First the sense of moral superiority that allows intervening sometimes even in domestic affairs in the name of superior principles. This was the temptation in Iraq in 2003, but also in Libya in 2011. Second, the massive use of force through air, land and sea operations, appearing sometimes as an example of a superior punishment. Between 2001 and 2016, the USA spent 10 trillion dollars on military equipment. Third, regime change and long-term occupation or intervention within the countries, as we saw with the Bremer administration in Bagdad for instance. Where has it ever been efficient? One could ask – no where, in fact. Look at Iraq and Libya, torn apart, look at Afghanistan.

This extreme power led to a constant drift in the way force was used. In the 1990’s, the incentive for action was a sense of moral duty, like in Haiti. After 9/11, the main motive for interventions became fear for America itself, as in Afghanistan. With Donald Trump, one could think the motive has changed again and that American self-interest is now in the center. It also created a drift in the way other Western countries adopted this logic of force.

1989 was a shock, last of all, in the South, because it stopped the competition of legitimacy, between the two superpowers, that had allowed many proxy countries to have political support and financial advantage. African countries, in particular, saw an important decrease in foreign development subsidies. Most of the Central and Southern African countries suffered a cycle of recession in the early 1990’s. That was also the case in Cuba. The Soviet Union had been for decades the main support to Fidel Castro’s regime, and accounted for up to 80% of its international trade. After 1989, Cuba was left alone in the Caribbean. The South became peripheral in the geopolitical competition, so much so that the rest of the world seems to be surprised by the current destabilization, for ethnical and religious reasons, in the Great Lakes region and Sahel.

The shock of 1989 has above all weakened the traditional order based on sovereignty. After 1989, Western democracies, emboldened by self-confident domination, went blind to political, cultural and historical differences. They seemed to grow convinced that liberal democracy was the only valid regime, identifying the growth of a liberal economy with liberal and democratic institutions. They felt also a special responsibility towards civilian population facing crimes against humanity from their own leaders. The doctrine of the “responsibility to protect”, developed within the UN, was meant to complement the judiciary experience of Nuremberg, with the aim not only to punish but also to prevent such crimes. Special tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia led to the constitution of the International Criminal Court in 1998.

The shock of 1989 triggered a wave of unrestrained globalization. The consequences of which are more and more economic, social and political deregulation. Global trade has intensified, and the division of labor has spread on a global scale, creating bigger inequalities. Inequalities between countries, first: between 1989 and 2000, the African Income per capita decreased by 2%, whereas US and EU Income per capita grew by 25%. But also inequalities within each country : In the US, for instance, the discrepancy between the dynamic coastal areas and the old industrial regions like the Rustbelt became wider and wider. This explains in a large part the vote for Donald Trump in last year’s election.

Technological progress has accelerated the unification of our lifestyles and our access to information. Creating real-time dependency, invading the private sphere, along with the permanent presence of social networks. Creating a huge monopoly for those controlling data. Creating a risk for jobs in the future. Estimates do vary, but at least 10% of workers throughout the world will see their job disappear in a near future, and at least half of them will be deeply transformed.

Because of its importance, the shock of 1989 provoked a massive backlash. First, western countries had not been capable of understanding and accompanying the transition opened by the fall of Soviet Union, generating humiliation and suspicion. Here in Russia, there was a feeling of being neglected and despised in a moment of incredible challenge, with the loss of 30 to 40 % of household purchasing power. There was a feeling of being threatened by the constant extension of NATO, as for example during the Bucharest Summit in 2009.

Many tensions arose, because the world order has been so rapidly shaken, awaking identities and particularism. Nationalisms and traditionalisms became the main forces of resistance. In Central and Eastern Europe, many countries are still driven by wounded memories of the past and fear of their neighbors, not to mention Russia. In Poland, a historical-memory law concerning the Holocaust is creating turmoil. This conservative shift is also based on a lack of trust in liberal institutions, as we can see in Hungary or Poland where the independence of the judiciary and the media becomes contentious.

In a way, Jihadism is also a radical and violent answer to globalization, a deviation from Islam comparable to the deviation fascism was to nation. I think there are different causes to this phenomenon. First of all, it is a reaction to the impression that globalization opens a world without rules. Revolutionary jihadism promises a totally controlled and rule-bound way of life. Jihadism embodies sometimes an aspiration to make secession from a state, as is the case in Chechnya, Philippines and Chinese Xinjiang. It is based on identity and particularism. At last, jihadism is also a symptom of the divisions of Western open societies, where people feel they are not always granted the recognition and place they deserve.

The feeling of humiliation fueled violence in the Middle East and laid the ground for the major crisis of our times. The Middle East faces a modernization crisis. The demographic transition is nearly completed in all the countries of the region. This transition process provokes big turmoil on the scale of a whole generation, because it transforms deeply the social structure. The weakening of family centered relationships, accompanied by the rise of Western style individualism, triggers traditionalist backlashes.

Furthermore, this causes inadequacies between ages, labor market, and qualifications. At the same time, the Middle East faces a global economic crisis. As we know, many countries in the region have insufficient diversified economies, and rely almost exclusively on oil. In Iraq, for example, oil exports represent 95% of the country’s budget. Armed conflicts combined with the drop of oil prices since the summer 2014 had a severe impact on their economic resilience, and made foreign investors as well as tourists avoid these destinations.

But the Middle East faces also a political crisis. With the end of pan-Arabic and socialist ideologies, identity-based movements gained momentum, in Algeria during 1990’s, with the rise of GIA. In East Africa, with the American Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Daar-es-Salaam in 1998. This was amplified by the disappearance of Soviet support to socialist parties, such as the Ba’ath party. Since 2001, the expansion of failing states has been damaging local security and strengthening the threat of jihadist terrorism.

This crisis degenerates into a hybrid war in Syria, with the implications of many different actors: local militias that fuel civil wars, such as Syrian Democratic Forces and Kurd separatist forces. Transnational groups, such as the Hezbollah. Foreign regional and global powers, such as Russia, Turkey, Iran on one side and the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, on another side, turning a civil war into a war that is becoming the frontline of global alliances.

This unipolar moment is coming to an end and faces the rise of other powers. Times to come will be times of conflicts. First of all, let’s face it, multipolarity is now a reality.

New powers are rising, and they all express a deep concern for sovereignty. As a reaction to Western foreign interventions, more and more countries have stiffened their position and defended their sovereignty with determination. China, first of all, made clear it would accept no foreign interventions, nor admit any restriction in its endeavor to control the South China Sea.

Russia, since 2000, has steadily recovered its influence. It is now a respected international actor in the Middle East. The peace processes of Astana and Sochi, even if they face many difficulties, have laid the ground for international cooperation around Syria. They made local de-escalation agreements possible. The Russian army has modernized its foreign intervention forces, as well as its anti-access/area-denial capacities. Russian nuclear capacities have also been greatly upgraded.

The other important new pole of power rising in this multipolar world is of course China. President XI Jinping has confirmed that it will take full responsibility on the international stage. The President XI’s “New era” announced during the XIXth Congress in 2017, shows China wants to write a new page of its history. Chinese GDP was multiplied by 10 between 2000 and 2017. China has entered a technological competition with the USA. Their drones, artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies are highly competitive. Its army is undergoing a modernization process towards professionalization and developing projection capacities, especially in the navy. The first “all Made in China” aircraft carrier will soon be in service.

In the meantime, the US, of course, will remain a major power, however declining. US economy still represents more than 25% of the world’s GDP. At equal growth levels, the US should not be overtaken by China before 20 years. US military remains today the strongest army in the world, with above $600 billion of spending per year. At the same time, America is trying to cling to its privileges inherited from the past. The privilege of the dollar as main world currency, although this domination is more and more contested by the renminbi. The privilege of rules, when extending the US laws to non-US citizens or companies as shown with the case of the French bank BNP Paribas. The privilege of the internet, also, where until recently they enjoyed almost a monopoly of the GAFAs.

Europe needs, in this environment, to strengthen itself and become more of a global pole of power. I believe there is a new dynamic in Europe, likely to make an independent European foreign policy possible. Europe rises to a higher self-consciousness, like always through crisis. The austerity crisis is pushing Europe towards more common institutions for the Eurozone – like a common budget, a Eurozone finance minister, a European Monetary Fund, as proposed by Emmanuel MACRON and today partially endorsed by the German coalition.

The populist crisis all around Europe is pushing for a new generation of pro-Europe leaders and movements such as Emmanuel Macron, Leo Varadkar, Sebastian Kurz, Alexis Tsipras. The crisis of the Brexit has also pushed for more unity among the remaining member states, even if the outcome of the Brexit remains very uncertain. Europe needs a strong partner in the UK, in order to find a lasting settlement.

The refugee crisis proves in plain sight that a common foreign policy, common border controls and a common asylum regulation are absolute needs. The European Common Security and Defense Policy is in progress. A research fund of 500-million-euro per year will be operational from 2020 onwards. Frontex is creating the basis of a common EU policy regarding border control. Its operational capacities have recently been enhanced with the use of drones and the fusion with the European Coast Guard Association in 2016.

Maybe in the future – probably in twenty to fifty years–, other poles of power can fill the world map, in the Middle East, in Africa or in Latin America.

But this multipolar world is full of risks. The bigger risk is a new confrontation of two antagonist blocks. Many times, in world history, the ascension of a new power and the simultaneous decline of an old power triggered high tensions and armed conflicts. Between Athens and Sparta in the 5th Century BC, it has caused the Peloponnese War, described by Thucydides, as a trap caused by the confrontation between an ascending and a declining power. In 12 out of 16 recorded cases, it ended with large-scale war. Will the world fall into “Thucydides’ trap” once again and will we live tomorrow in a new bipolar world, scattered with proxy wars of a new type?

The bigger risk today is to come back to a bipolar world, with two new blocks, led this time by China and the US, reminding of the Cold war era. This risk is real, when we look at the dynamic that is beginning to shape into a new alliance the Asia-Pacific region. Countries around China tend to be attracted into its economic influence, including those who are traditional American allies.

Philippines are attracted toward China, despite tensions in the South China Sea and a judgement in favor of the Philippines issued by UN, under its Convention on the Law of the Sea. Central Asian countries are attracted by China’s development promise, embodied by the Asian Investment Bank for Infrastructures (AIIB) structural projects.

It is also a confrontation between two political models. The Asian political model is gathering momentum around the world, with its emphasis on authority, stability and sovereignty, as promised by the Chinese Communist Party. It is based on authority, as LEE Kuan Yew showed in Singapore, CHIANG Ching-Kuo in Taiwan, PARK Chung-Hee in South Korea. It promises stability, laying out the basis for a safe economic environment and foreign investments. Singapore, for instance, has gathered a stock of foreign direct investment of around 1.400 billion dollars. It is committed to sovereignty, through a nationalist speech and protectionist policies. It is also pledging for financial and digital sovereignty.

The crisis over North Korea is at the same time the last cold war conflict and the first conflict of the new confrontation. The North Korean regime is inherited from the Cold War, and Korea is the last divided nation from that era. Germany, Vietnam and Yemen have all been reunited. The crisis tends to reinforce the old alliance of China with the North and US with the South.

From Donald Trump’s point of view, the crisis has a threefold implication. It is a matter of domestic security against the North Korean missile threat on the US territory. It is a matter of tightening relationships with historical allies in the area, and especially with South Korea while South Korea is tempted to move toward China, by far its first economic partner. It is of course also very much a matter of putting pressure on China.

But, because of its complexity, this conflict can only be addressed through careful multilateral negotiation, in order to avoid the worse. De-escalation is the priority. In the first place, we need a process of dialogue and the respect of the non-proliferation agreement on nuclear weapons. The international community has to rely on China as a major actor to leverage on North Korean decisions, taking advantage of its strong economic dependence to Beijing. The final long-term objective must remain reunification, even though its cost shall be 50 times the cost of German reunification.

What does this scenario mean for us? It means Europe and Russia would be crushed between these new superpowers. Either, it would be a scenario of conflict and we would be condemned to take sides. Forces would drive the EU towards America and Russia towards China. Eastern Europe would become the battleground of the new conflict, without any ability to decide for itself. Either, China and America would be able to reach an agreement and build a China-America condominium, and then Europe with Russia would be marginalized and dependent.   This is why, in my mind, the strength of the EU and the strength of the bond between EU and Russia for a Greater Europe, are key to avoid this worst case scenario.

The second risk is a conflictual multipolarity, a war of all against all, especially in-between the power poles. There are other fault lines, for example between China and Russia.

There are anxieties in Russia, especially in the Far East, about growing Chinese influence. The commercial balance is to the advantage of China, in the Russian Far East with 6 billion dollars of annual trade. Growing Chinese population on the Russian side of the border also triggers neighboring difficulties and social tensions. There will be subjects of tensions as well as of cooperation in the Arctic, in Central Asia, and along the New Silk Road. It is believed that $35 trillion worth of untapped oil lie under the Arctic Ocean. Russia strongly depends upon its oil production, and is therefore keen on pursuing Arctic exploration. Arctic Ocean is also a future major trade route between Asia, America and Europe. There could be difficulties in conciliating the Eurasian project promoted by Russia and the New Silk Road. In this former USSR area where Russia still exercises a strong influence, China has developed many infrastructures for the sake of outsourcing its domestic production, such as the 16+1 initiative, the next summit of which will take place in Bulgaria. As you know, Russia and China share an old and ambivalent relationship. The borders along the Amur River, in Outer Mongolia and in Xinjiang have long been contentious. The Sino-Soviet split and enduring border conflict, only settled in 1991, have left marks in their relationship, not to mention the silent war of 1960-1966.

Nor should we overlook the tensions between Europe and Russia, even if I am convinced that a common dialogue can lead to more action in common. The crisis in Ukraine since 2004 and even more 2014, has become a symbol of political and strategic rivalry and mutual fears between Russia and the West. But it is also an example of the risk of weak or failing states as well as a painful symbol of the complexity of post-Soviet geography, inherited from a complex history. Ukraine is marked by a bloody civil war in early 1920’s, Holodomor in 1930’s and massacre during the Great Patriotic War. We cannot be satisfied by a frozen conflict at the heart of Europe that has already provoked 10,000 deaths. We need solutions and dialogue on three levels. A federal partnership involving the Federation of Russia, the Ukrainian government, the EU and the CIS Countries could be found. An OSCE supported security agreement between NATO and Russia could greatly help the situation to move forward. An EU-Russia cooperation could also help to support the reconstruction and reinforcement of the Ukrainian state, economy and administration.

We should not overlook a last risk, the risk of global anarchy. Failed states develop most on the periphery of power zones, mainly in Africa, where they feed constant civil conflicts. Destructive transnational actors, such as mafias, mercenaries or militias, often worsen conflicts by adding external interests to a situation already out of hand.

Dangerous times lie ahead of us and it is urgent to wake up. My message is that it is our common responsibility to avoid its pitfalls. For that, we should work in three directions.

First proposal: Each and every crisis requires a bespoke architecture with the participation of all major powers. We need tailor-made processes that create mechanisms fit to gather every actor around the table. We have to imagine new models in the line of the OSCE model, developed in 1975 in Helsinki that has proved efficient to tame the missile race between USSR and the USA. Along the same model, we could imagine a Helsinki-type conference for the Middle East with international support. The objective is to gather all stakeholders, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, around the same table. The method is fostering a political process of peace, in order to achieve a new architecture of security. The enforcement and common respect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran, reached in Vienna in July 2015 is essential for de-escalation. In 2003, I was convinced that after the Iraq war, there was a big risk of military escalation with Iran. Today this agreement is in danger again, and I believe it is the responsibility of Europe, Russia and China to guarantee its continuity.

Second proposal: We should foster large regional projects. First of all, we need structured diplomatic cooperation. Multipolarity needs to rely on structured dialogues. I am convinced that building a cooperation framework between Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Beijing is a priority. This cooperation of old powers, sharing a common experience of history and of the dangers of war, could aim at finding the right guarantees of sovereignty and of common responsibility in the new world order. This cooperation would have enough weight to become the key partner for the United States on all major issues. That is why it is a major European responsibility to work for establishing this important axis. Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin have recently started with the “Trianon dialogue” program. The EU would be inspired to give impetus to a dialogue process that could allow, in the end, to reconsider the sanctions program against Russia. Paris and Berlin remain the core engine of EU cooperation and foreign policy, and as such, they should set course towards an enlarged dialogue framework.

We need also long-term economic cooperation projects. The New Silk Road, launched by President XI Jinping in 2013, is one such project. First, it promotes political and cultural understanding through integrating around 70 countries from at least three continents: Asia, Europe and Africa. Second, it stimulates growth and development through boosting massive investment with an objective of around 900 billion dollars. The expansion of infrastructures in remote regions will be a major driver of stability in Central Asia as well as Eastern Africa. Economic stimulation will also be a great opportunity to support long-term recovery in major economies like Europe and China. Third, it offers a new model of prosperity based on inclusiveness, sustainability and balance. We have seen that in 2015 with the launching of the AIIB gathering more than 60 countries from all the continents.

We can imagine a large initiative of cooperation based on an agreement around oil. In the Middle East, economics are crucial to sort out the situation. We could think about a regional economic association based on the area’s main resource, oil. By sharing mutual benefit from a fraction of common oil exploitation, neighboring countries could learn to cooperate again. As the European Union, which first started with an economic association for coal and steel, the Middle East could gather momentum by uniting around oil before entering in deeper mutual agreements. Iran and Saudi Arabia would have to show the way, as did France and Germany in 1951.

In addition, regional projects need to be set up, with the implication of local powers. Resisting the will to set new borders and promoting cross-border projects is essential for the world of tomorrow. The Mediterranean Sea, which has now become a graveyard for hundreds of migrants, needs to be turned into a symbol of Euro-African cooperation. Economic development is the key to stop uncontrolled migration flows. If economic development remains incomplete, migrants will keep on leaving their home in search for a better life elsewhere. Political cooperation is the key to ensure strengthening of state administrations in Africa and establish a safe environment for investors. It is also essential to empower African states and grant every partner an equal recognition.

Third proposal: We need global multilateralism agreements and a reform of global governance. A showcase of multilateral achievements already exists. We have to keep on moving that way, with new concrete tools. The Paris agreement of COP 21, in 2015, has been a success; however damaging the American pull back was last year. It shows that it is possible to have universal treaties on major challenges of mankind. In the same spirit, we need a global Internet treaty to ensure net neutrality, protection of personal data and free use of the web. It is also high time we reach a global agreement for the protection of common goods, air, waters, soils and natural heritage.

We need more and better global financial coordination, through establishing a new G3 dialogue between the Central Banks of the US, Europe and China. We need to reform the global governance institutions of the United Nations dating from 1945. To gain more efficiency, we could work on mechanisms to limit voluntarily the use of the veto, as France and the UK have done in the last decades. To be more operational, we could also create an independent military capacity under UN command, rather than national troops contributions. At last, in order to be more inclusive, we should reform the Security Council. Even if it sounds difficult to achieve after decades of endless debates, we will have one day to choose a more representative Security Council with countries such as Germany, India, Japan or Brazil, maybe also with the addition of semi-permanent members to be reelected every two years.



Dear Friends,


The key to the future is in our hands. As students, you are first and foremost responsible for enlarging your vision of the world and work for mutual understanding between people.

It is through dialogue, shared ambitions and common projects that we will be able to shape tomorrow’s world. It all starts here, in our debates, and hopefully it will reach maturity when you start your careers and will be working for rapprochement between our countries.

I thank you for your attention and I’ll be happy to answer the questions you may have.