Joseph Nye (the soft power guy) offers up four reasons why Russia will not be a major power in 2020:
- They are failing to diversify away from energy and develop a broad based economy rapidly enough.
- They need a rule of law that protects entrepreneurs and helps foster a middle class that will support a democratic market economy.
- They have a terrible situation in demography and public health, and have not invested in an adequate social safety net.
- Their current bullying attitudes in the energy area are destroying trust and undercutting their soft power in other countries.
I think he’s pretty much nailed it when it comes to identifying what Russia is doing wrong at the moment. In particular, I like the way he has also identified particular structural strengths and weaknesses that Russia is either failing to take advantage of (energy wealth), or failing to take seriously enough (demography / health).
Having said that, though, I’m not sure that – even if the Russian government fails to find solutions to the problems that Nye identifies – Russia won’t still be a major power in 2020 (in the sense that it will have roughly the same impact on global and regional affairs that it enjoys today).
2020 is only 13 years away and, unless there are some dramatic global shifts, energy is still going to be an important indicator of power in 2020. I can’t see Russia losing its edge in that arena. (Nor, to be honest, do I see Russia losing its nuclear power, or its military edge over the majority of its neighbours).
I can think of a number of (mainly Middle Eastern) oil-rich states that have kept going for years on the back of oil wealth, without addressing the underlying structural problems within their society and economy, and I see no reason why Russia can’t do the same.
The problem that Russia will face, of course, is the same one that every petro-state faces – keeping a population content is relatively easy while the money continues to flow in. Keeping them happy when the money runs out is another matter altogether. And, make no mistake – at some stage, the oil money will run out.