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Panel 9. Regional or Global Contest for Power? Russia’s Challenge to the US-led International Order

Chairs: Gabriele Natalizia (Link Campus University), Mara Morini (University of Genova)
Discussant: Marco Valigi (University of Bologna)

Date: Saturday  9.00 - 10.45
Room: Aula P  (Complesso Belmeloro)


The NSS-17 described Russia as a revisionist state, challenging American power, influence, and interests. It results from the 2014-2018 timeframe, which experienced the maximum peak of competition between Russia and the US since the end of the Cold War: the Euromaidan protests, Yanukovich’s defenestration, the Russian overtake of Crimea, the civil war in Donetsk and Luhansk, the mutual international sanctions, the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria, the deployment of four NATO battalion battle groups in Poland and the Baltics, the Russian military exercise “Zapad 2017”, the Russiagate and, finally, the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Despite the 2018 Russian presidential elections took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment, as OSCE reported, they strengthened Vladimir Putin’s legitimacy as well as his conduct in foreign affairs.
A significant debate is rising about the nature of Moscow’s challenge to the US-led international order. Is it narrowed within the Post-Soviet Space perimeter and aimed at Russia’s great power status recognition? Or does it have a transregional power contagion and is it inspired by Kremlin’s ideological commitment in undermining the liberal order?
The panel welcomes papers with theoretical, quantitative or qualitative approaches reflecting on Russia’s challenge to the liberal order and advancing new interpretations on it. It is aimed at shedding new light on its multiple shapes:

  • the struggle for democratic enlargement/retrenchment;
  • proxy wars and cyberwars;
  • the external influences on presidential and parliamentary elections; 
  • the use of social and traditional media for political propaganda and disinformation;
  • the support to pro-Russian or anti-Russian parties/factions within the Post-soviet space, Europe and Middle East.


Confirmed Papers: 

1) Reset or Restart? Reset or Restart? The Cyclical Nature of the US-Russia Competition
Gabriele Natalizia (Link Campus University) & Marco Valigi (University of Bologna)

According to the NSS-17, Russia represents – together with China – the main challenger for the American leadership within the international system. Differently from the full-scale competitions of the past, Russia’s contest for power is still narrowed to the Post-soviet space and its closest regions. Assuming the preservation of the “unipolar moment” as the primary goal of any American Administration, the current paper explores the US-Russia relations, paying specific attention to the early stages of Trump’s term. It investigates the US stance toward Russia during the last three American Administrations to bring out elements of continuity/discontinuity with Trump’s approach on the issue. We posit that any of the US presidents elected after the end of the Cold War tried to “reset” the relationship with Moscow, preferring engagement instead of competition. However, the outcome was inexorably the “restart” of an enduring rivalry.

2)  The Garrison Cyber system versus the Cyber Grand Bargain. A comparative analysis of the National Cyber Security Strategies of Russia and the USA
Domenico Fracchiolla (LUISS) 

Cyberspace is a new domain of power where the technological disrupture of Internet Governance exerts its influences on IR. In the last years, Cyber Security policies (CS) became an integral part of governments’ national defence and foreign and security policies and doctrines. The competition between Russia and the USA, characterized by the revisionist strategy of the Russian foreign policy challenging the American power, can be investigated analyzing their national Cyber Security Strategies. The debate over Cyber Security, beside addressing the nexus between technology and policy at national and international level, is useful to shed lights over the rising relevance of the Moscow’s challenge to the US-led liberal international order.
This paper proposes a comparative investigation of the rationale and the main features of the national Cyber Security Strategy (CSS) adopted by Russia, USA and their main allies, in order to shed light on the possible geopolitical shifts. Applying the typology of four model of Cyber State elaborated by Nazli Choucri (2012, 2014) for the future of cyberpolitics in IR, the CSS of the Russian Federation and the USA corresponds to alternative models of Cyber States expressing opposing view of IR and political regimes. The former corresponds to the Garrison System, combining the principle of the international conflict with the sovereign control; the latter refers to the model of the Grand Bargain System (at least until the Trump Administration) where the role of sovereign states is interpreted with an high degree of international cooperation and collaboration. The hypothesis of this paper is that Moscow’s challenge in Cyber Security posses a trans regional power contagion and is it inspired by Kremlin’s ideological commitment in undermining the liberal order using new tools and strategies that exploit the osmotic nature of the internal and external dimensions of power of the contemporary International Community.

3) Breaking the (Asimov's) Laws. Mapping the international controversy on killing robots
Mauro Santaniello (University of Salento)

“A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm”. So reads the first law of robotics as formulated by Issac Asimov, the celebrated Russian born American writer, in some of his famous science fiction works. Nowadays, this law seems to be threatened by the fast developments of the so-called Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) which combine advancement in robotics, artificial intelligence and warfare to produce unmanned combat systems able to coordinate among themselves, to attack military targets, and to kill people autonomously deciding who, when and how. LAWS are expected to disrupt the battlefield as we know it, triggering a third revolution in warfare. In order to deal with this issue, and after the international pressure from the side of many scientists and entrepreneurs involved in robotics and artificial intelligence, in 2016 the Fifth Review Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) established a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems. During the last GGE meeting held in Geneva from 27 to 31 August 2018 two main stances have emerged. On one side, there are some governments, including States Parties of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), asking for a legally binding international instrument to ban LAWS and requiring human oversight over weaponry. On the other side, there are governments such as those of the United States of America and the Russian Federation that are fiercely opposing the ban and are willing to explore the potentiality of LAWS. The paper, through a review of policy documents and statements, will provide an analytical framework to address this controversy, and will seek to map the transnational network of actors and issues as it is emerging from different venues and fora.

4) L’epoca delle rivoluzioni tristi: Rivoluzioni post-sovietiche tra nazionalismi etnici e movimenti senza progetto 
Claudio Foliti (Sapienza Università di Roma)

I tentativi rivoluzionari post-sovietici (di successo - in tal caso si parla di Rivoluzioni Colorate - e non) rappresentano il più importante fenomeno di cambiamento politico all’interno del quadro europeo ed eurasiatico. In particolare, due sono i fattori strategici che hanno influito sul successo o meno dei tentativi rivoluzionari post-sovietici: la prossimità/distanza (culturale o economica) con l’Occidente e la disponibilità/indisponibilità di fonti di potere organizzativo autoritario: un partito unico ed altamente istituzionalizzato; un apparato coercitivo forte […]; il controllo discrezionale dello Stato sull’economia, sia attraverso un controllo diretto de jure, sia tramite lo sfruttamento delle più importanti ricchezze minerali, quali il petrolio o il gas [Way, 2008, p. 60]. Una più approfondita analisi ha grosso modo confermato questa ipotesi [Cilento e Foliti, 2016], ma restano ancora inevasi alcuni elementi critici che si tenterà di analizzare in questo lavoro. 1. Nel clevage internazionale Occidente/Russia (e non solo), le divisioni interne (est/ovest in Ucraina, ad esempio) e i problemi di natura etno-linguistica hanno trovato un potente combustibile; 2. Le fratture interne, per quanto esasperate dal quadro internazionale e da élites regionalizzate e corrotte, costituiscono comunque un elemento pre-esistente persino all’Unione Sovietica: la fine del sistema sovietico non ha fatto altro che far riemergere quelle divisioni; 3. Nella teoria della quadrupla transizione di Kuzio [2001], i primi due step (nation-building e state-building) hanno visto il prevalere di logiche orientate al nazionalismo etnico piuttosto che al nazionalismo civico. 4. Le Rivoluzioni Colorate, così come i tentativi rivoluzionari falliti dell’area, altro non sono che delle rivoluzioni tristi (riciclando lo spirito dell’espressione di Baruch Spinoza e recentemente assorbita all’interno degli studi di psicologia dell’età evolutiva, [cfr. Benasayag e Schmit, 2007]), rivoluzioni senza progetto, contro il passato e non futuribili, svuotate di pathos e thymos. Ogni intenzione di cambiamento (tra l’altro assai vaga) altro non ha dimostrato che queste, più che rovesciamenti di potere [O’Donnell e Schmitter, 1986], altro non sono che moti di ritorno al punto di partenza (dal latino tardo revolutio -onis, «rivolgimento, ritorno», derivato dal verbo revolvĕre, cioè «rivolgere, ritornare»).

5) US foreign policy towards Russia 2008-2018: two competing narratives
Zeno Leoni (King’s College London)

Over the last decade there have been competing discourses in and approaches to US foreign policy towards Russia. In particular, this presentation seeks to contrast two different American postures with regard to the Kremlin. On the one hand, the last two US presidents – Obama and Trump – have publicly intervened on Russia with a rhetoric that swung between geopolitical respect – particularly Trump – and lack of geostrategic interest – this was mainly the case of Obama and the ‘pivot to Asia’. Compared to past decades, Obama and Trump were in discontinuity with the mainstream narrative about Russia. On the other hand, American foreign policy ran against the publicly expressed intention of the US commanders in chief. In particular, postures from the Department of Defence and NATO have partially – at the very least – denied the presidents’ worldview and represented an obstacle to a re-approaching Russia or to a tacit agreement on reciprocal spheres of influence. However, the hypothesis of off-shore balancing seems a compromise between these positions.
The presentation takes this contrast as a case to reason about the relations of power between structure and agency. It reflects on the utility of some theoretical frameworks – such as bureaucratic politics, critical geopolitics, and classical geopolitics – to find an answer to this incongruence. 

6) Critical Raw Material in the value chain of the defense industry : what is critical ?
Raphael Danino-Perraud
 (Bureau des ressources géologiques et minières - BRGM and the Laboratoire d’Économie d'Orléans - LEO)

From the silex to the Rafale through the use of bronze and iron, every military technology evolution raised the question of military superiority, but also of the resources required for their application (Haglund, 1984, 1986). For example, the importance of tin in bronze alloys, partly used for the fabrication of weapons, led the Roman Empire to conquer both Spain and Great Britain (Bihouix, 2010). Nowadays tensions on supply of rare metals exist because of the monopole of some countries (among which China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa...) on the production of most of them (EC, 2017).
In 2017, the European Commission published its third list of critical minerals within the framework of the Raw Material Initiative. This work confirmed the European dependency on these metals, since Europe imports almost its entire consuming (EC, 2017). This list is constituted of twenty metals, and among them, nine have important military applications (JRC, 2016). Producing sophisticated weapons or developing new technologies is impossible without them.
Rare metals are becoming an increasingly important issue in the field of military technologies. Whereas tungsten was already used for ammunition production during the First World War (Giraudo, 2017), the quantity of cobalt, rare earths or germanium used for the production of fighters, missiles or optical instruments increased and their supply became a concern (Kameni, 2014).
In order to manufacture highly sophisticated products and high-purity components for the defense industry, minerals must be refined and transformed. These highly technological processes are not well known but are vital for the European defense industry. However, as they are not always economically profitable, these technologies are sometimes up by the manufacturers, who are more likely to buy cheaper Chinese products. As an example, the European gallium production capacity, located in Germany and Hungary until recently, closed in 2015 and 2016 (JRC, 2016). If this trend continues, the dependency of the defense industry will be both material and technological. This could definitely endanger European countries’ ability to ensure their own defense.
The goal of this paper is to briefly explicit the critical material production in the world and the dependency of the European Union towards their supplies. It will also explain the various steps of the manufacturing of the highly sophisticated components used by the defense industry, from the materials’ extraction to their refining and their transformation. Finally, it will figure out the proposals of the European Commission (EC, 2008) to reduce Europe’s dependency. Ultimately, these researches aim at building a bridge between technical and social sciences.