President, Russian Federation
Conference on Security Policy
Feb. 10, 2007
FULL TEXT VERSION
The audience was warned; Vladimir Putin had said he would “avoid excessive politeness.” Still, many were startled when the Russian President loosed an anti-American blast without equal in the post-Soviet period.
The event was Putin’s Feb. 10 speech to a security affairs group in Munich. His 4,000-word address seethed with bitterness at today’s “unipolar”—that is, one-superpower—world. Putin called US moves “pernicious” and “illegitimate.” He slammed not only “hyper-use of force” and NATO expansion but also US “economic, political, cultural, and educational” imperialism.
The ex-KGB chief’s speech sparked concern in Washington, where some thought it might signal the end of the post-Cold-War partnership and the beginning of a more-hostile Russian stance.
What is a “unipolar world?” However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day, it refers to one type of situation—namely, one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making. It 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. …
What is happening in today’s world … is a tentative move to introduce precisely this concept into international affairs, the concept of a unipolar world. And with which results? 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 are dying than before. Significantly more, significantly more!
Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper-use of force—military force—in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible.
We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. … First and foremost, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural, and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this? …
This is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this: No one feels safe, because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race. The force’s dominance inevitably encourages a number of countries to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, significantly new threats—though they were also well-known before—have appeared, and, today, threats such as terrorism have taken on a global character. …
The use of force can only be considered legitimate if the decision is sanctioned by the UN. And we do not need to substitute NATO or the EU for the UN. When the UN will truly unite the forces of the international community and can really react to events in various countries, when we will leave behind this disdain for international law, then the situation will be able to change. Otherwise the situation will simply result in a dead end, and the number of serious mistakes will be multiplied. Along with this, it is necessary to make sure that international law has a universal character both in the conception and application of its norms. …
So-called flexible front-line American bases [have] up to five thousand men in each. It turns out that NATO has put its front-line forces on our borders. … I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: Against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them. …
We very often—and personally, I very often—hear appeals by our partners, including our European partners, to the effect that Russia should play an increasingly active role in world affairs. In connection with this I would allow myself to make one small remark. It is hardly necessary to incite us to do so. 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.