|Professor Anatoly Torkunov, Rector of MGIMO|
intelligible English. You need to say something your readership does not know, and you need to say something that is true (unless it is funny or interesting in some other way).
One of the most prestigious academics in Russia, Professor Anatoly Torkunov, appears not to have learned either of these lessons very well. Prof. Torkunov is the Rector of MGIMO, possibly the most respected of Russia’s institutions of higher learning. He is also a member of the Russian Academy of Science and is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary—whatever that means. He holds the Order of Merit for the Fatherland (only 3rd class, admittedly), the Order of Honour, the Order of Friendship the Order of St Sergio’s (2nd class) and the Order of Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow (3rd class again).
But can he be depended upon to write an informative and accurate paragraph on his special area of expertise? Apparently not.
Take the following text, for example. These are the first and fourth paragraphs of an article by Professor Torkunov which was published on the Russian International Affairs Council website, on 6 March this year, under the heading Education as a Soft Power Instrument of Russia’s ForeignPolicy. See if you can find any statements which are both informative and accurate (the words I will discuss are underlined):
A New Leadership Resource in Today’s World
Any nation in its foreign policy focuses on strengthening its international positions and image, as well as creating a favorable external environment for its country’s long-term socioeconomic growth. And while the foreign policy toolkit used to accomplish this objective may change from epoch to epoch, in the 20th century’s bipolar world, the dominant trend was for states to concentrate on building up their hard power and their military and economic might….
Today, political leadership in the world is increasingly dependent on a nation’s ability to “nurture purposefully” its neighbours or competitors. In times of transition in the global political system, nations are fighting more and more over their right to define the values and rules of this world order.
Looking at this in detail:
“Any nation in its foreign policy focuses on strengthening its international positions and image, as well as creating a favorable external environment for its country’s long-term socioeconomic growth.”
This sentence is a statement of the obvious, so obvious indeed that every nation does what Torkunov says. So why does he need to tell us?
“And while the foreign policy toolkit used to accomplish this objective may change from epoch to epoch…”
Leaving aside the unattractively slangy use of the word “toolkit” in such a context, these things change from year to year, or decade to decade, but not from “epoch to epoch”. An epoch is a reference date not a period of time. It is the first moment of a period, not the whole period. The break-up of the Soviet Union was an epochal moment. It was the end of the Soviet “era” and the beginning of the post-Soviet period, perhaps, but it was an event without duration. Foreign policy “toolkits” do not change only at epochal moments, but continuously as diplomatic relationships evolve.
“…the 20th century’s bipolar world…”
The 20th century was only “bi-polar” for forty-six years, from 1945 to 1991, for the majority of the time it was either multi-polar or uni-polar, even on the crudest understanding of the term. And if you think of poles of attraction, the attraction of the Soviet Union was much more short-lived than that. It started around 1943 when everyone realised how many Germans the Soviets were killing, and ended in 1956 when most people came to realise how many Hungarians they were prepared to kill to sustain the illusion of equality with the West. The subsequent killing of so many Czechs, Poles, Aghanistanis and dissident Russians drove that lesson home in even the least imaginative minds.
“…building up their hard power and their military and economic might…”
What is the difference between “hard power” and “military and economic might”? The whole of Professor Torkunov’s article suggests he defines hard power as military and economic might. So one or other is redundant.
“…political leadership in the world is increasingly dependent on a nation’s ability to “nurture purposefully” its neighbours or competitors…”
There is something madly illusional about this. Which country is exercising “political leadership” in the way the rest of the sentence implies? How do countries “nurture purposefully their neighbours or competitors”? Is Russia “nurturing purposefully” Kazakhstan, for example, or Georgia, or China? Is France “nurturing” Germany, or Belgium or Spain? Is China “nurturing purposefully” Japan or Mongolia, or North Korea? What is the good professor talking about?
“In times of transition in the global political system…”
Whenever was the world political “system” not in a time of transition? When have international political relations been fixed in the sort of stasis which Professor Torkunov seems to think is their normal state? And why does he use the word “system” about a set of relationships that are in constant flux, without any organising principle which might render them predictable? That is what a system is. And that is what global politics is not.
“…fighting more and more over their right to define the values and rules of this world order…”
Which countries, exactly, are “fighting” to define values, etc., other than, arguably, North Korea? There is something wearyingly old-fashioned about the way so many Russians who achieved eminence under Communism describe international relationships as having a military or violent character. Have they learned nothing from the collapse of their own system of militarism and violence? And what “world order” does Professor Torkunov see? I see only a set of relationships of greater or lesser stability, but no “world order”, which is another way of saying “system”. In the context of diplomatic analysis, reference to methods of threat and aggression seem to me little more than the atavistic fantasies of bombastic neo-Eurasianists of near-pensionable age who don’t appear to understand that not even the United States is an autonomous political entity any more—if ever it was.
So let me try to translate Professor Torkunov’s two windy paragraphs into something accurate and more succinct:
Today, the foreign policy of most nations is evolving from a twentieth century emphasis on the crude assertion of military and economic power into an approach which emphasises constructive interaction between countries based on competitive cultural self-promotion.
That may be shorter, but I don’t think I have left anything out.