From Rossiiskaya gazeta, May 17, 2021, p. 1. Condensed text:
Nationwide crises are a test of the government’s competence.
Last year’s events – the COVID‑19 pandemic, the first-ever self-inflicted global economic crisis, the unprecedented levels of unemployment, the unparalleled relief measures taken in most countries to support households and businesses – all this has demonstrated the great vulnerability of the current global development model and the current world order, as well as seemingly stable national orders based on a system of universally recognized human rights and civil liberties. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for processes that started much earlier: swift digitization, rising racial and ethnic tensions, the war of historical narratives, redistribution of roles in the global division of labor and revision of development strategies. In order to address all these challenges, it will be necessary to transform national legal systems and the way the state operates.
Clearly, the post-COVID world will not be the same. But what will it look like? And what will the state look like? The state will have to adapt to the new reality, which will require significant changes in its operations and a transformation of its legal system. This is why it is extremely important to foresee coming changes and lay the groundwork for them.
Only a strong state can cope with global threats.
As the world struggled with the coronavirus infection, there were intense discussions as to how the pandemic would change the fabric of society and the entire system of international relations. And indeed, we saw borders being shut down. In fact, it was wealthy nations, whose ideology was largely based on neoliberal principles, that abandoned their principles, fenced themselves off from the rest of the world and introduced unprecedented measures to support their populations and economies. Within just a few weeks or even days, global supply chains changed, including even for basic necessities – medical equipment, personal protective equipment, etc. Borders were closed, leaving millions of people in a state of uncertainty. Strong countries first and foremost sought to make sure they had everything they needed – which is understandable, since every state should take care of its own citizens first.
Weaker countries, which are economically and politically dependent on others, were essentially abandoned to fend for themselves in the face of the global pandemic. For a variety of reasons (including a lack of resources), they failed to respond in a timely fashion, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and huge economic losses.
Contrary to the spirit of globalization, we saw, figuratively speaking, the return of the state as one of the key political and economic trends of last year. The ideologues of globalism believe that the state is supposed to dissolve in global integrative structures, but during the pandemic the state made it very clear that all the predictions about its impending death were “somewhat premature.”
It turned out that the state alone, as a political entity where people come together under a common government within a system of law for the common good, can handle the most complex tasks of mobilizing and redistributing resources in order to cope with the severest crises. We saw last year that the concept of a strong state and the principle of sovereignty are once again in demand. . . .
We saw a drastic change in governance methods happen before our very eyes. All of a sudden, the “strong arm” of a sovereign state was necessary. The global economic crisis and the current pandemic have made it clear that we cannot do without it. In light of this, many experts are asking whether this means that the post-COVID world will be more authoritarian.
Digital technology poses a special threat today, as it can be easily abused. Without proper public oversight, it can evolve into what is known as digital dictatorship. Numerous scandals involving fake news, personal data leaks, unlawful activities by intelligence services (the list goes on), are vivid examples of this threat. In this context, I would like to stress that in order to guarantee the rule of law in a strong state, you need more than just the separation of powers, including their democratic structure and a system of checks and balances. You need citizens with a strong democratic mentality who share common constitutional values, and are confident about their security, and the security of their state and its future. You also need civil society to oversee the activities of the government at various levels. Ultimately, the rule of law relies on mutual trust between the government and the people, which gives legitimacy to government institutions. . . .
The pandemic has demonstrated how important it is to have a strong state capable of protecting the nation and effectively resolving national problems. This reinforces the role and significance of the key principles of the UN Charter – the inviolability of national borders and noninterference in other states’ domestic affairs, which basically means that all nations have equal sovereignty. Art. 2 of the UN Charter says that the organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members, and prohibits interference in each other’s domestic affairs.
The very reason the UN became the most important and effective international organization is because it is based on the principle of self-determination and sovereign equality of nation states.
In order to deal with the problems it faces, the state can (while maintaining its sovereignty) voluntarily transfer some of its functions to supranational structures based on the idea of united nations and united sovereignties. Being a union of nation states, the UN by virtue of its very nature cannot be used as a replacement for the principle of state sovereignty in international relations. Otherwise, this would spark an immediate crisis, and the UN would cease to be the only universal mechanism for ensuring global security. One can easily envisage the disastrous consequences of such a collapse, given the spread of the terrorist threat and proliferation of nuclear weapons.
This means that the entire system of international law should be modernized and gradually harmonized with the principle of state sovereignty. Of course, with the initial and very narrow concept of state sovereignty, as presented in the Westphalian treaties of the 17th century, the resulting balance of powers and the international system in general did not prioritize human rights, nor did it take into account the complex system of global security. At the same time, if we were to abandon the principle of sovereignty as enshrined in 10 principles of the UN Charter, at this stage it would be extremely dangerous for every state and for the entire international community. In order to fight both traditional threats (crimes against humanity, war crimes, aggression, etc.) and new challenges, national sovereignty should be reinforced and united based on the UN Charter, not torn down.
A world without this principle would be basically a world without the UN. Obviously, this would be a world where globalization has won. But instead of globalizing knowledge or universal values, this kind of globalization would result in a global concentration of capital and power in the hands of a small group of owners of multinational corporations. In the case of a major disaster or a global epidemic like the current one, such a world would be unable to develop an effective strategy for dealing with it in a way that would be in the interest of all the nations and all of humanity.
A strong state must have both the rule of law and social security.
. . . When a country faces such a turning point in its history, it is extremely important to strengthen its constitutional law, [which is] the foundation of its national and social activities. Of special importance are the tasks that involve protecting the rights of the current and future generations to development and a decent life. Such a right to a future can be regarded as a collective right; at the same time, it can also be interpreted as a complex individual right. This presumes that the state and international instruments must guarantee an individual a decent existence not only today but also in the future. They must protect the individual’s right to life and, in accordance with the principles of a rule-of-law welfare state, they must ensure no one can take away the individual’s basic social guarantees.
In 2020, a very important amendment was made to our Constitution in order to protect people’s right to a future see Vol. 72, No. 27‑28, pp. 3‑7]. The new version of Art. 75 says that the Russian Federation respects the labor of its citizens and protects their rights. The state guarantees all Russian workers a minimum wage that at least equals the living wage. The pension system is based on the principles of universality, justice and the solidarity of generations. The state ensures its smooth operation and indexes pensions at least once a year in accordance with federal law. Also, federal law guarantees universal social [medical] insurance, targeted social support for people in need, and indexation of social benefits and other social payments. The state is now obligated to implement this constitutional demand.
It is important to underscore that Russia’s sovereignty as a legal principle is applicable not only outside Russia but also within the country, through social and economic measures intended to secure a decent life for Russian citizens. The Constitution upholds Russia’s sovereignty as a rule-of-law, democratic and welfare state. Russia’s sovereignty cannot be interpreted properly without this constitutional context. The Constitution prohibits using state sovereignty against the principles of rule-of-law social democracy. The new version of Art. 67 of the Constitution (the first sentence in Section 2.1) says that the Russian Federation will protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This reflects the global trend of the state’s comeback as the leading player in the system of social relations. Our Constitution recognizes the importance of a strong state, which has absolute sovereignty and takes up responsibility for protecting this sovereignty in the interest of its citizens from any threats. Neither international integrated entities nor multinational corporations have managed to cope with these threats. . . .
Obviously, one of the key constitutional problems that the state faces today is the contradiction between the need to guarantee the rights and civil liberties of the individual (including social rights, social security and welfare), and the need to ensure national security and competitiveness in the international arena, as well as the ability to withstand external economic sanctions and the numerous challenges of globalization. It is a very difficult problem, but our Constitution, which recently underwent a major renewal, allows [Russia] to strike a reasonable balance in this fundamental matter.
In this context, it is extremely important to follow the constitutional principles, which not only take into account the imperatives of a rule-of-law welfare state, but also guarantee all the components of a sovereign and strong state. This is the key factor that will determine whether Russia will be able to preserve and strengthen its agency as a global player in various aspects – political, economic and social. Consistent implementation of the welfare state principle, a well-developed system of social rights and improving standards of living are a necessary safeguard against dictatorship and tyranny. As we know, dictatorship usually emerges as a response to social division, economic inequality and injustice. The tyrannies of the past came to power riding a wave of popular discontent, and then resulted in mass executions, repression and concentration camps. Perhaps humanity has learned this terrible lesson and will never make the same mistake again. . . .
The emergence of new technologies in the 21st century creates new problems for states. These technologies certainly open up new opportunities for human development and for humanity in general, but they also pose serious threats. How far will humanity go in its use of biotech to “improve” human nature? This question is very practical, as the first children with an edited genome were born in China in 2018. What new fault lines will emerge in society if this new practice continues unchecked? Does humanity today have the right to make such decisions, considering that they will have a major impact on future generations? This list of very important questions that lack clear answers can be continued. And the reason there are no answers is because it is not clear at this point whether humanity will be able to withstand what is known as the “technology imperative.” Essentially, it means that once a technology is created, it will sooner or later be used.
Glimpses of some of the least appealing aspects of the posthuman future, which is being ushered in by new technologies, can be found in “COVID‑19: The Great Reset,” a book coauthored by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum. “The world as we knew it [in the early months of 2020] is no more, dissolved in the context of the pandemic,” the authors write. They think that the state should get “dissolved” as well, to be replaced with “socially responsible” multinational corporations. What is particularly alarming is the idea of creating a global digital oversight network in order to put an end to the pandemic. If such a system is ever created, it will go far beyond the limits of purely epidemiological oversight. I think such measures may pose a much bigger threat than the pandemic itself.
Russia is destined to be a strong state.
In order to confront these dangerous trends, the Russian state has to be particularly strong. Given the current level of strategic competition between great powers, this means, among other things, that Russia must keep up with the times, staying abreast of new technologies and keeping up with other nations and multinational corporations, whose resources are often comparable to those of nation states. If a country starts lagging behind, unable to keep up with its competitors in developing new technologies, it becomes unable to respond properly to new challenges and threats. As a result, it risks losing its independence (what is known as temporal sovereignty). This is a very real threat for Russia. . . .
Opponents of a strong state say that the state may come into conflict with society, and instead of being an instrument for achieving social welfare goals, it will turn into something self-sufficient. Such a danger does exist, and we must do our best to ensure the government does not alienate the people. It is important, though, that this idea about the threat of a conflict is not used as a smoke screen for another attempt to artificially alienate people from the government for destructive purposes.
The Russian state can only be strong as long as it relies on people’s support. This means it must be a welfare state. . . .
On the one hand, Russia is undergoing amazing transformations, making a giant leap into a digital future and achieving leadership positions by many indicators. On the other, it is affected by the economic crisis, the threat of social polarization, corruption, unlawful economic sanctions and a new “cold war.”
In its historical development, Russia has reached a bifurcation point, where you have both nostalgic feelings about the long-gone modernist Soviet project, and a curiously distorted image of the new Russian postsocialism devoid of any ideals or a clear vision of the future. What will evolve from this? Which development model will history choose? I trust that Russia overcomes all the risks, and that this “patchwork” experiment does not bring down its entire legal system. I trust that our legal system will be modernized, and that the recent modernization of the Constitution was the first step in this direction.
We need to accomplish this within a short period of time, standing on the ruin of the Soviet socialist system, and under pressure from the postmodernist practice of double standards and stifling economic sanctions. We will have to literally fight our way through to our legal future. . . .
In conclusion of my short analysis, I would like to go back to what I started with – the problem of COVID‑19. The pandemic is not over yet, and its economic, political and social repercussions will be felt around the world for many years to come. Currently, we are witnessing a kind of competition between various state models as to who is most adept at dealing with these global challenges and threats. We can see that only a viable, solid, strong state can effectively cope with such challenges and properly perform its functions. A failed state cannot deal with current challenges and threats.
We can also see that Russia looks well-positioned and confident in the current circumstances. Of course, this is largely thanks to the Russian state. It did not forget how, on numerous occasions in its history, at times of national crises, it was able to mobilize its resources to deal with a problem. But we must also mention Russian scientists. Despite all the difficulties that they encountered in recent decades, when the time came, they were able to come up with a way to protect people against the coronavirus. This situation has once again clearly shown that in order to be strong, a state has to achieve advanced scientific and technological development. I think it is this kind of effort, coupled with the modernization of our legal system, that will enable us to make a confident transition to the future.