No matter what the talk about today’s hierarchy of power is – the GDP rankings, the global power rankings based on various indicators, etc. – nobody can deny an overwhelming fact for the international system of states in the nuclear age: the U.S. and Russia are the biggest nuclear powers of the planet. Meaning, the decision of one of them – regardless of reasons – to use the nuclear weapon would trigger a series of events that could bring about the end of human civilisation. Thus, in the last analysis, both states are the most important states of the planet, and their leaders are the most influential – read: having the largest weight from a systemic standpoint – decisionmakers of the world. Therefore, the meeting in Helsinki between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, on July 16, is the most important summit of the year, and from a historical standpoint it can turn out to be a summit of most note for the future of the global system of states.
Firstly, two preliminary mentions. First, why Helsinki (which explains our title too)? Here we must engage in a brief historical review. At the end of the 1970s, the international system of states had entered a crisis that seemed extremely dangerous. Not only had the great nuclear powers – U.S. and Russia (the USSR back then) – clashed bluntly in the Cuban crisis of October 1962, which required a détente to remove the potential suicidal confrontation. But, similarly, both systems – capitalist and communist – had entered a crisis that appeared to be terminal, namely the liberal one under the assault of the challenge of the human rights movement (civil – Martin Luther King, and sexual – an unprecedented revolution in this domain), which extended and is not complete even today; and the communist-socialist one under the public opinion’s pressure calling for the right to opinion and, not least, to elect its own national dynamic within the framework of the system (see Czechoslovakia’s case in 1968, finalised with the military invasion imposed by the Soviet communist Taliban).At the highest level of management of the bipolar era it was deemed that it was time for an agreement that would save the already eroded and contested international system. The solution was the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which started at the end of the 1960s and was finalised through the Helsinki Act, signed on 1 August 1975. This fundamental act established a framework of security and cooperation in the Euroatlantic space still standing today, having been incorporated in the OSCE Charter, based on a main “decalogue” of systemic behaviour that would ensure interstate security and cooperation. Hence, the summits in Helsinki have the notoriety of “starting an era” through negotiations.
Secondly, Helsinki is traditionally selected as venue of such mega-meetings because it is the capital of a neutral state, non-affiliated to the political-military blocs (even though some dispute Finland has this status today, given its membership of the European Union, which is gaining, ever more, the character of such an alliance of states). Let us also add that Finland’s vicinity to Russia, whose constituent part it was for more than 100 years as a ducat (until the Russian revolution of 1917) – the dossier of the Russian-Finnish relationship being later burdened by periods of hostility and war, but within admissible systemic limits –, historically projects the significance of the will for political compromise on the part of the participants to such summits of high significance (on the part of Russia, first of all). Compromise in what concerns the distribution of power at international level and the ways to implement it.
What is the significance and the result of the recent Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki? Here the things that the Russian President pointed out at the start of the joint press conference must be quoted in extenso. Outlining the joint responsibility for the historical destiny of their own states, but also the massive systemic challenges of today, V. Putin said: “The Cold War is a thing of past. The era of acute ideological confrontation of the two countries is a thing of the remote past — it’s a vestige of the past. The situation of the world changed dramatically. Today both Russia and the United States face a whole new set of challenges. Those include a dangerous maladjustment of mechanisms for maintaining international security and stability, regional crises, the creeping threat of terrorism and transnational crime. It’s the snowballing problems in the economy, environmental risks and other sets of challenges. We can only cope with these challenges if we join the ranks and work together. Hopefully, we will reach this understanding with our American partners.” It is implicitly demonstrated that there is no other way in today’s world but the agreement reached by the two biggest nuclear powers.The detailed agenda of the negotiations that lasted more than two hours between the two leaders was announced by Donald Trump, at the same press conference. Pointing out that “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that,” the American President listed the things discussed, mainly: “the issue of Russian interference in our elections,” “nuclear proliferation,” the threat “of radical Islamic terrorism,” persuading “Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions,” “the crisis in Syria.” The Russian President’s intervention rounded off the wide spectrum tackled during the summit: disarmament and technical-military cooperation with special reference to extending the START agreement (April 2010), to the U.S. global missile defence system and the observance of INF-1987; cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in the cybersecurity domain; banning the weaponization of space; separating the armed forces of Israel and Syria in southern Syria; the internal crisis in Ukraine; cooperation in the cultural and humanitarian fields. An interesting conclusion was the creation of a bilateral council of experts (political analysts, diplomats, military experts, etc.) capable of proposing ways of optimising mutual relations.
As can be easily noticed, the agenda of the meeting was particularly ample, global dossiers of remarkable significance for the future of the international system of states being tackled. Fears that the summit could result in “a new Yalta,” reference to the systemic tradition of dividing the spheres of global influence have yet to disappear fully (especially in Europe), since we do not know the details of the negotiations. In fact, from this standpoint, it is worth pointing out that the summit in Helsinki took place in a tense atmosphere.
The recent remarks of President Trump, referring to the European Union as a “foe” of the U.S., or his statements about NATO and the allied states’ duty to finance their security, but also the “advices” given to the British Government during his visit in London (UK suing the EU over Brexit) have outlined in Europe the fear that the transatlantic relationship is basically compromised. Official statements the likes of “we can no longer rely on the alliance with the White House” (German Foreign Minister) were not absent in Europe, Europe’s attempt to gain enhanced geopolitical freedom of action being also noted (these days the EU-China Summit took place in Beijing, European Council President D. Tusk tweeting the following on July 16: “Europe and China, America and Russia, today in Beijing and in Helsinki, are jointly responsible for improving the world order, not for destroying it. I hope this message reaches Helsinki.”)
International public opinion has followed with great interest the summit in Helsinki. It was able to note that President Trump’s actions are vehemently disputed in the U.S. – just days before, America pressed official charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers, over interference in the U.S. presidential elections –, the two presidents’ joint press conference in Helsinki being to a good extent occupied by the insistence with which the representatives of American media tackled this topic of illegal ties between Trump and Russia. It seems Trump’s explanations regarding this topic, but also Putin’s, have not put an end to such allegations, so a sensitive question appears regarding Helsinki-2018: did the American-Russian Summit take place too soon? And, right next to it, another one: will the agreements that the two Presidents have reached on this occasion stand regardless of what they are?