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New multi-vectoral format

Recently, much emphasis in various sources including foreign has been given to the multi-vectoral approach of the Belarusian foreign policy. No wonder that this narrative was separately expressed in the Head of State's address at the opening of the 6 All-Belarusian People's Assembly: "We are always ready to build relations with all countries and alliances based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in our internal affairs. Just as interested in having balanced and diverse ties with the outside world. First of all, economic. That's the point of our multi-vectoral concept".

Multi-vectoral foreign policy: cultural, historical and civilizational aspects

A multi-vectoral foreign policy has been implemented since a presidential form of government. In political science, this empirical term, as a rule, implies an independent foreign policy, the distinctive feature of which is to maintain balanced relations with key centers of power and the main regional players. Although science has not yet provided with a clear and unambiguous definition of the multi-vectoral focus, discussions are continuing.

In this context, analogy may be drawn with vector theory in geometry, where a vector is a directed segment that has a numerical value (length) and a certain direction. Based on this logic, a multi-vectoral approach can be visualized as a set of vectors of different lengths and directions.

For most post-Soviet republics, in the 1990s (and Belarus was not an exception) the choice of such foreign policy model was almost the only means and option for development. Due to objective factors, the key players after the collapse of the USSR could not offer an adequate program of true partnership relations in the fields of economy, politics and security.

The reason and logic of such policy is a civilizational factor that determines the need to develop mutually beneficial ties on the main vectors of the global geopolitical process – East and West, North and South.

The multi-vectoral tendency of the Belarusian society is reflected in the national art, history, and philosophy. For example, the national anthem of Belarus has such lines: "The friendship of peoples - the strength of peoples - is our cherished, sunny path".

This orientation is supported by sociological data. Based on a survey conducted conducted in November – December 2020 by the Social and Humanitarian Research Centre of the Belarus State Economic University, half of the country's residents (52%) believe the development of relations between Belarus and Europe can bring people together. On the other hand, polls conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus in October-November 2020 show that the majority (61%) are positive about creation of a Union State of Belarus and Russia.

Therefore, Belarusians have no rejection of other cultural and value systems: "the Belarusian identity can be represented as a cozy "home" or a family – hospitable, well-wishing and open to friends". The nation is equally positive about both East Slavic and Western European peoples. This situation is one of the main features of the Belarusian mentality and identity and, indeed, builds the national authentic multi-vectoral foundation.

In a certain sense, this category can be considered as part of the national genetic and cultural code and one of the basic value orientations of Belarusians.

Multi-vectoral focus as a national security factor

Even almost 30 years after the collapse of the USSR, this approach in foreign policy is still widely available around the world, including in the post-Soviet space. Any state is constantly and at different levels balancing with external partners. In this sense, all sovereign states are multi-vectoral.

For example, the Kazakhstan's Foreign Policy Concept for 2020-2030, prescribes multi-vectoral focus along with balance, pragmatism, proactivity, mutual benefit and firm defense of national interests. Russia, though having excluded this concept from its updated Foreign Policy Concept in 2016, has been interacting with all world players based on real politics principles, where their interests are close, coincide or converge.

The principle of "pragmatism" and the strategy of balance are the basis of the foreign policy of Hungary, Slovakia, and Serbia. ASEAN states which are firmly bound with China in economy, and many are close to the United States in the military and political sphere, are trying to keep such balance and avoid an unambiguous choice of one of the parties in a potential bipolar confrontation.

Small and medium-sized countries are characterized by the principle of combining economic proximity with defense balancing in an effort to protect their sovereignty through reliance on other centers of power located beyond the integration core.

The Belarusian National Security Concept calls "effective multilateral and multi-vectoral diplomacy" one of the main national priorities in the political field defining it as a means of protection against external threats. At the same time, in the military and political sphere of Belarus, the vector of long-term strategic alliance with Russia has been and remains unambiguous and inviolable.

Therefore, this approach is a logical and natural consequence of the political geography of an average independent state and its reflection as a subject of international relations on the challenges of the collapsing architecture of international security.

This approach is not ideal but it seems to be optimal for Belarus at this historical stage, since it gives more advantages than costs. The multi-vectoral idea contributed to strengthening of sovereignty, the entry of Belarus into the matrix of international ties as a full subject of rights.

Thus, the multi-vectoral focus in the foreign policy of modern states not having sufficient resource potential is a kind of "immunity" to the influence of heterogeneous and multidirectional external factors.

Multi-vectoral focus – an economic category and basis for average state viability. Multi-vectoral focus became a driver of survival and sustainable development during and after the global economic crisis of 2008.

Today, it is an anti-crisis balancer in the conditions of global turbulence and uncertainty amid pandemic, the confrontation of world centers of power, when markets are closed, there is a struggle for technological superiority, there is a shift of political and economic activity from West to East.

In these realities, the resilient development of a state is best ensured by integration into the global economic space, including the implementation of a diversified foreign economic course, expansion of the commodity nomenclature and export geography, imports of raw materials and energy resources from various sources.

The approach in question is consonant with the "three points of support" principle followed in business: whatever you do, you need at least three bases for a stable equilibrium. This is especially critical to effectively promote and protect national interests in a dynamically changing global space.

At the same time, this concept does not mean equidistance from the main centers of power, but has an established hierarchy of priorities: strategic allied relations with the Russian Federation, comprehensive strategic partnership with the PRC, participation in the EEU and CSTO, constructive contacts with the CIS member states and the desire for mutually beneficial relations with other countries of the world.

However, despite obvious advantages and political neutrality of the approach, regional hegemons tend to perceive the multi-vectoral foreign policy of the post-Soviet countries as an attempt to "sit on two chairs", which has an exclusively geopolitical, and therefore negative, connotation.

Specifically for Belarus, in fact, we are dealing with a purposeful, well-planned and coordinated network information and psychological campaign. The tactic is simple – we face stigma followed by a substitution of concepts, goal-setting and logical links.

We have to take on the burden of a biased shilled approach, politicization and, as a result, discrediting such approach in mass media (as a rule, in anonymous Telegram channels). At the same time, Belarus is maltreated for the term itself, artificially escalating negativity around it in an effort to make us justify and thereby recognize the fallacy of the sovereign policy. There are no complaints about the policy itself – it is still remaining invariant.

In part the multi-vectoral approach is increasingly criticised due to theoretical and practical incompleteness of the concept itself.

Multi-vectoral focus as a natural inevitability

It is obvious that after August 2020, the opportunities for Belarus to implement such policy are partially limited, although its potential still persist. To ensure the country's interests and demands of our export-oriented economy, it is vital to develop relations with the EU and USA, states that largely determine the global balance of power. However, putting the question this way makes sense and is possible only if partners have the political will and reciprocal movement.

The political crisis has only increased the demand for a multi-vectoral foreign policy, which is the only doctrinal approach whereby Belarus retains its subjectivity in the turbulent regional and global agenda. Therefore, we can agree with those experts who do not yet see objective reasons why rejection of multi-vectoral approach would meet the national interests of Belarus.

First, the more options there are to implement national interests, the wider the state's space for foreign policy maneuver. This is especially relevant for Belarus which is squeezed between geopolitical centers, in the zone of "layering" of civilizational and geopolitical platforms, intersection of trade routes and contact of conflicting interests of world players. Second, there are no structural prerequisites reject the multi-vectoral approach, since transformation of the international relations system is an ideal environment for such positioning of medium-sized states, expanding their opportunities for realizing their subjectivity.

Third, in a country where neither individual foreign policy benchmark has an overwhelming majority of supporters, a swing in foreign policy under current conditions threatens with socio-political separation. Multi-vectoral focus reconciles society and holds it together from the inside due to the consensual balancing of geographical preferences.

Fourth, the cultural and humanitarian cooperation of Belarus with the East and the West is an integral priority and the country's need for the development of trust and good-neighborly relations, a qualitative basis for constructive changes in interstate interaction.

New realities – new pragmatic interpretation

The world is changing dynamically. The epicenter of global political and economic life is shifting deeper into the Asian region. In global geopolitics and geo-economics the role of the Moscow-Beijing-New Delhi triangle is increasing. The emerging geopolitical axis Turkey-Iran-Pakistan shows its ambitions.

The attempts of our American and European partners to fit Belarus into the context of their confrontation with Moscow and Beijing move the prospect of normalizing bilateral relations with the collective West into a turbulence area.

Perhaps, under current international situation, there is an urgent need for a certain "re-branding" of the "multi-vector" term itself. Greater priority should be given to public discourse, for example, about geographical diversification (balancing) of foreign economic interests. It is worth pointing out that diversification is the expansion of business through searching for new markets, one of the ways to keep stability under changing (crisis) conditions, and can be considered as a derivative of multi-vectoral approach.

In this connection, it is appropriate to recall the concept of modern multipolarity with an emphasis on "equal and fair access of all nations to infrastructure, resources and markets", once proposed by the first Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

A fresh look at the post-pandemic version of multi-vectoral focus can be brought by the upward trend to build powerful macro-regions around regional powers, creating the basis for a new multipolarity. This economic regionalization in the global system of labor division implies not the formalizing of political blocks but the geographical concentration of critical industries, not always coinciding with the borders of regional integration associations.

It would be possible to weave the idea of Eurasianship into the updated interpretation of multi-vectoral focus. Such an approach would best fit to ensure balance in international relations and correlate with the basic provisions of the Strategic Directions for the Development of the Eurasian Economic Integration until 2025.

At the same time, it is important to understand that simultaneous multidimensional and multi-level relations with key centers of power and regional players will require flexible maneuvering, especially in the light of increasing global competition between them (sometimes on the verge of hostility), which will require resources and competencies. Therefore, it is critically important to pragmatically set external priorities and focus the main efforts of the state on them. In this regard, the statement of the Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei at the 6th All-Belarusian People's Assembly on preparing a new Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Republic of Belarus seems relevant.

It is possible therefore that the multi-vectoral focus will be further consolidated as a basic principle of the Belarusian foreign policy in updated concepts of the foreign policy and national security of our country.

Belaruskaya Dumka (No. 7, July 2021)

Yuri Yarmolinsky