Russia s Geostrategic Outlook And The Syrian Crisis (St. James s Studies In World Affairs)
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In this groundbreaking study, international relations scholar Hicham Tohme offers a critique of current academic, scholarly, and public understandings of Russia’s geostrategic outlook through the lens of the ongoing Syrian crisis. This critique is based on a reassessment of four key concepts that shape our knowledge of Russia’s foreign policy. First, the Westphalian state system is an inadequate a point of reference when applied to a country that still perceives itself and behaves as an empire. Second, justifying aggressive foreign policy as a counterweight to a perceived deficiency in the legitimacy of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership oversimplifies Russian political culture and public values, which do not overlap with Western norms and institutions. Third, analysis of Russian foreign policy, as well as of Russia’s global role, remains restricted to what can be best described as a “post-Cold War framework,”, a static image of global history for the past thirty years. Finally, most geopolitical and foreign affairs analyses focus on diplomatic and foreign policy rhetoric, rather than foreign policy praxis, as the primary data on which to draw conclusions.
Offering an alternate explanation, this study examines Russia’s intervention in the Syrian crisis to reveal practices that have come to characterize its global strategy and outlook for the past decade. As such, Russian policy in Syria will be presented as part of a praxis that can describe many facets of Russian global disposition. This clearly places geopolitical practices, not rhetoric, at the heart of the analysis.
Further, this book relies on the concept of habitus to explain how these practices inhere in a long tradition of Russian behavior, advancing the notion that they must be understood as part of a historical continuum of Russia’s political culture, mainly when it comes to its perception of its neighbors. By adopting a non-Westphalian framework and escaping the epistemological and methodological foundations of traditional foreign policy analysis, this book seeks to answer two key questions: How can we best describe Russia’s geostrategic predispositions? And how can we understand Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis in light of this analysis?



Publié par
Date de parution 01 mars 2020
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781680539769
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 3 Mo

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Russia s Geostrategic Outlook and the Syrian Crisis
Hicham Tohme
Russia s Geostrategic Outlook and the Syrian Crisis
Hicham Tohme
St. James s Studies in World Affairs
Academica Press Washington - London
Names: Tohme, Hicham, author.
Title: Russia s geostrategic outlook and the Syrian crisis / Hicham Tohme
Description: London ; Washington, DC : Academica Press, 2019.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018059758 ISBN 9781680530643 (hardcover : alk. paper) ISBN 9781680539769 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Russia (Federation)--Foreign relations--Syria. Syria--Foreign relations--Russia (Federation) Syria--History--Civil War, 2011- Geopolitics--Russia (Federation) Syria--Strategic aspects.
Classification: LCC DK68.7.S95 T64 2019 DDC 956.9104/23347-- dc23
LC record available at
Copyright 2019 Hicham Tohme
Table of Contents
CHAPTER I Rearranging the Chessboard
An undisputed hegemon?
Two decades of American hegemony
The 2003 Iraq War, or the United States Pandora s box
Meanwhile in Russia
Russia is concentrating
Georgia and the return of the Russian Bear
The game for the Eastern Mediterranean
CHAPTER II The Four Pillars of Russia s Geostrategy
The politics of intervention and geostrategic interests
The political economy of intervention
The diplomacy of intervention
The military dimension of intervention
The four pillars of Russian wisdom
CHAPTER III Rearranging the Chessboard
CHAPTER IV The Roads Yet To Be Taken
Syria s road to perdition
Russia s road to acceptance
I would first like to thank my wife Nadia for her love, support, and for putting up with the long working hours that went into writing this book. I could not have done it without such a wonderful person in my life.
I am also thankful for the supportive and caring family that I have, especially my mother Samia and my brother Kamal. They stood by me for the past two years, while I was writing this book during some very trying times.
I am also grateful to my publisher, teacher, and friend, Paul du Quenoy, who encouraged me to publish this book. His most enjoyable lessons on Imperial Russia remain engrained in my memory.
On December 11, 2017, Vladimir Putin arrived at the Russian military airbase in Khmeimim to declare Russia and its allies victory in the war against ISIS. Over the previous three years, the Russian military supported Syrian government troops in their largely successful bid to retake most of Syria back from rebel factions and Islamist fundamentalists alike. Only two decades before, Russia was reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union and its presence on the world stage had been reduced to a farce. The last General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the leader of the once mighty Soviet Empire, was advertising Pizza Hut, while the Russian government was begging the rest of the world for food aid to feed its starving population. Chechen separatists were threatening the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Oligarchs and criminal organizations ruled Russia with few limits. From a superpower shaping the face of the globe, Russia had been reduced to a failing state, both internally and internationally.
The following two decades would see a complete metamorphosis of the Russian state. Starting with the internal consolidation of state power, followed by a sharp economic revival supported by a massive energy export sector, and proceeding with a large modernizing program of the Russian military, Russia slowly, but surely, rebuilt its global presence to become, once again, one of the main global geostrategic players.
Indeed, ever since the Russian armed forces intervened in Georgia in 2008, academics and observers alike started asking questions about the reawakening of the Russian Bear. At the time, skepticism, mixed with sarcasm, led most to conclude that Russia s comeback was a fantasy. A decade has passed and Russia has since moved beyond the awkward incursion into their smaller neighbor. At present, Russia is considered one of the main players, if not the main player, in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Still, our knowledge about Russia s geopolitical dispositions and outlook remains hindered by thirty years of academic consensus over the wisdom that Russia was done for on the global scene.
The persistence of this view of the global chessboard can be attributed to the general analytical tendency that pits Russian relations with the rest of the world within a post-Cold War framework. For traditional circles of foreign policy and international relations analysts, the twenty-first century had ushered in the Pax Americana. Most of the world bandwagoned behind the United States, with the exception of a few rogue states. Capitalism and the free market were unchallenged. For all practical purposes, the last man had reached the end of history. As the demise of historical motion implies, the world, along with our views of it, became unchanging. One has to acknowledge, though, that this attitude and vision of international relations was not wholly unfounded; if the history of the 1990s was to be an indicator, the end of the Cold War was indeed the seismic event that brought unparalleled and unchallenged American dominance. The only global superpower had no serious contenders.
This victory of the United States and the West was not only political and economic. Western values were also seen as an intrinsic part of this triumph, as liberalism had shown that it was the superior moral force to govern the new world order. The images of the fall of the Berlin Wall proved that individual freedom and liberty could not be curtailed. Again, a dominant narrative of liberal triumphalism transcended borders, despite the fact that culturalism, cultural authenticity, and cultural relativism were on the rise, especially as foundational components of both postcolonialism and post-modernism. 1 Still, the general consensus was that any state deserving to be part of this new world order needed to follow the pattern of what might be broadly construed as a liberal democracy. Needless to say, Russia never made the full transition and was thus never perceived to have taken its rightful seat on the table of the civilized Western nations.
As a matter of fact, this last point is central to another fundamental fallacy that clouded analysts, academics, and political observers alike, in their perceptions of Russia s geostrategic vision and to its perceived position on the global political map. Our traditional understanding of the modern state imagines it following the dictates of the Westphalian model: a state with established borders and sovereign control over its own territory interacting with similar states. A critical reassessment of the Westphalian model rests on two main arguments. First, the Westphalian system has historically been theoretical in nature. States, most notably the very signatories of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, have only respected the borders and sovereignty of other states when they either could not do otherwise or when they had no interest in doing so. 2 Second, the Westphalian system is, at its core, Eurocentric. It is the product of the vision of a few West European states that agreed on a common definition of statehood and then began requiring that others abide by this same definition; only then would these states be deemed worthy of the title of civilized. 3 Any other type of state was considered to be foreign to the modern world, especially during the twentieth century, with the establishment of the League of Nations and, afterwards, the United Nations. 4 Any state subsequently behaving like an empire and rejecting the concept of fixed boundaries was either shunned as backward (in opposition to the modern West), or was more simply judged as an abhorrent nation-state; Russia was the latter, always treated as a nationstate, always behaving as an empire.
The aim of this book is to address these shortcomings and delineate what might be best described as Russian geostrategic predispositions. Geostrategic predispositions may be defined as a set of enduring tendencies and practices that come to delineate the basis of particular forms of behavior on the global political map, and that hope to achieve a positive outcome for the actor involved, in this case, Russia. I will rely on the concept of habitus , as developed by Pierre Bourdieu in Le Sens Pratique. Habitus is the sum of past social and individual experiences embedded in schemes of perception, thoughts, and actions of the individual. 5 The past becomes a repertoire of possibilities that the social agent gets to choose from, consciously or unconsciously, based on their respective situation, as well as the position they occupy in the social field.
While there have been calls to incorporate Bourdieu s thought into the discipline of international relations, the concept of habitus itself has not been closely examined as a possible venue for doing so. 6 This book suggests combining habitus with some of the tenets of realist theory (mainly the rationality of the state as an actor on the international scene), and thinking of the state as the social actor and the global political map as the social field. From this perspective, the habitus becomes the generative schemes that arise from collective knowledge and memory to shape the practices of the international realm which, in turn, reshapes the collective schemata of the political entity.
A comparative-historical approach will be used to extrapolate the general tendencies that characterize the p

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