The global (unipolar world) and regional (multipolar Asia and Eurasia) contexts help to explain the attraction of strategic partnerships as instruments of foreign policy for primary and secondary states because they provide a coign of vantage for states as they wait out the results of the long and contingent process of power shift from the West to Asia. These partnerships have emerged due to attempts by secondary powers (China, Russia, and India) on the one hand to shield their countries from the twin concerns of externally-imposed containment or encirclement by the US or by other secondary states and on the other hand to pursue opportunities for selective engagement with all major states in order to achieve domestic economic and security goals. The primary power (US), likewise, has entered into strategic partnerships to protect the American position of preeminence (by preventing the rise of a single Asian hegemon) and, failing that, to minimize the possible adverse impact of declining global inﬂuence. Strategic partnerships represent unique diplomatic instruments that allow
states to pursue multidimensional bilateral, regional, and global issue agendas and diverse domestic goals without compromising freedom of action. Such partnerships, in allowing both parties to maintain at least the ﬁction of equality generally absent in alliances, make them easier to sell at home and help in protecting the country’s image abroad. As Sergei Lavrov noted in a 2009 press conference, “At the base of our foreign policy line lay a clear understanding of national interests, multiplied by common sense and a readiness for equal cooperation with international partners” (2009b).1 These partnerships diﬀer markedly from normal diplomatic exchanges because of the sustained and regularized interactions underpinned by multiple webs of institutionalization at the intergovernmental level that they encompass. While the partnerships forged between dyads of secondary powers do not represent an immediate and direct challenge to the potency of American power and inﬂuence, they may, in the long run, weaken the foundations upon which American inﬂuence in Asia and Eurasia rests. Realist, liberal, and constructivist expectations for the future trajectory of
these dyadic relationships can all be accommodated under the conceptual
introduced into the explanatory scheme, mainly because the partnerships embody competitive and cooperative elements and have been embraced by states precisely because they allow a degree of ﬂexibility during a long period of uncertainty regarding the emerging power distribution globally and regionally. Constructivist understandings, as Thomas Berger has pointed out, allow for progressive or illiberal consequences depending on the ways in which actor identity and interests are constructed (Berger 2003: 390). The protean quality of these partnerships has allowed scholars variously to characterize them as alliances (Donaldson and Donaldson 2003); concerts-in-the-making (Kerr 2005); hollow balancing (Wohlforth 1999); and soft balancing (Pape 2005). In reviewing the origins of strategic partnerships, Sean Kay traced the idea
for such partnerships to Soviet leaders who promoted the utility of this diplomatic instrument during US-Soviet bilateral discussions in 1990 on the management of post-Cold War European security (2000: 15). Kay argued that strategic partnerships ﬁt oﬀensive and defensive realist interpretations because they could be “understood as a tool used by a powerful state, or states, to maximize political, economic, and military dominance in the international system” as well as to “reﬂect the balancing behavior of states” (2000: 16). While this assertion is doubtless true because the short-term impact of the competitive aspects of strategic partnerships is consistent with realist expectations, the long-term implications, which have to factor evolving domestic and regional dynamics into calculations of possible Asian and Eurasian futures, are consistent with the emergence of futures anticipated not just by realists alone, but also by liberals, and optimistically but perhaps least probably, by solidarists. Within the clearer outlines of emerging competitive Asian/Eurasian sce-
narios lie the more inchoate beginnings of cooperative economic and security orders. The path-dependent nature of such orders means that whether they crystallize or disintegrate hinges upon a favorable or unfavorable concatenation of developments at the domestic, regional, and global levels. But as long as ideas of nationalism, status, and tight understandings of sovereignty underlie the national self-images of dominant Asian and Eurasian states, the fashioning of liberal multilateral economic orders and pluralistic security communities is unlikely.