Is it Really as Bad as the Cold War? What UN Diplomatic Statements Reveal about the US-Russia Rivalry

Disputed issues are central to understanding the dynamics of international rivalry. Scholars typically rely on expert judgement and historical knowledge to identify contentious issues that drive rivalry. However, this makes it difficult to assess issue salience, how issues evolve over time, how they come to be replaced by other disputed issues, and how they influence the emergence and termination of a rivalry. We argue that government statements in the annual UN General Debate provide an important source of data about rivalry and disputed issues, which can address these shortcomings. Using the key dyad of the US-USSR/Russia during 1946--2018, we apply a "fine-resolution'' approach to study rivalry dynamics at the level of UN diplomacy. Based on UN voting behavior, the US-Russia rivalry is effectively over in late 1980s; however, according to diplomatic statements, it was never terminated. A series of Russian foreign policy initiatives including the annexation of the Crimea that largely caught everyone by surprise, was however preceded by a build-up of rhetorical resentment about the loss of its former status and frustration at not having its voice heard, revealed in its statements to the UN General Assembly as early as from mid 1990s. 

We therefore argue that governmental statements in the United Nations — previously underutilized source of data about Soviet and Russian foreign policy — may improve our understanding about the sources of Russian rivalry with the United States. We find that Russia and the US take more extreme positions in the UN General Debate compared to their votes in the UN General Assembly. Our analysis demonstrates that the post-Cold War divergence in texts is not only because the two countries take opposing positions on the same issues, but also because they prioritise different international issues.

About the presenter:

Dr Alexander Baturo, Associate Professor of Government, Dublin City University, is engaged in research addressing global challenges including the study of dictatorships and leadership. His work appeared in the Journal of Politics, Comparative Political Studies, British Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly and Public Choice. His book, Democracy, Dictatorship, and Term Limits, was published by the Michigan University Press in 2014 and he is a co-editor of the Politics of Presidential Term Limits, 2019, Oxford UP. His work has significant societal impact and has been cited, inter alia, in the Washington Post and Tages Anzeiger. In the past, Alexander held visiting fellowships at the University of Leiden, Essex University and the Perry World House of the University of Pennsylvania. He is committed to policy and worked in the past for the Freedom House and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Date & time

Thu 28 Mar 2019, 12–2pm


LJ Hume Centre, Copland Building, ANU


Dr Alexander Baturo


Feodor Snagovsky


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