Kennan’s Warning on Ukraine
Ambition, Insecurity, and the Perils of Independence
ANYONE attempting to pronounce on the present international relations of the states and peoples of Europe will have first of all to answer one question: how have things developed in the last four years in that part of the European continent where, as the consequence of the war and the peace treaties, political and constitutional connections, many of them centuries old, have been abolished and replaced by entirely new and independent organizations? This is particularly the case in respect to the great territories of the former empire of the Tsar of all the Russias, which no longer exists as such. The same must be said of the dominions of the Ottoman Sultan. And, thirdly, it is true of that whole great mass of countries and peoples which formerly were the domain of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
The political and economic effects produced by the World War, and later formally made permanent by the peace treaties, have been deeply felt throughout the five continents; but certainly these effects have nowhere penetrated as deeply into the whole fabric of national life as in the former Tsarist empire and in those parts of Central Europe and of the Near East where a historical period of many centuries has found its end.
To describe these effects in Russia or Austria-Hungary would be a vast undertaking of which only a very small part can be attempted in the following survey, and this in a necessarily general and cursory way. What I especially wish to point out is how profoundly all the provinces and peoples of former Austria-Hungary have been influenced by the destruction of that ancient empire.
I will take as a starting point an idea which had ripened among the western belligerent nations about 1917, the idea of a so-called "integral peace" which should make possible a total and thorough reorganization of Central and Southeastern Europe, following the destruction of the Dual Monarchy. The "integral peace," which in the case of Russia was much less the outcome of the peace treaties than of revolutionary dissolution, has become a phenomenon of political dismemberment. This is notably true in the case of the former Austro-Hungarian empire.
When I speak of the destructive character of the peace work, I mean to emphasize its dissolution of many old political creations on which had rested the life and prosperity of long generations of the nations concerned. It has dissolved old local, economic and political associations into their elements, and has elevated these last into independent units. And this process of dissolution and dismemberment was mainly accomplished by the peace treaties. They took as the foundation for their work the great principle of national--or rather racial--self-determination, which they also found useful as a basis in forming into larger units certain new associations of these different national entities.
The whole method by which the principle of self-determination was put into effect in the peace treaties--though in individual cases the opposite principle has been made part of the new organic law of Europe--represents, as it were, a sort of framework on which one may hang the political ideas which have been dominant since the collapse of the central states and the internal destruction of Russia by the Bolshevik revolution. It is first necessary for anyone wishing to judge fairly of the importance of the results of the war and the peace treaties, to make up his mind how far these results possess the character of a creative act in the highest sense of the word--of an act by which the future prosperous development of Europe, both in regard to culture and lasting peace, has been guaranteed or at least made probable. For the destruction of such important political units as the ancient empires of Russia and Austria-Hungary (leaving Turkey out of account) cannot possibly be considered progress in itself. The bare fact of the dissolution of great empires offers no particular grounds for a strong hope of lasting peace in the world or for a general improvement in human civilization.
It would doubtless be a mistake, from the point of view of the biologist as well as from that of the statesman, to assume the right of all greater organic bodies to exist as opposed to the right of smaller ones, or to a group of the latter. For nature does not act like this. Nature quietly destroys those organic bodies which from our point of view are the very highest organisms, namely individual human bodies, which become the victims of the smallest organisms, as for example bacilli. But while this goes on continually, it is only as part of the universal process of organic life by which the highest organisms, namely human bodies, are also continually reproduced. We shall therefore be inclined to consider those fundamental creative forms of the political life of nations, which always produce new, larger, nay sometimes formidable, political organisms; and further we shall be disposed to recognize that the working of this integrating force of national life in the world represents one of the great forces for human progress because it means an increased cooperation between different races or nations, and as such it means, in turn, a strong stimulus to the development of mankind. We can say equally that political, military and economic forces which possess only a tendency to disintegration cannot be considered a priori as contributing to progress from the point of view of the development of universal culture. They certainly cannot be so considered unless the circumstances which brought about the destruction of earlier political associations point the way to a new epoch of consolidation of nations into greater and more hopeful organic units, except in cases where the destroyed political entities have been such that their mere destruction must in itself be recognized as marking progress for humanity.
In the case of the former empire of Russia--where a despotic government, apparently unable to reform itself but representing one single nation and one religious denomination, both personified in the Tsar, oppressed in the name of the helpless mass of the Russian nation millions of other nationality--the question suggested above would probably be answered in the affirmative. Nevertheless, even here it might be asked whether the complete dissolution could not have been brought about in a more productive way. Might it not have been better, even for the so-called "liberated peoples" themselves, if dissolution had not come about as the exclusive result of the theory of self-determination, without regard for the old economic facts, which, like the militarist and political tendencies of the conquering Tsars, had played such a part in the creation of the vast Russian world? But this question need only be formulated here, not analyzed or answered.
My task is limited to Austria-Hungary. The question is: should the complete destruction of the association of nations called the Dual Monarchy, governed by the House of Hapsburg--a destruction permanently ratified by the peace treaties--be considered as an act unavoidable in itself and favorable to the interests of European progress as a whole?
Or would it not have been advisable, before dissolving all bonds which had held together these nations for so long a time, to pay some attention to the historical forces of a political and economic nature which had created the ancient monarchy and had maintained it through four hundred years? For these forces must be taken into account as well as the family policy of the dynasty which directed them.
And, finally, are there not now already, four years after the downfall of the monarchy, visible indications that it would have been a task worthy of great statesmen to have met the dissolution of the monarchy by a careful and far-seeing policy, one tending to create at least a new economic alliance of the sovereign, independent states formed by the peace treaty?
The first of the above questions was raised in the beginning of the war primarily by those statesmen of the Entente who from the first day had in view the destruction of Austria-Hungary as an empire because it appeared the strongest support of Germany's hegemony in Central Europe. Later on, the great personality of Thomas G. Masaryk and his ideas and advice became of the utmost importance in those small but very influential circles of English and French politicians who before the war had already been familiar with the problems of the internal life of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and who had supported leaders of the Slavic parties in Austria and of the Rumanian and Jugoslav parties in Hungary.
As the war was nearing its end, the Austro-Hungarian problem, according to these men and to the practically unanimous public opinion of the western nations, was to receive a solution based largely on the authority of Masaryk, who in a masterly memoir written and confidentially printed in the year 1918, entitled "The New Europe--the Slav Standpoint," laid down the essentials of the whole problem and his own propositions as to the right way to deal with it. This memoir, containing the arguments on which Masaryk built up his propositions and elaborating at the same time a systematic political philosophy which foreshadowed the New Europe to be created by the expected peace, will remain one of the most important documents for any future historian trying to understand the inner intellectual forces which partly caused the war and partly determined its special character. A study of this historical document will furnish the best explanation of the nature of the final solutions of the problems of the peace and especially of those which tried to reconstruct Central and Eastern Europe.
Masaryk, and his friends in Paris and Rome and London, gave a flatly negative answer to the question whether henceforward any existence of an Austro-Hungarian empire was possible. Indeed, the dissolution of the empire kept step with the final events of the war. At the end of October, 1918, Count Stephen Tizsa himself, in the last speech which he delivered in the Hungarian Parliament, proclaimed the final and complete independence of Hungary, severing every bond which since 1867 had united it with Austria. The dissolution of Austria, or "Cisleithania," had begun, as far as Galicia was concerned, when in the midst of the war the governments of the Central Powers had taken under consideration the creation of a new, reconstructed kingdom of Poland, to be united either with Germany or with the Hapsburg monarchy. Moreover, in the famous manifesto of October 13, 1918, in which Emperor Charles called upon all the nations of Austria to organize themselves in their provinces on the basis of national or racial self-determination, the approaching dissolution was, so to speak, legalized, even though the last emperor still maintained the principle of the indissoluble union of the nations now to be organized on the new basis. Looked at from this point of view, what the Czechs, the Croats, the Slovenes and the Italians did in the following weeks in proclaiming their political independence and sovereignty and refusing to be united with what remained of the old Austrian state, was nothing more than to repudiate the last imperial reservation of a common bond between them.
It is easy to comprehend why Czechs and Jugoslavs, whose legions had fought bitterly in so many parts of the world against their own emperor, should not at the moment of the downfall of his empire have contemplated any future community with the Austrian Germans and the Magyars. But it is permissible to ask whether the western statesmen, who now saw before them the great task of creating a better and more peaceful Europe, should not have realized the far-reaching consequences which the complete and final dismemberment of the old unit of Austria-Hungary needs must have for all the nations comprised in it.
In this connection it is of the highest interest to note what Thomas G. Masaryk, the spiritual leader of practically all the Slav movements against Austria-Hungary, and himself the father and founder of the new independent state of the Czechs and Slovaks, thought at this time about the necessary groundwork for a new and peaceful society of European nations. In his memoir the great thinker and statesman had carefully drawn the outline of the new world of states formed on the basis of racial units. But while Masaryk claimed for the new independent Czechoslovakia the maintenance of the frontiers of the ancient kingdom of Bohemia and Moravia and Silesia (the last named insofar as it had been in Austria), thereby denying the right of national self-determination to the compact millions of Germans inhabitating large portions of these provinces, he expressly reserved to the Germans of Austria proper--that is, of the seven Austrian provinces and of its capital, Vienna--their right to join Germany, to which they had always belonged in one form or another until 1866. Unhappily, this view of the problem did not prevail with the Peace Conference in Paris. The Allied statesmen preferred to increase the number of small sovereign states of Europe by creating a republic of Austria, wedged in between Czechoslovakia, Italy, Hungary and Jugoslavia, and at the same time they vetoed solemnly in the peace treaties the reunion of this, almost the oldest of the constituent parts of the German race, with Germany itself. By such action a chance to make a step forward in the direction of the racial consolidation of Europe in the political sense was deliberately sacrificed. The victorious powers, headed by France, were afraid of any increase in the territory and manpower of the future Germany, and that after having severed millions of Germans from their racial majorities. Only in regard to the three hundred thousand Germans of Western Hungary was the Peace Conference disposed to apply the principle of racial self-determination in favor of the political concentration of the German race, by uniting them with the new republic of Austria.
But apart from the separate territorial measures prescribed by the peace treaties, it is one of their outstanding features that they utterly failed to do any constructive work of a higher kind--that is, that they abandoned once for all the idea of replacing the large free-trade area of pre-war Austria-Hungary by some other kind of confederation or permanent economic association between the new political units. Of course, the political leaders of the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Jugoslavs and Rumanians were from the outset fiercely opposed to the smallest hint of such an association or federation, for they saw in any suggestion of that kind an attempt to reconstruct the old monarchy which they had helped to destroy. Their opposition was sufficient to prevent any serious consideration of such a plan by the statesmen and public opinion of the western powers, and no opportunity has ever been given for an open discussion of the advantages of a more far-seeing, constructive policy in respect to the Near East, looking at the problem from the point of view of general European economic interests.
The principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, that "antiquated and insincere diplomatic rule," as Masaryk says in his memoir, has been rigorously applied by France, Great Britain, the United States and Italy toward the new states, which could never have been born without their help and assent. Indeed, this part of the reconstruction of Europe has become in a certain sense the work of "old-fashioned diplomacy." On the other hand, any of the leading western statesmen might easily have grasped that the mere dissolution of a big, strong--though in many parts antiquated and vicious--body such as was old Austria-Hungary, would not be a constructive achievement of European statecraft. Here were fifty million people, differing in race and language but during four hundred years united politically under a dynastic central government, which since the beginning of modern economic life, in fact since the second half of the eighteenth century, had step by step been transformed into a cumbrous but, for its time, very efficient administrative machine, accompanied since the middle of the nineteenth century by a complex system of parliamentary representation and local self-government. In this way there had been created a broad area of internal free-trade, peace and order, protected in its economic life by a common tariff. In the case of the Austrian half of the area thirty million people had lived for centuries under the same civil, penal, and commercial codes of law and the same laws of taxation, and had enjoyed the same groundwork of educational institutions; there, in spite of the modern racial struggles for supremacy between Czechs and Germans, Slovenes and Germans, Croats and Italians, Germans and Italians, a vigorous and flourishing economic and cultural life had been built up in common. In spite of the parliamentary and political fights carried on since 1848 against the hegemony of the German element and against its language as the idiom of the central government, the languages of all non-German races--their journalism, science and literature--were continually being used and continually gaining ascendency. Notwithstanding the manifold bitter animosities between the different nationalities, which increased after the Austrian-Germans had come (in 1890) under the influence of that sort of German nationalism which became ripe in the Germany of William II, there were thousands of common habits, interests and ways of life, also thousands of cases of international or inter-racial family ties, which had impressed on Austrian society a character of its own and knitted all these nations together. The increasing volume and intensity of modern industrial work, the growth of a technically well developed manufacturing industry in most parts of the Bohemian provinces as well as in German-Austria and on the seacoast, the creation of a well devised system of railways, demonstrated to all the nationalities the incomparable importance for them of being parts of a wide economic area and of being privileged partners in the huge inner market represented by the empire. The economic and fiscal union of Austria with Hungary no doubt was maintained against the will and incessant opposition of a small but influential part of the ruling classes of the Magyars; nevertheless it was maintained, and it gave to the industry and trade of Austria as well as to Hungarian agriculture the best chances of prosperity and economic balance.
It might seem useless to speak now of what has gone--gone, it appears, forever--and of what should have been thought about and done in bygone days. But still it seems worth-while to survey from this point of view the actual development of the new successor states and to examine how far the first years of their sovereign existence has justified, from the standpoint of universal European welfare and progress, the great hopes entertained for them in Western Europe at the time of the peace treaties.
I do not think it is necessary to enlarge here on the question of whether the change of 1918-19 has benefited the new sovereign republic of Austria. Everybody in the world now knows that the creation of this isolated, helpless commonwealth has not only precipitated the political and economic ruin of its 6,600,000 inhabitants, but that it has also inflicted deep injury on the general political and economic interests of Europe. The problem of the existence of little Austria, and in particular of Vienna, is everywhere recognized as the unavoidable consequence of a policy which, based exclusively on a fear of Pan-Germanism, was not able to foresee the impossibility of the existence of a state deprived suddenly of all the old relations and resources which had made it the center of a great economic and trading community of fifty millions. New republican Austria, starved and almost decomposed socially and economically during the last stages of the war, is left to herself to become an object of charity for foreign nations like America. Its industry, deprived of raw material and fuel, has lost its markets, and at the same time more than fifty per cent of the necessary foodstuffs have had to be imported and paid for in a currency which has unavoidably sunk from month to month until it is at present a mere cipher.
Undoubtedly Czechoslovakia has been from the beginning, and still is, the strongest and most promising of the new states of Central Europe and the Near East, but in spite of an admirably planned and strictly enforced financial policy, which has restored to a considerable extent the value of the currency, the political difficulties arising in Czechoslovakia from the fact that the political "nation" is made up of five nationalities have been much less acute than the economic ones. Czechoslovakia possesses from of old a very efficient mining and manufacturing industry, having, indeed, been the industrial focus of the Austrian empire. But soon after the armistice she found herself in a prolonged and intense crisis of industrial production, being hindered from competing successfully in foreign markets by the steady rise in the value of her money, while at the same time a strong Socialist current of opinion raised the cost of production by short hours of labor and high wages and so led to the same result. In consequence, the country, although inhabited by two equally industrious, sober and highly gifted races, the Czechs and the Germans, is suffering from the unemployment of large numbers of its workmen, so that the full industrial and commercial activity of the whole community is impaired.
Jugoslavia, a union of purely agricultural countries without modern industry, without even a sufficient class of skilled artisans, has not from the beginning of its new political life possessed enough capital to develop modern manufacturing industries, and by closing its frontiers to the commerce of its neighbors, whom it regarded as enemies, it has seen its currency sink in value from year to year. It has also gone on the utterly wrong road of rigid centralization in favor of the pure Serbian element, thereby discontenting the Croatian and Slovenian elements who had hoped for a federative state. Its special need seems to be a rapid increase of economic activity in order to produce an amalgamation of the different components of the Jugoslav race, separated from each other through centuries by religion and political frontiers.
Hungary, deprived of all her industrial centers except that of Budapest, stripped of her mines, forests and coal pits, separated from her neighbors by the bitterest kind of hostility and by the feeling that at least two million Magyars have been put under the rule of other races which they have always considered as less highly civilized--Hungary, witnessing the destruction of all she had possessed of international sea-borne trade, is not able to recover and to disarm either morally or materially and thus forms a block in the way of all endeavors for reconciliation in Eastern Europe.
It would transgress the limits of this article to enter into the details of the economic situation of Rumania. As a general statement one can say it is far from satisfactory.
The states dealt with above have initiated and continued an egotistical economic policy; that is, they have done everything in their power to hinder international trade and traffic. They have developed a more or less new system of narrow-minded mercantilism so that they see in the possible profit of the foreigner the certain loss of their own. Czechoslovakia alone has shown in the last two years a better understanding of her Austrian neighbor's economic situation and therefore has not hesitated to mitigate her own protective system and to support Austria in her financial plight by special loans.
Wherever he looks in Central or Eastern Europe no unbiassed observer can fail to recognize the tremendous damage inflicted upon all these nations and upon Europe at large by a policy founded on the bare fact of the destruction of an old and well-tried economic unit without anyone attempting to take into account the interest which each had in maintaining a friendly association with the others.
If now the question is raised whether public opinion in these countries has become ripe enough to take up a policy of solid reconciliation and of mutual help, it is very difficult to give a comprehensive and definite answer. No doubt in Prague and Vienna, in Budapest and in Zagreb, many well understand that the economical life of their new state is far from satisfactory or promising, and many also understand that a stable system of mutual free trade would benefit all alike. Unmistakable symptoms in the last four years have shown that responsible statesmen in all the successor states appreciate more and more the great injury which has been done to their chances of prosperity by a nationalist, economic and fiscal policy which hampers international trade and hinders traffic with their neighbors. But in the political parties of all the nations concerned nationalist sentiment, roused to its climax by the war and the bitter animosities against German-Austria and Magyar-Hungary and reciprocated in like fashion, still prevail over the requirements of sound financial, economic and general international policy. The aversion of all of them and of their leaders to anything like a "Danubian Federation" is as strong as it was at the time of the peace treaties. On the other hand, it is a fact of importance to be noted here that the statesman of Central Europe who has shown himself beyond question the ablest of the leaders of foreign policy of the new European states, Mr. Benes, at present Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia, has indefatigably pursued a truly constructive policy which strives to strengthen the feeling for cooperation and for mutual friendship between the nations and governments of Czechoslovakia, Austria and Jugoslavia, and equally of reconciliation with Poland and Hungary. His policy acknowledges the necessity of a European policy for all the smaller nations as well as for the great powers, and really tries to draw the necessary conclusions.
Dr. Benes's persistent efforts in this sense are doubtless one of the most conspicuous and important factors in the present political situation of Central and Eastern Europe. He and his old master and friend, President Masaryk, embody indeed the new spirit which expresses itself best in the recognition of the indissoluble community of interest of all its parts and in the endeavor to secure their prosperity and progress. To be sure, the fact that the relations between Czechs and Germans are still far from satisfactory acts as a brake in the whole complex of Dr. Benes's constructive policy of restoration. But without being too optimistic one can find even in this respect symptoms which encourage hope for a better future. Of course the upshot of this question, like that of many others, is bound up with the fate of the German Republic as a prosperous achievement of German democracy and socialism.
It seems to me, too, that from the point of view which has been here set forth there is one clear task before the great powers by whose cooperation the new organization of Europe has been effected. It seems to me that any effort which seriously hopes to bring about a rapprochement between the nations whose affairs we have been discussing should, when the opportune time has come, have the active support of--nay, should be initiated by--the great powers, and primarily by America when her people and government are ready to turn again to European affairs. The United States of America is an absolutely unselfish element in European politics. Respected by all, loved by many of those smaller nations of Central Europe and the Near East, it could become the best, the irresistible adviser in favor of a large-minded, creative policy of reintegration, because America also represents the possibility of liberal material aid and support in the work of economic and financial reconstruction of Europe. Meanwhile, it has been true that American diplomats, thanks to their insight into the present situation of these nations, have done the most among the representatives of the great powers to strengthen the movement toward a policy of mutual economic support and particularly of free trade between them. Indeed, the conference of Porto Rosa was mainly the outcome of American diplomatic influence; and it is not the American representatives who are responsible for the fact that the excellent agreements concluded there still lack ratification by most of the states to be benefited.
Looking back once more to my opening remarks on the evils resulting from the disintegrating effects of the war and of the peace treaties, I wish to point out that any future amelioration must take the form of a serious attempt once more to attain for the national units concerned the great economic and financial benefits which the old Dual Monarchy unquestionably offered them. At present nobody can tell whether it may later appear possible to create a real federation of these states. But two things seem to me to be certain. First, that an economic association which shall not tamper in the least with the political sovereignty or the racial arrangements embodied in the constitutions of all these states should be recognized as an equal necessity for them all. Second, that the creation of anything like a United States of Central Europe in an economic sense is impossible until a complete intellectual, moral and sentimental disarmament has taken place among them as well as throughout the German nation.
Finally, in each of the states about which I have been speaking, a real reconciliation in a political sense and a mutual rapprochement with regard to trade, free traffic and finance, must be accompanied by a large-minded acceptance of the principle of full respect for racial minorities, developing into a full equality for all races and conducive to a lasting internal, national peace. Anything that could be done by the public opinion and by the government of the United States to support the tendencies of the kind which I have here tried to describe would be in many respects the best service the American people could render to all Central and Eastern Europe.