Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
"The sands are running out, and unless some strong hand can even now clutch Europe and rescue her from the slope down which she is slipping, the catastrophe of the peace may yet become far greater than that of the Great War."--GENERAL SMUTS.
IT IS difficult for an American of today to realize that less than twenty-five years ago the United States was not taken seriously as a world power. The change came when Dewey won his easy but spectacular triumph at Manila Bay. A victorious war with a European power, the acquisition of the Philippines, our new and commanding position in the Caribbean, forced Europe to recognize that the days of our isolation were past. Roosevelt pushed us still further from our isolated corner when he became mediator between Russia and Japan; again when he took action in the Algeciras Conference and when he decided to send our fleet around the world. Roosevelt lacked nothing in audacity or courage, and what he did to mark our growing power in the world arena met with the approval of his countrymen. But our real baptism came with the advent of the Great War. It was not until then that we emerged a full fledged international giant.
Let us remember that circumstances have had much to do with the commanding position we hold today--even though we have chosen, for the moment, not to use it. Previous to 1914 there were seven powers of the first class, but before the war closed it became reasonably clear that there would be but two outstanding nations left. By reason of her position, her population, her natural resources and her wealth, the United States was certain to be one of these, and Germany or Great Britain was certain to be the other. If Russia had not been broken by revolution she would have more than held her pre-war eminence, and, holding it, would also have held France in the front rank. If a strong Imperial Russia had survived the havoc of war and had continued her relations with France, together they could have dominated Continental Europe and the greater part of Asia. In this event, the United States would not have been the commanding figure she is today. Therefore, it may be said that by accident of circumstances rather than by design we find ourselves the world Colossus.
In thinking of Europe's problems, which have inevitably become our problems, the people of the United States should bear in mind the responsibility which our position has forced upon us. The view taken by many of our citizens that Europe should be left to work out her own salvation in her own way would be tenable if we were discussing Europe prior to 1914. Unhappily, a shattered Europe confronts us. With three of the Great Continental Powers disintegrated, our importance and responsibility are vastly augmented. We must face the facts as we find them, not as we may wish them.
The question arises, now that we have the power, what shall we do with it? Our isolationists believe it should be used solely for our own protection, and that we should go our way, leaving the rest of the world to go theirs. There is a certain appeal in such a programme, which many would like to follow if it were possible. Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the view may be, it cannot be done. In this Year of Our Lord, 1923, we can no more ignore other nations than one ward in a city can ignore other wards of that same community. The first ward may say that the second ward is unsanitary and deserves the cholera and typhus which has come to it, and that it will do nothing to help. But when cholera and typhus spread into the first ward, then it must in self-protection lend its aid.
That is the position of the United States today. We are staying our powerful hand, declaring that a devastated and disease-stricken Europe must save itself.
The drifting of our government in the direction of complete isolation illustrates certain peculiar phenomena of politics When President Wilson returned home from Paris with the Treaty of Versailles perhaps eighty per cent of our people were heartily in favor of the League of Nations in some form. A wealth of evidence supports this statement. If we go back to the late summer and autumn of 1919 we find the churches and social organizations throughout the United States urging ratification of the Treaty, and largely because of the League. A special committee of the American Bar Association urged unqualified ratification of the Peace Treaty at the annual convention at Boston, September 4, 1919. The Massachusetts Republican Convention in session at Boston, October 4, 1919, unanimously passed a resolution favoring: "Prompt ratification of the treaty of peace, without amendment, but with such unequivocal and effective reservation as will make clear the unconditional right of the United States to withdraw from the League upon due notice; as will provide that the United States shall assume no obligations to employ American soldiers and sailors until Congress shall, by a resolution, so direct; as will make it clear that no domestic questions, such as the tariff and immigration, will be taken from the control of the United States, and that the United States shall be the sole judge as to the interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine. There must be no abridgment of the sovereignty of the nation, of the control of its own domestic affairs, or of the maintenance of its national policies." Labor and commercial organizations in all parts of the country followed. Never was greater pressure brought to bear upon a legislative body than was brought to bear upon the United States Senate to pass the Treaty in some form.
Then came the irreconcilable conflict between the legislative and executive branches of our government. The President was determined to have his way, and the Senate were equally determined to have theirs. Unfortunately, the Senate had the power to compel the President to yield or lose confirmation of the Treaty, and equally unfortunately, he refused to give way. As far as his approach to the Senate was concerned, in my judgment, the President's purpose was impeccable but his manner unfortunate.
Once in politics, the League became its football. It was kicked hither and thither, the public mind became confused and all sense of justice and proportion was lost. The fears of women and the cupidity of men were played upon in the electorial campaign and the worst apprehensions of those who desired to keep such a question out of politics were realized. Nevertheless, the League was not the determining factor in the campaign. The Paris Peace Conference, its prelude and its aftermath, which had aroused the nationalistic susceptibilities of Germans, Irish, Italians, and Greeks in Europe, affected those of the same race in this country and they voted en masse against the Democratic nominees. The reasons for this are obvious, but that their judgment was hasty and mistaken is becoming every day more certain. The high cost of living and the inevitable complaints of post-war conditions combined to give the Republicans a record-breaking majority.
So easily does misunderstanding and prejudice grow that although the League is but an infant a few years old, already two phantom Leagues, figments of the imagination, have been created, the one submerging nationalities and dominating them as a super-state, the other a spineless, ineffectual society which fails to intervene when necessary and refuses to do the impossible. Meanwhile the real Association of fifty-two nations is functioning at Geneva, moulding public opinion toward the ways of peace and striking at the heart of social and hygienic evils which have become a menace to the general welfare.
Some two years ago in La Revue de Genève I wrote: "If war had not come in 1914 in fierce and exaggerated form, the idea of an association of nations would probably have remained dormant, for great reforms seldom materialize except during great human upheavals. The world has grown but slowly into its present partially civilized condition. It took a long time to overcome the belief that might was right, but it is now conceded that the physically strong must not oppress those weaker than themselves. The more advanced nations have laws recognizing the sanctity of property and the protection of person, but international laws and ethics have not kept pace with intra-national laws and ethics. It is no longer possible to kill the individual man and appropriate his property without being liable to immediate and drastic punishment. It is this intra-state code of laws and morals that the League of Nations is seeking to apply to the international situation. If law and order are good within states, there can be no reason why they should not be good between states. Nations were driven to adopt restrictive and restraining laws in order that their people might live and enjoy the benefits of industry, and the Great War has forced them for the same reasons to band together for mutual help and preservation. If this is not done we must perish, and, necessity being the mother of invention, we shall find the way. If the Covenant is weak in places it must be strengthened as time goes on and as the exigencies of the occasion demand, but it must never cease to function if civilization is to advance and not disappear."
Had Governor Cox been elected President in 1920 the French would not be in the Ruhr in 1923, and enlightened Germans are now beginning to realize this. With a President committed to a policy of keeping our hands on the plough until the furrow had been run, we could have been as powerful in winning the peace as we were in winning the war. The League of Nations has done its best toward stabilizing Europe, and could have succeeded plus our help; and that we refused. In consequence our moral prestige has fallen throughout the world.
The Versailles Treaty per se is no better or worse than treaties framed under like circumstances usually are. It is quite possible to conceive a much better treaty, but it is doubtful whether it would have been possible for the American President to make it better fighting single-handed as he did and under adverse conditions. Let it be remembered that his political party had lost control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives and that the treaty-making power was only partially in his hands. It is unfortunate, on the one hand, that he did not realize this more completely; on the other it is unfortunate that the opposition party did not take a broader and more patriotic view of the situation.
The views held by the Americans at Paris were quite frankly different from those held by their European colleagues, and, being different, the European representatives took courage and comfort from cabled despatches and articles coming from the United States, stating that President Wilson need no longer be taken seriously since he had lost the power to enforce his decisions.
At the beginning, and during the first half of the war, the Governments of France and Great Britain were manned by liberals, and if they had been around the peace table they would have seen eye to eye with Wilson. But when the war closed these liberals had mostly been shaken out of both governments and their places taken by virile conservatives under the able leadership of Lloyd George and Clemenceau. Advanced liberals in every country hoped until the last moment that Wilson would insist upon a righteous peace, and, failing that, would return home without giving his sanction to a treaty of another sort. But if he had done this he would have left the world in greater confusion than it now is, and he would have had but little support from our people and less from the Senate. He might have been a little less yielding at Paris and a little more yielding at Washington if he had realized that the situation was no longer wholly in his hands. George and Clemenceau did not sense the real situation any more than Wilson, and he might have safely forced them further toward his point of view. On the other hand the result would probably have been the same, for the Senate were plainly waiting to deal him a mortal blow, and chose the Covenant as the most convenient spot to strike.
Nevertheless, taking the Treaty as it is, it could have been made a workable and efficient instrument for peace had we done our part. Among those who know there is absolute agreement that the crux of most of the trouble that has arisen since the armistice was signed is France's fear of Germany, not immediate, but eventual. Failure to pay reparations has been the apparent cause of the controversy, but the real cause is the fear of Frenchmen that when Germany is in condition to pay she will also be in condition to discontinue payment and, should it suit her plans, to invade France again.
That was the situation which confronted the American delegates in Paris and that is the situation today. There is but one solution and that is to guarantee France, and accompany the guarantee by a demand that a just sum shall be fixed for reparations, a sum which Germany can pay. Clemenceau, Wilson and George agreed upon the sensible and the reasonable plan to accomplish this result, and the Anglo-French and the Franco-American Treaties were formulated and signed. The mere existence of a treaty of guarantee would in itself be sufficient to keep Germany from embarking on another adventure like that of 1914; Great Britain and the United States would never be called upon to fulfill their guarantees. Had the Senate ratified both Treaties placed before it, with the League of Nations in force to modify and adjust unfair provisions of the Versailles Treaty, a different world might exist today.
The United States, after having risen to heights of courage and idealism in its entry and prosecution of the war, has gone to the other extreme in the making of peace. For taking this course history will probably be even less sparing of us than our present-day critics.
Therefore, until tomorrow, when we shall again lend a guiding and helping hand, Europe must work out its own salvation. The problems are acute, but they are not insoluble, even without our aid. The French adventure in the Ruhr may not be wholly bad in its consequences. The Germans are now realizing the bitterness of defeat, and the French are not accomplishing what they sought. This may lead both to a maximum effort toward mutual accommodation. When each side reaches such a frame of mind an agreement can be brought about. Germany must be willing to accept France's fear as a fact not an illusion, and must offer to meet it in any reasonable way. This might be done by creating a zone of ample proportions along the Rhine in which Germany would agree to dismantle fortifications already there and build no new ones; she might also agree neither to maintain nor recruit troops within that area. Such a zone is already partially warranted by the Treaty of Versailles in Part V, Chapter IV, Article 180, which reads: "All fortified works, fortresses and field works situated in German territory to the west of a line drawn fifty kilometres to the east of the Rhine shall be disarmed and dismantled." In addition, France might obtain an especial guarantee from both Great Britain and Italy, similar to that offered at Paris by Lloyd George and Wilson.
The Irish Free State has now made application for membership in the League and undoubtedly will be admitted at the September meeting. The League is a God-sent haven for such states as Ireland. While many of her differences with Great Britain have been settled by treaty, there are still matters to be threshed out between them. They may be able to arrange these unsettled problems privately, but if they cannot Ireland has sought the only forum open to her where it can be done.
Germany, too, will doubtless soon seek the same sanctuary. In the League a hearing before all the nations of the world may be had, and if not the power of the League then surely the power of public opinion may be invoked. When Ireland and Germany are once members of the League there is certain to be a desire on their part for the United States also to join, for what other nation is there whose interests are more detached than ours?
Germany should be permitted League membership, and the League should undertake to see that Germany lived up to her obligations in the restricted zone. Once secured from unwarranted invasion, France should, and doubtless would, be reasonable as to the sum Germany must pay for reparations. This sum and the time and manner of its payment should be determined by a commission to be agreed upon by France and Germany. This commission should also present a plan for the stabilization of the mark and for specifying the nature of security Germany should give that her obligations would be met as they became due. Once the entire problem was in course of settlement, American and European bankers would probably cooperate to make the plan a success. These measures should have been taken as soon as the United States stepped from under the responsibilities of peace-making.
But while the United States of today is not the United States of yesterday there are unmistakable indications that she is also not the United States of tomorrow. The courage and selflessness which were the compelling influences that brought us into the war are but latent, and will leap forth under proper leadership. After 1917-18 Europe will scarcely make the mistake of thinking that we are as timid and selfish as our present attitude would indicate. Our people, native and foreign-born, cherish the belief that this Republic was created to become an instrument for the betterment of man, and not merely a pleasant and safe abiding place. They will not be content until the United States has again assumed the leadership and responsibilities in world affairs commensurate with her moral, economic and political position.