Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
The Paris summit of the heads of the nine member-governments of the European Communities last October presented another in a long series of theatrical non-events that have come to characterize international politics in Western Europe. To be sure, the final declaration of the meetings paid lip-service to a list of central problems that now confront the EC group: the need to coördinate economic and monetary policies and to establish communal regional, social, energy, environmental and industrial policies; and finally the desirability of creating institutional structures for the development of common policies toward the outside world. But the vague final reference to the transformation of the current institutions into a "European union" by the end of this decade was an attempt to camouflage continued political divisions among the nine and the paralysis of each of their governments.
It is ironic that not since World War II have the European governments had as many occasions to assert a single voice over their own destinies as during the past two or three years. Yet, wherever one looks for a response to the challenges before them, one finds passive acquiescence to the status quo, the submission of potentially significant foreign policy decisions to domestic pressures, or, worst of all, nostalgic efforts to patch up the outmoded system of the 1950s and 1960s. Instead of trying to create an autonomous political force, the governments of the Old Continent continue to avoid assuming those political responsibilities that ought to accompany their increasing economic capacities.
The temptations for innovative European actions ought to induce new plans to revitalize the European movement-or objective conditions might by now have led to a resurgence of some of the ideals articulated so forcefully by de Gaulle not even a decade ago. However contradictory these tendencies were then, they were signs of vigor and growing self-assurance. Now instead of vitality in foreign policy, one finds stagnation; instead of assertiveness, restraint; instead of a growing extroversion, an increased introversion.
The monetary field provides a perfect example. When President Nixon and former Secretary of the Treasury John Connally challenged the West European countries and Japan through the monetary diplomacy that followed President Nixon's speech of August 15, 1971, Europeans had a rare opportunity not only to concert their action in confronting the United States, but also to suggest innovative reforms for a viable and stable monetary system for the next decade. Yet more than a year after that crisis America's major economic partners still display no signs of initiative on an issue that will affect the lifeblood of the European Community. Worse, they are complacently and passively supporting the nonconvertible dollar as though that system had not already demonstrated its inability to support a growing level of world trade in a crisis-free environment.
The same is true in other fields. The opportunity for revitalizing the movement toward a unified Europe is obviously inherent in the current expansion of the EC to include Britain, the Irish Republic and Denmark. Yet the closest approach to the enunciation of a set of goals for this body are the unimaginative proposals agreed upon by Messrs. Heath, Pompidou and Brandt for a European secretariat to coördinate policies in various fields. Nowhere can one find an explicit formulation of what this body ought to accomplish in a decade or another generation. Nor can one find an explicit set of purposes, be they internal to the European Community or external to it in its relationship with the Soviet Union and the United States.
Not surprisingly, the paralysis is worst in security affairs, where the only certain change that can be envisaged in the near future is the further withdrawal of American troops from Europe. None of the consequences of withdrawal has been confronted, despite almost universal agreement in Europe that any reduction in the present level of U.S. troops in Europe will leave everyone worse off-increasing the vulnerability of the Europeans to Soviet pressures, raising the specter of Germany as the state with the preponderant land army in Western Europe, if not as a nuclear power, and forcing every West European government to reëvaluate its defense budget to avoid rechanneling funds from predominantly domestic goals.
It may well be argued that it is pointless at this time to postulate a new grand vision for Europe. The four conflicting visions of the future role of Europe that characterized the 1960s-the grand designs of Kennedy, Khrushchev, de Gaulle and the Commissioners of Brussels-each died a painful death. The lesson that seems to have been drawn on all sides has been the inefficacy of visionary politics in today's international system; the system simply cannot be manipulated or molded as easily as the earlier visionaries had hoped.
At the same time, a new level of uncertainty has entered the thinking of all potential actors in the European arena. A repetition of May 1968 in France has become a permanent fear of the politicians of the Fifth Republic; none can now foresee achieving the Gaullist ideal of a neutral Europe free of superpower influence. America projects an imaginary pentagonal global balance of power-where the means of foreign policies have become their own ends and where, by definition, the structure of the international system can have among its major components no goal beyond avoiding war. Khrushchev's design, no less a failure than Kennedy's, has given way to a gradualism in Soviet foreign policy that appears as aimless as that of the Western powers. And, notwithstanding the Hague summit of 1969 and the expansion of the EC this year, the gulf between the ideals of the leaders of the European movement of the 1950s and early 1960s and the results of their policies has restrained the rhetoric of virtually all West European statesmen.
Thus, if one looks at the list of questions and problems which are likely to confront the West European states during the remainder of this decade, decisions tend to be made by inertia rather than through the guidance of a framework of long-term plans. In the case of monetary reform, the illusion persists that the decision of February 1972 to narrow the margins within which the European currencies may fluctuate will be a first step toward European monetary unification as well as the major European contribution to the reorganization of the international monetary system. But that decision, like the subsequent one to establish a European Reserve Fund, was taken under pressure and largely to prove that a European will toward independence existed in monetary affairs. It merely papered over essential Franco-German differences on the requisites of European monetary union, and took no account of the consequences of monetary unification for unemployment or inflation rates, both of which are likely to increase under a unified currency to a degree unacceptable to any of the major European governments. And, inspite of vague references to the European contribution to the reorganization of the international monetary system, there is no clear consensus on how a unified currency area in Europe would fit into a reorganized monetary system in terms of future international reserves or rules of the game.
The external commercial policy of the EC suffers from the same set of tensions-between the force of inertia on the one hand and the inability to articulate long-term goals on the other. The EC has a built-in lobby to create a set of linkages between the core area and its periphery in Europe and North Africa. These linkages are paradoxically strong enough to be destructive of the international commercial system, but too weak to replace it with a system built upon a set of coherent rules. That their establishment may wreck the universal rules of trade embodied in the GATT seems to be no one's concern. Instead, trade spokesmen have found a remarkable means of rationalizing an emergent sphere of economic influence. While decrying spheres of influence fostered by the Soviet Union or the United States, they unashamedly argue that theirs are "natural" economic ties deserving special status.
Other problems of a substantive or an organizational nature abound. In almost every field of domestic policy, the original six members of the EC have found that they need to coördinate their efforts if their policies are to be effective. This has been most striking in efforts to control inflation, which, it is claimed, has been increasingly "imported" from neighboring countries. But it is also true in policy areas that have only recently emerged, such as the control of environmental pollutants. Other areas where coördination has become urgent include the consequences of the high level of interdependence that has been created in the Common Market over the past decade. Perhaps most important among these is the need to decide how an emergent European capital market ought to be organized and controlled, what centers ought to be developed, and how short-term capital flows within Europe and between Europe and the outside world are to be handled.
Each of these issues requires a consensus on the proper organizational framework within which decisions can be made or coördinated. But decisions on institutional arrangements continue to be made on an ad hoc basis, as is the case with the recent "hotline" hook-up between central banks in the member-countries. Yet these institutional arrangements have a significant bearing on the future development of the EC as a political body. In the absence of foresight on how these institutions ought to evolve, the "spillback" from them may impede the organization of Europe on rational grounds.
Some people would argue that the leaders of Western Europe have in fact been active in the articulation of medium-term goals for their relationship with the external world. The successful ratification of Brandt's Eastern Treaties last May, the four-power Berlin accords, and the recent agreement between the two Germanys could certainly be pointed out. So could the expansion of the EC to three new member-states that has been hailed as the new prime to the European pump. Both Prime Minister Heath and President Pompidou have made generalized statements about the future global role of Europe. And, of course, the EC Commission has been relentless in fostering policy decisions that would, in its mind, be good for the European movement.
All of these policies and statements, however, smack of a superficial reëchoing of past hopes and fears. They reflect an almost aimless situation where activity, largely devoid of objectives, has assumed a value in its own terms. Brandt, for example, has been utterly incapable of passing any legislation in education, in tax reform or in social welfare reform that reflects the traditional goals of European socialism. To prove that he could be effective, he emphasized the ratification of the postwar status quo through his Eastern policy. Pompidou's rhetoric strikes a balance between right-wing Gaullism and traditional French Europeanist interests-no mean achievement, but one where compromise has overcome coherence in foreign policy.
Restricted in their ability to implement or reform domestic programs, the European governments have been carrying out new transcendental foreign policies. These policies are focused less upon tangible than on elusive objectives and are designed to create the illusion in the minds of members of the electorate that the governments have been engaged in significant and even novel activities. Unlike the transcendental politics of the past when the monarchs of Europe sought after "power" and "glory," the new transcendental politics in European foreign policy is one of activity for its own sake, activity uninformed by either grand designs or short-term goals.
It is relatively easy to understand why no new visions for the ideal structure of the international system have emanated from the United States. The reaction to the failure of American foreign policy in Vietnam has inevitably had a dampening effect on American idealism. In the middle-term future, one can find no hope for a rearticulation of a vision of a universal and peaceful world that was the basis of America's post-World War II foreign policies. The acutely felt sense of declining American power has been formidably articulated in the Nixon-Kissinger interpretation of a new five-power world.
Why should Europe, after a decade of almost uninterrupted prosperity and growth, and with no military involvement in the underdeveloped world, feel this deep sense of impotence? Why should Europeans, with a vigorous and young population, tread so fearfully and anxiously? The malaise in Western Europe lies, I think, much deeper than that in the United States-where internal strife has reflected in large part peculiarly American problems, above all the war in Vietnam and racial imbalance. The malaise in Europe is not simply a fear of change from the status quo, nor does it seem the result of an objective inability to achieve stated goals in all fields. Least of all is there a considered rejection of the need for goals. On the contrary, intelligent Europeans see as clearly as anyone how badly new structure and purpose are needed. To them it is obvious that given the level of interdependence among the European states and the crises that interdependence has engendered, especially in monetary affairs, radical changes will be inevitable and must be confronted. It is clear also that whatever its sources at any given time, social tension will continue to be high. Labor restiveness, university unease, the need for reform of taxation and welfare systems in each of the European societies-all point up the impossibility of maintaining the status quo. In sum, Europeans are themselves caught in a system of interdependence that requires focused direction if the forces underlying it are to be controlled and harnessed.
So it is not failure to see the problems that underlies Europe's malaise. Rather, its roots lie in a set of conditions that are in part peculiarly European, but in larger part inherent in modern industrialized societies- conditions that prevent or impede the articulation of long-term visions and goals so that, lacking any consensus on objectives, malaise and a sense of aimlessness feed upon themselves in a vicious circle.
Specifically, there are several overlapping factors at work. None of them alone would be sufficient to explain the current crisis of confidence in Europe. But taken together, they have presented a formidable set of obstacles to the constructive revitalization of Europeanism.
First and most persistent-especially for the coördination of policies in Europe-has been the inevitable intrusion of electoral politics into foreign policy. In any one year the probability is high that one of the major European states is preparing for or in the process of an electoral campaign. Each time, it is obliged to suspend its own momentum in the organization of Europe-or it may attempt to manipulate the EC for electoral ends.
Of the four major European countries, three have had or will have major elections during the course of little more than a year.
The first of these, in Italy, did not resolve any of the issues which have hamstrung government policies since the onset of the Italian recession. Italy seems fated to a paralysis brought on by vicious competition among her political parties, exacerbated by the economic gulf between the rich North and the underdeveloped South.
The French election campaign began last spring with the referendum on the enlargement of the Community and has already had its repercussions in Europe. Having failed to free himself of his own right wing, Pompidou has been forced to resume a hard Gaullist stance, with results that contributed to the stultification of the recent summit conference.
Brandt's Germany was immobilized for six months for approximately the same reasons. The Germans continue to walk the same tightrope they have been on since the creation of the Common Market-unable to choose decisively between an Atlantic and a European relationship, forced to balance feelers to the East with reaffirmations to the West.
Successive European elections more and more involve grave economic issues with strong international repercussions. In the German case, inflation and export-led economic growth, major issues last November, each have their peculiar European or external manifestation, as has been clear in the Franco-German debate over the international monetary crisis of 1971. Pressures for flexible exchange-rates as one means of controlling inflation have not been completely satisfied. Nor are the Germans likely to move significantly toward the French position on the control of capital movements, given the tenacity of liberal economic doctrine in both the government and opposition.
Of the four major European states, only Britain has not made foreign policy subservient to electoral politics in 1972-73. But current British political problems exemplify a second factor. Even if one sets to one side the acute question of Ulster, one finds in Britain signs of introversion and policy inefficacy that are reflected throughout Western Europe today. Election or no, the twin problems of labor unrest and inflation confront every major West European capital. Organized labor has everywhere reached a peak in terms of the proportion of the active population so categorized, and everywhere labor has turned into a conservative interest group oriented toward maintaining its status. Working classes have never been as rich as they are today, and are afraid of any change in either their job opportunity or wage levels. One result has been that even the unions have been unable to exercise effective control over their membership. Industrial plant sit-ins have increasingly replaced strikes as a major tactic of the rank-and-file in Britain, France and Italy. When unions are able effectively to bargain for their members with management groups or the government, negotiations have grown to look more and more like international political bargaining sessions culminating in peace treaties. As each of the industrialized societies has become more technologically based and dependent upon a highly skilled working force, unions in any one sector have an ability to bring large segments of an economy to a standstill, if not to inflict high levels of damage. Such was the case most notably of the coal strike in Britain a year ago; one could give a long list of examples.
Anticipated increases in personal income on the part of rank-and-file coupled with union tactics have become a major source of inflationary wage settlements since this decade began. These problems have made it exigent that policy coördination be institutionalized in the EC countries-but at the very same time reflect a growing introversion which makes it harder to escape the national decision-making framework.
Thirdly, the expansion of the EC itself has brought mixed benefits. On the one hand it has served (despite the idiosyncratic vote in Norway) as a symbolic example of the tenacity of the original European idea. However, the expansion brings with it almost insurmountable barriers to common solutions. Negotiations among six countries have been difficult enough. Now, with nine, it is hard to see how any dramatic steps in policy can be taken with the agreement of all parties.
This will be especially noticeable in the Community's relationship with the outside world and, in particular, with the United States. If there are to be future trade negotiations among all the industrialized societies and if the Europeans are to negotiate as a bloc, as they did during the Kennedy Round, then it is doubtful that a position can be reached that will give the negotiators sufficient flexibility to strike any bargains. Efforts at negotiation will force any potential trading partner to participate in the process by which the Europeans make a decision, with the knowledge that it is only before a common policy is achieved that its own interests will be heard. This in itself may give rise to the accusation that the United States has in one of the European countries a Trojan Horse representing its interests in an expanded Community. This might well be Germany so long as the issue of American troop levels there retains its psychological hold over all aspects of German foreign policy.
Whether the expansion of the Community leads to a revitalization or is an additional reason for stagnation in the EC remains an open question. That could depend in part on how much the United States serves as a common economic enemy (in a new sense, the role that Russia played in the early and middle 1950s) and induces the nine to adopt a common set of goals. The current state of U.S.-European relations is not at this low a point; it would be serious in other respects if it became so.
A fourth factor in the current malaise has been the continued lack of a European lobby able to advance European interests. The Commission has tried to continue its role as federator but so far without much success. Its efforts have undoubtedly been less bold than they were under Hallstein, partly because of the opposition that grew up against him from his tendency to overplay his cards, and partly because of the change in the nature of the personalities of the current commissioners. The Commission did, however, try to play this role during the fall of 1971 in the course of the monetary crisis; when almost no Europeans had a politically viable idea for extricating Europe from the crisis, the Commission relentlessly pushed for a common solution whatever that solution might be, under the assumption that any common action would serve the European cause. This sort of exhortation is likely to be continued by Europe's "wise men." But they have virtually no lobby of their own in the various European capitals to push further or in other policy fields. What they need is a set of bureaucracies whose members identify their own personal interests with those of Europe as a whole. But the Eurocracy, such as it exists, has remained a body that suggests common solutions that are to be implemented by the various member- states. In almost no field under its purview does it have the machinery for policy implementation that is essential for it to push Europeanism at the grass roots.
Finally, intra-European political jealousy will continue to play its own role in preventing an imaginative political leap. One can already see some of this in the reluctance with which any of the states views giving up the current international dollar standard. Neither the French nor the Germans want to see the mark begin to play the role in Europe that the dollar has for the past two decades. And neither wishes to give up some of the central- bank functions that it would have to relinquish if a common currency actually were created. Likewise, Heath and Pompidou would each like to play the role of federator, but neither can do this alone. Only the Germans seem to have a capacity to do it and, unlike the other two, do not wish to play the role because of the substantial constraints on German action in almost every field. German assertiveness, it is feared, would only reawaken anti- German feelings elsewhere and could bring an end to the success in Germany's Eastern policy.
Fearful that other parties would come to the fore as the central focus of a new Europe, each of the major governments balances out the others with the result that none is able to play the essential centralizing role. And none of the states is yet willing to see an all-European body play this role if the rules by which it operates are different from its own domestic rules. Since each of the states concerned has traditions in all fields of domestic policy that are distinctive and difficult to overcome, the result is continued stagnation on all fronts.
All these specific points being stated, the most formidable obstacles to innovative thought in Europe today stem from a feeling of incapacity to deal with an unknown future. Neither the knowledge nor the will required seems to be available. The status quo has become rather comfortable for each of the governments concerned, although everyone knows that in security, economic and domestic social affairs it will inevitably give way. The contemporary situation is so novel historically that one cannot rely on a continuance of the status quo or on historical experience in coming to grips with its many aspects.
The current paralysis of political thought in Western Europe has to do in part with the trap that Europeans are in, between outmoded structures unable to handle problems that arise on a transnational basis and the fear that changing or adapting these structures to new conditions will involve costs in terms of money or autonomy that no one will incur. But it is more than that. For it pervades intellectual groups as well as political circles. It also transcends Europe and characterizes the other states of the industrialized world.
These industrialized states find themselves in an unprecedented web of interdependence whose unscrambling now seems inconceivable. Moreover, no one really understands the dynamics of these interdependent relationships.
It is clear that activities in almost any field affect those in others-as, for example, the current Common Agricultural Policy depends upon the existence of stable parity relations in the exchange-rates of the European countries. It is also clear that domestic politics and foreign policies have become more and more dependent upon one another in ways that are often surprising. No one knows how stable these interdependent relationships are. No one has any idea what sort of institutionalized arrangements are proper for handling them. The rhetoric of the 1950s would argue that these interdependencies are in fact unstable, that they lead to crises, and that these crises must lead to further institutionalization of the political links among the European states and eventually force them into a political union. No one has truly explored, however, whether any arrangements can be created that fall short of full political integration but can none the less perform the functions of stabilization and coördination.
The problems of interdependence are compounded by uncertainties in the very governance of modern industrialized societies. These are paradoxically both stable and fragile structures. Their stability rests upon political traditions, political cultures if you will, that have emerged from a long process of nation-building in Western Europe. Their fragility stems from the incredibly rapid rate of change that these societies have undergone since World War II and the dislocating effects of change on various social strata, but particularly on the working classes. The result has been that governance in modern industrialized societies today has become based on daily decision-making. Governments are concerned more with maintaining the status quo and with keeping the machinery of public affairs operating than with steering a course for the future.
Contemporary governance is also crisis governance. Crises stemming from domestic unrest or from a relatively unstable set of interdependent international transactions seem to be the only way that governments can be forced to think about the future. New institutional arrangements are created in a crisis setting of ad hoc decision-making rather than via long- term planning. There is no reason to bet that such decisions will always be in the general interest of the citizens of Western Europe or indeed those of the Western world.
Without an agenda for Europe, without an articulation of goals and a vague idea of how one wants to achieve them, it would be my notion that Europe will muddle along leaving everyone a bit worse off than could be the case. We have already seen this happening in the series of trade arrangements being worked out between Brussels and the countries on Europe's periphery. These trade arrangements have, to be sure, involved very little in terms of total trade. But they have added to the demise of the principle of the most- favored-nation which was one of the few universal rules built into the postwar trading system. There is no doubt that muddling along can have its blessings. But its principal victim will be the ideal universal system which American policy backed for the two decades after World War II. It could also undermine the foundations of the increased wealth that was an offshoot of the higher levels of trade that the system fostered.
Even with the formidable list of obstacles that stand in the way of a new political vision from Europe and for Europe, there is no objective reason for the Europeans to lose all momentum. In the past, the West Europeans were able to define a role for themselves through American prodding: either coöperatively, as in the case of the Marshall Plan days, or with the United States serving as a foil against which the European definition could be articulated. In the future the Europeans are likely to get neither from the United States, but rather are likely to have a continued dosage of benign neglect. Even so, there are a wide number of ways by which a set of goals and a new European agenda can be formulated.
The first thing the Europeans ought to do is use the traditional political tactic of bargaining from a position of weakness. This is to define the agenda of future negotiations with the United States so as to prod the United States away from its natural inclination to inaction. Such a definition could have been one of the most beneficial offshoots of last fall's European summit conference, if the heads of state of the expanded Community could have agreed to it. To date, the agenda has been lost either to the whims of the U.S. government or to the Soviets. In the reform of the international monetary system, in future trade negotiations with the United States, in East-West relations and a myriad of other areas, opportunities for defining the agenda are manifold. Even if the Europeans do not now have all the cards that they might want to hold in their hand, they can wield a decisive influence by deciding when and what issues are to be discussed as well as the organizational framework in which discussions are to take place.
The uneasy status quo in Europe may have its comforts. But it obviously cannot be maintained. In the absence of a clear notion of where they want to go, the Europeans will probably be impelled to act only through a series of crises. Or they will be fated to wait until American self-confidence and assertiveness are regained and the U.S. government begins to pay attention to these problems again in a serious way. By then, however, a European program will be even more reactive, and the Europeans will have foregone a unique opportunity to exert a decisive influence on their own future.