Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
Perspective is always difficult to apply to events of the day. Centuries hence, however, historians will surely conclude that this generation of Americans stood poised on a hinge of history. Beginning with the east European revolutions of 1989 the world has witnessed an astounding cataract of events, the triumphant culmination of forty years of steadfast alliance diplomacy.
America’s principal adversary, the once-formidable Soviet empire, has collapsed from without and within. Militarily the threat of sudden Muscovite aggression and of nuclear Armageddon has diminished to imperceptibility. Philosophically communism is in retreat, pell-mell. Economically the liberating logic of the free market has challenged the world’s remaining Marxist governments with contrasting models of such greater efficiency and opportunity that the demise of centralized-planning regimes is heralded, with only the time frame in doubt.
Through a strategy of economic development and political containment the United States and the community of free nations have achieved a more decisive victory over Bolshevism than could ever have been gained through war.
Meanwhile only one short year ago in the Persian Gulf, President Bush assembled an unprecedented international coalition to uphold the rule of law. For the first time since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, an American president has defined his presidency with a theme—New World Order—developed in action (or more precisely, reaction) rather than as campaign sloganeering.
Absent stark Cold War contrasts, the challenge for American leadership in the decade ahead will be to chart a course that is inclusive, not exclusive, of perspectives developed beyond our shores. America must look to constructive internationalism; to Pacificism, rather than pacifism; to Atlanticism rather than mere alliance-ism; to leadership of the Americas, rather than insular America First-ism.
The politics of hard times at home, however, has led some in American public life to suggest myopically that Russian roulette be played with our economy and national security by retreating from larger world affairs. At a time when public frustration with Congress has never been higher, a legislative branch on trial has caused members to become overwrought with concern for political survival; courage and largeness of the human spirit are not hallmarks of a legislative body fighting to reestablish both public and self respect.
The consequence of the American people’s dwindling confidence in Congress is the potential breakdown not just of bipartisan but bi-institutional foreign policy. The demoralization of Congress has led to another Dullesque reappraisal of U.S. foreign policy, which is potentially most troubling in the area of commerce, where the Constitution gives the legislative branch a larger role than in state-to-state political relations.
The combination of political institutions in disrepute and an economy without growth has resulted in a dispirited civil polity, increased partisanship and pressure from the extremes of the political spectrum to play ostrich politics, to construct a Fortress America, to revive lost causes and lost illusions. However seductive, the lure of neo-isolationism—the dream of returning to relative economic autarky and somnolent continental security—appeals to the nostalgic instincts of the American public, much as do Norman Rockwell’s depictions of the American character.
The danger of this contemporary "America First" movement is neither its premise nor its romanticism, but its implications: that the United States has nothing left to gain from or contribute to international peace and prosperity; that America should be an observer rather than a leader of the world; that political ambition can best be advanced by manipulating parochial fears rather than enlarging the human horizon.
Key leaders in Congress, largely Democratic, continue to peddle a protectionist insularism that amounts to a gospel of retreat from progressive foreign policy values. Frustrated by a dozen years of Republican control of the White House, theirs is the easy wisdom of those without accountability, the irresponsibility of semi-permanent foreign policy opposition. Hence the vacillation implicit in the refusal to endorse the president’s approach to the Gulf War, and exasperated opportunism reflected in vehement anti-foreign aid pronouncements coupled simultaneously with criticism of the president for lacking the vision to present a forthcoming Soviet aid package. Hence also the hypocrisy of claiming to desire warmer, more respectful relations with Latin America while placing a series of delaying roadblocks in the paths of President Bush’s North American Free Trade Area proposal and of his debt forgiveness and debt-for-nature swap programs that, with his investment program, comprise the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative.
On the Republican right, protest candidate Patrick A. Buchanan defines himself more in the tradition of Father Coughlin than Robert Taft. Repudiating core tenets of Nixonian and Reaganite foreign policy, Buchanan mixes diplomatic disengagement, economic protection and appeals to a new American nativism into a political apostasy rooted more in the nineteenth-century anti-immigrant biases of the Know-Nothings than the Lincolnian model of societal sacrifice to broaden the scope of individual rights and social tolerance.
In foreign policy the twentieth-century Republican tradition includes Theodore Roosevelt’s brand of principled brigandage, Harding’s coolness to the League of Nations and Wendell Willkie’s "one worldism." In its history the G.O.P. has been isolationist and interventionist, unilateral and multilateral. Out of power, or at least outside the executive branch, it tends to intemperance. In power, in the last half century, with the possible exception of Reagan’s first term, it has been professional, prepared and progressive.
President Bush has had the good fortune to oversee and lead a world in transition. The thaw in East-West relations has precipitated the winding down or conclusion of a number of bloody regional conflicts—from Afghanistan to Angola to Cambodia to Nicaragua and, at long last, war-torn El Salvador. And, in the cauldron that is the Middle East, the United States has embarked on a high-risk strategy to facilitate a process that could lead to a comprehensive peace.
Writing in 1950, Reinhold Niebuhr noted that the price of survival was our ability to give leadership to the free world. Today the price of the prosperity of the free world still depends on our ability and willingness to lead. No other society has the capacity or inclination to light freedom’s lamp in quite the same way; nor is any other as capable of combining self-interest with a genuine historically rooted concern for others. For the United States to deny its transnational responsibilities and thwart the development of internationalist approaches to problem-solving is to jeopardize a future of peace and greater prosperity.
No principle of American foreign policy, no understanding of American history or the American people, no sober appreciation of the limits of our power or moral authority commends a Pax Americana. By the same token no prudent statesman, surveying the breadth of our international interests and responsibilities, could find security or virtue in a new isolationism.
Few issues are more important to our long-term national interest than the future of democracy and free enterprise in the former Soviet Union and former Soviet bloc. President Nixon was correct when he observed in March 1992 that concern for the fate of the political and economic reforms in Russia had been a casualty of the early presidential primaries.
It may be ironic that it was Nixon who staked out the moral high ground on such a crucial strategic issue (and doubly so that it was a former manipulator of wage and price controls who expressed such telling criticism of politicians in both parties for pandering to voters in an election year). Nevertheless, while the greatest unfought war in history may be won, peace remains elusive. Failure of the West to engage in helping alleviate the problems in the wake of communism’s demise carries as many liabilities today as failure to contain communist expansionism would have forty years ago.
Establishment thinking in Washington for much of the last decade centered on the dubious assumption that American interests were intertwined with those of Gorbachev and his commitment to preserve the Soviet Union. Gorbachev’s claim to historical significance cannot be denied—primarily because like Tokugawa Keiki, the last shogun of Japan, he chose to yield rather than confront popular sentiment with the force of arms. Yet the weakness of Gorbachev’s political mandate was revealed by the speed with which he, titular head of the world’s largest army and internal security force, went from being a leader without a constituency to almost irrelevant status as the former chief of state of a nonexistent country.
While startling and unexpected in its swiftness, the collapse of the Soviet empire is a historical turning point that Americans should understand more profoundly than any other society, because the self-determination asserted by the newly independent states is rooted in the principles of our Declaration of Independence.
Seldom has there been a more profound conjunction of American philosophy and American national interest than in the self-determination issues involved in the splintering of the Soviet state. Despite the fact that nuclear weapons management has become more complex and that irredentism and violent ethnic prejudices, repressed for almost three-quarters of a century, have resurfaced as if merely buried in a time capsule, the threat of dealing with 15 democratizing republics has to be considered less challenging to American national interests than that emanating from a single united despotic state. There simply could be no better safeguard for our national security than the development of a multiplicity of independent Eurasian governments accountable to free peoples.
Marx notwithstanding, the real opiate of the twentieth century is intolerance, the instinct for hatred that becomes manifest in the individual and is unleashed in society when governments fail to provide safeguards for human rights and fail to erect civilizing institutions adaptable to change and accountable to the people. As the old world order passes and a new one is experimented with, policymakers have an obligation to look beyond the balance-of-power politics to a new civil community. The wolf is still at the door in relations between states, between peoples of differing ethnic and religious composition, and among the economic have-nots of the globe.
The immediate challenge for America is to craft techniques that nurture democratic values and retard the prospect of regression to police-state controls and aggressive foreign policies on the Eurasian land mass. Winning peace is always less costly than waging war, but it is not cheap; nor in some instances is it easy to justify to political constituencies. Yet, as Washington well understands but not so well dares to explain to the public, little is more worrisome than punitive indifference, as the victors of World War I applied to Germany. Likewise, little in retrospect appears more successfully enlightened than the more generous approach taken toward the losers of World War II.
In the long run, free enterprise and trade are the only answers; in the short run, a modest amount of humanitarian, technical and international financial assistance to the former Soviet republics may be the cheapest national security insurance policy the United States can consider taking out. Direct U.S. aid ought to emphasize exchange programs, humanitarian assistance—principally food and medicine—and help in dismantlement of nuclear weapons systems. For economic development and financial assistance, the West should rely primarily on the three relevant multilateral institutions: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the newly created European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The role of the multilateral institutions should be stressed for three reasons. First, reliance on international institutions implies shared rather than singular U.S. aid responsibility; our European allies and Japan will provide the majority of financial resources. Second, in addition to leveraging dollars, these institutions allow the West to leverage principles. Few governments are prone to bow to pressure for market-oriented reform coming from a single country. Many, however, will institute politically difficult reforms as prerequisites for IMF and World Bank support. Third, in most cases the international financial institutions make loans rather than grants and have a far better record of receiving repayment than any individual country. Indeed, in the 1980s the United States earned over $600 million a year through participation in IMF loans.
While Americans may differ on the role and composition of foreign aid, consensus should be obtainable on the notion that progressive change can most likely be institutionalized through expanded trade and investment ties. Aid without trade is a prescription for dependency, not self-sufficiency. Likewise aid without the development of a free-enterprise psychology and legal infrastructure will be of fleeting significance. Unless laws are developed that protect property and provide incentives for entrepreneurship, all of the newly established states of the former Soviet Union and erstwhile Soviet bloc will likely stagnate for decades with per capita GNP wallowing at the level of less developed countries. What the former socialist states need is a cultural reordering of attitudes toward the relation of the state and individual. This can only occur through the widest possible contact with the West, particularly America.
What the West must do is conjoin political and economic principles, emphasizing that democracy and free enterprise go hand in hand and that those states that move the most progressively in tandem are likely to be recipients of most public assistance as well as private investment. In this regard the non-Russian republics of the former Soviet Union should be singled out for sympathetic concern, with the new leaders of the Kremlin put on frank notice that efforts to thwart independence movements, whether in the Baltics, Ukraine or Georgia, will be looked on with political disfavor carrying negative trade and investment implications.
Social dislocation too often leads to scapegoats and easy solutions, to a search for a strong man, a Ukrainian Mussolini or a Russian Miloševic. Likewise the pace of reform itself may lead to disillusionment, like that expressed by Russian nihilist Dimitri Pisarev, who suggested in the mid-nineteenth century that a pair of boots was of more intrinsic human value than all the plays of Shakespeare. If communism is not simply to give way to nihilism, hope must be provided in democracy, market economics and trade.
The United States should not shy away from offering free trade agreements to the countries of east-central Europe and the Baltic. Such agreements would assure market access to the United States, stand as a beckoning incentive for foreign investment, counterbalance potential German dominance of the region and serve to undercut from behind any exterior trade walls the west Europeans might consider erecting.
Nationalism may be an instrument for liberty. It may also be a harbinger of intolerance that must be vigilantly guarded against, especially in the part of Europe that has given birth to the two epochal conflicts of this century.
In Europe George Kennan’s historic policy of containment represented a near-war defined as a Cold War response to the aggressive tendencies of a powerful totalitarian adversary. Premised on that containment doctrine, NATO’s strategic policy and deterrence posture successfully thwarted any expansionist ambitions in Europe that may have been entertained by the Kremlin.
The very success of NATO ironically jeopardizes its future. But as new doctrines are considered care must be taken that NATO be sustained with a structure and a mission that provide security for the preservation of liberty in central and eastern Europe. While progressive winds continue to blow from behind the collapsed iron curtain, NATO must be prepared to deal with contingencies that may develop from a shift in these winds, accidental escalations or political misjudgments.
Unity based on common threat is easier to obtain than one based on common aspirations. The immediate challenges to NATO are likely to come more from within than without, from ethnic and nationalist discord and emerging parochialism on trade, with the resultant danger that a global trading system may collapse at precisely the moment when the peoples of east-central Europe need open markets most.
In 1944 Walter Lippmann coined the term "Atlantic Community" to convey America’s strategic interest in the successful postwar reconstruction of Europe. Almost fifty years later, and half a world away, it is time for the United States to help establish a "Pacific Community," to convey our political and economic interests in the Far East and in reawakening south Asia.
The linchpin of American policy in the Far East is our relationship with Japan. The good news in the relationship is that, despite a hiccup in 1991, the bilateral trade deficit continues to decline, and that at long last American business has begun to warm to the task of competing and winning in the difficult Japanese market. The bad news is that in tough economic times national moods take on an uglier, more pessimistic tone, manifested in Japan-bashing and, across the Pacific, in kenbei.
Yet despite the rising tension America and Japan continue to share a remarkable coincidence of interests. All the United States asked of Japan at the end of World War II was that it be democratic, oriented toward free enterprise and peaceful. The competitive concerns Americans evidence today stem from the Japanese heeding our advice too well rather than too little.
The United States and Japan represent 40 percent of the world economy; neither can allow trade disputes to poison this relationship. The best way to keep simmering tensions manageable is for the two countries to work together to defend and expand a free world trading system and for Japan, preferably of its own free will, without foreign pressure or gaiatsu, to become a model of free trade internally as well as an advocate of the same abroad.
If history is a guide protectionism belies its name. It provides job security for candidates, not workers. Just as, in Pogo’s terms, the enemy too often is us, in trade policy the enemy is politicians, usually one’s own. As the world moves from a half century of obsession with geopolitics to stress instead geoeconomics, the challenge for all peoples and all political systems is to avoid the easy trap of economic nationalism.
For America the trade issue for the last decade of the twentieth century is not so much figuring out what new arrows should be added to the bulging quiver of existing sanctions, it is in selecting the right marksman with the right judgment to understand when and where to aim, with the first concern being to avoid at all costs driving a shaft into the heart of the U.S. and world economy.
One of the lessons of the 1930s was that protectionist legislation, such as the Smoot-Hawley tariff, lengthened and deepened the Great Depression. By reverse logic, in recessionary times, promoting policies that impel the growth of international trade is likely to serve as an economic stimulant. Hence the importance of advancing the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the negotiation of free trade agreements, first with Mexico and other Latin and east European countries, but eventually with the European Community and selected south Pacific and Asian countries.
Historically the strength of American foreign policy has been most evident when we have stood solidly for advancing abroad the principles and ideals upon which our society is based. Principles should not be sacrificed for shortsighted objectives or shortsighted leaders. In reflecting societal values no country should be more confident. After all, the philosophical taproot of the changes taking place in the world—from central Europe to the Baltic states, from Afghanistan to Tiananmen Square, from Nicaragua to South Africa—is a happy recognition that it is Jeffersonian democracy that provides the boldest and most humane model for political and economic organization in recorded history.
Conservative Republican thinking has two philosophical bedrocks. The first is a Burkean emphasis on respect for existing social structures: the assumption that for change to be effective it must be gradualist. The second, a Lockean emphasis on definable rights, is more radical and uncompromising.
President Bush in general is Burkean in temperament, emphasizing dialogue with the leadership in Moscow, Beijing and Pretoria, even when, for instance, a case might be made that in his Kiev speech of August 1991 he embraced Gorbachev beyond his due and his time.
Tiananmen produced stark challenges to conservative sensibilities about the rights of individuals. The president, however, has concluded that the maintenance of communication and trade not only advances short-term American interests on issues such as the Gulf War and peacekeeping in Cambodia, but in the long run bolsters the position in China of a Western-oriented entrepreneurial class that holds the best chance of promoting a regime more attuned to human rights concerns.
South Africa presents a similarly troubling philosophical dilemma for any conservative administration in Washington. While the first Republican presidency chose to risk war rather than compromise principles to end extremist apartheid—slavery—the last two Republican administrations have preferred to work with rather than against the government in Pretoria in an effort to help abolish apartheid in as civil and bloodless a way as possible. Fortunately, Washington has found in F. W. de Klerk an establishment leader heroically inclined to change and in Nelson Mandela a uniquely martyred aspirant. In competitive combination they give promise of an unusually civilized political phenomenon—evolutionary revolution.
President Bush’s critics have frequently gibed at him for problems with "the vision thing." Episcopalian in attitude as well as religious conviction, Bush eschews philosophical and even policy articulation, emphasizing reasoned decision-making and good judgment as contrasted with philosophical explication.
The Dutch architect Mies van der Rohe developed a theory of architecture around simplicity of design and the observation that "less is more," that is, the cluttering of design with fixtures and flourishes too often represents imperfection. Likewise, less can sometimes be more in public policy. In a variant of Teddy Roosevelt’s "speak softly but carry a big stick" theme, President Bush’s approach appears to be to speak little, sometimes in a convoluted fashion—with the manner more than the substance of his comments inducing confidence that he leads an administration capable of crafting reasoned responses to challenges of the day.
Instinctively, Bush at his low-key best appears to be attempting to follow the advice of Thomas Paine that "moderation in temper is always a virtue; moderation in principle is always a vice." To the extent the president attempts to appeal in public pronouncements to wider constituencies, his higher charged patriotic rhetoric often shields a deep-seated internationalism.
If one American political party has been historically identified with the advocacy of collective security and the multilateral diplomacy it implies, it is the Democratic Party. Collective security was the watchword of Woodrow Wilson, who literally drove himself to death defending the principle against strident critics. Franklin Roosevelt, arguably the greatest president of this century, insisted that collective security principles be espoused in the Atlantic Charter, in authoritative statements of American war aims in World War II and ultimately in the Charter of the United Nations.
Yet today it is a Republican president who, in opposition to both the isolationist and go-it-alone interventionist themes that have ambivalently represented much of this century’s conservative tradition, is in the vanguard of constructive internationalism and credible collective security endeavors. Such is the implication of the extraordinary international coalition that Washington led in the Gulf War. Such is also the meaning of U.N.-sanctioned peacekeeping initiatives in Cambodia and Yugoslavia.
In a strategic sense, there have been three defining events in this century: World War I, World War II and the Cold War. The role of American soldiers and American military preparedness was crucial in winning each. Were it not for the American G.I., there would be no collective security. The only competition in the world today would be between the totalitarianism of the left and totalitarianism of the right. Europe would be freedom’s toxic dump. Either the Nazi or the Soviet jackboot would be the symbol of order. The land mass that produced Montesquieu and Locke, Beethoven and Descartes would find its libraries filled with the class conflict implications of Das Kapital and the hate-ridden dogma of Mein Kampf.
While it would be overly optimistic to conclude that the wars of this century were wars to end all wars, it would be overly pessimistic to fail to recognize the extraordinary opportunity presented to the United States to advance verifiable arms control and strengthen collective security arrangements.
Seldom has a benchmark policy been less theoretically defined, but it would appear that what President Bush is attempting to develop in his New World Order theme is the precedent that aggression will not be rewarded; that countries should be expected to follow core precepts of international law; that countries distant from areas of conflict should be prepared to contribute to the preservation of worldwide norms; that international institutions and multilateral arrangements will be used to the maximum in developing collective approaches to common concerns.
Some 39 years ago President Eisenhower proposed an initiative called Atoms for Peace, a plan for the United States and the Soviet Union to dedicate fissionable materials from dismantled nuclear warheads for peaceful uses. Given the current momentum on arms control, the timing could not be more propitious for Russia and the other Soviet successor states to work with the United States to ensure that weapons-grade materials will not become "loose nukes" or recycled back into other deadly warheads, but instead that their awesome destructive potential will be converted to humanitarian purposes.
The 21st century can be looked to with an understanding that what distinguishes this generation of citizens from all others is that we are the first to have the capacity not just to wage war, but to destroy civilization. As Einstein once noted, "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking." If war is a constant of history, the greatest political science quandary of all time is how to develop techniques to make it obsolete.
Avoiding a nuclear exchange implies the need to pay greater attention to the causes of war, such as impoverishment, as well as to the development of instruments of war. To halt the scourge of nuclear proliferation, arms control on a global as well as regional basis is a self-evident societal imperative.
Erecting effective barriers to the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction demands that restraint be accepted by the United States as well as developing countries. The first business of a new world order should be negotiation of a comprehensive test ban. In addition the United Nations ought to be mandated to develop a more rigorous International Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime than has heretofore been contemplated, and to authorize appropriate sanctions for regimes like that of North Korea.
The time is also ripe for the United States and the world community to consider creating within the U.N. system an international criminal court or courts, to hold accountable international criminals who violate specific international conventions such as those related to terrorism, drug trafficking and crimes against the peace. Such a court system would be complementary to the International Court of Justice at the Hague, which exclusively adjudicates disputes between states. There could be no more appropriate potential defendants to proceedings of this nature than Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Abu Nidal.
Since one of the most effective antidotes to the irrationality of ancient enmity is the swift justice of the law, a turn (or in the case of the United States, return) to the compulsory jurisdiction of the World Court would appear to be one of the most appropriate and achievable objectives of the decades ahead.
Any credible post-Gulf War scenario for encouraging peace and stability in the Middle East must include unprecedented multilateral restraints on the transfer of advanced conventional arms. If there is any lesson of the gulf conflict it is that the West was responsible for the creation of the armed camp known as Iraq.
Nevertheless the triumph of collective security in the Persian Gulf gives hope that a new international order will be established, with the understanding that peacekeeping is peacemaking. As Winston Churchill observed in his famous Iron Curtain speech some 46 years ago, U.N. peacekeeping efforts to be effective require "sheriffs and constables."
With the United Nations finally beginning to function as its framers intended, it is time for the United States to lead in the creation of a modest U.N. rapid-deployment force. Logistical and certain intelligence capabilities could be shared with the United Nations by the member states, as Congress originally contemplated in the 1945 U.N. Participation Act, and by U.N. members as a whole by "special agreements" under Article 43 of the charter. Likewise either the moribund Military Staff Committee needs to be revived or a new system established.
There is an ambivalence, if not tension, in the American psyche between isolationism and internationalism, between hubristic leadership and team playing. Given the traumas of post-World War II interventions, the American people are reluctant to assume the lonely and costly role of policeman for the world. On the other hand, they accept as a credible obligation that the United States should play a significant part with others as international highway patrolman.
Continued expansion of U.N. responsibilities, however, cannot be contemplated without adequate financing. It is ironic that as American policy and American interests are progressively being advanced by the United Nations, the United States has become the institution’s single biggest deadbeat, with arrears in excess of $400 million. For Congress, it is not a proud moment that legislators are so stumped by a stultified appropriations process that peacekeeping in areas of the world as explosive as Cambodia, Yugoslavia and the Golan Heights does not receive the highest priority. Likewise, for the executive branch, it is not a proud moment that policymakers are so stymied by the domestic abortion debate that traditional American leadership in international family planning has ignominiously collapsed.
Finally, a note about this century as it is beginning to unfold into the next. The twentieth century, like those of all recorded history, has been marked by war. For the first time, however, mankind has come to contemplate reasons why war should become obsolete and rational approaches to ensuring that such a prospect becomes possible. The existence of weapons of mass destruction gives unprecedented and compelling reason to work to ensure that they not be employed. The creation of international institutions—most importantly the United Nations—the expansion of international law and the demonstrated will of the international community to participate in collective security arrangements give hope that the next century will be marked by a dramatic diminution of cross-boundary conflict.
The simplest, although most dangerous, part of the Cold War is over. Now the complicated work begins. If the nascent experiments in democracy and free enterprise collapse in the former Soviet Union and central Europe, the potential ramifications for the national security of the United States—in dollar costs for military preparedness and human costs due to unanticipated threats and conflicts—could be staggering.
The challenge of our time is to grasp the opportunity created by the end of the Cold War. If America leads wisely, new wells of creative energy can be opened up and mankind’s untapped productive potential released. The world can be enriched with a renaissance of the human spirit. If, on the other hand, America fails to secure the peace so many citizens have sacrificed so much to achieve, the mantle of 21st century leadership will pass to other less charitable societies and less liberal philosophies.
The weight of historical judgment is on our shoulders. As Dwight Eisenhower declared in his first inaugural address, "the faith we hold belongs not to us alone, but to the free of all the world."