Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
They Said It:
The underlying assumption heretofore has been that a nation’s security and prosperity rest chiefly upon its own strength and resources. Such an assumption has been used to justify statesmen in attempting, on the ground of the supreme need for national security, to increase their own nation’s power and resources by insistence upon strategic frontiers, territory with raw material, outlets to the sea, even though that course does violence to the security and prosperity of others. Under any system in which adequate defence rests upon individual preponderance of power, the security of one must involve the insecurity of another, and must inevitably give rise to covert or overt competitions for power and territory, dangerous to peace and destructive to justice . . . It is obvious that any plan ensuring national security and equality of opportunity will involve a limitation of national sovereignty.
The League of Free Nations Association, “Statement of Principles,” 1918.
VLADIMIR PUTIN AND THE NEW WORLD ORDER.
We, like so many across the political spectrum, have spent the last few weeks doing our best to explain the Russian aggression in and around Ukraine and the Western response to it. We tried to explain why Putin does what he does, why Obama doesn’t do what he doesn’t do, and why the entire turn of events is, in truth, anything but a surprise.
Yet, with all our finger pointing, arm-chair psychologizing, and solicitous sermonizing on the matter, it seems to us that some important questions are still unanswered, chief among them being, “what does all of this mean for the ‘global community’ going forward?”
Interestingly – and tellingly, we think – the global community itself appears thus far to have answered this as yet unspoken inquiry with be a shrug of its collective shoulders. Crimea, shmimea. What do we care? After all, Russia needs a warm-water port. Right? And traditionally, it has conquered warm-water ports. Right? And, frankly, what better warm-water port to let Putin have than one that is now more than 60% ethnic Russian anyway? Right!
More to the point, the Europeans, whom one would think will be most immediately affected by Putin’s aggression, have chosen to limit what few concerns they have to the subject of commerce. Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, for example, publicly fretted that too much empathy for the fate of the Crimean people could jeopardize his nation’s nearly $2 billion deal to build aircraft for the Russians.
“On the one hand,” he tweeted, “we cannot imagine delivering arms to Russia, on the other there is the reality of employment.” Likewise, the Germans too feel they must be careful how they respond to Putin, lest they threaten jobs, energy prices, and their entire economic well-being. As Reuters noted last week:
If an escalation of Europe’s stand-off with Moscow over Ukraine results in economic sanctions, more than 6,000 German companies who do business with Russia would suffer catastrophic losses, Germany’s main trade body has warned.
“About 6,200 German companies are engaged in Russia, some of them very strongly,” Anton Boerner, head of the BGA exporters’ body, told the Dortmunder Ruhr Nachrichten newspaper in an interview published on Friday. “For them, economic sanctions would be a real catastrophe.”…
Germany’s “wise men” council of economic advisers said on Thursday the Ukraine crisis was the biggest threat to global growth, and especially Germany . . .
Now, we appreciate the concerns that the Europeans have for their immediate economic interests. Certainly, they are more advanced in their journey toward reality than are most members of the ruling class in the United States, who wouldn’t recognize their country’s “national interest” if it bit ‘em on the backside, so to speak.
Additionally, it is hardly surprising that no one would want to put up much of a fight over Ukraine, much less Crimea. As we have noted before, Ukraine is an economic and political basket case. Its per capita income is comparable to that of Egypt, where people are starving to death, and its institutions are poorly developed, massively corrupt, and largely controlled by a handful of oligarchs. As such, fighting for the honor of adding Ukraine to the list of welfare nations that are dependent on the beneficence of the EU hardly strikes us as a particularly prudent move, especially given the fact that the economic union itself is still struggling to absorb and manage its own handful of bankrupt, welfare states.
Nevertheless, the cold, hard fact of the matter is that whether the French, the Germans, or the rubes at the White House realize it, Vladimir Putin has made the world in which we all live a much more dangerous place. And, by their sheep-like acquiescence to his plans, they have become his accomplices. All of which is to say that a “new world order” may indeed and at long last finally be upon us.
Over the past few weeks, a great many people, inside and outside the United States, have suggested that Americans who are upset by Putin’s aggressiveness are hypocrites. After all, when George Bush invaded Afghanistan, no one batted an eye. Moreover, a mere 18 months later, when he invaded Iraq, which, unlike Afghanistan was NOT connected 9/11, the world, more or less, stood by and watched. Certainly, no one threatened to toss the Americans out of the G8. Why then, should anyone – much less the Americans – think that they have the right to punish Putin and Russia for their meddling? After all, Ukraine is far more closely connected to Russia than any country the Americans have invaded since . . . well . . . ever. Indeed, Ukraine is the birthplace of the Russian people and of the very notion of Russia itself. What, then, gives the United States the right to call out Putin and label him a criminal for his conduct?
Of course, to any sentient being, the differences between the American actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Russian actions in Crimea are both manifest and manifold. Among many other factors, the motivation and the conduct of the respective “invaders” should be enough to silence these critics, who always and relentlessly use their flawed theories of moral equivalence to repudiate the existence of morality in general.
You see, whether justified of not, the United States invaded with the express intention of establishing governments in both nations that were far more representative of the people’s will than those that existed before. Moreover, they planned on leaving when this goal was realized.
By contrast, Russia’s purpose for invading the Crimea is to annex it. Whether Putin et al. have similar intentions with respect to the rest of Ukraine we cannot say. But then, it really doesn’t matter. Simply by annexing Crimea, Russia has broken one of the longest-standing and heretofore most revered rules of the post-war global order. It took territory previously belonging to another country and made it her own, which is expressly prohibited by international law and, more to the point, is an act that was and is repudiated by all major states, even the Soviet Union itself. Until now.
The 1975 Helsinki Accords, an international agreement signed by some 35 countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, codified the post-war prohibition against the annexation of territory. Specifically, Article III of the accords states that:
The participating States regard as inviolable all one another’s frontiers as well as the frontiers of all States in Europe and therefore they will refrain now and in the future from assaulting these frontiers.
Accordingly, they will also refrain from any demand for, or act of, seizure and usurpation of part or all of the territory of any participating State.
One may argue, of course, that since Ukraine did not exist as an independent state and thus was not a signatory to the accords, that its territory is not technically protected. Moreover, since the Soviet Union no longer exists and has been replaced by a political entity that made no commitments with respect to these accords, one may argue as well that Russia itself is not bound by this agreement. All of which is, however, beside the point. The Helsinki arrangement itself was technically “non-binding,” which is to say that there were no mechanisms established to address violations and no signatory was necessarily obligated by the agreement anyway.
Still, the accords codified longstanding, post-Cold War practices, as well as commonly accepted and enduring rules of state behavior, all which had previously been respected by the world’s most important players. Last week, in an essay for The New Republic, Maria Snegovaya put it this way:
Ultimately, though, the existence of a given world order is also based upon who is there to defend the existence of such an order. The post–World War II international system (in particular, the Helsinki Accords of 1975) effectively established the inviolability of state borders. Since then, no permanent U.N. Security Council member (so-called “P5”) has dared challenge the territorial integrity of another country with a goal to annex part of its territory. (The 2008 Georgian-Russian war led to emergence of two de jure independent states: South Ossetia and Abkhazia.) So the Crimean case is indeed quite unique: a P5 power annexing a territory recognized by the entire international community. Though the practice was common prior to World War II — for example, the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact, which divided eastern European territories into Nazi and Soviet “spheres of influence” — Putin is leading the first attempt in the twenty-first century. And the surprising discovery of the past few weeks is that there are few who are willing or able to stop him.
In short, this is no trifling matter. The eggs have been broken, so to speak. The only question now is the makeup of the resulting omelet. Going forward, it would appear that more and more serious violations of the residual order are likely to occur, given the cost-benefit scheme confirmed by this incident. This time, Russia will get what it wants, and it will cost almost nothing. That’s a pretty good trade. And others – or Putin himself in other contexts – will try to make the same trade, over and over, until the old order is completely destroyed.
It is worth noting here, we think, that the world order that Putin has now directly and explicitly challenged is the brainchild neither of right-wingers nor of American imperialists. Rather, it is the creation of the West’s triumphant and triumphalist Left and a product of the Left’s post-war desire to spread the gospel of “soft” socialism.
As we have noted before in these pages, the post-war world order was largely forged in Yalta between the ailing Roosevelt and the wickedly cunning Stalin, who knew full well what the naïve Americans wanted and how he could use their desires to his advantage.
For the better part of half-a-century, the leftist secular intellectuals and the Utopian pietists had colluded to push the notion of “global governance” on an unwilling and uninterested globe. In 1945, however, with the Utopians victorious in the West and the cynics victorious in the East, the Wilsonian-pietist dream at last became a reality. Indeed, the entire post-War period – from Roosevelt’s attempts to court Stalin at Yalta and beyond, to the establishment of the United Nations, the World Bank, and International Monetary Fund; from Truman’s speech on the Greek crisis to the formulation of the policy of containment; from the war in Korea to the Marshall Plan – is likely best seen as the story the American Left’s attempts to nurture and encourage world government, under beneficent American leadership.
Those efforts, were, of course, successful – at least if one measures “success” in terms of creating institutions and delegating responsibilities to the new global bureaucracy. The building of this global government persisted through Truman’s presidency, beyond Eisenhower to Kennedy, and on to Johnson and Carter. By the time Ronald Reagan appeared on the global scene in 1981, the Left’s global governance dream had become an entrenched reality, with the United Nations providing the cornerstone for this New World Order.
This is not to say that the entirety of the post-war order was a useless, wasteful, Utopian, bureaucratic disaster. Quite the opposite, in fact. Some of the institutions developed in its wake have been truly beneficial, including the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which was the precursor to the WTO (World Trade Organization) and which helped foster a general global regard for free – or at least fair – trade.
Both GATT and its successor have had their problems, of course, and many conservatives understandably and rightly dislike many of the WTO’s current policies and rulings. Nevertheless, the notion of a global organization dedicated to fostering greater international trade has undoubtedly benefitted the global community in the aggregate since the end of World War II and helped prevent a post-war relapse into the type of trade protectionism that characterized the West in the economic morass that existed prior to the war’s outset.
Several years ago, as the Cold War was dying down and as the world was adjusting to the new, post-Soviet reality, several astute observers noted that all of the institutions created in the wake of World War II and in the instability of the emerging Cold War had suddenly become obsolete. And this, in turn, meant that those institutions would begin, one-by-one, to disappear.
Obviously, the first of these to fall was the Warsaw Pact. Soon after, though, NATO ended – or at least it ended in the form and purpose for which it was created. Expansion of membership and dilution of purpose turned the old military alliance into a largely archaic and largely symbolic organization. In Afghanistan, for example, NATO provided a small number of coalition troops, with the overwhelming majority provided by the United States and Great Britain. And of those troops deployed by NATO, some – the German contingent, most notably – were not even authorized to participate in combat operations. The Treaty organization, which was always American dominated, became less a serious outfit and more the means by which the United States would couch its post-Cold-War military operations in terms of “multinationalism.”
This slow-burn dissolution is also, we think, the obvious fate of the European Union. You all know how we feel about the monetary union and its long-term prospects. But the broader EU itself was a post-war creation that has, like so many others, outlived its purpose. Indeed, as a recent poll showed, a greater number of Britons view Russia more favorably than the EU. The same poll found that a broad plurality of Brits think that the EU does more harm than good, an ominous sign given the Prime Minister David Cameron has promised British voters an in-or-out vote regarding the EU by 2017.
Roughly eight years ago, in a piece we wrote on this very subject, we noted that the dissolution of most of the rest of the post-war institutions was undoubtedly, if not indefinitely delayed by the attacks of 9/11. The United Nations in particular won a reprieve that fateful day, finding a new and slightly altered role for itself in the “war on terror” era. Of course, that era is itself now over and the United Nations appears once again to be superfluous. If it can’t stop Putin from doing what no other major nation has done in some seven decades, then exactly what purpose does it serve?
For years now, some on the Right have argued that the United Nations and all of its attendant bureaucracies are damaging, destructive, and, worst of all, usurpers of American liberty. The late Senator Jesse Helms waged a long and ultimately unsuccessful war to deny the U.N. American funding. When the U.N. is feckless, anti-Semitic, anti-American, aggressively environmentalist, or just plain stupid – and it is all of these habitually – conservatives scream and holler about the need to end American participation in this grand, global fraud. And always these screams fall on deaf ears, largely because the complaints are portrayed as the rants of political fringe-dwellers.
Enter Barack Obama, whose apparent distaste for all of the values that dominated American foreign policy for the sixty-four years prior to his presidency has generated a global power vacuum. Unlike previous presidents on both the Left and the Right, Obama has no apparent desire to spread American values to the furthest corners of the globe. More surprisingly, though, unlike previous presidents on the Left, Obama also does not appear to care about the broader promotion of human rights, popular self-determination, or making the world “safe for democracy.” Indeed, he appears to care very little about the rest of the world, except in that he wants it to stay quite while he “transforms” the United States.
All of this has had an effect on the rest of the globe. And now Vlad has taken it upon himself to see just how great and how far-reaching that effect truly is.
In a recent piece for The Atlantic, Peter Beinart, the former editor of The New Republic, and a onetime advocate of the restoration of a muscular, Truman-esque liberal foreign policy, wrote that Barack Obama’s foreign policy has, essentially, brought the Cold War-era to a definitive conclusion. Whereas the inherent contradictions and economic immaturity of socialism destroyed one of the two superpowers, military overreach followed by intellectual indolence and lack of will appear to be destroying the second, at least in terms of its global influence. A good, if somewhat confused liberal, Beinart doesn’t exactly put it in those terms, but his argument is unmistakable. To wit:
For a century after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, five great powers — Britain, Russia, France, Austria, and Prussia (later Germany) — jockeyed for influence in Europe. Then World War I smashed three of them: Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary. And then World War II smashed Germany again, while bankrupting Britain and France. Suddenly, the world found itself dominated by two superpowers, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Each was more ideologically driven and more capable of projecting power across the entire globe than the great powers that had preceded the world wars.
So it went for almost half a century, until the Soviet empire collapsed. Immediately, some international-relations scholars predicted a return to old-fashioned great-power rivalry. In 1990, the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer published an essay entitled “Back to the Future,” in which he predicted a new “multipolar” competition resembling the one that held sway in the 19th century. This competition, Mearsheimer predicted, would be less ideological than the Cold War, but more unstable, and might plunge Europe into war.
Beinart notes, as we have above, that none of this happened, or at least none of it happened immediately, because it was delayed by the war terror. But that war is now over, and the dissolution can proceed accordingly. Beinart continues:
The risk of jihadi terror remains; Iran is still seeking the capacity to build a nuclear bomb. But these threats appear comparatively smaller when Russia occupies Ukraine or, as happened last November, China erects an air-defense zone over most of the East China Sea. Just look at how Putin’s actions have pushed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Iran-focused visit to Washington this week off the front page.
When there’s serious tension between America and other major powers, that tension becomes the dominant reality in U.S. foreign policy. And it’s likely that tension will endure. Vladimir Putin has now twice invaded his neighbors in an effort to halt, if not reverse, the West’s encroachment into the former U.S.S.R. Yet the more bullying he becomes, the more desperately many in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and perhaps other ex-Soviet republics will seek economic and military bonds with Europe and the U.S. Large chunks of the former Soviet Union now constitute a gray zone where competition between Russia and the West can breed diplomatic feuds, economic sanctions, and even proxy war.
Similarly, as China continues to rise economically, it will keep asserting control over islands, airspace, and sea lanes claimed by its smaller neighbors. And that will cause those smaller neighbors to turn to the U.S. for help, which will strain the U.S.-China relationship diplomatically, or worse. China is geopolitically ascendant and Russia is not, but both are led by intensely nationalistic regimes willing to risk conflict with the West to define a sphere of influence over their neighbors. Given the political pressure on Barack Obama — and probably any future American president — to avoid the appearance of the U.S. being in global retreat, that’s a recipe for discord. . . .
[T]his new era will be more like the 19th century than either the bipolar, ideological Cold War, the relatively placid post-Cold War era of the globalized 1990s, or the post-9/11 war on terror. . . .
We’re not sure that we agree with Beinart in his expectations for the future and the multi-polar world order. We do, however, think that he is right that the world order is indeed changing and that the result of this change will be greater “discord.”
We feel it necessary to point out, though Beinart does not, that this discord will be far more than merely geopolitical or military. Indeed, it will be economic as well. As we noted above, not all of the institutions of the post-war era are strictly political and not all are necessarily injurious. Indeed, the great victory of the post-war era was the rationalization and normalization of economic transactions – the process known otherwise as “globalization.” Putin’s invasion of Crimea, the attendant collapse of the inviolability of national borders, and the failure of the post-war institutions, will lead inevitably to the corruption of the global economic consensus as well. Like the institutions of military cooperation and geopolitical accord, the institutions of trade and global commerce can only persist if they are actively, aggressively, and unflinchingly defended. And the West – and America in particular – has demonstrated of late that it simply does not have the stomach to continue its seven-decade-long defense.
Already, we see that the nations of Europe calculate their responses to Russia’s aggression by incorporating the very real variable of Putin’s economic treachery. Will he abide by his agreements? Will he continue to distribute the natural gas that has become the lifeblood of the European energy sector? Will he honor the contracts he and his state-owned industries have signed? Or rather, will he do as he pleases? Will he blackmail Europe into shutting its mouth? Will he freeze the Ukrainians? Will he freeze the Poles and the Germans? And if he does, who will do anything to stop him?
The sad answer, of course, is no one will.
If we have one complaint with the Beinart’s essay, it is the seeming inevitability he builds into his argument. As he sees it, all of this was bound to happen. The United States could not continue to be a superpower after the Berlin Wall fell. And all is proceeding as was foreseen, if a little delayed by the war on terror.
We don’t believe that. We believe that decline is a choice. We believe that the current trajectory of the projection of American power is a path that was consciously chosen by a political elite that didn’t understand the existing order and therefore didn’t see the need in preserving at least those aspects of it that had tremendous value.
The result of this short-sightedness, unfortunately, will be “discord” – political, military, and especially economic. Such is life in the New World Order, we’re afraid.
More to follow in the months ahead.