“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Why I am wrong about Russia.

We need Russia in the G8
John Kirton, National Post
Published: Friday, April 20, 2007
With the approach of the annual G8 summit, this year being held in Germany, some critics are questioning whether Russia belongs in this exclusive democratic club. These include National Post columnist Lorne Gunter, whose column on the subject appeared recently in these pages ("Expel Russia from the G8," April 18). Some claim Russia is returning to totalitarianism and should be shunned until it meets certain democratic standards. Others think it is essential to curb Russia's increasing economic power. Both ideas are deeply flawed.

Those who would remove Russia from the G8 forget that this strategy of exclusion failed at the League of Nations, and thereby helped bring about the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War. They also forget that Russia's democratic revolution, unlike the bloody events in the United States in 1776 and France in 1789, was not a revolution from the streets but from the top, with Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin trying to impose political openness on a bureaucracy and society that had never enjoyed it before. Such a process will take some time to succeed -- a fact that should be understood by those other G8 members with a parliamentary tradition that was built up over many centuries.

Nor would the world be better off with a reprise of the old Cold War. Countries fighting to free democratic Afghanistan from terrorists would not want a rival superpower supplying surface-to-air missiles to the Taliban (in payback for what the West did to invading Soviet armies 25 years ago). Moreover, Russia is by far the best positioned G8 power to talk North Korea and Iran out of their nuclear ambitions, and to put pressure on Tehran regarding its support for Islamist terrorists. It is the only country that can get the Serbs to accept a settlement on Kosovo.

Russia's surging oil revenues have, under Putin's guidance, eliminated the instability that plagued the country in the 1990s, when the old G7 members regarded Russia as a thirdworld country with nuclear arms. Russia's oil wealth has moved it from a consumer to a producer of development assistance, and Moscow is now aiding poor countries in Africa. Russia's refusal thus far to create a natural gas cartel alongside OPEC further helps poor hydrocarbon consumers around the world. And as the G8 member most responsible for bringing the Kyoto Protocol on climate change into life, Russia is central to the outcome of this important global issue.

True, a responsible Russia globally does require an ever more democratic Russia domestically. Yet here, too, Russia's G8 membership has proven its worth. As G8 host in 2006, Russia mounted the most well organized, open, inclusive process for global civil society participation in the G8 since the club was created in 1975. It helped produce a G8 meeting with greater respect for environmental values and social cohesion. It is also worth noting that this same G8 meeting witnessed a frank dialogue among the leaders, initiated by President Putin, about the condition and future of democracy in Russia itself.

This sort of dialogue is far more productive for the world than shouting Cold War slogans through a new Iron Curtain. And that is what we would wind up with if the West kicked the Russians out of the G8 club. - Prof. John Kirton is director of the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto.

© National Post 2007


  1. We got to work with the rooskies.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Oh, please!
    You just have to live in the country to see that G8 membership stands next to nothing in Russia

    They do not need it, but thrive for it.. for prestige, I suppose, nothing else