“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."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back to the 19th Century

Europe and the United States are once again assessing the consequences of failed democracy in Russia. The Telegraph addresses the issue as a return to 19th century politics of balance of power. It Observes...
"For a decade after the Soviet Union collapse, the United States reigned supreme. As the sole victor of the Cold War, Washington was in the position to force the rest of the world to adopt its ideology of democracy. Those that did not lost economic support and faced isolation.
American power might not have waned but it is facing challenges from the resurgence of the East, China, India and Russia, challenges that have not been the primary focus of the State Department as the United States grapples with the problem of Islamic extremism.
Mr Putin is convinced that a multi-polar world is being born and that Russia is firmly placed to establish itself as a leading power in it. Moscow's support of countries that follow an autocratic philosophy similar to Mr Putin's are therefore being assiduously courted, as has been shown in recent UN vetoes by Russia on resolutions condemning or imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe and Burma.
Mr Putin sees the possibility of great dividends in a battle between democracy and autocracy. But, even though he mourned the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century, he realizes that the new era will not be shaped by two competing powers alone.
With Russia, China and the European Union in the frame, he believes that, instead of the Cold War, the new political era will be dominated by concepts such as the balance of power and the creation of alliances -- in other words, the diplomacy of the 19th century not the 20th."
The New York Times jumps in as well.


As Russian Tanks Roll, Europe Reassesses

Published: August 15, 2008

BERLIN — The Russian tanks rumbling across parts of Georgia are forcing a fundamental reassessment of strategic interests across Europe in a way not considered since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the subsequent collapse of Communism.

For nearly two decades, European capitals in concert with Washington have encouraged liberalization in lands once firmly under the Soviet aegis. Now, they find themselves asking a question barely posed in all those years: How far will or can Russia go, and what should the response be?

The answer will play out not just in the European Union, but also along its new eastern frontier, in once obscure places like Moldova and Azerbaijan.

Already, French leaders, acting on behalf of Europe, have firmly told the Russians they cannot insist on the ouster of Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, as a precondition for a cease-fire.

Farther west, in Poland, a long-stalled negotiation on stationing parts of a United States missile defense system was quickly wrapped up, as American negotiators on Thursday dropped resistance to giving the Poles advanced Patriot missiles.

The Poles, of course, had their own security in mind. “Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of — knock on wood — any possible conflict,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk said.

“The reality is that international relations are changing,” said Pawel Swieboda, director of demos EUROPA, an independent research organization based in Warsaw. “For the first time since 1991, Russia has used military force against a sovereign state in the post-Soviet area. The world will not be the same. A new phenomenon is unfolding in front or our eyes: a re-emerging power that is willing to use force to guarantee its interests. The West does not know how to respond.”

At stake 20 years ago was whether the Kremlin, then under Mikhail Gorbachev, would intervene militarily to stop the collapse of Communism. But Mr. Gorbachev chose to cut Eastern Europe free as he focused — in vain — on preventing the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

Communist bloc lands from the Baltic States in the north to Bulgaria in the south have since joined the European Union and NATO — a feat, despite flaws, that in the Western view has made the continent more secure and democratic.

But Russia never liked the expansion of NATO. In the 1990s, it was too weak to resist; today, in the Caucasus, Russia is showing off its power and sending an unmistakable message: Georgia, or a much larger Ukraine, will never be allowed to join NATO.

The implications of Russia’s action reverberate well beyond that, from the European Union’s muddled relations with a crucial energy supplier, Russia, through Armenia and Azerbaijan in the south and east, to Ukraine and Moldova in the west.

This region has everything that the West and Russia covet and abhor: immense reserves of oil and gas, innumerable ethnic splits and tensions, corrupt and authoritarian governments, pockets of territory that have become breeding grounds or havens for Islamic fundamentalists. As a result, the region has become the arena for competition between the Americans and Europeans on one hand, and Russia on the other, over how to bring these countries into their respective spheres of influence.

The European Union — as ever, slow and divided — has offered few concrete proposals to bring the countries of what Russia calls its “near abroad” — Belarus, Ukraine, the Caucasus and the Caspian — closer to Europe. Analysts say the 27 member states have not been able to separate their view of Russia from adopting a clear strategy toward the former Soviet republics on the union’s new eastern borders.

“The Georgia crisis shows that Russia is in the process of testing how far it can go,” said Niklas Nilsson of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Stockholm. “This is part of a much bigger geopolitical game. It is time for the Europeans to decide what kind of influence it wants in the former Soviet states. That is the biggest strategic challenge the E.U. now faces.”

NATO, led by the United States and several Eastern European countries, has reached out more actively. At a summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, in April, Georgia and Ukraine failed to get on a concrete path to membership as they had sought, but did secure a promise of being admitted eventually.

Georgia and its supporters say that NATO membership would have protected Georgians from Russian tanks. Western European diplomats by contrast note with relief that Georgia is not in NATO, and thus they were not required to come to its defense.

The newly resurgent Russians, buoyed by oil and gas wealth and the firm leadership of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, have played their hand with less hesitation.

Tomas Valasek, the Slovak-born director of foreign policy and defense at the Center for European Reform in London, says Russia has used the ethnic and territorial card to persuade some NATO countries that admitting Ukraine or Georgia would prove more dangerous and unstable than keeping them out. Georgia’s incursion Aug. 7 into South Ossetia serves both these Russian arguments, as well as Moscow’s passionate objections to the West’s support for an independent Kosovo.

Recognize Kosovo’s break with Serbia, Mr. Putin warned last spring, and Russia will feel entitled to do the same with South Ossetia and Georgia’s other breakaway enclave, Abkhazia — where Mr. Putin needs stability to realize his cherished project of the 2014 Winter Olympics in nearby Sochi.

Ukraine, bigger than France and traditionally seen by Russians as integral to their heritage and dominion, has been conspicuously quiet over the past week. Senior Ukrainian officials say that the weak European Union response on Georgia will only embolden Russia to focus even more on Ukraine, where many inhabitants speak Russian and, particularly in the eastern half, look to Moscow, not Kiev, for leadership.

“The crisis in Georgia has clear implications for regional security, and of course Ukraine,” said Hryhoriy Nemyria, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, who is responsible for European integration. “This crisis makes crystal clear that the security vacuums that have existed in the post-Soviet space remain dangerous.”

1 comment:

  1. Can't have a post with no comments.

    In some ways, I'd like to see things go back a century. 1908 wasn't a bad year around here, so I was told. Growing up on a farm, unspoiled nature all around, new country, new language, everything new, new, new. What's not to like?