‘What does Russia want?’: this perennial question of the post-Cold War era has remained left, right, and centre of policymaking and analysis towards Moscow since the end of the Cold…
Dr Kevork Oskanian
Kevork Oskanian is an Honorary Research Fellow at University of Birmingham having previously been a Lecturer in the Political Science and International Studies Department. He has previously taught at the University of Westminster and the London School of Economics, where he also received his PhD.
Assumption One: the Nation-State is DeadThe idea that the 21st century would see the death – or, at least, the dramatically reduced relevance - of the modern nation-state was surprisingly widespread only a decade or so ago. The underlying assumption was that, with the advent of complex interdependence and transnational forms of communication, new, ‘post-modern’ forms of political organisation would eclipse this holdover of a less enlightened, more nationalist age. Some posited that the globalised world would be a neo-medieval one, with states but one component in a multi-level system of governance including transnational corporations and organisations, supra-national entities exemplified by the EU, regions, intergovernmental organisations, and private military companies; others argued that democracy would be displaced from the national to the regional through the creation of a truly global ‘civil society’; and those of a more critical bend looked at the state as a social and historical artifice, subject to deconstruction. In much of scholarship and policymaking, the nationalist conflicts and failed states of the 1990s were seen as a temporary anomaly, the lingering after-effects of a lack of political civility born from decades of autocratic rule, or plain misrule; instead, the future was one of constant and ever-tighter integration, and growing universalist identification with standard – liberal, interconnected, universal – forms of governance. But the nation-state did not die or wither away; instead, especially following the 2008 financial crisis, it staged a dramatic comeback, a comeback that, especially in the West, engendered an existential crisis in the EU, and as-yet unresolved culture wars between national and universal forms of identification. Much has, and will be written about the underlying causes of this national resurgence, but one set of explanations does stand out: the inability of more technocratic forms of governance, and globalisation’s more diffuse forms of identification to displace the legitimacy of the state as the focus of democratic politics; a democratic deficit duly exploited by resurgent populist movements on the political left, and, especially, the right. One might venture to think that the COVID-19 crisis, and the current revalidation of medical, and, to a lesser extent, economic expertise, may lead to a move away from democratic to technocratic legitimacy in coming years, thus tempering this resurgence of national populist politics and forms of identification. But appearances can deceive. The ‘revenge of the nation-state’ remains of relevance, as demonstrated by the simple answer as to who populations have first turned to in these times of extreme insecurity. In the EU and elsewhere, national heads of states and government have been the first port of call in devising national responses and providing reassurance, and national emergency measures devised by technocrats have still required their democratic stamp of legitimacy. The most visible symbolic acts have occurred primarily at the national level, within national communities, and, even in Europe, ‘solidarity’ has been performed between distinctive nation-states, rather than within an over-arching ‘polis’. In the process, the much-vaunted ‘security communities’ of old – the EU, NATO, ‘the West’ – have been relegated into the background, in spite of playing essential, but often easily eclipsed supporting roles – especially in the economic realm, as in the case of the ECB and the European Commission. The question remains to what extent these roles will be visible to, and appreciated by, anxious and insecure electorates in the affected states. Some reactions in Spain and Italy to the EU’s failure to enact fiscal in addition to symbolic solidarity are ominous in that regard, adding to the ability of right-wing populist narratives to discredit these alternative forms of identification and solidarity. At a time when narratives cannot be centrally controlled or shaped – by gist of an information space distorted by malicious internal and external actors operating through conventional social media - there is no reason to believe these appeals to national forms of legitimacy will be adequately tackled, and contained. The democratic deficit outside of the state, and the failure to construct strong forms of existential identification over and above the purely national will therefore likely continue to haunt transnational and supranational liberal projects like the EU for the foreseeable future.
Assumption Two: Interdependent, Free Markets are Always GoodThe beneficial nature of free-market economic governance is the second of the long-standing elements of liberalism that may see a long-standing crisis of confidence intensified through COVID-19. One does not have to be a Marxist to recognise the crisis-prone nature of the post-Cold War economic system; but beyond the lingering, and largely unaddressed long-term effects of its preceding internal crises, two as yet unaddressed imbalances are relevant to the external shock that we are witnessing today. Firstly, the unequal distribution of the costs and benefits of the globalised, interdependent political economy; and, secondly, the re-emergence of economic governance as an object of contentious political choice, rather than, merely, of neutral technocratic management. The first aspect – of inequality – goes beyond the inequities directly perceived at the societal level as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such inequities – between the winners and losers, the billionaires and the ‘squeezed middle’ of globalisation - may only be partially tempered in societies where socialised medicine provides a buffer against the most blatant excesses of existential insecurity. Where such provisions do not exist, COVID-19 brings home the very real consequences of unequal access to care, a realisation amplified by the a-social behaviour of parts of the upper classes themselves: the wealthy firing employees en masse, or pleading for special treatment; the super-rich purchasing pandemic survival packages, or hoarding life-saving respirators for exclusive personal use. This is significant in light of the populist challenge to the Liberal World Order, which, regardless of whether it emanates from the right or the left, is built precisely on the Manichean idea of pitting ‘corrupt’ elites against an ‘authentic’ people. Nothing clarifies its underlying theme of ‘loss of control’ like a period of intense existential angst, coupled with visible privilege and what may possibly be an economy weakened over the longer term; a reliance by some on a revalidation of expertise or gestures of solidarity as long-awaited solutions to deeper-seated economic disillusionment therefore appears premature. But globalisation’s long-engrained inequalities also operate at the inter-state level; and they have been exposed like never before. To those states and societies in the wrong positions within the global supply chain, interdependence has turned into dependence overnight; and while this is especially relevant today when it comes to issues related to biomedical and food security, it may conceivably crystallise into greater future sensitivity as to where, and by whom, other strategically significant products and commodities are manufactured. The themes of self-sufficiency and redundancy may gain in relevance in coming years, as will a careful consideration of the nature of the regimes controlling the flow of vital supplies, whose political openness was, contrary to another assumption of a more liberal age, not facilitated by their modernising integration into the globalised economy. Instead, the entanglement of liberal and illiberal economies has become a clear and present danger to the former through strategic, and broader commercial dependence, corrupt capital flows, and market-driven cultural and political (self-)censorship, especially in the realms of higher education and popular culture. COVID-19 has simply underlined the extent to which, within this broader context, globalisation can become a threat, rather than an asset to open societies with liberal values: difficult choices will, once again, have to be made as a result. The second aspect – the revalidation of political control over market technocracy – relates directly to this recognition that the latter do not always work in favour of liberal polities, and that some political limits to free trade – in the name of safeguarding fundamental values from autocratic interference – are required. But it also taps into a broader understanding that entirely free markets are neither achievable, nor, in fact, desirable. Of course, the monetary and fiscal measures taken by central banks and governments in the heat of crisis are largely devised and executed by the very economists whose credibility took a (near) fatal hit in 2008-09; one might venture to think that success would lead to a revalidation of their ability to steer economic policy in the right direction. There are, nevertheless, several ways in which they risk chipping away (or, more dramatically, destabilising) some long-held liberal orthodoxies in economic management, orthodoxies which were already substantially damaged by the – quite illiberal - corporate welfare seen during the 2008-09 crisis. Firstly, the long-term success of the dramatic measures taken, and their ability to undo the economic cost of the pandemic, remains to be seen: it is all too easy for populations to agree with and support free-spending rescue packages; even if they don’t fail, the real test will come when their bill becomes due. Secondly, a large part of these populations – especially those marginalised and squeezed by the forces of globalisation – will have suddenly discovered that the imperatives of the free market can be counter-acted with state intervention, which may become a possible policy choice where it was previously unthinkable (as in the case of socialised healthcare in the United States), or lead to an intensified rejection of market-driven austerity (notably in the Eurozone’s south). In the latter case, this might actually become a reality that forces the EU, and Eurozone into making a final choice between between fiscal union and sound economic governance on the one hand, and continued inequality and eventual disintegration on the other. Thirdly – and more broadly – the COVID-19 crisis has illustrated the extent to which, even in the most extreme of times, economic management is subject to moral and political choices, an important point in an age where ‘taking back control’ is a recurring theme in the West’s political processes. Nowhere is this better illustrated in the wrangling, within the United States and elsewhere, on the macabre trade-offs between the life-saving imperatives of preventative lockdowns, and the longer-term requirements of economic growth. This competition between two logics – of the Coronavirus threat, and of the market – is one that will have to be ultimately resolved by a politics bolstered by democratic legitimacy, and where the economy, for once, does not lay claim to a taken-for-granted priority. Again, this is a precedent that may come to unseat liberalism’s adherence to market diktat in favour of more democratic, interventionist control in the post-COVID-19 age.
Assumption Three: Open Societies Are the Future, Always and EverywhereThis democratic choice highlights the importance of introspection and renewal in liberal societies’ attempts to tackle a third assumption that has come under increased pressure; namely that they will always and everywhere be able to lay claim to both practical and moral pre-eminence in the management of human affairs. This has, arguably, been the most dangerous assumption of all, its resulting overconfidence breeding both a lack of self-awareness and an overly messianic universalism, both of which have become more untenable in the 21st century – and both of which have been highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis. The first – lack of self-awareness – is based on the taken-for-granted assumption that that liberal models will always be superior to autocratic ones; in the second decade of the twenty-first century, this argument – based on the comparative advantage over the failed and long-stagnant Soviet experiment immediately following its collapse – is no longer as straightforwardly obvious as it once was. Instead, it is now overshadowed by the longer-term fact that the top-heavy, statist Chinese economic system has consistently outperformed the West’s, famously lifting more people out of poverty than ever in the history of mankind, and creating a fledgling superpower in the process. China’s present ability to push back globally at Western points about its system being to blame for the COVID-19 crisis (or, in fact, the ongoing situation in Xinjiang) is but one expression of this trend, amplified by the ‘curation’ of the global information space by the Chinese regime. This problem goes beyond an ‘information war’ between the Chinese Communist Party, and the liberal West. It is also enabled by the structural socio-economic contradictions and systemic faults – many of them outlined above – which the Western policymaking elite has allowed to accumulate, unaddressed, for the past three decades. The crisis-prone nature of the Liberal World Order – with many of its crises emanating from lax regulation within its Western core – chips away at this comparative advantage from a practical perspective. The West’s moral comparative advantage is furthermore compromised by the hollowing out of democratic governance, and the inequalities and crises emerging from free-market orthodoxy. Both have resulted in the gradual transformation of Western democracies – especially the power at their core, the United States – from genuinely competitive liberal democracies rooted in vibrant, grass-roots civil societies, into increasingly unequal, socially fractured and polarised plutocracies dominated by a disproportionately influential millionaire and billionaire elite. Coupled with permanent compromises on civil and human rights emanating from the ‘war on terror’, these have arguably also chiselled away at the comparative moral advantage long enjoyed by liberal, Western societies, creating vulnerabilities easily exploited by 21st-century information warriors. In no small part, this crisis of confidence also has to do with post-Cold War liberalism’s activist universal ambitions: liberal-democratic forms of governance were not only seen as superior, they were also defined as universally applicable, regardless of historical or other structural conditions, and, as the expected end-point of modernising processes – something dramatically contradicted by recent democratic backsliding in ‘mature’ democracies like Hungary’s. The expectation was that globalisation would facilitate liberal forms of governance at home and abroad; dictatorship was thus seen as an anomaly, to be overcome as the West, led by the United States, performed its role and – in the words of the latter’s first post-Cold War National Security Strategy - created ‘open, democratic and representative political systems worldwide’. Overlooked was the possibility that these assumptions were born from the after-effects of Western colonialism, the resulting global cultural and material dominance of the West, and the boost of ideological victory in the Cold War – all three of which are now slowly fading into the background. Failures in regime change and humanitarian intervention – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere – were one illustration of the dangers of universalist hubris and resulting overstretch; and COVID-19 now amplifies these dangers in two ways. Firstly, by assuming modernity moves in one – liberal – direction, the West let down its guard, in expectation that China – and others - would, at some point adopt the same kind of ‘openness’ everyone was deemed to aspire to and reach after attaining a certain level of development; and, secondly, in expecting China, and others, to specifically respond to crises in ways they themselves would have responded, i.e. in the transparent and accountable ways seen in their own, open, and – all appearances to the contrary - more highly developed, mature economies. In both these misconceptions, the liberal West both over-estimates its own capability to impose change in an increasingly post-Western world, over societies that may not at all be receptive to solutions born from liberal perspectives and socio-economic contexts that are quite different from their own. In fact, Western liberals have all too often ended up reading the politics of non-Western societies that - like China’s, Russia’s, and Iran’s - diverge from the liberal-democratic norm, in ways that fit their ideological preferences: frustration at their repressive and opaque methods has led to one-size-fits-all liberal solutions being proposed, and longed for, often ignoring structural limitations, tortuous historical backstories and local political cultures that make these societies less than receptive to Western-style liberalism. As a result, unrepresentative dissidents have become preferred interlocutors; rumblings of localised discontent have been interpreted as heralding the imminent destabilisation of the regime; and attempts at revolution – however hopeless – have been prematurely embraced. This wishful thinking is dangerous, in that it hinders ideologically detached, pragmatic solutions to global problems that do not assume shaping societies according to Western preferences, or, alternatively, in that they base policies on expectations of change that are neither imminent, nor, indeed, probable. Both of these are perilous for liberal states, risking ineffectiveness, overstretch or aggravation through impositions that cannot be achieved, or internal change that won’t occur: the response to COVID-19 will, when the time comes, have to navigate between these two extremes, towards a pragmatism free from ideological imposition and expectation.
ConclusionCOVID-19 is thus an additional challenge to a Liberal World Order which was already under considerable strain from the multiple contradictions which have accumulated since the end of the Cold War. While it is too early to tell how the decisions taken during and after the crisis will shape the future, it is quite reasonable to assume that these tensions will not suddenly disappear, and that they will be, to an even greater extent, in want of solutions. The three ‘weak points’ highlighted above emerged during the high point of the Liberal World Order, in the first decade of the post-Cold War era; but the assumption that the state will just wither away, that markets will resolve everything, and that liberalism will always rule the roost may become even less tenable than before. Firstly, when it comes to the nation-state, policymakers may, of course, continue hoping for the best, and the sudden disappearance of populism and retrograde nationalism in light of, among others, the revalidation of expertise, international cooperation and solidarity; this would, nevertheless, represent a considerable leap of faith, considering the extent to which COVID-19 has illustrated the continued relevance of the state, and identification with national forms of community, in the responses taken at times of crisis. The challenge posed by its continued status as the principal ‘container’ of democratic politics, and the main provider of security will remain, as will the question of how to reconcile this reality with more universal forms of legitimacy and identification. Issues like the recent wrangling over ‘Coronavirus bonds’ in the EU suggest this will be a difficult task indeed, whose kicking into the long grass might very well lead to the collapse of a number of liberal projects, including the EU itself. Secondly, that markets are too important to be left to economists alone is another lesson that might – counter-intuitively – be drawn from the COVID-19 crisis. Indeed, at first sight, the emergency measures taken under the guidance of experts appear to bolster the case for technocratic governance; but beyond the immediate requirements of the crisis itself, they also open up the possibility of political and moral choice: against the taken-for-granted inequalities generated by its diktats, and against the idea that markets and interdependence are the best recipe for security. In a world where some do not play by these rules, but, instead, consistently subordinate the market to politics, interdependence may very well turn into dependence: a key insight to be kept in mind in the post-Coronavirus era. Thirdly, and most importantly, comes the necessity for a redefined, more realistic universalism, one that does away with the expectation that other societies will automatically gravitate towards the tenets of an unreformed Liberal World Order that continues to find itself in crisis. The mistaken view that ‘there is no alternative’ to liberalism because it is the only ideology with universal appeal and applicability should be done away with in favour of the realisation that local, culturally specific solutions can, on aggregate, also form a challenge to its global ambitions, and become more relevant if the West’s long-held relative material dominance continues to fade. Shaping the world, and others, in liberalism’s image may very well become much more difficult in coming decades; instead, an effort at perfecting liberal democracy, and realising universalist value at home – within liberal democratic states and communities of liberal democratic states – should become the norm, as should safeguarding these states through flexible foreign policies, and the pragmatic management of global issues, including those related to public health – free from unrealistic expectation and ideological missionary ambition. Whether or not this turning of Western, liberal societies into examples to be aspired to, rather than models to be imposed, will occur following COVID-19 may become the crucial question of the 21st century. 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Jeffrey Wasserstrom, China’s Response to Coronavirus Exposes a Dangerous Obsession with Secrecy, The Guardian, February 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/feb/05/china-response-coronavirus-obsession-secrecy; Shadi Hamid, China Is Avoiding Blame by Trolling the World, The Atlantic March 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/china-trolling-world-and-avoiding-blame/608332/ [post_title] => FPC Briefing: Liberalism and Geopolitics beyond COVID-19 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => fpc-briefing-liberalism-and-geopolitics-beyond-covid-19 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-04-14 10:49:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-04-14 10:49:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=4604 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4070 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2019-09-24 10:03:34 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-09-24 10:03:34 [post_content] =>
During much of the preceding decade wider Europe’s strategic landscape, from the Atlantic-to-the-Urals, has been marked by two interrelated phenomena. On the one hand, the continent has seen a continuous deterioration in relations between Russia and the West. On the other, as elsewhere, it has witnessed an ebbing of the once unassailable confidence in liberal institutions that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War. Both of these processes have now reached crisis point. Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, its ongoing involvements in Eastern Ukraine and Georgia, its subversion of political processes in liberal-democratic states have so far been only partially addressed. While Brexit and its complications have to some extent decreased the continental electorates’ Eurosceptic tendencies, the liberal regional order’s longer-term challenges remain, as witnessed in the populist-authoritarian rollback in member states like Hungary and Poland, and a continuing populist challenge in Europe’s core.
The responses to these crises have so far been marked by incoherence. On the one hand, Russia has been subjected to economic and personal sanctions; both Ukraine and Georgia have continued their integration into the European Union (EU)’s norms and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military frameworks; and comprehensive strategies have been worked out at both the national and international institutional levels against Russia’s hybrid forms of warfare. On the other hand, large-scale energy projects like Nord Stream 2 have been pushed ahead; the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty have been declared defunct; defence spending by most European NATO allies has remained well under the two per cent target (much to the consternation of the current administration in Washington DC); neither Ukraine nor Georgia have been offered concrete timelines for full NATO membership; and only piecemeal measures have been taken in response to money-laundering by former Soviet elites, notably in the United Kingdom’s (UK) overseas territories.
Neither have the weaknesses internal to ‘wider Europe’s’ institutional infrastructure been addressed. In spite of numerous earlier pledges, fundamental reforms to the EU institutions have been postponed. Ambitious proclamations notwithstanding, the EU and many of its constituent states have remained vulnerable to authoritarian backsliding and populist disruption. The other elements of ‘wider Europe’s’ organisational order don’t present a more coherent picture. Rivalry between Moscow and the West has turned the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – once touted as the core provider of ‘comprehensive security’ in post-Cold War Europe – largely irrelevant to high politics (although some of its components and programmes have retained their usefulness in monitoring the continent’s more problematic spaces). The Council of Europe (CoE) – the central institutional plank of Europe’s Human Rights regime – has lost much of its effectiveness, and, in fact, legitimacy, through various corruption scandals in its Parliamentary Assembly – not to mention the ability of various, more illiberal members states, including Russia, to flagrantly violate its precepts without much consequence. While the credibility of NATO’s core function – collective defence under Article V – has remained intact, earlier hopes that it would spread peace and security throughout the continent as it expanded have run up against the realities of an assertive Russia in Ukraine, and Georgia.
Russia’s unwillingness to abide by normative and institutional frameworks created in the 1990s has often been identified as a key problem in the charged strategic landscape of contemporary Europe. While, indeed, much of the weakening of these structures has to do with the disinclination of an increasingly alienated Moscow to recognise their legitimacy, there is another side to the story: in fact, the assumptions on which Europe’s current legal-institutional order was founded were specific to a particular era – the liberal 1990s – whose historically contingent conditions were projected far in to the future. Times have changed, and many of the assumptions that initially underlay these institutions have either been contradicted, or have become outdated; as a result, the institutions they engendered have been left vulnerable to attack, or become counter-productive to their original aims.
Much has to do with the internal crisis in which the liberal world order at large has found itself since the 2008 financial meltdown. As many prominent scholars of this world order have argued, it appears to be shifting from a once firmly established – some would say hegemonic - liberal system, to something less cosmopolitan, less dominant, with many of the precepts of liberal ideology – including the trinity of democracy, international law/institutions, and interdependent free markets – being subjected to, at the very least, reinterpretation and reconfiguration. Even stalwart supporters of liberal internationalism - like G. John Ikenberry - have acknowledged the role of internal contradictions in weakening liberal frameworks. While few have predicted a wholesale collapse of liberal institutions, many have suggested modifications of varying aspects of that order, based on new, less liberal realities.
What might such a reinterpretation of the liberal world order look like in the wider European context? As suggested above, the continent’s current institutional makeup was mainly a product of the liberal 1990s, when Central and Eastern Europe became the focus of what was probably the greatest transformational project since the Marshall Plan. Times have changed, and many of the assumptions made during that decade of transformation have ebbed away. In light of that reality, the next three sections will be asking the following three questions on the future of ‘wider Europe’s’ institutional order, concentrating on its implications for the four organisations central to it: the EU, NATO, the CoE, and the OSCE: firstly, as to the liberal assumptions driving the relevant organisations in the post-Cold War period; secondly, as to the effect of current realities on those assumptions; and, thirdly, as to the possibility of adapting these institutions to those new realities.
Liberal Assumptions and the Post-Cold War Wider European Order
Most of the institutions listed above – all, in fact, except the OSCE – can be traced back to the beginnings of the Cold War. Their unifying liberal logic combined efforts at pacifying the Western half of the continent through economic integration (EU) and a strengthening of civic and political rights (the CoE). These were supplemented through a transatlantic military alliance (NATO), aimed at ‘keeping the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russians out’. The predecessor organisation to the OSCE was the child of a different age – of détente – when the Helsinki Process resulted in a quest for ‘comprehensive security’ through the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), including, importantly, the ‘human dimension’ as a prerequisite of security thus defined. As the Cold War came to an end, these institutions and their liberal normative foundations were deepened and expanded to include the ‘lost’ – Central and Eastern – portions of a reunited ‘European Family of Nations’.
The EU, NATO and the CoE were widened to include states in this regained part of Europe. Their and the OSCE’s scopes were also deepened to embrace the new possibilities that the ‘End of History’ was supposed to have opened up. Simultaneously with eastward expansion, EU integration continued apace, moving towards the abolition of internal borders through Schengen and the adoption of a common currency, in addition to Common Foreign and Security Policies. NATO also enlarged, after having proved its value as the upholder of the new international order on the post-Cold War continent in the former Yugoslavia. The CoE was expanded to bring most of the former Soviet bloc under the umbrella of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Courts. The OSCE emerged from the CSCE at the 1990 Paris Summit, finally able to realise the ‘human’ element within its central concept of ‘comprehensive security’, long stymied by very different interpretations on either side of the iron curtain during the Cold War.
The assumptions behind these institutional-normative expansions and reconfigurations were inherently liberal; they were late twentieth-century adaptations of the Kantian idea that democracy, free trade, and international institutions held the promise of an ever-more peaceful world. Institutions that had been a product of the Cold War were thus integrated into a higher idea, as components of a Kantian ‘pacific federation’ that would expand eastward, and bring the benefits of these three legs of the ‘tripod of the Liberal peace’ to the once shackled nations of the former Soviet bloc. All of this occurred within the broader context of globalisation: the idea that the nation-state had withered away – or was, at least, far less relevant in the global world order - was common currency up to the financial crisis of the previous decade. Spurred on by ever-deeper and complex interdependence, the world was moving towards a global market in commodities and ideas, with unified – liberal - norms governing the behaviour of its actors.
Democratic conditionality was part and parcel of this deepening and widening of the liberal zone of peace. From the mid-1990s, policymakers in the ‘old’ West adopted the adage that the rewards of institutional membership - first and foremost, in the EU – would drive candidate members towards adopting the norms embodied in the Copenhagen Criteria, eventually cementing their status as mature democracies within a broader supra-national polity, their societies made part of an admittedly elusive and controversial demos of European citizens. NATO also maintained an element of democratic conditionality in its promise of safety from – certainly in Eastern European eyes – a possibly resurgent Russia. A similar democratising logic – but one that included rather than excluded Russia - underlay the OSCE and CoE: here, the narrative was one of established democracies helping their less fortunate counterparts in their progression towards political maturity through the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the CoE Venice Commission. Their inclusion into these organisations was as much a prerequisite for, as a result of, their ongoing transition to democracy.
The peace-making feature of this transition would be strengthened through institutionalised interaction and socialisation: all organisations mentioned above therefore offered a number of fora which allowed both political and technocratic elites to interact and integrate, apart from supervisory mechanisms gauging new or prospective members’ compliance with wider Europe’s emerging ‘thick’ normative regime. The numerous mechanisms and institutions established by the EU to that effect were seen as so successful that they came to be viewed as part of its status as a ‘normative power’; NATO’s Partnership for Peace and Parliamentary Assemblies (PAs), and the CoE’s PA and Venice Commission functioned according to that same logic, as did the OSCE’s own PA, along with its aforementioned ODIHR. Of course, membership in these organisations and their ‘thick’ legal-normative environment was also seen as providing a crucial institutional barrier to conflict, as well as a further foundation for democracy and human rights, with the CoE’s Court of Human Rights one particularly important example for this line of thought.
Such peace would, finally, be assured by making European economies inextricable: what had started with the integration of Germany and France’s Coal and Steel industries ended in the creation and expansion of an increasingly integrated Common Market, where goods, capital and labour would be freed from the shackles of international borders – the logic behind Schengen - and the unpredictability of currency rates – the argument behind the Euro. Expanding this integration Eastward – through EU membership, TACIS, and the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership – would allow neighbouring countries to be subjected to these pacifying effects. These peace-making assumptions also drove broader global developments as well: the 90s were the heyday of globalisation, a time when it was assumed by many – not least in the policymaking community - that integrating ‘transitioning’ economies – including Russia and China – into win-win trade and financial flows would foster an interdependence that would encourage a self-interested submission to a peaceful, liberal global order.
From Mistaken Assumptions to Institutional Mismatch
Considering the series of assumptions outlined above, it would be a mistake to trace the problems in the contemporary European liberal order solely to choices made in Moscow. While the Putin regime and its irredentism have undoubtedly played an efficient role in the weakening of this regime, questions must also be asked of the permissive context created by increasingly outdated expectations. Firstly, the assumptions on democratisation have made this order unprepared for the possibility of rollback and crisis with mature democracies, whose stability was largely assumed to be assured – based in no small part on the linear view of history posited by liberalism itself. Secondly, the inclusion of illiberal, authoritarian states in normative institutions like the CoE and the OSCE has proved highly subversive, in some cases resulting in ‘reverse socialisation’ of parts of the Western elite. The EU and NATO have, moreover, continued relying on the logic of deepening and expansion when the geopolitical context allowing for the pacifying effects of the nineties has disappeared. Thirdly, a blind faith in economic interdependence has become increasingly outdated at a time when economic interaction should – contrary to liberal assumptions – increasingly be seen as liable to the creation of unwelcome dependencies on illiberal states which persistently maintain a zero-sum view of geo-economics - like Russia.
Firstly, the assumed linear development of Europe’s various states towards democracy and less relevance – under the benign influence of these institutions – has not proceeded as projected. In fact, some young democracies previously classified as ‘mature’ – including Hungary and Poland – have experienced authoritarian rollback, while even long-established liberal democracies – including the UK – have entered a period of protracted polarisation and crisis, partly based on a revalidation of state sovereignty. Far from a linear transition to democracy – played up at various points in the previous decades, following 1989, and the colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, for instance – most post-Soviet states have seen ups and downs, a mixture of progress and regress, often hampered by the heavy structural and social realities of their Soviet legacies. Added to this comes the failure of the democratic project in an autocratic Russia that, however imperfectly, has been able to emerge from the economic chaos of the 1990s while at the same time moving away from liberal political reform, in an outcome unforeseen by much of Western thinking during the previous decades.
This is important in three ways, especially over the longer term. Firstly, the democratic peace is robustly confirmed only between mature democracies, and does not allow for rollback - since this would, over the longer term, obviate much of the confidence generated in the shared norms and expectations underlying the phenomenon. In a ‘wider Europe’ of immature, or reversing democracies, the stabilising factor of democratisation therefore risks becoming less pronounced, putting a question mark on the logic of ‘pacification through democratisation’ underlying the democratic conditionalities of the past. Secondly, political models in prolonged crisis do not attract emulation as easily as their well-functioning counterparts. The crises of liberal democracy, if sustained, will affect the West’s much-vaunted normative power as they sap its ‘social capital’ both within its boundaries, and beyond. Thirdly, democratic stagnation and reversal has led to normative institutions like the CoE and OSCE being weakened substantially by their inclusion of states that promote values diametrically opposed to the organisations’ own.
This brings me to my second point, on the mistaken assumptions behind the functioning of Wider Europe’s institutions. Their expected socialisation of the elites of prospective members and neighbours into a shared culture of political and civic rights has not quite fared as expected. In the case of the expressly normative CoE, for instance, instead of undergoing such socialisation, authoritarian member states like Russia and Azerbaijan have ended up subverting many of the fundamental tenets the organisation is ultimately supposed to uphold. For example, multiple corruption scandals have rocked the organisation’s parliamentary assembly, in what could be seen as instances of reverse socialisation. Meanwhile, authoritarian states in the former Soviet space have become quite successful in tailoring their repressive policies around the long timelines required for the ECHR, or have, in some cases – notably in cases involving Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya – simply ignored their provisions altogether, bolstered by a controversial 2015 law stipulating the primacy of Russian constitutional over international law. With the full restoration of the Russian Federation’s voting rights within the organisation, the CoE is now also confronted with a situation in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea that cannot possibly be reconciled with its most basic principles (leading to its further discrediting in places whose governments - contrary to Russia - do hold democratic aspirations). These moral inconsistencies ultimately hold the danger of hollowing out the credibility and effectiveness of an organisation defining itself primarily in normative rather than realpolitik terms.
The OSCE hasn’t fared any better. Once touted as the premier organisation providing the triple benefits of comprehensive – that is international, economic and human – security to its members, its role has been largely reduced to the monitoring of legacy conflicts. Part of the reason is its late recognition of the ways in which semi-authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet space had perfected their hollowing out of the effectiveness of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and its observer missions, either through innovative methods, or their exclusion from electoral processes in their ‘sovereign democracies’. Beyond the ‘low politics’ observation missions in Ukraine and elsewhere, the organisation has therefore lost its relevance partly because it underestimated the determination and ability of these regimes to push back rather than follow a linear, teleological movement towards inclusion into a now-weakened liberal order. Another reason was the West’s decision to rely mainly on an expanded NATO – rather than an organisation like the OSCE, encompassing a Europe ‘From the Atlantics-to –the-Urals’, and beyond - for the provision of security on the continent.
And indeed, when measured according to its core function – as an alliance providing collective defence for its member states – NATO has arguably been the most successful of the four elements Europe’s post-Cold War institutional regime. Mounting challenges notwithstanding, the credibility of Article V remains intact, as the Russian Federation continues to largely respect NATO’s current eastern boundary. In that sense, the previous bouts of NATO expansion can be termed a success, but the same cannot be unequivocally said about NATO’s proposed expansion into the former Soviet Union. While those under Article V protection have indeed benefited from strategic stability, the potential inclusion of former Soviet states beyond the Baltics has elicited pushback from Moscow, now resulting in the exact opposite of its initial intent.
The problem here is that NATO eastward expansion was based on a dual, potentially contradictory logic. On the one hand, Western policymakers saw it as the cementing of stability in Central and Eastern Europe through the cementing of democratic conditionality. On the other, there was the more realist logic – most strongly expressed by the Eastern European states themselves - of securing the region from a possibly resurgent Russia. As long as an internally incoherent Russia was unable to push back and the alliance in effect expanded into a strategic vacuum, this logic functioned without much contradiction: it was possible to stabilise Eastern Europe while at the same time providing it with its desired protective shield against Moscow. This changed with the inclusion of former Soviet states in the list of potential members, and the stabilisation of the Russian economy under Vladimir Putin. Russian pushback meant that, far from providing the stability it had in previous waves of expansion, NATO expansion collided with Russian zero-sum thinking and restored power to produce instability, exposing aspiring members – still outside the protection of Article V – to Russian revanchism.
Finally, on the economic front, the integration and geographic expansion of the commercial ‘zone of peace’ has not worked as expected. Internally, the great integration projects of the 1990s – Schengen and the Euro – have created imbalances that, far from ensuring greater stability and security, have left the EU vulnerable to destabilisation, both internally and by outside players. The imbalances internal to the EU have led to crisis after crisis, and the unequal distribution of benefits and burdens to which responses have been only piecemeal, and partial. The Schengen agreement was not conceived for a world where increased migration flows would combine with right-wing populism and Jihadist terrorism to ‘undermine the European project’ through an easily kindled culture of fear, and an unequal sharing of burdens. The 2008 financial crisis, moreover, laid bare the very real structural distortions that emerged from integrating Europe’s northern and southern economies into a monetary union, without the added element of fiscal integration and institutional reform. Both these crises stressed the idea of pan-European solidarity to the brink, also revealing the extent to which ideas of a common European polis, with a commensurate European demos – once prevalent in the halls of power in Brussels – were beyond reach: the perceived lack of control of national electorates over a supra-national institution further weakened the European project’s legitimacy in the eyes of many of its citizens, leaving it open to subversion by outside powers, including Russia.
Externally, the assumed stability that would emerge from the integration of the former Soviet space – Russia included – has not come to pass. Much ink has already been spilt on the failure of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership in creating a ‘belt of stability’ around the EU; and in that sense, the problems with these initiatives run parallel to NATO expansion, stemming as they do from a tendency of a liberal West to view economic reform and modernisation in primarily positive-sum terms, as opposed to the zero-sum geo-economic thinking prevalent in Moscow. Moscow zero-sum thinking also subverted the assumptions made in giving Russia a stake in Europe’s economies, not least through Western energy and financial markets. Rather than moving Russia away from zero-sum thought through the mitigating effects of interdependence, they have created dangerous dependencies and sources of corruption, which powerful internal constituencies are invested in maintaining: witness German lobbying in favour of the Nordstream 2 pipeline, or the resistance in the City of London when it comes to tackling illicit financial flows from Russia and the former Soviet space, even in light of major scandals like Danske Bank and the ‘Russian laundromat’.
Wider Europe Beyond the End of History: towards a Pragmatic Pluralism
What, then, is to be done in light of this disjuncture between an institutional setup founded on multiple outdated assumptions that survive by inertia, and the changed realities of an increasingly illiberal world? Many Western policymakers have been relatively slow in discarding or revising the above-mentioned assumptions governing the continent’s institutional structure; even when faced with dramatic demonstrations of their outdated and counterproductive effects in changed times, they have insistently held on to them, arguing that their abandonment would imply a capitulation, a relinquishment of the norms that had, to a great extent, become the centrepiece of the rules-based international (and regional) order established following the end of the Cold War. This reluctance is all the more understandable in view of the promises of regional peace offered by democracy, the rule of international law, and economic integration, a promise that has, to a significant extent, been spoiled by Russia.
But such a fundamental rethink is overdue: after all, the decay in the liberal order goes beyond malicious Russian agency, being also the result of fundamental structural changes in the regional and global contexts acting as the permissive causes of global and regional liberal decline. To cling to unchanging assumptions in the face of these very real structural changes that have transformed the world away from the ‘End of History’ would, in fact, leave many of the vulnerabilities that have opened up unaddressed. Over time, it would result in a superficial addressing of the symptoms of a deeper malaise and, continuing, potentially dangerous policy failures in an increasingly unpredictable strategic environment. The 1990s were called the ‘unipolar moment’ for a reason, and to pretend that moment has stretched into the current decade is untenable.
Firstly, there must be a recognition that liberal democracy – even in its mature form – is more fragile than thought in its 1990s heyday, and that, internally, it would have to be constantly guarded against inconsistency and decay. The goal should be to maintain the liberal Western European core as a ‘security community’: a group of states where relations based on trust are regulated through a dense network of rights and responsibilities, centred on the EU and NATO. This would, most probably, require a period of introspection and reconstruction aimed at addressing the tensions and vulnerabilities affecting the bodies politic of its member states, and its central supranational institution – the EU. Difficult choices would have to be made, not least regarding the adherence of democratically recalcitrant members states to commitments made when joining the security community’s ‘social contract’, or the nature of the EU’s source of democratic legitimacy, its demos (or its many demoi?). Considering the road already travelled – the depth of integration between the societies of the Western ‘security community’ – these challenges would not be insurmountable.
Such introspection would also require a re-examining of the limits and possibilities of the main military component of that community – NATO – as a defensive alliance of liberal-democratic states, rather than an ever-expanding Kantian project. On the one hand, as hinted at above, the organisation has been immensely successful in ensuring the security of its existing members. On the other hand, however, the extension of its post-Cold War expansionist logic to the former Soviet Union has manifestly not resulted in the promised peace that it was so successful in delivering in Central and Eastern Europe. A strong case could now be made for reinforcing the alliance in its quite effective original defensive role, by finally addressing long-delayed thornier issues, like the longer-term untenable nature of Western Europe’s free-riding on US defence expenditures for its security. But this would also imply a reconsideration of the Alliance’s expansive ‘Kantian’ mission: added on because of the demands of Central and Eastern European states, and a crisis of purpose following the fall of the USSR, it has now arguably been made counterproductive by the resurgence of Putin’s Russia, and the unrealistic expectations of the long-dominant, more activist versions of the liberal world-view.
This brings be to my second point: the period of introspection would also require a reconsideration of the other outward-facing Kantian ‘grand projects’ of yesteryear, and the limiting effects of one-size-fits-all conditionality on the flexible and pragmatic foreign and security policies needed in a world where a liberal order no longer unequivocally rules the roost. If chosen, such a move away from normative and geopolitical expansion as the centrepiece of statecraft outside the liberal-democratic security community would simply be an acknowledgment of the limits of top-down democratisation in an increasingly illiberal outside world, or of military or commercial expansion into regions that are no longer a geopolitical quasi-vacuum. Engagement would depend on the demands and requirements of the relationships between the Western security community – EU, NATO – and its members on the one hand, and the states on the outside on the other, based on both individual sovereign choices, and the limitations of a new, less favourable 21st-century geopolitics.
Arguably, the beginnings of such a flexible approach are already visible in EU and NATO policies towards former Soviet states; more of the same would possibly be needed to tackle the challenges of this new age, combined with a measure of honesty towards those states aspiring liberal states left outside the Western security community – in the contested spaces ‘in between’. Such candour about the limitations of NATO and EU expansion and the values of strategic patience would, no doubt, be a difficult pill to swallow, but it would also be an open acknowledgment of realities that have, for too long, remained unspoken, leading to unfairly heightened expectations, and inevitably broken promises. Very few in the West see either Georgian or Ukrainian NATO or EU membership as realistic propositions in the short or medium term. Efforts should thus centre on using all instruments of statecraft in favour of stability as a collective interest, rather than expansion as an end in itself, pending a reopened window of opportunity at some indeterminate point in the future.
Conversely, this emphasis on safeguarding rather than expansion may also require an end to the long-surviving fiction that expressly illiberal states and powers continue to be part of (or a prospective part of) a community of liberal-democratic values. From that perspective, the subversive, reverse-socialising membership of autocratic states like Russia and other ‘illiberals’ in expressly normative, values-centred institutions like the CoE would have to be queried. With the liberal order in crisis, the wisdom of maintaining the membership of clearly anti-liberal states in organisations with the specific aim of supporting and bolstering liberal values – in hope of a Damascene conversion of some sort – appears increasingly counterproductive. Instead of such normative institutions, illiberal states could be engaged with through a redefined OSCE, so-called ‘interstitial institutions’ between those of the security community and non-liberal alternatives. For example, the Eurasian Economic Union, or entirely new, ad-hoc frameworks for interaction, that would not require their adherence to democratic norms, but would be limited to a common interest in managing and reducing instability, and reconstructing a ‘thin’ rules-based order adapted to contemporary circumstances.
Thirdly, this institutional reimagining would also have to question the assumed advantages of economic interdependence. The same inside/outside divide between a to-be-safeguarded liberal security community, and the world beyond would have to be reinforced in the wider European political economy. Within the Western security community, again, introspection would likely have to focus on restoring the legitimacy and effectiveness of existing institutions: there would, for instance, have to be a clear re-examination of the unequal distribution of costs and benefits emanating from the grand projects of the previous decades (the Euro, Schengen), lest they reinvigorate populist opponents of a liberal, integrated Europe. Outside of the ‘democratic circle’, geopolitical considerations and demands for reciprocity would have to play a major role in shaping economic links. Again, policies would have to be flexible – but, especially in the case of illiberal powers like Russia, they would have to more explicitly include costs of dependence and corruption in addition to the hitherto assumed benefits of an often distorted ‘interdependence’ in their calculations. The assumption that unencumbered trade is the norm, and that any diversions from this are ‘sanctions’ would have to be discarded. Outside a narrow circle of trust afforded to fellow liberal states, a collective delineation of interest and security would have to govern, and, if required, limit, economic interaction. In what is no more than the adoption of a stance reciprocal to that seen in statist, illiberal entities like Russia.
I shall conclude with a few important caveats: the above should be seen as a highly speculative reimagining of wider Europe’s institutional makeup in light of a trend that will probably continue in the 21st century: a move away of international society’s centre of gravity from the liberal West. This will require a commensurate move away from assumptions made in the hegemonic 1990s, when much of the contemporary institutional infrastructure was shaped. In essence, it accepts the transition from the promise of a Kantian wider Europe – based on democracy, institutions, trade – to one that the great scholar of International Relations, Hedley Bull, referred to as ‘Grotian’; a wider Europe where norms and rules interact with power in often messy ways to nevertheless produce a modicum of ‘International Society’.
The specifics of such a move may turn out different from those touched upon above, but such a Grotian pan-regional order will still, by nature, be far from the heady ideals of ‘Perpetual Peace’ contained in liberal thought. And while many of the institutions that emerged and developed during its heyday will probably survive, they will have to adapt to the more realist logics of a less cosmopolitan age. While such a Kantian system has arguably been established in Western, Central and part of Eastern Europe, it remains elusive in the world beyond: acknowledging this by safeguarding Kantian accomplishments in the core, and toning down one’s ambitions on the outside may be the way forward if the liberal order is to survive, and perhaps revive, in reformed and reinvigorated form.
While this reinforcement of the Westphalian principle of ‘cuius rex, eius religio’ outside a well-defined liberal security community implies a ‘thinning’ of the institutions outside that core, it also makes the coherence more important: the call for introspection emerges from that concern. Challenges like the Trump presidency, Brexit, populism – all of which will probably reverberate far beyond 2019 – will have to be tackled with the strategic coherence of that core in mind; by addressing the underlying internal factors driving the current societal malaise in the West, including the de-legitimation of domestic political institutions; and a skewed political economy working for a small, privileged minority. Failing that, if the core falls, and centrifugal forces take over, all bets – including those formulated above - will be off.
Photo by Alexrk2, published under Creative Commons with no changes made.
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Available: https://globalbrief.ca/2019/08/considerations-on-international-governance-2-0/[post_title] => FPC Briefing: Rethinking 'Wider Europe' in Times of Liberal Crisis [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => rethinking-wider-europe-in-times-of-liberal-crisis [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-09-24 10:15:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-09-24 10:15:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=4070 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 3087 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2018-11-30 13:23:18 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-30 13:23:18 [post_content] => One perennial question confronting students of the former Soviet Union has been to what extent democratisation and geopolitical orientation can be separated from each other in their region of interest. Conventional wisdom holds that Russia will be opposed to democratising movements within its claimed periphery: in states like Ukraine and Georgia, many pro-Western politicians have long assumed that a pro-Russian orientation would preclude the thorough-going democratisation aspired to by their electorates. Numerous scholars have also pointed to Russian opposition to democratisation, particularly in light of the pro-Western colour revolutions of previous decades.Several explanations can account for this. Firstly, the fact that (at least declaratory) adherence to democratic norms and geopolitical orientation have become intermingled for most of the past 25 years: the European Union and NATO have (however imperfectly) included democratic conditionalities in various policy instruments - including the ENP and EaP – and a state’s liberal-democratic aspirations have therefore become closely associated with a pro-European orientation, both for the participants in these programmes, and Moscow itself. Secondly, a truly democratic political culture would provide an awkward fit with the unaccountable clientelistic methods employed in Russian politics, domestic and foreign: with so much of its interaction in the region based on back-room diplomacy, Moscow would be at a loss how to deal with former Soviet republics if they somehow opened up to the scrutiny of an assertive electorate and dynamic civil society. Thirdly, democratisation in societies displaying a strong cultural affinity with Russia – Ukraine, for example – would discredit one of the central planks of the Kremlin’s argument in favour of ‘sovereign democracy’: namely, that Russia in particular, and Eurasia in general, has a different interpretation of ‘democracy’ than the West by virtue of its particular history and culture.These assumptions will soon be put to the test in Armenia, where, earlier this year, an entrenched pro-Russian old guard was swept away in a pro-democratic revolution that simultaneously avoided any challenges to the geopolitical status-quo. The ‘velvet revolution’, as it came to be known, was led by a new generation of politicians, whose ‘My Step’ alliance is widely predicted to win the upcoming parliamentary elections on 9 December by a landslide. From the very beginning, its leadership – fronted by incumbent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – made clear its intention to separate their democratising aspirations from Armenia’s geopolitical orientation: the emphasis was on revolutionary domestic change, combined with continuity in the country’s heavily (but not exclusively) pro-Russian foreign and security policies. In the coming months and years, Armenia might provide observers with valuable insights as to how far such a separation is at all possible in the former Soviet Space, depending on whether or not the country is able to meet several considerable challenges that will likely flow from its democratising push.First and foremost, there is the question of whether Armenia’s recent revolution will indeed result in the kind of ‘deep democratisation’ aspired to by much of its population (something on which this whole thought exercise will remain contingent). Eurasia is littered with the broken promises of failed, or half-baked revolutions that, have, over time, resulted in disillusionment in a new, unsatisfactory status-quo. Both the Orange Revolution and the Euromaidan failed to deliver on initially sky-high expectations in an increasingly disillusioned Ukraine; Georgia’s recent – and quite acrimonious - elections also exhibited a worrying return to questionable methods before and during the poll. Pashinyan’s alliance will not only have to surmount considerable internal resistance and potential disruption from the ‘darker’ side of Armenia’s political economy; it will also have to fight the multiple structural temptations that could come from the expected landslide, and the absence of a credible, constructive opposition to its rule – something not conducive to the emergence of a healthy political culture based on the effective management of contestation and debate. The ultimate test of Armenia’s nascent democracy will lie in the Pashinyan bloc’s ability to avoid a descent towards a typical, post-Soviet ‘party of power’, as evidenced by a peaceful transfer of authority at some point in the future.But even if Armenia’s internal dynamics were to allow for democracy to successfully take root in coming years, a clear separation between the international and the domestic might prove difficult to uphold. While the leaders of the revolutionary movement have taken great care to stress the absence of geopolitical motives in their push for accountable government, whether Russia will be able or willing to separate these two phenomena over the longer term very much remains to be seen.Because, in spite of the ritual assurances of state sovereignty proclaimed by Lavrov, even if Armenia did not move towards ‘deep integration’ with the EU at the expense of Moscow’s own regional projects, accountable government would require Moscow to possibly accept a higher level of scrutiny than it would be used to in other allies. It may, for instance, have to accept an impartial and wide-ranging investigation into possible crimes committed by the closely allied ancien régime; its thinly veiled displeasure this summer’s post-revolutionary proceedings against former president Kocharyan looks ominous in that regard. It might also have to swallow increased scrutiny of the activities of Russian multinationals in Armenia, as demonstrated, for instance, in recent investigations into possible tax evasion by Gazprom’s local subsidiary. Moreover, would Moscow be willing to separate geopolitics from the economic sphere so as to allow for the transparent management of the economy, and, for instance, the outbidding of Russian companies on a level playing field in investment projects or procurements? Openness and transparency do not lend themselves to the back-room deals the Kremlin so often employs in the region.Even if the above challenges are met, one would have to take care not to generalise towards the other states of the former USSR: paradoxically, because of Armenia’s dependence, size and cultural specificity. In the still unlikely event that democratisation succeeds and is tolerated by Russia, the question still remains whether this is simply because the Kremlin feels confident enough in its strategic dominance over Armenia, both in the military and economic spheres: Armenia’s dependence might make Moscow sufficiently self-assured to put up with the emergence of democratic government, where it might be seen as a geopolitical threat in other, less reliably dependent neighbours. The fact that Armenia is a small state, and culturally distinct from Russia might also allow it to get away with rather more democratisation than, say, a more sizeable and culturally proximate Ukraine: it would not provide quite the liberal-democratic counter-example to Russia’s ‘sovereign democracy’, allegedly feared by the Kremlin.The dangers of Russia becoming a ‘spoiler’ in Armenia’s move towards democratisation without geopolitical reorientation remain. Moscow might simply be waiting for Armenia’s democratic experiment to go awry for purely internal reasons; failing that, it may find itself confronted with any number of situations that would prompt it to subvert accountable government in Yerevan. Only time will tell if democratisation and geopolitics can be separated in the former Soviet space, but a measure of a priori scepticism is definitely in order. And even if Armenia could pull off the improbable and successfully disassociate the foreign and the domestic, it would not mean that its experiences can be applied elsewhere. And that is regrettable, considering the potential advantages - for all involved - of such a separation. See, for instance: Ambrosio, T. (2007) Insulating Russia from a Colour Revolution: How the Kremlin Resists Regional Democratic Trends, Democratization, 14:2, 232-252, DOI: 10.1080/13510340701245736; Delcour, L. & Wolczuk, K. (2015) Spoiler or facilitator of democratization?: Russia's role in Georgia and Ukraine, Democratization, 22:3, 459-478, DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2014.996135; Risse, T. & Babayan, N. (2015) Democracy promotion and the challenges of illiberal regional powers: introduction to the special issue, Democratization, 22:3, 381-399, DOI: 10.1080/13510347.2014.997716. For a dissenting view, see: Sontag, R. (2014, 8 May) Compromise With Russia, Compromise on Democracy?, The National Interest, available at https://nationalinterest.org/feature/compromise-russia-compromise-democracy-10395 Thomas De Waal, Sometimes Armenian Protests Are Just Armenian Protests, Foreign Policy, April 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/04/23/sometimes-armenian-protests-are-just-armenian-protests/ Christopher Miller, Ukrainians Reflect Bitterly On 'Betrayed Hopes' Of Euromaidan, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, December 2016, https://www.rferl.org/a/ukrainians-reflect-bitterly-on-betrayed-hopes-euromaidan/28203245.html Civil Georgia, NDI: Georgia Risks “Squandering” Democratic Asset, November 2018,https://civil.ge/archives/268633 Tert, No geopolitical context behind Armenia's 'velvet revolution', Prime Minister tells Russia Today, July 2018, https://www.tert.am/en/news/2018/06/16/Nikol-Pashinyan/2715673 AFP, Moscow warns Armenia against 'political' crackdown on old elite, July 2018, https://www.expatica.com/ru/news/country-news/Russia-Armenia-politics-corruption_2012306.html Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCPR), Armenia’s Gazprom Operator Accused of Tax Evasion, November 2018, https://www.occrp.org/en/27-ccwatch/cc-watch-briefs/8944-armenia-s-gazprom-operator-accused-of-tax-evasion [post_title] => Come December, Could Armenia Get Away with Democracy? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => come-december-could-armenia-get-away-with-democracy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 15:10:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 15:10:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.org.uk/?p=3087 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 664 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2014-02-27 16:55:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2014-02-27 16:55:20 [post_content] => And yet, Kremlin policymakers should have known better; everyone in Moscow would have been well aware of the manifold splits and contradictions within Ukrainian society. In much simplified language: much of the East looks East, much of the West looks West, and much of the Crimea – which only became part of the country in the 1950s as, quite literally, a Soviet-era ‘present’ from Russia> – sees its current position an unfortunate quirk of history. While realities on the ground are much more complicated than what such neat geographic line-drawing would suggest – the East-West division is actually more of a gradual transition - the basic point on a deeply conflicted society remains acutely valid: Ukraine could not move towards Eurasia without first tearing itself apart.Ever since it emerged from the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been an incoherent state. And incoherent states have a peculiar problem: they are unable to generate the security practices or, in Joel Migdal's terms, the collective “survival strategies” required for the state to function as a coherent institutional and social corpus. If the state is to enjoy a monopoly of legitimate force over a given territory and population, such a monopoly would require some measure of agreement on the values and identities it is meant to safeguard, as well as the means through which such safeguarding should occur. That minimal amount of consensus on state identity has been woefully absent since 1991.As a result, Ukrainians remain in fundamental disagreement over which values and identities their state should secure; and this, in turn, shapes their diverging threat perceptions to a considerable degree. If you define Ukraine as Western, and see Moscow as the West’s other, you will tend to see Russia – especially Putin’s Russia – as an autocratic neo-imperial threat; if, on the other hand, you place Ukraine in the Russian/Eurasian cultural sphere, you will see the liberally decadent West – as it has widely come to be portrayed in Putin’s Russia and beyond - as a fundamental menace to that identity. Needless to say, such selective and contradictory world-views present benign policymakers with complications, and, conversely, those of a more malicious bent with fertile opportunities for meddling and provocation.What has been remarkable over the past few weeks has been the way both sides in this conflict – including their Western and Russian supporters – have generated the sort of selective narratives that, in the context of an incoherent state, are pregnant with danger, regardless of the relative merits of closer European ties or membership in the Eurasian Union. The pro-Russian press has latched onto the (admittedly highly disturbing) presence of right-wing extremists among the Euromaidan demonstrators <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrxOl9daoMo to dehumanise the Euromaidan opponents of Yanukovych’s volte-face as ‘Nazis’ and ‘fascists’>. The Kremlin’s policymakers had clearly over-estimated their point man’s ability to repress the large part of the Ukrainian population that had adopted values and identities fundamentally at odds with Putin’s plans for his ‘Near Abroad’. Resistance to a perceived existential threat to those values – membership of the Eurasian Union - had to be conveniently explained away, delegitimised and marginalised, so as to allow for its repression without affecting the narrative of shared economic interests and ‘shared Soviet/Russian values’ on which the Eurasian project is supposedly based.The danger now is of events swinging to the other extreme. Just as Yanukovych provoked his Western-leaning countrymen onto the streets by ignoring their sensitivities, Ukraine’s parliament – or Verkhovna Rada – risks inflaming similar ‘securitisations’ in the Russian-speaking parts of the country. Russian has already been demoted as a regional language, and deputies from the virulently right-wing Svoboda party have proposed an end to the retransmission of Russian Television channels. Presenting a government consisting entirely of pro-European elements as one of “national unity” when it is clearly not further complicates matters. Such selective perception should not remain unchallenged; it risks repeating those mistakes that were made earlier in places like Georgia and Moldova, where nationalist post-Soviet governments needlessly excluded and provoked their minorities in avoidable blunders that then led Ossetians, Abkhazians and Trasniestrians to break away in response to perceived existential threats to their divergent values and identities – with, as is now widely accepted, the help of elements in Moscow.Could these elements do it again – on a much larger scale – in Ukraine? Russia is emphatically not interested in a violent, uncontrolled breakup of its large neighbour; but the key words here are violent and uncontrolled. The stakes for Russia being what they are, some in Moscow’s corridors of power could see the Crimea in particular as a place where Georgian- or Moldovan-style meddling could be feasible. It is the most clearly pro-Russian corner of Ukraine. As a peninsula, it is geographically separated from the rest of the country, and, therefore, relatively more self-contained than the Eastern regions. With the Black Sea port of Sevastopol acting as the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since Tsarist times, it is seen as absolutely crucial to the Kremlin’s military capabilities (not to mention its prestige).The Kremlin is interested in keeping ‘Little Russia’ within its orbit. Ukraine is not just an essential part of Russia’s creation myth. More significantly, it is a westward transit corridor for Russian and Central Asian gas, still central to the hydrocarbon-powered strategy that Moscow has been pursuing under Putin, targeted at stemming (and partially reversing) the effects of the ‘geopolitical disaster’ that the fall of the Soviet Union is still seen as by large parts of the Siloviki elite. The Kremlin could simply not allow Ukraine to follow Poland, Hungary and Romania - in a continuation of 1989-1991 – without putting up a spirited fight. In terms of Russia’s territorial sensitivities, the Western frontier would otherwise move far too close to Moscow for comfort.This does not necessarily mean playing the separatist card: there are several other punitive levers of influence at Moscow’s disposal – Ukraine’s energy dependence, its weak financial position, its largely Russian export market. Moscow is not interested in a violent breakup of Ukraine, and the ethnic variant remains unlikely because of the enormous risks involved. However in the Crimea at least, some could come to think these risks manageable and proportionate in light of the enormous stakes involved. The new authorities in Kiev should therefore aim to maximise their inclusiveness in the weeks and months to come, and prudently avoid any moves that would present the ethnic card on a silver platter. Marginalising the extreme right and its provocative nationalist bravura would be a good place to start.February 2014 [post_title] => Balancing Ukraine [post_excerpt] => A mere three months ago, Vladimir Putin probably thought he had scored one of his presidency’s greatest coups, when he coerced or persuaded – depending on your perspective - Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych into abandoning the long-expected initialling of his country’s Association Agreement with the EU. Yanukovich’s U-turn had, to some extent, been presaged by an earlier about-face – under very similar circumstances – of far smaller Armenia’s Sargsyan. And for a while, it appeared that Kiev would sooner or later follow several other former Soviet Republics into the Russian president’s latest geopolitical project of choice: the Eurasian Economic Union. The Kremlin probably did expect such a move to invite trouble for someone who, despite an occasionally fraught relationship, had long been seen as “Moscow’s man in Kiev”. But it probably did not anticipate the ferocity of the wave of indignation that followed, much less foresee Yanukovych’s fall, a few months later, as a result. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => balancing-ukraine [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-21 15:43:11 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-21 15:43:11 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://fpc.clearhonestdesign.com/balancing-ukraine/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 662 [post_author] => 35 [post_date] => 2013-12-03 18:16:51 [post_date_gmt] => 2013-12-03 18:16:51 [post_content] => These events have largely confirmed previously stated suspicions on Russia’s intentions within the former Soviet Union: Moscow continues to view Europe’s Association Agreements within ‘its near abroad’ almost exclusively in hard-realist geo-strategic terms. Accordingly, while the Eurasian Union may not be an effort the reconstruct the Soviet Union per se, it does fit into a broader attempt by Putin and his Siloviki entourage to limit, and, where possible, reverse the effects of the ‘geo-political catastrophe’ that was the collapse of their former empire: Russia must rise again, and, in the zero-sum realist logic of its leaders, this means regaining control over its historical ‘sphere of exclusive interest’, albeit in novel form.Russia’s project is, of course, mostly presented through the economistic language of neo-liberal rationality, combined with references to a common history and shared culture. No twenty-first century state could openly use geo-political argumentations to foist top-down integration projects onto its neighbours. In the post-colonial, post-Cold War political vocabulary, the concepts of ‘empire’ and ‘hierarchy’ remain anathema. Disciplinary measures are therefore cloaked in, and neutralised through the language of technocratic instrumentality or the rule of law. Implausible allegations of ‘genocide’ thus accompanied the Kremlin’s humanitarian justifications for its 2008 intervention in Georgia; Moldovan wines similarly tend to lose their fitness for human consumption as easily as Georgian mandarins regain them, depending on the political requirements of the day.This instrumentalisation of technocratic and legalistic language goes further than mere wine and confectionary. It underlies a broader attempt, by the Kremlin, to present the Eurasian Union as something it is not: the European Union’s equivalent (or, in some cases, its superior), a functionalist integration project driven by the wishes of its members and potential members, rather than a top-down imposition by a fallen superpower whose elite clearly still frames Europe in terms of out-dated ‘spheres of influence’ and geostrategic gamesmanship. This is, ultimately, the reason for Brussels’ inability to counter Moscow’s sticks-and-carrots approach in its former dominions. Europe’s project is driven by a soft-power logic, led by a cumbersome civilian bureaucracy, and co-ordinated among 28 member states with at times diverging interests. Moscow’s, on the other hand, is very much based on hard-power rationality, driven by an elite many of whose members were formerly associated with those institutions of a single power best versed in the arts of coercion, of deterrence and compellence (coercive diplomacy).As a result, the interaction between Brussels and Moscow surrounding the Eastern Partnership has become something of a dialogue of the deaf and the blind; put differently, Europe speaks Kant, while Russia speaks Machiavelli, and both these languages seem mutually incomprehensible. Stuck in between this cacophony are the former Soviet states, attracted Westward but very much aware of the power and motivation of their Eastern/Northern neighbour, and the inability of ‘Europe’ to counter this particular type of power with an effective riposte. In a confrontation between Kant and Machiavelli, the former does not stand a chance, especially when the latter has the advantage in both capabilities and motivation, and is moreover ruled by a Siloviki elite that emerged from some of the most ruthless power structures of the modern era.In terms of capabilities, the various former Soviet states’ vulnerabilities to Russian pressure were pointed out extensively in a previous post. But capabilities and interests are always fundamentally intertwined, and in terms of their motivations, the EU and Russia present dramatically different pictures. For the European Union, the Eastern Partnership is clearly more about creating a zone of stability in its immediate environs rather than providing a direct stepping-stone to membership; while desirable, the process remains optional, and certainly not central to its purpose or identity. The European Union is currently confronting multiple internal crises; but save for some embarrassment, an end to the Easter Partnership would not be seen as presenting it with a direct existential threat.This is not the case for Russia, and ‘its’ Eurasian Union. ‘Offensive realist’ theorists of International Relations – like Mearsheimer – have already argued that the country has a greater sensitivity to territoriality because of its status as a ‘continental’ great power; except for a small, and now-marginalised ultra-liberal fringe, Russia’s post-Cold War elites have themselves always seen their state in a dominant leadership role within the former Soviet Union. To the Kremlin, the Ukraine is not just another Eastern European Association candidate with a remote, long-term chance of membership – as it is for Brussels; it is the place where the very idea of Russia was born, as the Kievan Rus, in the 10th century CE. The Caucasus and Central Asia are not merely geographic concepts; they are regions that have been part of a Russian-led state since the early 19th century. Perhaps more to the point, they are also sources and conduits of Russia’s most important contemporary source of hard power: hydrocarbons.Moscow holds the advantage in hard-power terms, while the European Union has very little leverage as it stands. It can’t really ‘boycott’ Russian exports – oil, natural gas - without hurting itself. Moscow’s motivation to bring the former Soviet Union under its control also exceeds that of the EU’s. As it stands, the odds are thus stacked massively against the EaP, partly because Brussels has yet to learn the language of power-politics spoken in the Kremlin, partly because of a lack of political will emerging from a relatively lower level of prioritisation against the centrality of Russia’s re-integration drive.Fortunately, it is reasonable to assume Russia’s interests do not go beyond the ‘Near abroad’. In any case, the current EU boundary coincides with NATO’s, presenting a solid red line which Moscow would not want to cross. But in combination with the imbalances in both power and motivation, this must make the remaining Association Agreement candidates anxious of their possible abandonment by the EU in the face of unrelenting Russian pressure, and not without reason.Europe stands before a choice: learn to counter realist geo-politics with realist geo-politics, or continue its fatalistic reliance on soft power alone. Considering its institutional character, and its continuing energy dependence on Russia, a shift towards the former would seem unlikely in the short term. The alternative is to rely on the European idea’s powers of attraction, which have, incidentally, driven hundreds of thousands to rally on the streets of cities throughout the Ukraine, and beyond, during the past week. There is, however, a reason why ‘soft power’ is called ‘soft’, and attraction alone may very well not suffice to save the Europe’s floundering Eastern strategy. [post_title] => Kant versus Machiavelli in Russia’s Near Abroad. [post_excerpt] => And so, the much-awaited
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