Saturday, November 29, 2014

The End of the New World Order

DENVER – Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ongoing intimidation of Ukraine appears to mean the end of a 25-year period whose hallmark was an effort to bring Russia into greater alignment with Euro-Atlantic goals and traditions. Now the question is: What comes next?

As the weeks pass, it is increasingly clear that the challenge is not so much Ukraine – which will continue to lurch from one crisis to the next, as it has since independence 23 years ago – as it is Russia and its regression, recidivism, and revanchism.

Exactly 25 years ago, in the spring of 1989, Poland and other countries of what was then known as the “Eastern Bloc” took the first steps to break free from their forced alliance with the Soviet Union. Indeed, these countries’ relationship with the Soviet Union was no true alliance at all; rather, they were accurately described as “satellites” – states with limited sovereignty, whose main role was to serve Soviet interests.

As subjugating and ahistorical as those relationships were, much of the world accepted the binding of “Eastern Europe” to the Soviet Union as a logical state of affairs, one in keeping with the world order that emerged at the close of WWII. But what seemed like a permanent division of the world into competing spheres of interest suddenly ended in 1989, when the Eastern Bloc left the Soviet orbit, soon followed by the republics of the Soviet Union itself.

Russia emerged not as a renamed Soviet Union, but rather as a state with its own history and symbols, a member of the international state system that had been absent for some time, but had suddenly returned. And the reborn Russia seemed to be dedicated, in its own way, to the same goals as its post-Soviet neighbors: membership in Western institutions, a market economy, and a multi-party parliamentary democracy, albeit with a Russian face.

This new world order held for almost 25 years. Except for Russia’s brief war with Georgia in August 2008 (a conflict generally seen as instigated by reckless Georgian leadership), Russia’s acquiescence and commitment to the “new world order,” however problematic, was one of the great accomplishments of the post-Cold War era. Even Russia’s reluctance to support concerted Western action, such as in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990’s, was based on arguments that could be heard in other European countries. Russian democracy certainly had its share of flaws, but that hardly made it unique among post-communist countries.

Russia’s historical relationship with Ukraine is far more complex and nuanced than many Western pundits suggest. It is difficult to talk about Russian civilization without talking about Ukraine. But, whatever the complexities, Russia’s recent behavior toward its smaller neighbor is not rooted in the legacy of their shared history.

It is rooted in a different legacy – that of a Russian Empire whose habits did not die during the Soviet period. Ukraine did not – and perhaps could not – develop its sovereignty in the way that Poland and others have succeeded in doing since 1989; nonetheless, it is entitled to chart its own future. Russia’s challenge to Ukraine’s status as an independent state is thus a challenge to the entire world, which is why the crisis has risen to the top of the global agenda.

In the United States, the media often point out that most Americans would be hard pressed to find Ukraine on a map. They don’t need to. But Americans do need to understand the challenge they are facing from a Russia that no longer seems interested in what the West has been offering for the last 25 years: special status with NATO, a privileged relationship with the European Union, and partnership in international diplomatic endeavors. All of these seem to be off the table for now.

So what should the West do? An approach based on sanctions that target the Russian economy (and therefore its people) is the preferred alternative of those with the least at stake (US politicians). But sanctions are unlikely to bring about the internal changes that Russia needs, because those changes need to be accomplished by the Russian people.

For the West, the real issue should be shoring up security structures and being prepared for the long haul. NATO has taken an important step in reassuring its eastern members. This is not to say that Russia, having annexed Crimea and intimidated Ukraine, will seek to make similar trouble among former Soviet “allies.” But historical memories die hard.

Poles are well aware that, 75 years ago this year, France and Britain were parties to security agreements that compelled them to declare war on Germany if it invaded Poland. In September 1939, when Germany invaded, both countries dutifully declared war, but neither fired a shot or helped Poland in any tangible way. Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for five years.

The Ukraine crisis is really a Russian crisis. Ukraine – whatever is eventually left of it – will increasingly become a Western country. Russia is showing no sign that it will follow suit.

Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be settling in for a long diplomatic winter. The US needs to prepare for it, especially in shoring up partners and allies, and ensuring as best it can that Ukraine is Russia’s last victim, not its first.

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    1. CommentedWim Roffel

      When Putin complained that the DCFTA treaty between Ukraine and the EU also had effects for Russia and for that reason asked for involvement in the talks this was haughtily refused by Barroso.

      Just as with the NATO enlargement and with the missile shield we saw here the West increasing the distance between Russia and the West.

      So much for Hill's suggestion that there was a lace open for Russia in the Western system.

    2. CommentedKir Komrik

      Thank you for touching on an important topic.

      We do indeed need a "new world order". But I'd rather use the term Final World Order. Yes, we need some form of global governance, which is really what we're talking about here. The problem however, is that the tool proposed is called "neo-liberal western democracy", a system of law and economics woefully too unsophisticated for the task.

      So, taking the optimistic point of view, I'm glad Russia and perhaps the PRC stand in the way as they might force the current thinking into something more progressive, like General Federalism. Whatever the case, a global system of multilateral neo-liberal western democracy would be disastrous, as would just about every other "ism" devised and promoted before General Federalism, which dates back only to the 1980s.

      Maybe the Council of Councils will come to realize this but I seriously doubt it given their die-hard paradigmatic allegiance. It's time to advance our thinking on how we manage society, and discard quaint, outdated ideas born of a barbaric, Aristotelian past, imo.

      - kk

    3. CommentedVic Sierra

      All one needs to do is read Zbigniew Brzezinski's book The Grand Chessboard. In there he openly states that the only threat to global US hegemony represent the combined nations of Eurasia - Russia, China, and the countries in between. Then he openly states the following: The primary objective of US foreign policy is to prevent the formation of Eurasia.

      It is worth noting that this is not his original idea. In 1904 Sir Halford Mackinder published his theory of the Heartland. It stated: Those who control central europe, may control the heartland (i.e. eurasia). Those who control the heartland, control the world island (western europe, asia, middle east, africa). Those who control the world island, control the world. It has been the primary geopolitical objective of the British Empire since 1904 to prevent formation of Eurasia, since that would have directly threatened their empire at the time. Today, the US are simply continuing that policy.

      Brzezinski published that book in 1997, and if one looks at the actions of the US government and NATO since then, it is not hard to realise they are indeed following their charted plan.

      1999 was a pivotal year - the NATO aggression against what was left of the former Yugoslavia, a country intentionally broken up by the west. One only needs to read the public US law - a 1990 Foreign Appropriations Act sealed the fate of that country. The tragedy continued with west supporting ultra nationalists and neo-fascists that made sure the country would plunge into a bloody civil war.

      Ukraine today is just another stepping stone where a very similar scenario is being followed.

      I wonder what future awaits ourselves, the people in the west, when our governments and aparatchiks like Christopher R. Hill loudly proclaim their intention to bring the democracy to the rest of the world and protect it at any cost, while in the same breath they give their unwavering support to fascists and ultra nationalists of every denomination. In such situations I stick to my golden rule: it is our actions that define us, not our words. Therefore, if our governments are supporting fascists, they are themselves fascists.

    4. CommentedMichael O'Neill

      There is something deeply sinister about a WASP Hawk analyzing Russian actions, when the provenance of his own government has been based on the support of dictators and fascists the world over, from Noreiga to Netanyahu and all points in between.

      It should come as no surprise that the Analysis 101 level of critique of the Soviet Position here bears little or no resemblance to reality. It seems Hawks are unable to understand that the rest of the world KNOWS they and their fellow travellers are inveterate liars and the bigger the lie, the better. So when I hear of "pro-Russians" shootng people in the back I am reminded only that the Fascists currently occupying Kiev sent their men to Poland for training in insurgency, including crown control and sniper training.

      And when I see a Hawk criticizing Putin for his dealings I'm thinking:


    5. CommentedAlistair Newton

      With Sevastopol representing the only suitable deep water port for its Black Sea Fleet, it is obvious why Putin would see a sudden lurch towards the West taken by the revolutionaries in Kiev as a threat to his own strategic interests. However, having used the pretext of pseudo-democratic plebiscite to assimilate Crimea into a greater Russian Federation, the job remains only half done, since it's transport and supply lines including gas, power and water are routed via south eastern Ukraine. Also with an unfriendly government in Kiev his supply lines to the 2500 troops he has stationed in land locked Transnistria are severely compromised.

      So the story continues, with the pro-Russian bully boys being encouraged if not actually helped to intimidate the general populace in the eastern most regions of Luhansk and Donetsk so as to provoke the interim government in Kiev into taking retaliatory action, thereby giving Putin a pretext to flex his military muscle. It seems clear that at the very least Putin seems bent on creating a vassal pro-Russian state in south eastern Ukrainian, along the lines of South Ossetia & Abkhazia gouged from Georgia and Transnistria from Moldova.

      Unless a way can be found for Kiev to get ahead of Putin's game, having started down this route there seems little to prevent him from carrying on right across the whole of Southern Ukraine so as to create a contiguous fiefdom right across the shores of the Black Sea from Georgia to Moldova, thereby sorting out his own access/supply routes to Crimea as well as land-locked Transnistria.

      By contrast, we in the democratic nations of the West have no real strategic interests at stake in this particular game, and apart from bolstering the defences of Poland and the Baltic States some, such as Frau Doktor Merkel, might prefer to wring their hands whilst allowing Putin to get on with it. However, I believe we do have a moral responsibility, not to the new regime in Kiev, but to the people of the region to ensure that their democratic voice is heard. Therefore, I believe we should put pressure on Kiev to have the courage of their convictions and pull the rug from under the feet of Putin and his bully boys by offering a free and fair plebiscite in each of the Ukrainian regions which have significant populations of Russian speakers. The question being whether or not they wish to cede from Ukraine and whether or not they wish to join the Russian Federation; this plebiscite, to be organised and policed jointly by the UN and OECD and based on a new electoral role with free and fair access to the media being guaranteed to all sides.

      Given the degree of lawlessness now prevelant in the region, and amount of corruption believed to be prevalent throughout the Ukraine, such a project would require an absolute army of neutral observers, and maybe even UN troops, to guarantee success. But the prize for a such success would extend far beyond Ukraine itself, since it would demonstrate to the peoples of Russia, Belarus and numerous countries further east, the true meaning of the word democracy.

    6. CommentedAndrei B

      "Ukraine... is entitled to chart its own future"
      Yes, it does. But, ironically, this is the point where the author parts with reality.
      Yanukovich had been selling a dream of bright Euro-future to his fellow citizens until he read the EU documents he was supposed to sign. And it was a real rude awakening to find out that his country would hardly get anything from the EU but a status of uber-member bossed around by bureaucrats in Brussels.
      As a true nationalist with Ukrainian sovereignty on his mind, he backtracked, and that was the point where all hell broke loose. You know why? Because those crowding the Maidan never bothered to take a look at the scheme he was offered to subscribe to, ever.
      Double ignorance on both sides: a patently imbecile president, bound by promise of something he was yet to learn about, was ousted by yahoos with no clues of what they were really for or against.
      Now is not the first time in history that the Russians had to clean up the mess in their simple-minded neighbors' house. The job has never been easy, and is the last thing they would ever want to do, but who else can handle it?

        CommentedAnne Buncombe

        Yanukovich didn't know what was in the agreement? Really? The Association process, whatever you might think of it, took several years. If he couldn't bother to read it himself, surely the Russians would have explained to him the downsides (and possibly hinted at some of the consequences). As for the people - they I think they saw no other light at the end of the tunnel for real reform and moving on from the kleptocracy they were already living in. Sure there would be costs, but the alternative was unbearable. The people knew and the (pro Russian) leader knew - and they chose the EU.

        CommentedAndrei B

        Fixing mistakes:
        1. Yes, it is - not 'does'
        2. unter-member - not 'uber'

    7. CommentedKen Schmoe

      As a loyal and patriotic American, I can't really say that I blame them Mr. Hill.

      The U.S. government, and the "West" has shown itself to be nothing but a bunch of wicked, dishonorable scum.

      They lie, cheat and steal from everyone, including (or maybe ESPECIALLY) the American people.

      Your NWO is an evil lie, and I'm glad the Russians have seen through it.


    8. CommentedPaul Daley

      The alliance structure that underpins Western Europe through NATO and the EU simply serves to empower small countries and entangle large ones in conflicts in which they have little interest. THe EU by now should be moving to a Federal structure that gives larger states better control over the irredentist ambitions of their smaller Eastern partners. Otherwise there will inevitably be trouble with the other large states with which the EU shares the continent. NATO has the same problem but federation isn't an option. It will either have to be dissolved or revised to incorporate all the major states of Europe, including Russia,

      Small allies have some small value at times of war. They are just a problem at times of peace. They contribute nothing to the common defense and often bring new enemies. If we do want to move to a new, more peaceful and more stable world order, then let's start by putting small states under better control.

    9. Commentedslightly optimistic

      Forget about politics? Begs the question then, for example, why does the White House want a TPP trade agreement with a geopolitical objective - not an economic objective?

    10. Commentedslightly optimistic

      "Russia’s challenge to Ukraine’s status as an independent state is thus a challenge to the entire world"
      Sets a precedent for adjudicating disputes in the China seas and the Arctic.

    11. CommentedCharles XIA

      The effort failed the moment NATO and EU decided to absorb former USSR countries into their group. I don't see how this is the fault of Russia.

    12. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      We look like a mechanic that used to service a certain station, with his trusted toolbox, manual, and one day finds that the old station was replaced with a brand new one, where everything works in a completely different manner, the frequency, the software, the arrangement, the whole basis it works on is completely new.
      The mechanic stubbornly sets on the start working as he always did, with the same mindset, with the same instruction book, same tools.
      And he is surprised that wherever he touches the machine, the system breaks, and the more effort he puts in the more damage he is causing.
      This is what happens when we try to 'fix" the global, integral world with "old school" polarized, 2 dimensional world-view and solutions.
      The world has become circular, equal and mutually interconnected and interdependent.
      We have to throw away anything we think we "know" or "understand" from historical experience and present mindset, and start learning anew the new system, its workings and its solutions.
      Together, mutually.