The Diplomacy Of Blackmail

WARSAW: If someone asked me to point to a decisive factor that helped build democracy and markets in Eastern Europe, I would jab my finger at western blackmail. As a word, "blackmail" may be overwrought, but it strips away cant and makes an underlying issue of today's diplomacy clear. Today's East/West blackmail, however, is of a peculiar sort in that, up to now, it has been accepted willingly by those being blackmailed. Moreover, this acceptance has worked -- for both sides, and nowadays there seems no easy way out from the practice.

Who are the blackmailers? Western governments, the World Bank, the European Union, NATO and, of course, public opinion in the West lead the way. How does it work? In 1989 all East European countries decided -- some euphorically, some hesitantly -- that democracy and free markets were the political and economic models to pursue. The West accepted this decision and promised those who behaved many carrots. Cleverly (as the West was concerned) the "Stick" in this diplomatic dance would be wielded by the postcommunist countries themselves. It was, for example, the reforms pursued by Poland's Leszek Balcerowicz (stabilization policies followed in other countries) that stopped inflation and started privatization but with high social costs.

Diplomatic blackmailing is not confined to the economy. It influenced regional politics. One can imagine how political mavericks like former Polish president Lech Walesa may have behaved without oversight from the West. As the reform process got underway, all leaders in the region knew three fixed things: that formal democratic procedures had to be adhered to; that human rights must be guaranteed and respected; and that anti-liberal economic policies were not acceptable in the new Europe. Some transition country leaders, of course, were in agreement with these without Western prompting. Others, say Romania's Ion Iliescu, had (and have) harsher personal or ideological tendencies, but understood that self-limitation was necessary, at least for the present.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. China corruption Isaac Lawrence/Getty Images

    The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. 
    • But moving beyond Xi's anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.
  2. Italy unemployed demonstration SalvatoreEsposito/Barcroftimages / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

    Putting Europe’s Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

    Across the European Union, millions of people who are willing and able to work have been unemployed for a year or longer, at great cost to social cohesion and political stability. If the EU is serious about stopping the rise of populism, it will need to do more to ensure that labor markets are working for everyone.

  3. Latin America market Federico Parra/Getty Images

    A Belt and Road for the Americas?

    In a time of global uncertainty, a vision of “made in the Americas” prosperity provides a unifying agenda for the continent. If implemented, the US could reassert its historical leadership among a group of countries that share its fundamental values, as well as an interest in inclusive economic growth and rising living standards.

  4. Startup office Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    How Best to Promote Research and Development

    Clearly, there is something appealing about a start-up-based innovation strategy: it feels democratic, accessible, and so California. But it is definitely not the only way to boost research and development, or even the main way, and it is certainly not the way most major innovations in the US came about during the twentieth century.

  5. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.