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.

But "stick and carrot" diplomacy depends both on the use of the stick and on the availability of carrots. Now, the stick has become spongy and the carrots old or rotten. What produced this undesirable situation?