Anne Applebaum makes an excellent point:
“Looking back over the past quarter-century, it isn’t easy to name a Western policy that can truly be described as a success. The impact of Western development aid is debatable. Western interventions in the Middle East have been disastrous.
But one Western policy stands out as a phenomenal success, particularly when measured against the low expectations with which it began: the integration of Central Europe and the Baltic States into the European Union and NATO. Thanks to this double project, more than 90 million people have enjoyed relative safety and relative prosperity for more than two decades in a region whose historic instability helped launch two world wars.”
This is exactly right. The peaceful expansion of freedom onto Eastern Europe has been nothing short of a miracle in our lifetime, a miracle that is currently in danger of being taken away…
“But times change, and the miraculous transformation of a historically unstable region became a humdrum reality. Instead of celebrating this achievement on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is now fashionable to opine that this expansion, and of NATO in particular, was mistaken. This project is incorrectly “remembered” as the result of American “triumphalism” that somehow humiliated Russia by bringing Western institutions into its rickety neighborhood. This thesis is usually based on revisionist history promoted by the current Russian regime — and it is wrong.”
One of the refrains of the isolationist right is that the West has humiliated Russia in the past 20 years, with the implication that all that Vladimir Putin wants is for Russia to be treated with respect.
“For the record: No treaties prohibiting NATO expansion were ever signed with Russia. No promises were broken. Nor did the impetus for NATO expansion come from a “triumphalist” Washington. On the contrary, Poland’s first efforts to apply in 1992 were rebuffed. I well remember the angry reaction of the U.S. ambassador to Warsaw at the time. But Poland and others persisted, precisely because they were already seeing signs of the Russian revanchism to come.”
Most Eastern European leaders understand the Russian problem better than those in the West, who indulge in pleasant wishful thinking.
“When the slow, cautious expansion eventually took place, constant efforts were made to reassure Russia. No NATO bases were placed in the new member states, and until 2013 no exercises were conducted there. A Russia-NATO agreement in 1997 promised no movement of nuclear installations. A NATO-Russia Council was set up in 2002. In response to Russian objections, Ukraine and Georgia were, in fact, denied NATO membership plans in 2008.
Meanwhile, not only was Russia not “humiliated” during this era, it was given de facto “great power” status, along with the Soviet seat on the U.N. Security Council and Soviet embassies. Russia also received Soviet nuclear weapons, some transferred from Ukraine in 1994 in exchange for Russian recognition of Ukraine’s borders.”
At the time, I thought it was a big mistake for the Ukrainians to give up their nukes; also a big mistake for the West to encourage them to do so. A nuclear-armed Ukraine would have been the best check on Russian territorial ambitions. I felt that Bill Clinton was being very naïve about the powers of ‘nuclear non-proliferation’.
“Presidents Clinton and Bush both treated their Russian counterparts as fellow “great power” leaders and invited them to join the Group of Eight — although Russia, neither a large economy nor a democracy, did not qualify.”
This is right. Russia doesn’t. Though I could see in the 1990’s why one would want to encourage Russia to go down the good path.
“During this period, Russia, unlike Central Europe, never sought to transform itself along European lines. Instead, former KGB officers with a clearly expressed allegiance to the Soviet system took over the state in league with organized crime, seeking to prevent the formation of democratic institutions at home and to undermine them abroad. For the past decade, this kleptocratic clique has also sought to re-create an empire, using everything from cyberattacks on Estonia to military invasions of Georgia and now Ukraine, in open violation of that 1994 agreement — exactly as the Central Europeans feared.”
Russia is a run by a malignant combination of the KGB and the mafia.
“Once we remember what actually happened over the past two decades, as opposed to accepting the Russian regime’s version, our own mistakes look different.”
“The crisis in Ukraine, and the prospect of a further crisis in NATO itself, is not the result of our triumphalism but of our failure to react to Russia’s aggressive rhetoric and its military spending. Why didn’t we move NATO bases eastward a decade ago?”
“Our mistake was not to humiliate Russia but to underrate Russia’s revanchist, revisionist, disruptive potential. If the only real Western achievement of the past quarter-century is now under threat, that’s because we have failed to ensure that NATO continues to do in Europe what it was always meant to do: deter. Deterrence is not an aggressive policy; it is a defensive policy. But in order to work, deterrence has to be real. It requires investment, consolidation and support from all of the West, and especially the United States.”
Of course, that Russians feel humiliated, I doubt not. But it is not the West’s fault. They are humiliated because, unlike the small Eastern European nations they used to oppress, they were unable to successfully make the transition to a free country.
I have always felt that one way you can tell about how bad shape a country is in is by the quality of the solutions it proposes for its problems. Take for instance the Middle East. The secular, military dictatorships that have a run the place since the demise of colonialism until the Arab Spring have always been brutal and dysfunctional. This is a good indicator that the Middle East is in bad shape. But a further indicator, one that shows that the place is in even worse shape than it seems at first glance are the solutions that they, the Arabs, themselves propose: Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, Jihadism, anti-Semitism and the genocide of the Jews. These proffered solutions indicate that the future of the Middle East will be even worse once the dictators go away. As can be seen by the fruit of the Arab Spring.
In the case of Russia, the solution to their problem – to submit to a crude, bellicose, strongman – is low quality indeed, and is a predictor that Russia also does not have a bright future. Unless it smartens up - soon.