New Year Question: Is Our Failure to Manage Post-Soviet Russia the Primary Cause of World Disorder Today?
As the new year begins, I would like to raise a question, whether our failure to manage post Soviet Russia is the primary cause of global instability today. If so, what is the consequence of it? We were so naïve as to believe that the end of communism was the end of history, which would ultimately lead to the end of world conflicts. In reality, Russia fell into confusion, and the world is turning more and more destabilized since then. In my view, it is not the change in the balance of power among nations, but disillusionment with Western values that really matters today.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had almost no doubt that democracy and the free market system would prevail in the nations liberated from communist autocracy. Our expectation was so naïve that we, the winners of the Cold War, did not make a sufficient commitment to help socioeconomic transitions in Russia and the rest of former Soviet republics. This is starkly in contrast with the behavior of World War II winners. The Allied Forces were devoted to disarm and democratize Japan and Germany, and invested a tremendous amount of resource and manpower for stability and prosperity of former enemies. The result of these efforts was “excessively” successful, as reconstructed Japan and West Germany even grew to become formidable economic rivals to the United States and Britain. But I do not regard this as a “natural decline” of America in those days. Rather, I would regard it as “The World America has Made” as Robert Kagan’s latest book is entitled, because both countries have become indispensable stakeholders of the Western alliance, notably, as shown in their membership to the G7. This success is a historical landmark of US foreign policy.
Although xenophobic isolationists in America, and some in Britain, fear mongered re-rise of former enemies when their economy was stagnant, that turned out to be utterly wrong. As seen in the case of a notorious presidential candidate Donald Trump in the United States, and UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage in Britain, people who are mesmerized by such an idea are liable to be those of the poorest quality in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. The crème de la crème are naturally internationalists, and well-aware of the role of their countries in the world.
It is regretful that the winners of the Cold War failed to provide such generous help to Russia, nor did they disarm the old enemy. Simply, the winners preached capitalism, while Russians were struggling with a bitter socioeconomic transition. New born capitalism in Russia simply widened economic inequality without the Calvinist spirit. Oligarchs behaved hedonistically, and took the idea of “winner takes all” capitalism for granted. There is no wonder that Russians were disillusioned with Western capitalism and freedom. Actually, Western capitalists are not necessarily role models for the public, and they often spend a hedonistic and luxurious life. However, they bring innovation to business and service. On the other hand, Russian oligarchs simply exploit old Soviet industries to accumulate their own wealth. Unlike postwar Japan and West Germany, capitalism in Russia has not created competitive industries on the global stage. Heavy dependence on the export of energy resource like oil and gas implies that Russia has not even reached the “take off” stage, and it is still a third world economy. Though Russia has a cabal of world renowned scientists and engineers, they are disproportionately working in defense industries since the Soviet era. None of these aerospace industries have made a civilian aircraft that is competitive in the global market.
It seems that the collapse of the Soviet Union happened at the worst timing, as neoliberal thoughts of naïve belief in laissez faire economic globalization prevailed in those days, which was catastrophic to people were still in socialist mindset. Instead of preaching competitive capitalism, we could have led Russia into a Scandinavian styled welfare state as a soft landing from communism. We failed to make Russia a Big Sweden, which is a friendly and democratic nation to us. As a result of the failure of neoliberal capitalism in Russia, the dream of the Common European House from Vancouver to Vladivostok had been shattered completely. Russia failed to become a new Japan or Germany, nor a Big Sweden. History did not end, but restarted.
The consequence of this has inflicted critical damage on global security. Western ideal of capitalism and freedom faded, not only in Russia, but also in the rest of the world. They had begun to defy Western-centered world order and values. During the 1990s, South East Asian nations held out Asian values to fend off Western criticism on human rights abuse. The spillover effect of our failure to manage post-Soviet Russia prevails around the world like this way. The threat of rising China could have been lessened, had we succeeded in making Russia a friendly democracy. We would have been overwhelmingly advantageous to help Chinese citizens stand against the Beijing communist rule, and geostrategically, we could have counted on this northern giant to counterbalance and to contain Chinese expansionism. Furthermore, the global public would have been more willing to resonate the neo-conservative idea of installing democracy in the Middle East through toppling anti-Western autocracies as the Bush administration did in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, local terrorists and insurgents would have been less rampant, because they are inherently a weak military power, and heavily dependent on propaganda to fight against the global society. The world would have been better off, as we would not have to be swayed by reluctant leadership of Obama and xenophobic bigotry of Trump. Both isolationists are by-products of war weary emotions since the Iraq War.
Postwar democratization of Japan and Germany was so good for both winners and losers. Regretfully, this was not the case with the Cold War, because the winners of this war were not devoted to helping the loser reform herself. We, Cold War winners, did not act according to a Japanese samurai proverb, “Keep well-armed even after the victory”. The impacts of this failure have prevailed globally, as many nations and non-state actors have grown defiant or even antagonistic to us, in view of fading Western values. But sooner or later, Putin’ era will end as he is not immortal. We should learn lessons from the experience in the post-Cold War era, to make preparation for the future. This is the first step to rebuild the world that we envisioned shortly after the fall of Communist autocracy. Therefore, I am raising this question at the dawn of the New Year.