Saturday, March 22, 2014


The front page of the Economist (22 March) announces "The New World Order".  I tend to argue that the "new world order" was stillborn, almost. The short-lived Francis Fukuyama projection died as soon as the ink was dry. The uni-polar world had a short lifespan and the "dominos" got a free ride.  We find ourselves for years in a multi-polar world wherein tectonic plates collide. The turmoil is general in the absence of some lead or compass. The uncertainties dwarf the Economist's suggested appearance of the "new," not to mention "order".

The world was, albeit reluctantly, used to American leadership, considered as unavoidable. The rise of "others" has dented the influence of the United States. More important is the trauma endured after the hopeless American entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those inroads into unfamiliar "theatres" left the Americans with a bitter aftertaste and a reluctance to intervene in what was felt as alien situations. "Leading from behind" started there.  Today we re-enter the times of Neue Sachlichkheit in the use of power. There is nothing new but the accents have been reshuffled. The dots in the circle have ended up being separated and follow their own practical path.

The current Crimea/Ukraine crisis is also a perfect example of the price which might have to be paid for the disregard of historical precedent.  History and collective memory have long shadows.
I wonder why so little has been said regarding the Crimean "fault line" which runs deep in the Russian psyche.  The fall of Sevastopol after more than a year of Franco-British siege in 1856 is the stuff novels are made of (Tolstoy).  Peter the Great created the first Russian naval base in Taganrog in 1698.  Nikita Khruschev returned Crimea to Ukraine, for "good behaviour". Engels wrote in 1865 about Panslavism and the Crimean question.
It should therefore not be surprising that President Putin, who seems to have an unbinding focus regarding Russia's identity, turned the turmoil in Kiev into a smokescreen for making his move. This was facilitated by the Crimeans who felt mostly that they were Ukrainians "by accident."
The West reacted as could have been expected, playing "duped" while just being "sloppy" or not to the point. President Obama's soliloquys have become a "red flag" in the Kremlin.   If the likes of Victoria Nuland define American policy in Europe, we are in for a bumpy ride. The EU, which is still looking for the Grail of a common foreign and defense policy, is its usual dysfunctional self. Former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's assessment regarding old versus new Europe was a self- fulfilling prophecy.

Some cynics will say "so what?"  This is not a Czechoslovakia or a Poland coup from Soviet times (yet).  It is a mere transition from de facto to de jure.   Public opinion looks for the missing plane rather than for answers and only vaguely associates Crimea with Florence Nightingale or with the "thin red line" of Highlanders resisting the Russian attack at Balaclava.  Putin's clean surgery will not lend itself to such romantic interpretation.  We lived through Cold War, detente, the short uni- polar American reign and have entered the multi-polar world once and forever. Alliances are outdated and need to adapt. Ententes based on short-term interests abound and vary.  The latter are not based on ideology but on praxis, hence the Neue Sachlichkeit.

Russia will pay a price. Already the weakening ruble and plunging markets are indicators that sanctions have some effect. Thus is not enough to oblige Putin to make a totally unthinkable U-turn. He already has shown his cool virtuosity by launching a policy of "de-off shoring", so that Russian companies must be registered in Russia. Putin's neo-imperialism will be difficult to reign in.  His next moves in the region are shrouded in the unknown. Meanwhile the "global partnership" with Russia is suspended while the West is trapped in its own contradictions. Huntington has already observed that the US government supported the subjection of Muslims to Orthodox rule after all.  He added that "those who do not recognize fundamental divides are doomed to be frustrated by them".

What the West still can do :
--Foremost, Putin's "magnum" address cannot remain unanswered. The American president should deliver a Chrchillian speech while in Brussels, outlining a policy which is not aggressive but  rooted in principles that appeal to all and reach out.
--the EU must support an elected, pluralistic, democratic government in Kiev. Some dubious agitators from the Maidan had better be marginalized.
--It is too early to provide for answers regarding Ukraine's longer term future.
--The so-called Russian "concern" for minorities in third countries must be monitored in close UN consultation (or authorization). The "hard" dislodging of Ukrainian forces in Crimea (see Belbek) and the sequester of Ukrainian warships need compensation by Moscow.
--NATO better do some homework regarding the application of Article 5 of the Treaty, which has to be strictly managed. Miscalculation or accident could trigger unwelcome responses.
--France should freeze or cancel the delivery of two high tech Mistral warships to Russia.
--President Putin should not be shunned. On the contrary, his visibility and input could create a larger more willing coalition around shared ideas of non-interference and respect for existing consolidated, recognized borders.  A snub will only reinforce his natural anti-Western attitude. Concourse will weaken him.
--A return to former Reagan "Star Wars," or the more recent military anti-ballistic buildup in Poland and the Czech Republic are unhelpful.  Russia is the core state of Orthodoxy and has legitimate interests in securing its borders.

If we were ever to arrive at a new world order, it could only be the result of an agreement of many, rather than of the transgression of one. Can anyone believe that China (not to mention others) would be content to play "dummy" in this global Bridge game?  I bet Syria and Iran are enjoying the show. Others look on from the sidelines. The numerous "G" members remain silent. It is really starting to look as if self-interest is becoming the new norm. The Magna Cartas inherited from both world wars look more and more like bygones.

No comments:

Post a Comment