Democracy’s depressing paradox: Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’

 

fukuyama pol order decayFrancis Fukuyama’s “Political Order and Political Decay,” a whirlwind tour of modern political development from the French Revolution to the present, is nothing if not ambitious, says Columbia University’s Sheri Berman.

“He wants to do more than just describe what liberal democracy is; he wants to discover how and why it develops (or does not),” she writes for the New York Times:

He suggests that the sequencing of political development is important, arguing that “those countries in which democracy preceded modern state building have had much greater problems achieving high-quality governance than those that inherited modern states from absolutist times.” But the cases he gives as examples do not necessarily fit the argument well (since Prussia’s state eventually had trouble deferring to civilian authorities and the early weakness of the Italian state was probably caused more by a lack of democracy than a surfeit of it). In addition, he surely understands that authoritarianism is even more likely to generate state weakness than democracy since without free media, an active civil society and regular elections, authoritarianism has more opportunities to make use of corruption, clientelism and predation than democracies do.

Fukuyama, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, leaves his readers with a depressing paradox, Berman notes:

Liberal democracy remains the best system for dealing with the challenges of modernity, and there is little reason to believe that Chinese, Russian or Islamist alternatives can provide the diverse range of economic, social and political goods that all humans crave. But unless liberal democracies can somehow manage to reform themselves and combat institutional decay, history will end not with a bang but with a resounding whimper.

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Eulogy for Ukraine?

 

ukrainesolidarnoscKiev has lost eastern Ukraine to Russia, says a leading analyst.

The turning point came on August 27, as the first direct invasion of Ukraine by Russian regulars broke the Ukrainian army’s siege of pro-Russian rebel strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk, Elizabeth Pond writes for the German Council on Foreign Relations:

The truce of September 5 echoed Thucydides’ maxim that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”….

In the short run Ukraine’s position is weak, while Russia’s is strong. In the long run the reverse may be true. The problem for the West in the interim is that hard military power wins instant victories, while soft economic power, if it works, will do so only in the long run.

In this interim period Ukraine is again playing its historical role as a borderland playground for mightier neighbors.

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ELIZABETH POND, a Berlin-based journalist, is the author of “The Rebirth of Europe.“ She has covered Ukraine for over 30 years.

How far will Putin go? Wants ‘hot peace’ not Cold War

RUSSIA-UKRAINE-POLITICS-CRISISThere are four founding principles of Vladimir Putin’s strategy, according to Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at New York University.

First of all, he believes the West to be powerful – more powerful than Russia – but weak in discipline, ruthlessness, determination, and unity. As a result, he has turned to what I call “guerrilla geopolitics,” trying to capitalize on these perceived vulnerabilities without triggering a direct conflict. The days when NATO feared waves of Soviet tanks crashing through the Fulda Gap are long gone. Instead, the challenge is from non-linear operations that blend political misdirection, subversion and propaganda with small but carefully calibrated injections of military force, whether from local proxies or deniable special forces.

Thirdly, one of the key distinctions between today’s “hot peace” and the old Cold War is that there is no desire on the Kremlin’s part to export any ideology. The aim is entirely defensive: to protect the regime’s grip on its country and its economic and security interests in its immediate neighborhood. Putin and the small circle of elites to whom he still listens essentially want to be left in peace to rule Russia and dominate Eurasia.

Finally, Putin’s nationalism is neither Soviet nor tsarist, although he bears the stamp of both. He does not want to restore the old empire, not least because that would incorporate many non-Russians, further diluting – in his opinion – the cultural unity of the Russian Federation. Instead, his vision of Russia’s true bounds is essentially cultural, anchored on “the Russian people” as a linguistically, culturally, historically, and religiously unified entity.

“However, Putin will not sacrifice his personal position or Russia in the name of ideology, empire, or personal crusade,” Galeotti writes for The European. “So long as he still feels that the West is divided and irresolute – and no number of diplomatic statements will do anything to change this – he will continue to push and to needle.”

“He seeks not to invade the West, but to neuter it.”

“Moscow is not looking for a major world transforming struggle with the West because it knows that it would probably lose such a struggle,” he tells Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor at the Council on Foreign Relations:

Nor does Moscow have some great ambition to reshape the rest of the world. The Cold War was driven by an ideological premise. The West was for democracy and liberal markets; the Soviets were for state socialism and wanted to export that.

The Russians are not looking to export anything now. More than anything else, they want freedom of maneuver to maintain their current hybrid, pseudo-democratic authoritarian oligarchy. At home, they want to have the freedom to impose their will in their immediate hinterland of Eurasia. They don’t want to be restrained by international institutions like the United Nations.

“It is more of a hot peace. They are not out for war,” Galeotti contends. “On the other hand, Russia will be aggressive. It will become confrontational. The Russians will use methods we will regard as reprehensible.”

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Uncivil societies

russia_civilsociety_HRWThe ongoing crackdown on civil society groups “is about weakening NGOs, not making them more transparent or effective,” The Economist notes:

It is being undertaken by leaders who, if they accept democracy at all, want it to amount to nothing more than a tame vote every few years. Foreign donations are an easy target for autocrats whose worst nightmare is a flourishing civil society. NGOs’ activities in the “colour” revolutions a decade ago in the former Soviet Union and, more recently, the Arab spring, have sharpened autocrats’ hostility to them.

It is hardly surprising that leaders like Mr Putin want to curb those who seek to promote democracy, but these laws reach far beyond free speech and human rights. NGOs also suffer if they criticise poor public services, stand up for reviled minorities or disclose facts that the powerful want to hide. Mr Orban has targeted a group that publicises discrimination against Roma and another that runs a hotline for battered women. Among those Mr Putin has dubbed foreign agents are a group of women seeking information about Russian servicemen injured and killed while covertly deployed in Ukraine.

“Persuading autocrats who have decided that NGOs pose an existential threat to ease up will be a struggle. But donor countries can help stem the illiberal tide,” The Economist notes. “Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, launched in 2011, which supports governments keen to increase transparency and cut corruption, should help to stop the trend spreading.”

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Putin ‘scared witless by the idea of people power’

russia ukraineThe NATO summit meeting last week in Wales was dominated by Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The rift with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was an extraordinary contrast to the last NATO summit in Britain, in 1990, Steven Erlanger writes for the New York Times:

A year after the Berlin Wall fell, NATO issued the London Declaration, asserting that “Europe has entered a new, promising era.” Eastern Europe is liberating itself, the declaration said. “The Soviet Union has embarked on the long journey toward a free society. The walls that once confined people and ideas are collapsing,” and those people “are choosing a Europe whole and free.”

 “I could weep for the hopes that we had in the early 1990s,” said Ian Bond, a former British diplomat in Russia, now at the Center for European Reform. “The walls that divided us were collapsing, and Putin is building them up again.”

Rather than moving toward democracy and individual liberties, Mr. Bond said, the Russian government obsesses about public uprisings like those in Ukraine in 2004 and this year.

“Putin wants to show that you can’t have a real democracy in a former Soviet state,” Mr. Bond said. “He’s scared witless by the idea of people power.”

Today, many in Moscow remain convinced that regime change is Washington’s ultimate objective. They view Western support for the revolution in Ukraine—allegedly engineered by Western spies and NGOs—as but an intermediate step toward similar actions against Putin’s government in Russia, according to Eugene Rumer, a senior associate and the director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Russia and Eurasia Program:

If none other than former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski—who is widely respected in Russia as a leading American foreign policy thinker but has also been known as a major hawk since the Cold War—has declared that supporting Ukraine is key to promoting change in Putin’s Russia, then clearly Russia is the next target for Western-engineered subversion. Western sanctions are interpreted in Moscow not simply as an instrument designed to change Russian policy in Ukraine, but as something far more sinister—to weaken Russia, to undermine its government, to instigate a popular uprising, to overthrow the Putin government, to install a puppet regime in Russia.

“In July, Putin told his security council that Russia’s foreign enemies are trying constantly to undermine Russia under the guise of democracy promotion,” Rumer writes for POLITICO. “Such ‘color revolutions,’ he said, will not work in Russia—though he probably has his doubts.”

But James Sherr, author of “Hard Diplomacy and Soft Coercion: Russia’s Influence Abroad,” believes that Mr. Putin was heading toward rupture regardless, Erlanger adds for the Times:

“Putin has had clear strategic objectives, even fixations, from the start, but he has pursued them by tactical improvisation,” Mr. Sherr said.

Mr. Putin is not just aiming to restore Russian primacy in the former Soviet Union, he said. “One of his fixations is Ukraine,” whose independence Mr. Putin regards as a crime.

At the same time, Mr. Sherr said, “we in the West had a very specific, hopeful, illusory idea about the end of the Soviet Union and the kind of Russia we’d be dealing with.” But even by 1994, Russian democrats were being called “romantics,” if not yet traitors. “I think Putin or something like Putin was almost preordained from this whole period of romanticism and illusions,” Mr. Sherr said. “That was fueled by the equally naïve projection of a Western liberal model of economic and political change on Russia.”