Did the West provoke Putin?

RUSSIA-UKRAINE-POLITICS-CRISISIn an utterly unpredictable course of events, Ukraine’s domestic struggles between pro-European masses and their corrupt regime spiraled into a conflict that bodes a new global standoff between Russia and the West, notes analyst Mariana Budjeryn.

Indeed, those in the know assert that Ukraine is only a pawn in Kremlin’s bid to foil what it perceives as a Western plot to prevent Russia from taking its history-ordained place as a great power in the international system, she writes for World Affairs:

The West, initially dismissive and reluctant, is finally getting the idea that Putin is willing to expend blood and treasure, and violate every international norm, to achieve this goal.

Putin’s propaganda has been vigorously spinning a narrative that justifies Russia’s assertiveness as a payback for West’s various transgressions. The story goes that the West had humiliated Russia when, weak and truncated, it was brought to its knees by the Soviet collapse. Echoing Putin’s narrative, John Mearsheimer, a distinguished international relations scholar, argues that the current crisis is exclusively the West’s fault: the West glibly broke its promise not to expand NATO eastward, given in exchange for the Soviet approval of German unification. It also antagonized Russia by funding democratic civil society initiatives in Russia’s backyard, in Ukraine, Georgia, and, of course, in Russia itself.

The reality, she suggests, is otherwise:

Russia has little to show for its greatness. It is an oligarchic kleptocracy, stricken by the resource curse, a tendency of states rich in natural resources and poor in democratic institutions to succumb to poor governance and abuse of power. Outside of a handful of lavish cities, Russians live in desolate villages ravaged by corruption, poverty, bad roads, and substance abuse. With all of its vast territory, Russia is a net importer of food, having failed to make investments in agriculture and consumer goods that could as much as feed its own population. The country that builds nuclear missiles cannot even raise a chicken!

Mariana Budjeryn is a Ph.D. candidate at the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy, and International Relations at the Central European University, in Budapest, Hungary. Her research investigates politics of nuclear disarmament of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Libya’s civil war: polarized politics, fractured institutions

libya-free_1835951cMore than three years after the fall of strongman Muammar Qaddafi, Libya is in the midst of a bitter civil war rooted in a balance of weakness between the country’s political factions and armed groups, says Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

With a domestic landscape torn apart by competing claims to power and with interference from regional actors serving to entrench divides, restoring stability in Libya and building a unified security structure will be difficult if not impossible without broad-based political reconciliation, he writes in a new analysis.

Polarized Politics, Fractured Institutions

  • After Qaddafi, Libya’s security sector evolved into a hybrid arrangement marked by loose and imbalanced cooperation between locally organized, state-sponsored armed groups and national military and police.
  • The system broke down as political and security institutions became increasingly polarized along regional, communal, and ideological fault lines.
  • The country is now split between two warring camps: Operation Dignity, a coalition of eastern tribes, federalists, and disaffected military units; and Operation Dawn, an alliance of Islamist forces aligned with armed groups from Misrata. Each camp lays claim to governance and legitimacy, with its own parliament, army, and prime minister.
  • Regional backing of the two camps—with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates supporting Dignity and Qatar, Turkey, and Sudan backing Dawn—has deepened these divisions.
  • Outside efforts to train and equip Libya’s security institutions have failed because of this polarization. There is no effective command structure; trainees have reverted to regional loyalties or are on indefinite leave because there is no military structure for them to join.

Recommendations for Libya’s Leaders and Outside Supporters

  • Implement a ceasefire between Operations Dignity and Dawn and secure the withdrawal of forces taking part in those campaigns. The military units of these coalitions should move out of the major cities, and those that attacked civilians or civilian facilities should be disbanded.
  • Push for a transitional government that is inclusive of all factions. A face-saving power-sharing formula should encompass all politicians and include supporters of both Dignity and Dawn—if they renounce support for terrorist groups and attacks on civilian facilities.
  • Implement a regional pact against military interference in Libya’s affairs. Outside powers should stop equipping and funding armed groups and push their allies in Libya toward reconciliation. A September 2014 noninterference pact—including Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Turkey—is a promising start.
  • Support the development of a new Libyan security architecture, national army, and police force by harnessing local security initiatives. After a broad political pact is forged, the United States and its allies should focus on supporting a civilian-controlled defense architecture, municipality-based forces, and local disarmament and demobilization efforts.


Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Triumph of liberal democracy ‘far from assured’

fukuyama pol order decayLiberal democracies are not immune to the pattern of stagnation and decay that afflict all other political societies. They too might need to be replaced by something better, notes David Runciman, professor of politics at Cambridge university and author ofThe Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present’.

So are our current political arrangements part of the solution, or part of the problem? he asks.

Frances Fukuyama’s Political Order and Political Decay squares the circle by insisting that democratic institutions are only ever one component of political stability, he writes for the Financial Times:

In the wrong circumstances they can be a destabilising force as well. His core argument is that three building blocks are required for a well-ordered society: you need a strong state, the rule of law and democratic accountability. And you need them all together. The arrival of democracy at the end of the 18th century opened up that possibility but by no means guaranteed it. The mere fact of modernity does not solve anything in the domain of politics (which is why Fukuyama is disdainful of the easy mantra that failing states just need to “modernise”).

What matters most of all is getting the sequence right. Democracy doesn’t come first. A strong state does. States that democratise before they acquire the capacity to rule effectively will invariably fail. This is what has gone wrong in many parts of Africa. Democracy has exacerbated existing failings rather than correcting for them because it eats away at the capacity of government to exert its authority, by subjecting it to too many conflicting demands. By contrast, in east Asia – in places such as Japan and South Korea – a tradition of strong central government preceded democracy, which meant the state could survive the empowerment of the people.

What happened to the end of history?

At the heart of this book is a tension that Fukuyama never quite resolves between democracy as a positive value and democracy as a negative one, Runciman suggests:

The positive value is dignity: people who rule themselves have a greater sense of self-worth. The negative value is constraint: people who rule themselves have far greater opportunities to complain about governments they don’t like. True political stability comes when the positive and negative sides of democracy cohere: when people who control the power of their governments also come to value them. That is not true at present. Where democracy has come to mean dignity – in Egypt, for example – constraint is chaotic and counter-productive. Where constraint is fully functional – as in the US – dignity is in short supply. In its place is a politics of resentment and complaint, manifested as deep-seated partisan intolerance.

But the West’s real enemy lies in its own anti-Western instincts, triggered by a self-inflicted lack of confidence and trust, argues Carnegie Europe analyst Jan Techau:

Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps reminding his fellow countrymen (and some eager listeners in Europe) how rotten and degraded Western culture is. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen recently wrote a pathos-laden swan song to Western civilization, in which he bemoans, in essence, the suicidal nature of Western culture.

Somehow, such doomsaying feels more like a perceived weakness than a real one. All facts indicate that the West is very strong indeed, stronger by a long stretch than all other parts of the planet. Practically all relevant categories-standard of living, life expectancy, health, education, employment, access to information, innovation, rule of law, corruption, crime, gender equality, and, of course, military strength (even in underperforming Europe)-show a West that is way ahead of the rest. (HT: Real Clear Politics. Originally published on Carnegie Europe.)

When challenged as to his pronouncement that history has ended, Fukuyama [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy] tends to protest that he never suggested that large-scale conflict had ceased: what he meant was that henceforth only one system of government would be accepted as legitimate, political theorist John Gray notes:

But political legitimacy is a slippery business; people want many things apart from prosperity, accountability and low levels of corruption. They also demand expression of their national myths, identities and enmities – and quite often attach more importance to this aspect of government than they do to democracy. Somewhere above the fog that surrounds Francis Fukuyama’s convoluted treatise hangs a clear and simple question: what if large sections of humanity don’t much care about getting to Denmark?

Fukuyama provides an explanation of how we have got to where we are but it is not a recipe for making the world a better place, Runciman argues:

Telling people who want democracy to hold off in order to strengthen their state won’t wash, because having to live under a strong state in the absence of democracy is often a miserable experience: that’s why the Arab spring erupted in the first place. It is the basic tension in Fukuyama’s oeuvre: if we live in an age where democracy is the best idea but discover that democracy will only work if we defer it, then politics is going to be a horribly messy business.



Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution

rfe etc

Czechs and Slovaks regained their freedom in November 1989 through non-violent protests in Prague, Bratislava, and other towns of then Czechoslovakia. Their Velvet Revolution climaxed a decade of renewed civic challenges to a repressive Communist regime that began with Charter 77 dissidents including Vaclav Havel and accelerated after 1986. Deprived of objective information about developments in their own country, Czechs and Slovaks turned to the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other Western broadcasters for information. Only through Western radio did they learn about accelerating challenges to Communist orthodoxy in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union and about ferment in their own country.

Twenty five years after the Velvet Revolution, Europe today is whole and free, but democracy and prerequisite independent media are on the decline in much of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. RFE/RL, now operating from Prague, VOA, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Network, and Radio Marti, all publicly funded by the U.S. Congress, work to redress the information deficit.

RFE/RL, the Embassy of the Czech Republic and the Woodrow Wilson Center invite you to a panel discussion on

Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the Challenge Today

Thursday, October 16, 2014 2:00pm – 6:00pm

6th Floor Flom Auditorium Wilson Center Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center One Woodrow Wilson Plaza 1300 Pennsylvania, Ave. NW Washington, D.C. 20004


The first panel will review the contribution of Western broadcasting to the successful Velvet Revolution and consider lessons from that experience. A second panel will examine the challenge faced today by the United States in providing objective information to authoritarian countries and in applying principles of successful Cold War broadcasting to communicating with unfree societies.

Panel One – Western Broadcasting to Czechoslovakia 2:00pm-3:30pm A. Ross Johnson Wilson Center Senior Scholar (moderator) Petr Gandalovic Ambassador of the Czech Republic Jiri Pehe Director, New York University Prague Center (via Internet) R. Eugene Parta Former Chair, Conference of International Broadcasters Audience Research and former Director, RFE/RL Audience and Opinion Research Pavel Pechacek Former director, VOA Czechoslovak Service; former director, RFE/RL Czechoslovak and Czech Services Alexandr Vondra Former Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defense Minister of the Czech Republic; former Czech Ambassador to the U.S. (via Internet)

Panel Two – Promoting Free Media Today 3:30pm-5:00pm Andrew Selee Wilson Center Executive Vice President (moderator) David Kramer President, Freedom House Kevin Klose Professor, Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland Nenad Pejic Editor in Chief, RFE/RL Mark Toner Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, US Department of State Kenneth Weinstein President, Hudson Institute; member, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Reception to follow RSVP HERE

Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Indonesia: third-largest democracy votes to become less democratic


Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

Lawmakers in the world’s third-largest democracy voted Friday to make their country less democratic, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Otto reports:

Indonesia’s legislature passed a bill ending direct elections for regional leaders, dealing an early setback for incoming President Joko Widodo, who opposed the measure.

Lawmakers squared off for hours Thursday night and into Friday morning, finally voting 226-135 to end the direct election of hundreds of regional leaders such as governors and mayors in the Southeast Asian nation. The measure would empower elected regional councils to appoint them instead. Indonesia’s presidency would still be chosen in direct elections by voters every five years.

The bill will become law within 30 days, unless current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono moved to bring it into effect more quickly.

The move by the House of Representatives at nearly 2 a.m. Friday, in the waning hours of its five-year term, was viewed by analysts as political payback after the recent presidential election victory of Joko Widodo, the popular governor of Jakarta and a two-time provincial mayor, the New York Times adds:

Print Friendly
Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest