Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Urnov on Russia
He described himself as a liberal, a pessimist, and an oppositionist, prepared to speak frankly. What Russia has now is indeed "managed democracy" or more accurately soft authoritarianism--but he noted it is critical to recognize that liberal ideas never had much traction in Russia; the "democrats" who won elections in the 1980s and 1990s did so because they were anti-Communist and promised that it would be possible to create an affluent, stable society in a short period of time.
That failure reinforced what he described as an "authoritarian syndrome" where people prefer stability and some degree of guarantees; this has also created a "common language" between the political elite and mass society, something that did not occur under Yeltsin.
However, the current regime, Urnov says, is unable to cope with the major problems facing Russia; the demographic and health crises, the rise in mental illness, alcoholism and drug abuse--the latter vices which threaten to cripple 15-20 percent of the labor force. Add to this the "moral crisis"--the "mistrust culture" which produces an atomized society where people do not trust their fellow citizens or institutions. This in turn facilitates corruption on a wide scale which in turn cripples the economy; he calculated that corruption decreases economic efficiency in Russia by at least a factor of two, stifles small business and demoralizes the country.
How can corruption be tackled beyond administrative measures--for this a free press and an open political system are needed. Russia must also choose whether to concentrate resources on social development or on trying to remain as a great power.
Urnov's comments are quite useful. The concept of the "authoritarian syndrome" also helps to explain the trajectory of developments to some extent in Ukraine and also, I would argue, in Kazakhstan and Belarus. Some of this is even visible in the East-Central European states, as reform fatigue sets in. Urnov also makes the case for why the short-term stability of the Putin regime may not lay the basis for a long-term recovery--something that touches upon the work being done by Ian Bremmer in his forthcoming book The J-Curve. How to move societies from embracing short-term authoritarian solutions that do work to take steps toward democratization which introduces a higher degree of risk for a long-term payout is the real challenge of democracy promotion.
Mexican immigrants to America are coming to a society that is both advanced and stable. The Mexican economy is not on track to outgrow the American one and the presence of Mexican immigrants will not reorient the southwestern United States to Mexico's economy.
Chinese minorities in Southeast Asia have been there for centuries; they are not recent arrivals. Southeast Asia is already densely populated and is unlikely to be a region to which emigrants from China will ever flow in large numbers. Chinese minorities have prospered but their political and social position is not secure.
In Siberia, most of the Chinese who work there are contract laborers who go home when their jobs are done. There are also Chinese merchants but most of these are also temporary. True immigrants from China are few, mainly along the north side of the Amur river border, where they have taken up garden farming. But these and other migrants will probably increase in number and eventually could dominate the Maritime Province and eastern Siberia if Europeans continue to emigrate.
Russia will have great difficulty hanging onto its territory east of the Urals if Chinese immigrants become a larger part of the population, and their presence probably will reorient the Siberian economy toward China, if this doesn't already occur as a result of Chinese demand for Russian oil and water. If the asymmetry between China and Russia increases in the military sphere to Beijing's advantage, Chinese influence could be much harder to brake. If Russia is a failed state, the federation could break apart. If a failing Russia tries to prevent the Chinese from becoming more powerful or more of a presence inside its borders, conflict could then occur.
It is short-sighted of both states to work against US foreign policy today because each may someday need the United States to defend against the other. We might make this point more strongly in our current diplomacy and encourage Russia to make the changes they need to turn their social conditions around.
It is an interesting development. What will happen to definitions of "Russian-ness" when you have Ivan Chens and Olga Wangs. The Russian Orthodox Church is belatedly waking up to the fact that it needs to do some more evangelization/Russianization and is also beginning to take some Chinese (and North Korean) seminary students too.
Yes, 5th Guards Tank Army has merely oriented itself on China. Sheesh.
"We might make this point more strongly in our current diplomacy and encourage Russia to make the changes they need to turn their social conditions around."
Now if only we had the slightest clue what those were. The last time the West offered its advice on the changes they need to turn their social conditions around, it was "Drop your trade barriers and privatize everything in sight as fast as you can and it dosen't matter on what terms or to who because any private owner is a better owner and manager than the State."
And that has turned out so well for Russians. Really.
I had in mind the example of 1969, not 1943. Russia's nuclear capability will be real for some time to come.
"The last time the West offered its advice on the changes they need to turn their social conditions around, it was "Drop your trade barriers and privatize everything in sight as fast as you can and it dosen't matter on what terms or to who because any private owner is a better owner and manager than the State."
And that has turned out so well for Russians. Really."
We could offer full NATO membership. Pro-Western forces in Russia would be strengthened more by that than by anything else we have done, are doing, or could do.
And in view of the Chinese MRBM capability, the only circumstances Russia's nuclear capability might be used in is if a Chinese attack on Russia was developing or underway. And since the Chinese aren't stupid, neither one is going to need the US to protect them from the other. So if you really want them to stop working against U.S. policy, we'll need to take them and their interests seriously, and especially in Russia's case, incorporate some actual reciprocity in our relations with them. Now Bush's shift on cooperating on nuclear power is a helpful start, but we've gotten into a pretty deep hole by 15 years of pocketing their concessions only to demand more.
NATO membership for Russia! Good idea, but a bit late. To get that now you gotta get the Poles and Balts to agree. And the last time this sort of thing came up, the Polish reply was "With the Germans we lose our independence. With the Russians we lose our souls!"
So I'd say we've got a bit of work ahead of us before that's a real prospect.
Yes, but US support did deter a Soviet preemptive strike on China in 1969. While China might not provoke a Russian attack in the future, China's peaceful growth and improving military capabilities could provoke a strike if Moscow thinks there is still time to take out China's long-range missiles on the ground. In a situation like this, the United States might make a difference. It would be better to offer Russia and alliance than wait until a crisis arises in which we must deter one or the other.
Regarding support for US foreign policy today, I had in mind Iran and North Korea, where calculations that Moscow and Beijing will never vote for sanctions have encouraged both regimes to stall for time. Russia and China have recently signaled their exasperation with both countries over these tactics but present indications are that Moscow and Beijing will not vote for sanctions if they come to an actual vote, which means that Tehran and Pyongyang can wait us out.
It is not a question of imposing our interest on Russia and China but of the two recognizing their own long-term interest (1) in not to having Japan rearm and (2) in not seeing nuclear weapons proliferate across the Middle East. It is their perception that the United States needs to be cut down to size that has stood in the way of cooperating to prevent North Korea and Iran from moving further toward the acquisition of accurate missiles with nuclear warheads.
The question is whether cutting us down to size is truly more important than stopping the proliferation of nuclear delivery systems a decade or so from now. I admit that this is a judgment call and I would agree that if other great powers suspect we will be even more aggressive and unilateral in the future their own vital interests might advise putting proliferation temporarily on a back burner. The question is whether foreign government elites are deeply annoyed with us or really believe that we are a threat to their vital interests.
In the case of Russia, your question is answered by observing that 20 years of Soviet/Russian concessions have not altered the determination of the USG to treat Russian influence, anywhere, as something fundamentally illegitimate to be diminished wherever it is found, if at all possible.