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January 24, 2009

For a New Peaceful Coexistence between Russia and the West

Akio Kawato
(This article was written last September for one Russian journal. This is a translation from the Russian original, which is posted in the Russian part of this blog. There you can read repurcussions from the Russians. )
With the Iraq war our world lost meaning—that is, it lost a moral standard. Owing to the terrorist attack of September 11, the USA has in effect been in a state of war in the full sense of that word.

Washington did not hesitate to resort to forceful measures. Yet even while implementing the large-scale military intervention in Kuwait in 1991, the US administration had refrained from carrying out “regime change.” After its soldiers were killed in Somalia, for almost the entire Clinton period the US refrained from military interventions abroad. The US government managed to send its troops to Bosnia only late in 1995, after military actions had been suspended following three major battles.

After September 11, however, Washington began to use its military superiority recklessly. It was a time when the conservatives were able to implement their ideas without any special obstacles or debates.

People who achieve successes sometimes go too far and in so doing fall into a trap, that is, into a hole that they have dug themselves. The US government kept on declaring that its mission was to spread democracy and freedom.

The means used to implement this policy, however, gave rise to doubts. Weapons of mass destruction, the possible existence of which became the great reason for intervention in Iraq, were not found. The “torture” of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers darkened the USA’s image as a flag-bearer of freedom and democracy. After the hurricane known as Katrina the scenes of New Orleans showed the whole world the frightening difference in the living standards of Americans.

As it turned out, those people who wanted to spread the blessings of democracy and freedom to the whole world did the opposite, compromising those values and taking away the sense of meaning from our lives. Despite the opinion of the American scholar Francis Fukuyama (he later retracted his words) history did not end. On the contrary, our bloody and boorish history continues under the conditions of a universal relativity of values and the law of the jungle.

In such a situation freedom remains the privilege of the rich and powerful. In developing countries, under the pretext of defending “traditional values of society,” such people refuse to share their wealth and freedom with as many as possible, in effect, protecting their own selfish interests.

Today there is a new president in Russia, and a new one will come to power in the USA after eight years of extremism. The whole world finds itself in momentous and challenging times. If the West and Russia succeed in reaching an agreement, we will again be able to find meaning in this world. But if the West and Russia continue to give in to their ambitions and intensify their lack of understanding for each other, then all of us will be forced to engage in an unnecessary and senseless struggle for mutual destruction.

Twenty years have passed since a serious attempt to achieve reforms in the USSR was set into motion. In my opinion, though, the results of this period have still not been properly evaluated. If we only see negatives in that process, there is nothing left but a return to Soviet times.

In this article I will first take a look at the history of contemporary Russia in order to see what has been done and what remains to be done. I will identify the causes of mutual hostility in relations between Russia and the West so as to put an end to the childish comparisons of powers that involve the monstrous machinery of nation states.

The nation state is a product of seventeenth-century Western Europe. Its purpose was the conduct of wars and the extension of its territories. Today such a function is no longer needed.

Today states should cease to be the cause of conflicts. To a great extent Russia shares the values of the Western civilized world. It would be a pity for them to lose one another. The meaning of existence—that is, the establishment of the rights of every individual on the basis of a secure life should and can be restored through the common efforts of both Russia and the West (and Japan).

On Russia

The Acceptance and Subsequent Rejection of Democracy and the “Market”
I still very clearly remember the morning after the military putsch collapsed in August 1991. The faces of Muscovites, whether it be a janitor or a street musician, were shining from joy and pride; at last we stopped an evil plot through our own actions. The anchor on the TV news ended his program with the words “Be free,” instead of the usual “Be well.” Alas, as I remember, this enthusiasm lasted only for several days.

Yeltsin was able to come to power, by and large, owing to the miscalculations of both the intelligentsia and the broad masses. In Yeltsin’s slogan of “reform” the intelligentsia heard “freedom” and a high standard of living on the level of Europe, whereas the common people smelled lots of bread. Both groups began to support Yeltsin, a fact that in itself was a rare phenomenon in Russian history, during which, more often than not, the intelligentsia and broad masses have hated each other.

It became immediately clear, however, that a Western type democracy “does not work” on Russian soil. Since Russia lacked a tradition of genuine pluralism, freedom was transformed into chaos and democracy into a disorder in which every deputy had his own “political party.”

Democracy is not an end in itself. The Western model does not need to be adopted in full. What is most important is to secure the existence of political alternatives as well as competition between politicians and parties in order that their policies fundamentally comply with the wishes of the electorate. In a contemporary, complex society democracy can no longer satisfy the desires of every voter, but the conduct of elections legitimates certain decisions—such as decisions on how to redistribute resources in society—without bloodshed.

Political parties are not capable of solving all questions in society, but they remain the most effective mechanism for making decisions in society while maintaining elements of political alternatives and competition. Under a one-party system the only way to suppress protest is to use force, and when this happens the party loses the people’s trust.

Pluralism did not take root in Russia and other former socialist countries, likely owing to the fact that a major part of the economy remained in the hands of the state, and also because the officials managing the economy are at the same time members of the governing party. As things turned out, Russia was given an opportunity to establish democracy but because it was not yet ready, it mishandled its chance and discredited democracy. In fact, people in Russia have still not seen the Western model of democracy.

If democracy and a market economy necessarily lead to disorder, then Japan, the USA and the European community ought to be suffering constant chaos, but that is not the case. If democracy and a market economy do not work in Russia, there must be causes that are interfering with the normal development of society.

“Is it impossible to govern a large country by democratic methods”?

In Russia I often hear the argument that Russia’s territory is too big and that is why Russia can only be governed under a strict vertical of power. Admittedly, China is a good example. In China students speak out openly against introducing democracy because they want to monopolize the fruits of fast development. They fear that a hurried democratization will lead to more open protests on the part of regions and that the spread of protests might even split the country.

Following this logic, Russia is attempting to return to the “party-state” of the past where a single party has control over ideology, politics, and even the economy. The Chinese revolutionaries adopted this model of state management from the USSR in the early twentieth century and now they are “giving it back” to Russia. But in fact such a system was not a novelty for the Chinese. For more than a thousand years they had lived within the frame of a similar model of state management, one headed by the emperor and a strong bureaucracy.

The USA and India, however, which also are “great powers,” have a different model of how government operates—democracy on the basis of pluralism. Having lived in the USA for several years, I have often asked myself what secures the unity of huge territories such as the USA. They do not have a strict power vertical. Since the USA originated from a confederation of 13 states, every state in the USA has broad powers. Political parties do not have a clearly defined regional structure. Most likely television plays a major role in this. Owing to TV, people in the USA share common interests and are concerned about the same problems.

The economy plays the most important role, however. The existence of conditions that facilitate a normal standard of living is what unites people in the USA. After all, that is what their ancestors came for. As long as a normal life is ensured, everyone stands up when the country’s flag is raised and everyone sings the national anthem at every public event without fail. Politics cannot and should not impose unity on the people.

In India, the voting process in parliamentary elections usually takes half a year. The country lacks a sufficient number of inspectors and other officials. But in India’s multiethnic and very complex society even that weak form of democracy works well to relieve tensions. In India, unlike the US, prospects of a better standard of living are not great; conflicts, uprisings, and even terrorist acts are frequent, but, nevertheless, even though it does not have a strict vertical of power, India will not collapse.

East Asia: Flourishing on the Principle of the Status Quo and Free Trade

Another model of statehood may be found in East Asia—symbiosis with the US or reliance on “Pax Americana.” Japan, China, and South Korea have all enriched themselves by exporting their goods to the US. After all, the US represents over 20 percent of world consumption. If the US continues to support the principle of free trade then almost all countries in East Asia will be happy, for they will not need to engage in a forcible redistribution of wealth in their own region.

To the present day security in East Asia has been maintained for the most part by American military power. However, this does not at all mean that having made all countries of East Asia dependent on itself, the US receives a unilateral benefit from this system.

To be sure, one should not idealize the picture in Asia. Serious confrontations arise there, too, and there is no guarantee that the status quo will remain for long. However, in general “childish” confrontations of powers tend to be fairly rare there as are unnecessary conflicts arising from mutual presumptions of guilt.

The contemporary state is a big power machine and therefore its leaders should manage it with care. Japan, for example, once collapsed while operating that machine. Japan began building a nation state modeled on Europe in order to prevent Europe from colonizing it. It had large successes at first, but as the influence of young army officers increased, owing to Japan’s traditional lack of absolute power, the country was doomed to perish: it did not have a leader capable of correctly assessing the balance of power in the whole world and developing a reasonable and realistic policy on that basis. The strong army that the Japanese nation state created at first tempted the country to acquire its own colonies, conduct wars, and act in isolation, and ultimately it led the country to ruin.

In East Asia today, China and South Korea are placing special emphasis on building a strong nation state, since they were humiliated in the past precisely because they lacked a strong state. As for Japan, people still remember the misfortune that their own strong state machine brought; “feudal submission to the state and emperor” has not existed there for a long time, and the people are trying to make their government serve their needs.

In the period of economic decline in the 1990’s the Japanese began to watch closely for what purposes and how effectively their taxes were being used (taxes, pensions, and medical insurance take up approximately 30 percent of income). The role of the government, democracy, and political parties are discussed thoroughly, and here television plays a major role in supplying information to people and giving them an awareness of their rights.

Can One Manage Without a “National Idea”?

In Russia it is often said that in order to achieve greater unity a national idea is needed in Russia. Is that so, and does this argument really serve the common interest of the people? After all, in Western Europe the invented “national idea” was often used to mobilize the people for an unnecessary war. When England was building its empire, there was no distinct national idea. It was Napoleon who abused revolutionary ideas such as liberty, equality, and fraternity in order to mobilize his people for one war after another.

There was no special “national idea” in Japan after the war. If there was one, it was the silent consensus of the people on the need to restore the prewar standard of living. The values of democracy were very easily assimilated, the more so that before the war Japan had experienced pluralism and those values resembled the norms of the village commune. Then came a period of fast growth, and everyone was happy without any national idea. In ancient (not contemporary) China there was a saying: “If people are living so well that they don’t even take note of their government, then the government deserves praise.”

East Asia has a strong tradition of materialism or pragmatism in the positive sense of the word. The ultimate goal of life is not an ideology of some sort but peace and a normal standard of life. Does one really need more?

The Relative Importance of the State’s Existence

For what purpose was the “nation state” created? In developed countries the emphasis gradually moves from strengthening the state structure toward the realization of every individual’s well-being. Russia is still concerned with strengthening the state but in today’s world this is perceived as almost an anachronism.

Let us look back and see in what way and for what purpose the sovereign nation state was formed in Western Europe. Then it will be possible to judge whether the nation state is still needed and which of its components have outlived themselves.

At the end of the sixteenth century, under Elizabeth, England was the first country to expand its sphere of activity. Military (at first, pirate) ships were stealing Spanish boats that carried gold from the New World. At the same time England fought wars with the Netherlands, which at the time was a great sea power. Later England and other European countries began to actively take part in the African slave trade. Instead of consumer goods produced by their own craftsmen, Europeans were buying African captives, transporting them to America, selling them at a high price, and accumulating capital in this way.

In the meantime England had completed its Puritan Revolution and abolished various licenses and concessions that the king had granted to a limited number of people. “Trade” (that is, business) became a common word in England then.

It should be noted that a clear personal right to own land existed in England at this time. After King Henry VIII confiscated properties of the Catholic Church and sold them, a fairly wide stratum of gentlemen came into being in England—that is, landowners of mid-sized property, some of whom later turned into entrepreneurs and carried out the Industrial Revolution.

From the end of the seventeenth century England had the highest taxes in Europe. The central bank was founded in 1694 with the right to issue state bonds. In 1801 the London stock exchange opened. Dutchmen and Jews actively invested their money in both institutions.

Using its financial resources, England battled mainly with France in wars that were fought abroad. A major part of North America and India fell under England’s influence in this way. In the middle of the eighteenth century trade with the future United States represented over 30 percent of England’s total trade. And by the beginning of the nineteenth century the volume of exports exceeded 30 percent of England’s gross national product. (This high dependence on foreign trade resembles today’s China. Incidentally, the index for postwar Japan was only on the level of 10 percent.)

By 1776, the year of the American Declaration of Independence, England had lost that trade. The shock was great, but fortunately the colonization of India was completed precisely at this time. Various technological innovations made it possible to mass produce cotton textiles, which until then had been India’s featured product. Taking advantage of unfair customs duties, English gentlemen-entrepreneurs blocked the import of Indian goods into England, and to the contrary exported their own cheap (both in price and quality) products.

The “Trinity” of Nation State, Colonies, and the Industrial Revolution

Concurrently with this process the model of the nation state was gradually formed. Its components were sovereignty—at first in the name of the king and later headed by parliament, a unified territory, a homogenous nation and a single language. That state required a large standing army (it should be noted that wars were fought by mercenaries in the Middle Ages), a well-organized police force, a huge bureaucracy, and so on.

France lagged behind in this process and suffered one defeat after another from England. In France, in comparison with England, the system of collecting financial resources was not adequately developed. Wars with England led to large financial deficits. When the king convened the Estates-General in order to collect more taxes, there was an outburst of anger and the French Revolution began. Despite catchy words like liberty, equality, and fraternity, this period saw nothing but chaos created by clashes of human desires, ambitions, hatreds, ignorance, calculations, and betrayals. High inflation lasted throughout the period.

Consequently, the oligarchs who gained influence after the Revolution put Napoleon in power so that he would establish order in the country, and he won back the international prestige that France had lost to England. It was Napoleon who put the finishing touches on the image of the “nation state.” Enlarging the English model, he introduced the following components: the national idea (propagation of the principles of liberty and equality), universal military service (England did not have it until the twentieth century), a centralized vertical of power, and a legal code based on Roman law.

Thus, it can be said that the nation state was formed in order to conduct wars and conquer colonies. And without colonies the Industrial Revolution would not have taken place. The nation state, colonialism, and the Industrial Revolution can be seen as a “trinity” that gave birth to the modern world and modern civilization. From its very birth the nation state displayed expansionist and aggressive elements.

Today the status and function of the nation state is subject to substantial change. If the state used to be a means for mobilizing the people, today in developed countries authority and nation have changed places. Today the people demand more from their government than the latter asks from its people.

Discrediting Reforms That Have Still not Taken Place—Vestiges of the Soviet Conception of Economics

After January 1, 1992, when the government decontrolled prices for goods, and after hyperinflation, the phrase “economic reform” practically became a profanity. Strong criticism from the Communists and protests from the people put a stop to further reforms. The predominance of monopolists in the economy and the absence of competition, combined with the price liberalization, made sad work of things—and gave birth to hyperinflation. Consequently, reform and democratization were declared worthless even though they were still in their earliest stages and had not even seen the light of day.

At that time a state of total permissiveness reigned in the streets of Moscow. “That is what capitalism is,” people said. There are no rules in a market economy, they said. The traditional mindset of “presumption of guilt” (assuming that others act immorally) became pronounced, and even people in the leadership began to engage in various intrigues, supposing that people in the US and European Union acted that way. Since entrepreneurship did not exist under socialism, today’s elite cannot think up anything better than to divide the available wealth without thinking about how to create new wealth.

Inedible Wealth

In Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita the magician Woland deceives people. Today it is not black magic but black oil that can perform Woland’s role. Russia is indulging in consumption without restructuring, without adopting new kinds of equipment and machines, and without introducing the needed skills of marketing and service. The huge inflow of petrodollars inflates the volume of currency within the country and increases inflation, despite the higher ruble exchange rate. High salaries and high prices for everything make it impossible for industrial production to be competitive, and thus Russia is perpetuating its dependence on the export of oil and gas. Public opinion polls already show that the people sense the danger of this scheme. After all, people still remember how Woland, in the form of the GKO (government bonds), cheated them plenty in 1998.

The short supply of entrepreneur spirit (by the way, it exists in plenty among the younger generation) and the presumption of guilt are reviving administrative principles in the management of the economy. To my surprise the planners have also returned. Who, to whom, what, how much, and for how much—these people do not hesitate to solve such market-related questions with orders. Referring to Japan, they say, “the Japanese government directs enterprises. How are we worse than the Japanese?”

This misunderstanding does not bother us Japanese, but it is a fatal one for the Russian economy. In Japan and in other developed countries the activities of banks are regulated rather strictly, but in matters of industrial production—in particular, in such matters as how much to produce and to whom and for how much to sell—all the authority remains with the enterprises. The government only makes the macroeconomic prognosis.

On the other hand, one needs to consider the fact that the Russian economy is built in a way that makes it very hard to introduce market principles. With such a large monopolization of industry and such a low capacity for competitiveness in the production of consumer goods how can market principles be applied? After all, much was built on the basis of the principle of a “radio station,” that is, command from the center.

If only to satisfy internal demand, the Russians should draw in foreign capital. They should not be afraid that that will lead to a transfer of profits abroad. Large foreign companies will be more honest about paying taxes and if the tax rate in Russia is lower than in their country, they will keep the profit in Russia.

Today Russia is reevaluating the significance of profits from oil exports. The higher the world price of oil is, the higher the domestic price for oil should be. The West is raising prices for its industrial goods now. Consequently, inflation in Russia is catching up with income, and if the rate of income growth falls, inflation will rise faster than income, destroying the effect of higher wages.

Russia is a major supplier of energy sources to Western Europe. However, this position does not give Russia the opportunity to dictate its terms to Western Europe. The fact is that the supplier depends on a large and rich customer more than vice versa. Other than Western Europe Russia cannot find a big customer for its oil and gas. For the time being, China is not able to pay high prices for oil and even if it will be able to do so in the future, Russia will not want to get into a situation wherein China might be able to manipulate it.

Some people cite the “huge foreign currency reserve” and smile proudly. But one must consider the simple fact that the currency reserve does not represent real wealth and that it is only a shadow of the wealth that Russia has already spent once. Russia exports oil abroad and receives foreign currency. And the exporter of oil sells the foreign currency and buys rubles. These rubles are spent inside the country. This means that the gain from oil exports has already been realized. The central bank buys part of the foreign currency that the exporters sell. Otherwise the ruble exchange rate would rise excessively and would strangle internal domestic production. It is this purchased foreign currency that remains in the central bank as a foreign currency reserve.

It remains there for a black day, in the event of a sharp decline in the ruble exchange rate. Then the central bank will sell its foreign currency reserve and buy rubles in order to support the ruble exchange rate. Neither in Japan nor in China, where huge foreign currency reserves also exist, are they considered “edible” wealth.

When I look at Russia today, Pushkin’s “The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish” comes to mind. After catching a golden fish, the fisherman (or rather his greedy wife) tries to realize all his dreams at once, and in the end he finds himself beside his broken washboard again. Charmed by the miracle of high oil prices, Russia set out to fulfill too many of its wishes at once—in internal policy and foreign policy, in economic and social policy. In a state of ecstasy many people say in the same voice: “Didn’t I tell you that everything in our country is just right and nothing needs to be changed!” But there is a limit to the golden fish’s patience. The color of the lake has already darkened.

At first there were heightened expectations and then disillusionment, surprise, and anger in relations with the West. I worked as a diplomat in Moscow from 1991 to 1994. I still clearly remember how Western nations seemed to compete with each other in granting aid to Russia. Japan also provided assistance in the total amount of 6 billion dollars (of which 5.5 billion were loans with low-interest rates). And every time a crisis occurred in the Russian balance of payments the West either delayed the payment of debts or provided emergency supplementary loans.

But when I recently lectured at a university in Moscow I made a discovery that was very painful for me. Students are convinced that the West did not help Russia enough. The fact is, however, that Japan, the US, and the European Union found themselves in a difficult economic period in 1991-1994, and it was often hard for them to explain to their voters why their government was helping Russia and not its own voters.

In Russia there was too high an expectation of “Western aid.” That aid was not seen, and then NATO seemed to suddenly expand and rockets were placed close to Russian territory. People in Russia were left more with anger than gratitude towards the West.

“We Have That in Russia, Too.”

In the USSR there was a joke that went like this: an American brags about freedom of speech in his country and says, “In our country we have complete freedom. You can criticize the President!” A Russian replies. “Oh, we have plenty of freedom like that in our country. Look at our newspapers. They have really strong criticism of the American president.”

This joke illustrates one reason for the misunderstanding between Russia and the West. Citizens of Russia suppose that they are Europeans and that they have everything the West has. But West Europeans don’t think that’s the case, and they don’t minimize their psychological distance from Russia. That offends the Russians. Russian intellectuals know that the majority of Russians behave and think in a different way from West Europeans, but instead of explaining that to their people they join them in accusing the West of Russophobia.

In Russia the emergence of the intelligentsia had an artificial beginning. The intelligentsia was “created” as “raznochintsy” (educated commoners) as a result of Peter the Great’s reforms. In Russian history the state held the lion’s share of wealth in its hands and consequently it came about that one out of every three people working in Russia received a salary from the government. (President Putin’s speech before civic activists in February 2008.)

This is an unusually high proportion. In order to feed the huge army of people on its budget the government is forced to seize a large share of the enterprises’ profits, which makes it difficult to invest in the future. Also, in such a country a large part of the intelligentsia has to work for the state, and therefore they refrain from telling the truth. This deprives the country of the dynamism needed for development.

The task of intellectuals in all countries is to present an objective picture of their own country and the world outside so that the government will not make miscalculations in its policies. They are under strong pressure not only from the government but also from society. But if they spend all the time pleasing a society which finds life today more important than lofty values and if they do not explain the difference between Russia and the West, then the nation will get nowhere.

“Why Can the US Do It, but Russia Can’t?”

During the recent tragedy in Southern Ossetia, after seeing the West’s strong criticism of Russia, many people in Russia must have thought, “The US permits itself to do anything—Kosovo, Iraq. But when we do something to defend ourselves they immediately call us all kinds of insulting names and threaten us with unjustified sanctions.” I see some element of truth in this, but the argument is not valid. Why?

It’s not valid because of one simple fact— for other countries relations with the USA are more beneficial than harmful. Even for China and India, with whom Russia is trying to create a bloc to counter the US, economic relations with the US play a key role in their development.

America is a country that corrects its mistakes on its own initiative. On my blog (www.akiokawato.com) I have a poll of American opinions. To my question, “What kind of foreign policy do you think the new US president should conduct?” a majority responds, “Greater cooperation with allies and a restoration of positive values within American society.” Admittedly, among Americans there are people with narrow views and there are hawks, but in the end they can be exposed and subjected to open criticism. Consequently, Russia will not have many allies in its anti-American struggle.

Today people say that we exist in a “unipolar” world. But is that true? It is not true that Japan and the European Union blindly obey the will of the American leadership. The economy of the US, which many were predicting would collapse, is beginning to show signs of revival.

According to some, the economic power of BRICs should surpass that of the US in the near future, yet if one looks seriously into the matter it is clear that those countries are accumulating their initial capital at the cost of acquiring wealth that is transferred from developed countries and that owing to various circumstances—basically inflation—the rate of their growth is already reaching its ceiling. In economics the size of the population is not in itself a source of wealth, but the volume of capital and the ability to increase it in a sound manner play the key role.

The West’s Failure to Understand Russia

After the end of the “Cold War” ideology ceased to be the cause of confrontation between Russia and the US. What has remained is the emotional side of the dispute: “Do you respect me?” And: “How are they better than us?” After September 11, the US stopped paying adequate attention to Russia. Russia objects to the US policy of including former Soviet republics in NATO as well as to the placement of an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe since it believes that these are not matters of emotion and ambition but matters of Russia’s security and international standing.

Consequently, when the war with Georgia began, Russia and the West for the first time faced the risk of a new “Cold War.” For the West that would mean unnecessary risk and additional burdens, and for Russia it would mean repeating the USSR’s policy with respect to President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) (the establishment of the “Star Wars” anti-missile system). In the mid-eighties, under the threat of the SDI, the USSR attempted to increase military expenditures, even though oil prices had fallen by half and various measures to deregulate the economy had led to inflation and the disruption of various economic ties.

But let us now analyze which elements of the West’s failure to understand are provoking the unnecessary confrontation between the West and Russia.

In all countries few people are interested in foreign countries. The West has a primitive idea of Russia. People accept on faith reports in the mass media according to which Russia had supposedly been moving on the right path to freedom and democracy until Putin interrupted that process. That picture is too simplistic.

Almost no one in the West knows that during the winter of 1993 Muscovites were standing for hours on cold streets in order to sell worn-out socks and boots; that as a rule their wages were not paid; that enterprises were forced to engage in barter; that Russia was forced to remove its military presence in Cuba and Vietnam; and that NATO extended its sphere to countries that previously were in the Soviet sphere of influence.

The encroachment upon Russia’s interests became even stronger after September 11, as I mentioned above. The intelligentsia in Russia began raising their voices against the West but they were ignored. And when Putin himself raised his voice in the setting of Russia’s growing economic prosperity, the West took note, but then began criticizing Russia sharply for speaking out loudly. In this way the West’s lack of due interest and knowledge of Russia generates a vicious circle: ignorance, unilateral actions, protests on Russia’s part, surprise and anger on the part of the West, and new actions directed against Russia.

The West Needs to Establish Closer Ties with the Russian Public

Most Russians like the West, and the intelligentsia there has assimilated Western culture and Western values. But does the West understand the suffering and sorrow of reasonable people in Russia? They are being insulted abroad and in their own country they are isolated by a society which considers order more important than democracy.

The West should not try to impose democracy and a market economy on Russia and former socialist countries. If the West keeps on pressuring them, the nations of those countries will rise up on their own against the West. Western Europe itself needed a thousand years to build a rich society that could afford “Western values.”

The economic development of Western Europe became possible owing to the African slave trade and the use of their labor as well as the exploitation of markets in India and other parts of Asia. The democracy that West Europeans and the Japanese brag about in most cases does not operate in full. In reaching decisions it becomes ever more difficult to take into account the interest and opinion of every person, as individual positions are becoming increasingly diverse.

The history of civil society in Russia is short. Therefore, there is a need for a vertical of power and a strict administration, and the authorities need only to be prevented from abusing their power in order to satisfy selfish interests.

There are people living in Russia. The West ignores this simple fact by alleging that autocracy rules there, and it identifies all of Russia with one leader. But in fact the leaders of Russia pay serious attention to public opinion. They are afraid of the people’s power, as it can turn against the regime, and thus the regime tries to satisfy the people’s needs. Consequently, if the West criticizes Russian leaders, the West may offend the entire Russian public.

It is possible and useful to cooperate with Russia. It should not be forgotten that in Soviet times that country maintained contacts with international terrorists. In dealing with Russia the West should not only engage in tough bargains with its leaders but should also try to establish closer ties with its people.

Forms of Coexistence and Cooperation

Reforms should not be imposed on the countries of the CIS.
After the Georgian war the West can choose between two alternatives in its relations with Russia. The first—the hard-line variant—would mean a sharp fall in world oil prices (by forcing the withdrawal of speculative funds from the oil market), the isolation of Russia in the world (by removing it from various international organizations including the G-8), and the transfer of the Olympic games from Sochi.

The second approach is just the opposite: an agreement, either tacit or open (in any case only after the situation in Georgia is resolved), on the nonuse of military forces for solving political conflicts in the CIS space and on international cooperation in the economic development of countries in that region. The first alternative requires no clarification. Let me comment on the second one.

The West should accept the fact that democratization and the establishment of market principles in Russia will take time, a rather long time. In this respect Russia will remain different from Western countries. We must remember that the West maintains normal relations with China even though one would not call China the West.

However, the rules for communication and the rules for economic deals should be different. After all, strong state enterprises are not free to act in the same way as private enterprises that do not receive state support. Russia should remain a member of the IMF, and its share in IMF capital should be raised.

It is not worthwhile for the West to promote democratization and economic reforms in the CIS space. But neither Russia nor the CIS countries should remain at their present level of social development. All concerned countries could meet together at a conference similar to that of the OESC (Organization for European Security and Cooperation) in 1975 in order to reach an accord and adopt a declaration on a long-term plan of transition from a socialist to a market economy and from authoritarianism to democracy.

A report on implementing this plan should be published annually, and every four years something like an Olympics of social development and welfare of the people should be held. Countries with high scores would receive special rewards.

Instead of financing intensive democratization the West could substantially increase aid for the construction of infrastructure in CIS countries. Economic development will lead to the establishment of human rights and creation of a market economy. Financing education in local languages is no less important. These countries have a terrible shortage of translations of English-language books into local languages, and this separates them from the outside world.

Ways to Support the Status Quo—A Security Problem for Russia and the CIS Countries

The war in Georgia may well speed up the process of NATO expansion, which is what Russia wanted to prevent with that war. But NATO obviously cannot “swallow” all members of the CIS, and Russia most likely will not be able to invade all CIS countries that aspire to join NATO. This means that a single and one-time solution of the security problem for CIS countries is not realistic, the more so that every member of the CIS faces different threats: the Taliban, the USA, Russia, and China.

It is more likely that with the exception of Georgia today’s illusory status quo, which is based on a fragile balance of power, will continue. This balance is vulnerable, but if the following principles are upheld it may last for a long time. These principles could be ratified in the form of an official charter.

First, Russia should receive guarantees of its security. For this purpose cooperation between NATO and Russia should be strengthened, especially since the interests of both sides coincide in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism and in the problem of stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan.

Second, the independence of CIS countries needs to be strengthened. The stronger they are, the fewer possibilities will there be for intervention from outside. A good example is ASEAN, whose members ably maintain balance in their relations with various outside powers such as the USA, China, and Japan. In order to strengthen the independence of every CIS member significant economic aid is needed for those countries as pointed out above, and also is needed mediation in solving various regional conflicts including in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Trans-Dniester, Nagorno-Karabakh, and so forth.

Third, great powers should refuse to provide support to one side or another in an internal conflict in another country. Competition among large powers for greater influence should not exceed the limits of peaceful competition.

Fourth, Russia should accept the fact that the USSR has broken up and every country has become independent. Any attempt to restore the Soviet Union will only mean isolation for Russia.

As I mentioned above, in spite of the presence of various historical hostilities, East Asia today is flourishing because of free trade and its support of the status quo. The American military presence there guarantees the status quo and stability. Is the same thing possible in the CIS space?

Probably not. Those countries will not manage to become industrial powers. They will not manage to carry out the reforms necessary for that within their own countries. Moreover, the level of prices and wages has by now become too high for them to increase the export of industrial goods. The CIS countries need another model for security and economic well-being. Today the combined volume of the GDP of the CIS countries (including Russia) is almost the same as the GDP of the African continent. For CIS countries there is no time to waste.

In this world what is most important is not the state but a living human being. The state exists for the sake of people and not vice versa. The industrial revolution and the establishment of free trade after World War II made the struggle for the conquest of foreign lands a thing of the past. The machine, rather than land, has become the main means of creating wealth. In the twenty-first century we should all learn to support the positive trend of “plus-sum” thinking and stop surrendering to our base ambitions and greed.
copyright:Akio KAWATO


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