Federalism and Foreign Policy: Russia, Ukraine, and the Middle East
Virginia Postrel, in sharing on Facebook Anne Applebaum’s Washington Post article “War in Europe is not a hysterical idea,” comments: “I think we like to talk about ISIS b/c it’s less scary than Russia.”
Facebook countered my click on the Applebaum article with the suggestion of this Sept./Oct, 2014 Foreign Policy article, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.” Blame here is placed on plans for NATO expansion and U.S. government support of the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, 2014.
The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine — beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 — were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion.
|Slideshow: Last summer in free Poland, August, 1939|
Anne Applebaum looks at today’s peace and prosperity in Poland and the Baltic states from the lens of history, and begins her article:
Over and over again — throughout the entirety of my adult life, or so it feels — I have been shown Polish photographs from the beautiful summer of 1939: The children playing in the sunshine, the fashionable women on Krakow streets. I have even seen a picture of a family wedding that took place in June 1939, in the garden of a Polish country house I now own. All of these pictures convey a sense of doom, for we know what happened next. September 1939 brought invasion from both east and west, occupation, chaos, destruction, genocide. Most of the people who attended that June wedding were soon dead or in exile. None of them ever returned to the house.
In retrospect, all of them now look naive. Instead of celebrating weddings, they should have dropped everything, mobilized, prepared for total war while it was still possible. And now I have to ask: Should Ukrainians, in the summer of 2014, do the same? Should central Europeans join them?
Yoel Sano, writing yesterday on a Financial Times blog, asks “will Russia make a play for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania?”
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, a military confrontation between Russia and the West over the Baltic states is no longer unthinkable. Under what circumstances could this happen? How would such a conflict play out, and what might happen once such a war ended?
Key to Russian action is support from ethnic Russians in formerly communist territories of the USSR and Warsaw Pact. In Crimea and eastern Ukraine, majorities speak Russian and though most opposed Russia-supported separatist violence, they also didn’t like living in poverty under dysfunctional Ukrainian government and oligarchs.
Yoel Sano’s FT blog post shares the chart at right with its economic story. The lower red line is Russia and much poorer Ukraine is the bottom line. Note that the 2014 estimate is near the middle and future years forecast.
…any Kremlin attempt to galvanise ethnic Russians in the Baltics would be much more difficult than in eastern Ukraine, because the Baltic states have far higher standards of living and governance. Russia’s seizure of Crimea has not triggered any mobilisation of Baltic Russians for closer ties with Russia.
In 2013, per person income in Latvia and Lithuania was about the same as average income in Russia. Sanctions and the collapse of oil prices have pulled per capita income in Russia way down.
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania dramatically freed their economies after communism fell. And after the financial crises Baltic countries cut government spending and have flourished. Doug Bandow writes in Forbes (April 15, 2013):
Also highly rated are the fellow Baltic States of Estonia and Lithuania. All three faced enormous economic difficulties just a couple of years ago but, noted Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, “Crisis resolution in these countries was decisive and successful.”
In short, at a time when the question seems to be which European nation won’t require a bail-out, the Baltic Three have demonstrated the art of economic reform. Fiscal prudence delivers economic growth. This experience offers a reform model for the rest of the continent and beyond.
Less Economic Freedom; Less Prosperity in Ukraine
Ukraine has been slow to carry out economic reforms and thus slow to prosper. The 2015 Index of Economic Freedom gives Ukraine a score of 46.9, #162 in the world, rating economic freedom there just below Burma (and that can’t be good).
At 233,000 square miles (600,000 km2), Ukraine’s population of 44.6 million is some 6 million lower than in 1990. Looking at Ukraine’s demographics, population will continue to drop, perhaps by another 10 million over the next twenty years. Over the years since the fall of communism the Ukraine economy, much like in Russia, has continued to be run by billionaire oligarchs. Leonid Bershidsky reports on the latest conflict here.
I mention the the land area and population of Ukraine to support the claim that, like Russia, Ukraine is too large and populous for a central government. In contrast to Ukraine and Russia, the three countries of the Baltics are much smaller:
• Estonia’s 1.3 million live in a land of 17, 412 square miles.
• Latvia’s nearly 2 million live across 25,000 square miles.
• Lithuania’s 3 million people live in a little over 25,200 square miles.
Power is the problem and true federal republics decentralize power. The Baltics are like a federal republic with three states and a central government so vanishingly small and powerless it doesn’t actually exist.
Switzerland is a successful and prosperous federal republic with a central government not quite so vanishingly small. The Swiss central government is limited and most political authority vested in the people of 26 cantons. Switzerland is a valuable model of governance, as was the United States before so much political and economic power shifted from the states to the central government. Funny I guess that we call it the “federal government,” when today it is more a central government with extensive tax, spending, and regulatory powers absorbed from the states and from the people.
In The Power of the Poor, Hernando de Soto (link to streaming video) explains the federal and rule-of-law reforms that brought Switzerland from poverty to prosperity in the 19th century (discussion of Swiss history begins at 32 minutes in). In the 1800s, Switzerland was a very poor country. DeSoto explains how rule-of-law reforms following the Swiss example, helped secure property rights, helped the poor of Peru start on this road to prosperity.
In this separate video, The Unlikely Heros of the Arab Spring, DeSoto explains how property rights reforms can bring peace and prosperity to the Middle East.
So, many paragraphs in, NCFCA debaters dealing with the U.S. Middle East policy debate topic may be wondering about the role a return to federalism could play. My claim is that federalism should be front and center for U.S. foreign policy. In Ukraine, decentralized power would be comfortable with provinces near Russia to more closely connect economically and politically with Russia. In Ukraine’s far west, 1,300 miles west of the eastern border with Russia, people and provinces naturally feel closer to Europe, with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania as neighbors and trading partners. Decentralized political and economic power allows and encourages cultural and regional differences to flourish.
U.S. foreign policy calls for Ukraine to be part of NATO, apparently with NATO military forces deployed along the Ukraine/Russia border. Militarizing the border tends to centralize political power. Regional disputes can escalate rapidly. Had NATO-funded and equipped forces been deployed across the Russian border and in Crimea, would they have prevented pro-Russian forces from taking over? It seems to me quite a gamble. Students might ask, why would Russians and the Russian government be uneasy about French, German, UK troops stationed along the Ukraine/Russia border? (Just because French, German and UK troops have invaded Russia in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean they will again…) (More on the history of federalism in the Ukraine here.)
More Federalism For the Middle East
Across the smaller countries of the Middle East, more federalism can bring more decentralization. A federal Iraq would not have central-government backed Shia military and militias in control of Sunni territory. Instead, the successful example of the semi-autonomous Kurdish territory would be a model for Sunni territory (once Sunni territory is freed from Islamic State forces).
Libya would benefit from federalism, as noted in “Libya should embrace federalism,” in The Guardian, and “The Case for a New Federalism” on the Atlantic Council website. The first article notes:
The move toward federalism is controversial but Libyans should embrace it. The concept is a sensitive one largely because it has become synonymous with partition. The contrary is true though. What federalism ultimately means for Libya is less power for the capital and, therefore, a series of benefits that in the long term will protect the interests of the population.
As in the case of the United States of American, federalism in itself isn’t enough. Government powers have to be limited at the state and federal levels. Private property, rule-of-law institutions are key to avoiding exchanging all-powerful central governments for all-powerful state or provincial governments.
More on federalism in two earlier posts: