First of all, apologies to readers like Mark who enjoyed the first two posts and have likely been waiting for the last installment. The Foreign Ministry keeps me on my toes and doesn’t always afford me enough time to update with the frequency I’d like to.
In Part I and Part II, I discussed today’s eastward expansion of the west in the context of the “Eastern Question” which dealt with maintaining the balance of power in Europe as the Ottoman empire decayed. We then looked at Post-WWII expansion of NATO and US influence as well as the current enlargement of NATO and the EU in the wake of the disintegration of the USSR and the questions arising from this.
As the scope of the series broadens, we need to first reformulate the question and more importantly, the circumstances. Today’s “Eastern Question” no longer deals with maintaining a balance of power in the world. It does however, share the fact that the disintegration of an empire has led to a race to incorporate its fragments into another system. Thus we must first note that unlike previous imperial struggle or expansion, the current expansion knows no competitor and thus should be rather seen as a “realignment.” After the USSR did a metaphorical “humpty dumpty,” the expansion to fill the void began, yet competing against no one.
Thus, the question is no longer“How far east?” but rather: “How far?”
Thus at the moment, the US and Europe are rushing to expand into former Soviet holdings and prevent them from falling prey to rising influences elsewhere. We do this not because they could get sucked up in a competing ideology but rather because it would reinforce authoritarianism and stagnation. Institutions like NATO and the EU may be somewhat weak and in search of purpose at the moment, but they are key tools for transmitting liberal democracy, that is our legal system, form of government and values, to willing recipients. Once our “system code” is running all over the world and thus our rules/regulations, and the citizens of such countries enjoying higher standards of living, more freedoms and more economic prosperity, the danger of their drifting away will be drastically diminished. With their integration come our rules and with those rules stability and ultimately security.
We need to remember that influence and ideology are different. A country where China has influence through say business interests like Kazakhstan isn’t as dangerous as a country running China’s “code” like Burma or North Korea. The west in the broadest sense is expanding its system, running its source code in more countries and that is part of the Eastern Question. Countries merely competing for influence is another matter entirely.
Thus, in order to maintain not the balance of power, but to maintain peace and international prosperity, we must expand or realign large sections of the world. Thus the latest Eastern Question deals more with the balance of power between stability and chaos than among states. The Cold War era was stable and thus safe. Since it ended, we’ve seen anarchy erupt across the globe. Keeping that in check and molding these regions into stable democracies will be our challenge.
Countries like Russia and China have had to slowly become like us in order to compete with us. All other isms have failed. Liberal democracy has no credible ideological competitors. We can’t fall into the classic trap of “masterly inactivity” we need to be forward thinking and acting.
Thus, at the risk of sounding too optimistic, democracy’s time is now. We can expect it to expand (naturally and as part of foreign policy) all over the globe as soon as the conditions there allow. Just as individuals mature over time, so do our governments and ideologies and democracy is the final destination (before the cycle begins again). How far is no longer the question, but the challenge.
Coming Soon: The Stages of the Breakdown of Isms