If the main flaw of the European security order after 1989 was that it was unsuited to incorporating Russia in the long term, isn’t it high time for a deal that rewrites the rules and takes account of Moscow’s concerns? No. The West would prematurely compromise fundamental values in doing so.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has shaken the West’s faith and fuelled its self-doubts. Wasn’t it self-deceiving in the early nineties to assume that the West’s victory in the Cold War would automatically lead to a peaceful and democratic world, a world in which the Western principles and institutions would reign supreme and uncontested?
In an essay on “The Return of Geopolitics” in Foreign Affairs, the American political scientist Walter Russell Mead took a closer look at the West’s faulty reasoning after 1989/90.1 We have, says Mead, misunderstood the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was indeed a triumph of liberal, market-based democracy over communism, but it didn’t prove that hard power politics had finally become obsolete.
In reality, China, Iran and Russia had never accepted the framework conditions of the post-Cold War order. Their temporary willingness to follow the new rules of the game was owed merely to their relative weakness, but did not indicate consent to the Western principles of order.
The Western order’s present crisis is only surprising to us now because we didn’t want to realise then that this order would only prevail as long as the balance of power didn’t change.
To read the full article, please visit the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations.