Cold War 2.0? Confront authoritarianism by defending democratic values


crimea fhGen Sir Richard Shirreff remembers the moment he realized Nato was facing a new and more dangerous Russia. It was 19 March 2014, the day after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, The Guardian reports:

Shirreff, then deputy supreme allied commander Europe, was at Nato’s military HQ in Mons, Belgium, when an American two-star general came in with the transcript of Putin’s speech justifying the annexation. “He briefed us and said: ‘I think this just might be a paradigm-shifting speech’, and I think he might have been right,” Shirreff recalled…..

Warnings of a return to cold war politics have been a staple of European debate for three years, but in recent weeks many western diplomats, politicians and analysts have come to believe the spring has indeed been released. Russia is being reassessed across western capitals. The talk is no longer of transition to a liberal democracy, but regression.

carl g ukraineThe autocrats have created their own international organizations to advance authoritarian norms globally through organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union work to institutionalize principles that prioritize state sovereignty over human rights, notes Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Autocratic regimes also are trying to undermine global election norms by stacking international monitoring delegations with what are quaintly called “zombie” monitors who sign off on fraudulent elections. Pseudo monitors were used to legitimize deeply flawed elections in Zimbabwe, Azerbaijan and Venezuela in 2013.

The world’s worst authoritarian leaders have realized nostalgia is way more powerful than fact, notes Peter Pomerantsev, a fellow at the Legatum Institute, and the author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia.

If, however, you have no real vision for where your country is heading, then dreamy nostalgia is a much more pleasant potion to peddle, he writes:

russia pomerantsevFaced with the reality of a slumping economy, Vladimir Putin regime is currently promoting fantasies about restoring Russia’s great power status. By the Kremlin’s logic, of course, this doesn’t mean increased well-being for its population, but rather a population cowed by Moscow. When Putin tells the world, with a smirk, that there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine and then casually backtracks and admits that they are there, he isn’t so much trying to substitute one reality for another as he is suggesting that facts don’t matter.

Tony Brenton, Britain’s ambassador to Moscow from 2004 to 2008, calls for realism, arguing that the post-war international system – or “liberal hegemony” as he puts it – no longer works. “We have failed with Russia and we are failing with China,” he tells The Guardian:

Brenton’s answer is to accept the limits of 21st-century western influence. “We are going to have to moderate our own ambitions. We can defend ourselves. We can protect our interests. But telling other bad countries how they should behave is less and less possible,” he said.

Extend sanctions

russiar_putin3_apBut John Lough, a Chatham House associate fellow, said sanctions need to be extended to target the individuals responsible for and contributing to the policies designed to destabilize the EU’s eastern neighbours, he tells The Guardian.

“These should include all senior civilian and military officials in occupied Crimea, the heads of Russian state media as well as editors, news presenters and reporters engaged in state propaganda operations designed to provide falsified reporting of western policies towards Russia and neighbouring countries,” he said.

When seen through a broader historical prism, it becomes apparent that European integration has been instrumental in sheltering liberal democracy from authoritarian impulses, constraining European nationalism under an American security umbrella, and helping preserve a balance of power on the continent, argues Luis Simón, Research Professor at the Institute for European Studies (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and Director of the Brussels office of the Royal Elcano Institute.

Still life photo of a gavel, block and law book on a judges bench with the European Union flag behind.

For all of the European Union’s pitfalls and shortcomings, European integration could well be one of the last bulwarks of the British-inspired postwar regional order, given the shadow of U.S. introspection and Russian revisionism looming large, the Middle East in full meltdown mode, and populism knocking on the old continent’s doors, he writes for War On The Rocks:

Another key question is whether the West’s recent efforts to stand up to Russian bullying, which Britain has helped orchestrate, will stand the test of time. Once again, the answer to that question will largely depend on the European Union’s evolving stance on sanctions, on the fate of its energy diversification agenda, or on its commitment to strengthening economic and political ties to its eastern neighbors, notably countries like Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova. Last but not least, European integration can remain instrumental in sheltering liberal democracy from authoritarian impulses at a time of rising populism.

“There are no easy answers to the Russians,” said a Washington-based European diplomat. “They are deploying such aggressive rhetoric and policy. During the cold war there was an accepted vocabulary between the sides. There was a game, there was an accepted game,” the diplomat said. “Now the danger is there is no order. There is no accepted language. We are not talking the same language”.

sestanovichmaximalistIn responding to the problem of resurgent authoritarianism, it is essential that the United States integrate political support for democratic freedoms into our regular bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and strenuously defend democratic norms in international and regional rules-based bodies, the NED’s Gershman writes:

But we must do more than that. The U.S. must take the lead in defending the democratic world order — and the norms and values that underpin it. To do this, the U.S. will need to avoid what scholar Stephen Sestanovich has called the periodic swings in our foreign policy between “maximalist” engagement and “minimalist” disengagement. We will need to develop a coherent and bipartisan policy of international engagement for the long haul, realizing that the world remains a dangerous place and that there is no alternative to U.S. leadership. That is the challenge that will confront the next U.S. administration.


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