Sat Nov 1st, 2008 at 06:25:02 AM EST
When you think of Coalitions of the Willing, missile defense bases, visa agreements, fear of Russia, and veto threats in the EU, Central-Eastern Europe seems hopelessly Atlanticist.
However, I have long argued that things aren't that simple and things are changing. South of Poland, there are pipeline deals (and again), criticism of Georgia for the war with Russia, even in Poland, where there is a new pragmatic and Europe-focused approach to Russia, too, and a Euro drive.
It seems the new reality has dawned on some members of the USAmerican foreign policy elite, too. In the aptly named American Interest magazine, eminent political scientist Charles Gati writes of a Faded Romance.
Update [2008-11-1 6:25:2 by DoDo]: I asked in jest, but a fellow ETer had $19 to spare -- so with many thanks, I bumped & updated the diary with a review of the whole article. Read more details on a romance faded on both sides, and the proposal of a leaner foreign policy for the region (one without pushing missile defense and Nabucco) obviously aimed at a future Obama administration, below the fold.
Charles Gati, who emigrated from Hungary after the 1956 Revolution, is currently director of the Russian and Eurasian Studies Center at John Hopkins University. However, he is not just another academic without influence: he was chief adviser on Russian and European issues for both the GHW Bush and first Clinton administrations, and seems to be "in the loop" to this day.
The first paragraph of Gati's new article is worth quoting in full:
Since the Bush Administration took office in 2001, the United States has lost most of its once immense influence in the Central and East European countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria. Each of these new democracies, having joined NATO and the European Union in the past decade, continues to maintain at least cordial relations with Washington. Many have done more than that, contributing to military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo led by the United States and NATO (or the European Union). Even so, their politicians and diplomats now tilt toward the European Union, and their citizens' daily lives are absorbed and transformed far more by European associations than by American ones. Geography, money and shared European values have made a difference. Far more surprising is the improvement in relations between Russia and several of the countries of Mitteleuropa [DoDo: don't quite understand why he uses the German word for Central Europe] --- notably Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Latvia --- primarily because of their need for Russian energy. Unless the Georgia crisis turns into a game changer, the region's romance with the United States will come to an end.
Actually I am not that, er, optimistic, but I agree that US ties are weakening. And I can't suppress a smug smile when reading of a "surprise".
In comparison with the situation in the nineties, Gati notes:
When American diplomats made a request to any of the region's governments, they did not have to ask twice. It would have been unthinkable then for Poland to demand major U.S. concessions in exchange for allowing American defensive missiles on Polish soil.
This contains a bit of nostalgia seen through rose-tinted glasses. One thing American diplomats had to ask not twice, not thrice, but a hundred times was raising defense spending once in NATO. And American requests weren't always respected out of love: some (especially ex-communist) governments complied for recognition (getting red carpets rolled out and White House photo-ops), and quite often the US used blackmail and threats in the background.
Sadly, the rest of the article is under a subscription wall, so for a few more bits, I can only rely on the summary at Index.hu.
Apparently, Gati goes on to note CEE popular discontent with US leadership, quoting a poll that found a "surprisingly large majority" of Poles don't think the US is fit for the role of global leader. [Where I again suppress a smug smile at the surprise.]
He underlines the EU reorientation with the financial aspect: the USA can't compete with the 85 billion Poland can request in EU structural funds between 2007-2013.
Update [2008-11-1 6:25:2 by DoDo]: After reading the whole article, I rewrote the original last pragraph and added the new stuff below it.
The disillusioned vassals
Gati also notes the disagreement with the Bush administration's prioritising of Iraq, and writes that lack of consultation before making decisions was interpreted as the US viewing CEE states as mere vassals.
To demonstrate this, Gati quotes Polish foreign minister Radosław (Radek) Sikorski, who should be the ultimate Atlanticist: emigrant returned home, alumni of the neocon think-tank AEI, married to Anne Applebaum. The quote is from Sikorski's 2007 Washington Post article Don't Take Poland for Granted, which I quote too in extended version:
The U.S. proposal to place radar and interceptor sites for a new missile defense system in Central Europe -- respectively, in the Czech Republic and Poland -- may generate a new security partnership with the countries of the region. Or it could provoke a spiral of misunderstanding, weaken NATO, deepen Russian paranoia and cost the United States some of its last friends on the continent.
Early omens are worrisome. Some genius at the State Department or the Pentagon sent the first official note describing possible placement of the facility with a draft reply attached -- a reply that contained a long list of host countries' obligations and few corresponding U.S. commitments. Natives here tend to think they are capable of writing their own diplomatic correspondence.
Draw-down of US soft power in Central Europe
Gati moves on to the nitty-gritty of exerting US influence.
- Without discussing the blackmail for data access aspect, he mentions lack of visas [this was written in August] -- this influences not the entire population but the have-mores, but I guess getting the political, economic and media elite is just right.
- He also mentions cuts in 'educational and cultural programmes' -- well indeed, already in the middle of the Clinton era, the Embassy library in Budapest was reduced to a rump, 'losing' me as regular visitor.
- Finally, he mentions the problem of "non-career ambassadors" -- speak, political appointees and rewarded campaign contributors -- who have no clue about the country they are sent to.
At last count (in the summer of 2008), eight of the ten U.S. ambassadors in the region were non-career political appointees, only one of whom (in Slovakia) spoke the local language.
In general, Gati echoes Sikorski in saying that support from CEE was taken for granted, which produced negative reactions.
The ungrateful bastards!
Next, Gati considers domestic developments across the region. What's interesting is that he puts his presentation in the frame of the notion that the region imported the Italian model of politics. A model characterised by an unstable political landscape, rampant corrupion, popular cynism, and yet a lurching-along without collapse.
You'll never guess what Gati pinpoints as the first problem for US policymakers to be concerned about: popular resistance to "necessary" economic reforms...
it’s hard to sympathize with the widespread reluctance to assume individual responsibility
A long section of the article, while pretending to be analysis, is an elegy to the faded romance on the author's (the US's) part, lamenting how the Central European population falls for nationalists and social populists instead of following the Great Reformist Leaders™ into the one and only [US-style] capitalist future. But exposing reformist/US establishment hypocrisy and their anti-democratic Leadership worship is not the focus of this diary. However, the closing of this section is worth to quote -- an ominous support for EU integration:
Faster and deeper integration into the European Union is the best way to align people’s attitudes with the institutions of their own governments, but the people’s attitudes as they exist preclude faster and deeper integration. If American policymakers understand nothing else about Mitteleuropa, this basic catch-22 will serve them well as the beginning of wisdom.
Small is beautiful (in imperial policy)
Back on the point, talking quite openly about the USA shaping Central Europe's "foreign and especially domestic policy agenda", and the region's importance in the context of the "the councils of the European Union" and Russia, he lays out what the next US admin should do with its limited means -- a make the best out of lost power exercise:
- mount a charm offensive: he seems to recommend it more for US diplomats to get a grip than the other way, he also suggests to stop bleating about Russian energy independence:
"they were not born yesterday and besides, Washington could no more fill new pipelines with non-Russian gas than it could finance their construction"
- invest in soft power: compete with the EU's ERASMUS (foreign students will be the future leaders), re-open libraries;
- delay missile defense installations(!) but cultivate Poland: he doesn't say but implies that it may be better to bring missile defense through NATO;
- set low goals: he sugarcoats it, but is saying in essence that the US should stop bother itself about things it no longer has the power to influence -- "not every problem is ours to solve" (LOL!).
Even if well packaged, the last point is a quite frank statement of a loss of relevance, which is then even spelled out in detail:
EU and Russian influence: nothing can be done about it
EU vs. USA:
A few years ago there was still some competition between the European Union and the United States in Mitteleuropa —- for example, about which Western military fighter jet these countries would buy [DoDo: Eurofighter, Gripen beat F-16]. The competition for influence is no more: The European Union won.
Take that. So Gati suggests influence via the EU-NATO cooperation. Then, he is equally frank about Russia vs. the USA:
As for Russia, it is by now a waste of time to worry about Russian energy, not because it is not a major problem (it is) but because there is simply no alternative source available to Europe.
He goes on to dismiss Nabucco as a pipe dream(!) and again recommend an end to US diplomats calling for vigilance toward the Russian bear, but what I find more worthy of quoting is an account of strengthening ties to Russia that most people outside the region may be unaware of:
Local newspaper accounts in Latvia, for example, indicate that the government in power there since late 2006 includes several politicians with close ties to Russian business interests. Similar reports fill newspaper pages in Bulgaria, Hungary, and elsewhere. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has increasingly turned to Moscow, so much so that Bratislava newspapers speak of a “re-orientation” in Slovakia’s foreign policy toward the East [DoDo: actually, he Fico is taking up a tradition estabvlished by first post-independence PM Mečiar]. Hungary has quadrupled its trade with Russia over the past three years, and its leaders make frequent high-level visits to Moscow that opposition parties find suspicious. Even deeply anti-Russian Poles have found it useful to travel to Moscow soon after winning last year’s elections. In the aftermath of the Georgia crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s first stop in a European Union capital was Warsaw. The times they are a-changin’.
...If Russia initiates a charm offensive (a former prime minister from the region bragged that Putin had unexpectedly escorted him to the airport at the end of one of his visits to Moscow), will American leaders undertake one of their own?
...and in conclusion:
For Mitteleuropa to remain both free and friendly to the United States, Washington cannot assume that Moscow’s thuggish behavior alone will do our work for us.
If the article is an indication of potential policy objectives of the upcoming Obama Administration, interesting times ahead.