Saturday, March 31, 2018

"Let no one say we have not been warned" - George Walden writes

My attention was drawn by a tweet from Nick Cohen to an excellent article in "Standpoint" by George Walden, called

"Presidents for life Putin and Xi menace the West."

Nick summarised the article as explaining that, whether we like it or not and whether we chose this situation or not, we are in a new cold war and anyone under 50 should read this article if they want to understand the problem we in the West now face.

Actually, in my humble opinion, I think anyone aged over or under 50 who wants to think about how we deal with Russia and China would be well advised to read it.

As George Walden points out, Britain and our allies need to recognise that we are dealing with Russian and Chinese leaders who are consciously trying to create what they see as the sources of Russian and Chinese strength during the Cold War era.

Quoting a triumphalist attack on democracy which predicted that the future belongs to authoritarian cultures rather than the ballot box, Walden argues that nobody should say we have not been warned about what the West is facing.

He responds to those - and there are far too many of them on both the right and the left of British politics - who are far too ready to blame our own side and exonerate Russia for bad relations as follows:

How did we stumble into a world that sometimes appears more unstable than in Cold War days?

Historians and commentators who tell you that it’s our own fault are two a penny, with their allegations of Western incompetence, greed, insensitivity and plain stupidity. There was never any lack of that, and there was always an element of hubris in the triumphalism of the Cold War winners.

Of course there were mistakes. Yet it would be another one to indulge in an orgy of puritanical self-reproach. As accusations of alienating Moscow or Beijing needlessly fly around, we should be careful whom we listen to. Not a few of the people who chastise the West for throwing away their victory are the same ones who found an exonerating word for Mao Zedong or the brutalities of the Soviet regime, frequently under the disguise of moral equivalence.

It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now: the West and the Soviet Union were never equally wicked, nor is the West as guilty as Russia for the new tensions. We underestimated the post-Cold War neurosis the Russians experienced as their empire disappeared around them and their country shrank, and we behaved clumsily over Nato, but that is far from explaining aggressive Russian behaviour today.

When you look at the cynicism, mendacity, corruption and official contempt for human rights characteristic of today’s Russia, don’t be surprised. The kleptocracy run for the benefit of its politicians, oligarchs and secret policemen has its antecedents, as does the absence of an effective liberal opposition: look at the historic failure of the anti-Bolshevik politicians in the October revolution.

And as Putin casts about for foreign fall guys for his country’s domestic failings, political or economic, don’t be surprised either. Soviet Russia did the same. You can argue that Western miscalculations since the Wall went down have helped to bring out the worst in the Russian psyche, but you cannot contend that the worst was not already present. And by 'worst', in essence I mean its chronic subservience to power, the strongman syndrome, and its chronic intelligence sickness.

After analysing the policies both Russia and China are following, and the reasons why, Walden argues for great caution towards each, and concludes as follows:

"On policy towards Putin’s Russia, the truth is that the Cold War is pretty much back and we are going to have to soldier on where we left off. If Putin is determined to drag his country back to the 1980s he will drag us back with him. While he and his circle are in power no one will be able to say, as Mrs Thatcher said of Gorbachev, that here was someone with whom she could do business. Doing business means having a degree of mutual trust and respect, and someone with an unreconstructed KGB mindset deserves neither. And if we pretend that Putin can be a reliable partner the day change might finally arrive will be further delayed.

"Soldiering on is not a recipe for mutual isolation. Now as then we must continue to engage with Moscow on all fronts — diplomacy, trade, contacts, culture — though without the slightest delusion. For all its outward changes, in essence our adversary — there is no other word — is the same country as before. Somewhat richer, somewhat freer, but a country whose people remain ultimately in thrall to a corrupt, repressive power. History shows that internal change only comes when Russia has exhausted the alternatives. If there is any scope for optimism, it is there.

"What I see now, in both Russia and China, is the threat of nationalistic self-assertion against a fracturing West. And the worst way to counter that is for the West to indulge in new forms of nationalism itself. The effect can only be to weaken solidarity, as we are discovering."

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