Wednesday, May 21, 1997

Hoover fellow Michael McFaul and Coit Blacker, Senior Fellow, Institute for International Studies discuss a host of issues confronting a new Europe. Should American soldiers be willing to defend Poland? Russia? Does a crumbling Russia pose a threat to the United States?

Recorded on Wednesday, May 21, 1997

ROBINSON: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson, a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Our show today: the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. At the end of World War II, Soviet armies occupied much of eastern Europe, and in the years after the war, the Soviet Union moved to consolidate Communist control of the eastern European nations that soon lay behind what Winston Churchill called "an iron curtain." The Soviet Union appeared to be just what Soviet posters of the day portrayed: powerful, determined, and serious about even further conquest. Responding to the Soviet threat, the United States and Canada joined fourteen countries in Europe in forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance. The treaty was signed in April 1949. Today, some five decades later, well, it's not exactly clear what NATO is for any more. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and other eastern European nations are pressing to join NATO, and the Clinton administration is backing this NATO expansion. Yet NATO is, as I said, a military alliance, an organization in which the member nations are bound to defend each other. But, with the Soviet Union no longer in existence, just what would they be defending each other against? And that question lies at the center of our show.

With us today, Michael McFaul, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, and Coit Blacker, a fellow at the Institute for International Studies, formerly a senior foreign policy advisor in the Clinton White House. Will Russia, now weak, grow powerful? Will the Russian bear once again roar? Or is the Russian bear now nothing but a teddy bear?


ROBINSON: First secretary general of the United Nations, the Englishman Lord Ismay, said that the purpose of NATO is to, "keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down." Let's take one item of that triad, keeping the Russians out. It's 1997. It's a long time after the second world war. It's even quite a few year since the fall of the Soviet Union. Chip, as a military matter, how much of a threat does Russia pose to Europe today?

BLACKER: As a military matter, I would argue that the Russians don't pose a threat to anyone, maybe themselves, because of their weakness, I mean, they're so weak, but certainly not to anyone else.


McFAUL: Oh, yeah, of course. This is a country imploding, not expanding. All their problems are at home. For the next decade, I don't see a serious threat emanating from Russia to the West.

ROBINSON: Okay, so why is Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic, why are the leaders in Poland, why are the leaders in Hungary so eager to get into NATO? What is all the fuss about? Mike?

McFAUL: It has nothing to do with military threat. It has everything to do with being European. To be in NATO is to be European. For forty years, all these countries were not in Europe; they were not considered European. By keeping this divide--people always talk about--I think Senator Warner says, you know, if it's not broke don't fix it--

BLACKER: If NATO ain't broke, don't fix it.

McFAUL: The problem is, it is broke, because it divides Europe, and all these leaders want to be European. They see getting into NATO as part of being European.

ROBINSON: Do you buy that, Chip?

BLACKER: Absolutely. And I have problems also with the imagery that Senator Warner invoked, and I think it is important to get the imagery right here. NATO is not a Buick. NATO is not an inanimate object. NATO is an institution; it's an institution staffed by human beings. When institutions are confronted by a change in their environment, those institutions either adapt to that change or they die. What is under way is a process of NATO adaptation, of which enlargement is one part--but only one part. And that's why the imagery, again, is so terribly important. People have to get it out of their head that this is NATO of 1949, even NATO of 1990, and some scaled down version of the Soviet Union. It's not a scaled down version of the Soviet Union. This is Russia. This is the new Russia, and it's the new NATO, and it's an incredibly complex but very important process of adaptation under way.

ROBINSON: Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty reads as follows: "The parties," that is, the countries that are members of NATO, "agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America will be considered an attack against them all." The institution remains a military alliance. Pat Buchanan makes the point that, by expanding NATO, we will be, let me quote Buchanan exactly, "putting a tripwire for war on Poland's border." And so what about this notion that by expanding the borders of NATO the burdens on the United States are being dramatically increased--it costs money to keep troops over there--and, furthermore, the danger that we'll be called upon to defend one of these countries in the event of war is immensely increased. Don't worry about it or how do you answer?

BLACKER: I would make two arguments. NATO was, and in some sense still is, a collective defense organization. It's a military alliance, to use the term you used. But what's interesting--and the point that I was trying to make earlier--is that it is increasingly becoming a collective security organization. All right? A collective defense organization is postured or organized in reference to a specific threat. All right? NATO was created to defend against an attack from the Soviet Union. I would argue that the NATO of 1997 is becoming an institution through which its members provide for the common security against all sorts of challenges, but it's not postured to defend against a military strike from some powerful adversary on the outside.

ROBINSON: If it's no longer NATO's job to defend against Russia, why bring in only a few eastern European countries?


ROBINSON: Why not let everybody in? Why not let Russia in tomorrow? If it's sort of a European council in which diplomats talk to each other, the military leaders coordinate their efforts, a little U.N. targeted on Europe, why not let Russia in tomorrow?

McFAUL: Why not?

ROBINSON: That's the end of that, I guess. Chip?

BLACKER: That's not quite my view. My view is that NATO has to go about the process of transformation in a gradual, reasoned way. Now, this is not to suggest that what Mike just said is not a reasoned response, because you can certainly make an argument that you might as well just do it all at once. But my view is, when you're trying to kind of reorganize and reorient an organization the size and power of NATO, you have to build in a little time. And I think it is very appropriate to indicate, as I think the alliance will in July, that those candidates who are most ready for membership--namely, the three that we're all talking about, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary--should be invited to join at that point. But the alliance in my judgment should be open for membership to any state in Europe that meets its fairly demanding requirements, and that includes Russia.

ROBINSON: So, you have no objection, in principle, to including Russia in NATO. In principle?

BLACKER: Let me underscore one important point here. The key to this is a two-part puzzle. The answer is, no, I have no objection if you understand that half of this is an evolving NATO--that is, NATO continues to change and adapt--and a democratizing Russia. As long as those two trends continue underway, I see no reason why in the year 2005 or 2007 or 2017, I don't care, Russia takes its place in a transformed NATO. I have no problem with that at all.

ROBINSON: To our man of many words--

McFAUL: Here's the problem when you think through that flippant answer. That's where you get to the real debates on the NATO question are. Many different people want NATO to expand, and they're in an alliance on this issue but for very different reasons. The bottom line, the real--when push comes to shove, off the camera, behind closed doors, talking to people in the Senate, in the foreign policy establishment in the United States, there are many people, very intelligent, smart, experienced people, who believe that Russia still is a threat and that NATO expansion ultimately is about that formula that you talked about of forty years ago--keeping the Russians out of Europe.

ROBINSON: This entire discussion depends on the answer to a single question: How much of a threat is the Russian bear?


ROBINSON: I can name two people, Lech Walensa, the former president of Poland, is on record as saying that Russia is a threat over the longer term, and in the United States, the columnist William Saffire says, "If history is any guide, this little operation that started out as the grand duchy of Kiev and ended up running a large chunk of the world is something to be worried about." These are bright guys, experienced in very different realms, but experienced. They're wrong?

McFAUL: Yeah, I think they are. It's important to understand why we had NATO in the first place to understand why NATO needs to change today. The realist school, the school that Saffire is alluding to--Mr. Breshensky is another one; Mr. Kissinger, I think, would advocate this--they argue that why did we have this balance of power in Europe. It was about the Soviet Union as one superpower versus the West and the United States as another. It was about power, and that power, because of resources, size of Russia, these history things that you talk about, hasn't fundamentally changed. It's changed qualitatively, by the way, and I think Chip's point about the Soviet Union and Russia are not the same thing. But in their eyes, these are--big country, once a big country, always a big country, once a threat to Europe, always a threat. But that's not what the cold war was about. The cold war in my view was not about one big power versus another power. It was about communism and authoritarianism or totalitarianism versus democracy and free markets. Once that has changed, once that variable has changed, there's no reason to think that we couldn't have a relationship with Russia like we do with, say, France. As long as, if and only if, Russia continues on the path of democratizing and building the market.

ROBINSON: But let me ask you this--you said that what the cold war was about was communism. Now, it's not clear to me--slap me around if I'm wrong--it's not clear to me that communism has been decisively repudiated in Russia. After World War II, during the Allied occupation of Germany, if you were a member of the Nazi party above a certain rank, you were out of things; you couldn't hold an official post of any kind. MacArthur went into post-war Japan and rewrote their constitution. The militarist form of government which had run Japan was just out decisively. No such repudiation has occurred in Russia, and, in fact, a Communist ran for president last time around, lost, but got a lot of votes. And that oddly waxen corpse of Lenin is still in a place of honor on Red Square. Why shouldn't Bill Saffire and Henry Kissinger and Lech Walensa be a little concerned about these people? Chip?

BLACKER: Mike's not saying and I'm not saying that we know the future of Russia. I am an optimist on this score over the longer term, because I believe in the end the introduction of real economics, which was what was solely lacking in the Soviet experience, and the introduction of real politics will be reinforcing, and you will end up with a vital, vibrant civil society, which will begin to look like advanced civil societies elsewhere. Unless you're prepared to make the judgment that everything that has happened since 1991 is a gigantic facade in Russia or that Boris Yeltsin is just a notionally de-communized autocrat and, therefore, things are more or less the way they were, unless you're prepared to make that argument, in my judgment, you cannot--well, you can, but it's dangerous to succumb to the notion that we're simply fighting the cold war in new trappings. It's a very important point because people divide on this one. What Mike said earlier is absolutely right, that you get people off camera, you talk to them late at night--

ROBINSON: Now, you're talking about informed people.

BLACKER: I'm talking about foreign policy types, and it splits down the middle: those who, at base, continue to be deeply, deeply suspicious of what's going on in Russia and are always prepared to subscribe Soviet-like motives to whatever the Russian leadership is doing, as opposed to this other camp, whom I will label the optimists.

ROBINSON: In which you sit?

BLACKER: Absolutely.

ROBINSON: And in which you sit?

McFAUL: Yes. There's another part of this question, though, on the communism. It's not only let's compare it to Germany and Japan after World War II, but let's also compare it to eastern Europe. And there you also see a big difference. The debate about communism versus Western style market democracies in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, was a pretty quick debate after 1989. After the fall of communism in all three of those countries, it was over in a period of months, and Communists either went into business or became social democrats.

ROBINSON: In other words, in those three places, communism was, in fact, quite decisively defeated, put aside, washed out of the system.

McFAUL: And it's no coincidence, therefore, that those are the first three countries that should join NATO. In Russia, however, there was a long debate. It was a bloody debate. The tanks rolled into Moscow in August of 1991--about this debate. Tanks rolled into Moscow in October of 1993--about this debate. And arguably the presidential election last year was the last referendum on communism. Communism--go backwards or go forwards?

ROBINSON: Give me the totals, roughly.

McFAUL: Forty million said to go forward, and thirty million said to go backwards.

ROBINSON: Pretty close call.

McFAUL: A close call, but that was the last call.

ROBINSON: You're sure?

McFAUL: Yeah, I am sure of it. After that vote, what happened? The Communists said, "You're right, it's over," and the rhetoric about saying going backwards changed. And within a month they ratified the new prime minister, and they said, "We are now going to play by these new rules of the game, about the constitution, elections, and market. We want to argue about what kind of market, and we want to argue about what kind of constitution." But I really think that was the end, if you will, of the Communist–antiCommunist battle.

ROBINSON: Most nations in eastern Europe have already achieved rapidly growing economies, but Russia has not. Why?


ROBINSON: In recent years, the economies of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have all begun to do well, and there have been moments when they've been doing very well. But you begin to see ordinary market cycles setting in, expansion, settle back, the sort of things you'd expect in free markets. There's growth. Russia's own official statistics show that gross domestic output in Russia plunged by 15 percent in 1994 and then dropped another 4 percent in 1995, which is the most recent year for which I've been able to get statistics.

BLACKER: Six percent in 1996.

ROBINSON: And you've got better statistics. So, another 6 percent in 1996.

McFAUL: But growth in February.

ROBINSON: Growth in February? Why a month of growth? Stop the tickers--there's a month of growth. How come? Why do the experiences differ so dramatically here? What is this implosion in Russia?

BLACKER: The place was built by reference to no known economic principle. It was the complete subversion of economic logic by politics. So, you just built everything. It's totally, completely overbuilt, built the wrong way. In order to get real growth, that system essentially has to collapse or almost collapse before you can begin to rebuild institutions in reference to market forces. In Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, one--they were less the victim of social and economic experimentation than was the Soviet Union; they were Communist for a short period of time; two--they were smaller economies; three--more of their people, more of their elite, have been trained abroad. So, bam, as Mike has said, 1989 comes. I mean, these guys are at the front door of the IMF, the World Bank, the EBRD, saying, "Hello! We're here, we've been trained." The Soviet Union was the source of this bizarre economic model; it was also the biggest one. I think that this kind of violent contraction is about over. There are very, very good indications that in the first three months of 1997, there has been measurable growth in certain important sectors of the Russian economy. Does that mean that by 1998 this problem will be over? No. There's always a lag between politics and economics, anyway--or, I should say, between economics and politics. But I still think as long as most of the arrows are pointing in the right direction, which I would argue they are, there is some grounds for optimism.


McFAUL: Let me just add a couple of things, too. The starting points, I think, people often forget. They compare Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to Russia, and all the things that Chip just said add to that--that Poland in the mid-80s had experimented with, you know, quasi-reforms and failed, so people knew what that was about; Hungary had been reforming, really, "goulash communism" is what they called it for already two decades before they took over; and the Czech Republic has Prague and, you know, tourism, with the media cash flow into the Czech Republic. So, that's one thing. Number two, this thing about communism versus capitalism, the debate that they had in Russia didn't happen there, and that had consequences for the slowness in Russia.

ROBINSON: Excuse me--didn't happen in Poland--

McFAUL: It didn't happen in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

ROBINSON: They dismissed it instantly.

McFAUL: It happened, and they showed up. They said, "We're ready to be European. Tell us what to do; we're ready to take the hard hits."

ROBINSON: Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic all broke with communism. Why hasn't Russia, even to this day?


ROBINSON: What I want to know is, is it the case that in Russia there were a lot of true believers still kicking around? People who really believed in Lenin?

BLACKER: Sure, sure, sure. Still are.

ROBINSON: And there still are?

BLACKER: You bet.

McFAUL: They tend to be over fifty-five or so.

ROBINSON: Oh, okay, so it's generational. These people are failing.

BLACKER: The average age is sixty-three or sixty-four, if they're still alive.

ROBINSON: If it were this country, they'd all be on the golf course as we speak? We don't need to worry about them too much?

BLACKER: Mike's absolutely right, in my judgment, about the significance of the 1996 presidential election. That was understood in the Russian context as a referendum on whether or not we stumble ahead or fall back, and the judgment was--

ROBINSON: Keep on truckin'--keep on stumbling?

BLACKER: It's terribly important because six months before everyone in the American foreign policy establishment was wandering around screaming, saying, "Russia's falling. The Communists are coming back. There's no way Boris Yeltsin can win." When you push the Russian people to make a choice, a majority of them chose consciously: "It's not fun, it's rather painful, but we know that in the end we have to stumble ahead as opposed to fall back." That's a very powerful vote.

McFAUL: Think about it in American terms, about who this President Yeltsin was at that time. This is a guy, like you just said, contracting growth rates for five years. For his first term in office, 50 percent of the GNP disappeared.

ROBINSON: Under the normal rules of electoral politics, he should have been out of there.

McFAUL: He went into Chechnya, a bloody war--

ROBINSON: And lost it. In fact, he lost the war.

BLACKER: Exactly.

McFAUL: And lost the war. He called tanks into the streets of Moscow. That hadn't happened arguably since the Bolshevik revolution. And yet, despite all that, when push came to shove, people said, "Yes, we want to go forward. We tried the communism thing. We're done with it."

ROBINSON: He wasn't exactly in the pink of health.

BLACKER: He'd also had three heart attacks, and obviously there was real concern about his capacity, first, to get through the campaign and, then, to serve out his term. That's exactly right.

ROBINSON: Next question: Who rules Russia?


ROBINSON: It's in the press over and over again: The mob rules Russia. First of all, what is the press talking about? And second of all, does this worry you?

McFAUL: Well, second of all--

ROBINSON: Second of all, yes, and first of all?

McFAUL: I spend a lot of time in Russia. It worries me, of course, and it is a problem, of course. It would be wrong to deny that it's not. The question then, the interesting question, is why it's a problem, because then once you understand that you might figure out a way to actually deal with it. It's an obvious thing that the Soviet state collapsed in 1991--literally, not figuratively. This is not a metaphor. It did collapse. It doesn't exist. And as a result of that, the state can't perform many of the functions that it should have, that people wanted it to do, and so it creates all sorts of opportunities for what economists would call "rent-seeking" behavior by these mafia types. The state can't protect your property, but I can, if you pay me. In terms of the tax, just think of it as a tax. You would pay the state 30 percent to do this; I can do it for 20 percent.

ROBINSON: So this is the argument that, when Gotti was on trial in New York, John Gotti, the Dapper Don, was on trial in New York, the cameramen went to his neighbors in Brooklyn, and they all said, "Oh, that man is a saint. We live in a safe neighborhood. We don't have to worry about crime here." What you're saying, in effect, is that free-lancers have moved into the vacuum and are performing quasi-governmental services in Russia for a fee.

McFAUL: That's one of their activities. They have many other activities as well. But it's just an anarchic time.

ROBINSON: But you see the legitimate democratic government making headway against the Russian mob?

BLACKER: You had this huge thing, called the Soviet state, growing less and less vital over the years. So, in the end, somebody comes along and leans against it, and it's like a stage set in Hollywood. It just all falls down, because there's nothing behind it. Okay. So, you go from this massive, overpowering thing--or what we thought was massive and overpowering and what people in the Soviet Union thought was massive and overpowering--and it just fell over. It's gone. So, now you've got a little bitty state, a little bitty state. This is the new Russia. The problem is not that the Russian state is too strong, it's that the Russian state is too weak. So that if there's nobody around to do the things that states are supposed to do, like maintain order and collect taxes and adjudicate disputes, people step into the breach. My view is that it's painful, it's costly, it's unpleasant. What matters here is the trendline, and if the trendline says gradually the state builds out its capacity in combination with a building out and expansion of civil society to act as a check on the state, if those two things proceed at the same time, you will squeeze out these other kinds of operators.

McFAUL: The mafia isn't something that was just invented in post-communism. It's existed in that country for a long time, and the relationship between the state and the mafia, you know, it's a pretty intimate one. Also remember that the rules of the game are being made up as they go along.

ROBINSON: So far as we now all expect, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic will formally be invited to join NATO. Now, that requires modifications in the North Atlantic Treaty, which will have to be ratified by the Senate of the United States, which at the moment, as I read the situation, is looking pretty skeptical. Will the Senate of the United States approve NATO expansion? Chip?

BLACKER: Yes, it will and overwhelmingly.

ROBINSON: Overwhelmingly? Mike?

McFAUL: Yeah, it will.

ROBINSON: Mike, Chip, thank you very much.


ROBINSON: Our guests are optimists about Russia. They may not consider the country "cuddly" exactly, but they don't think it's very threatening either. And since Russia still possess an estimated thirteen hundred strategic missiles with more than six thousand nuclear warheads, let's hope our guests are right. I'm Peter Robinson. Thanks for joining us.

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