Stephen Kotkin is the Kleinheinz Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of the foremost experts on Russia, past and present. Given the momentous series of events in that country over the past few weeks, we recruited Professor Kotkin to sit for another installment (this time in front of a live audience at Hoover) of our occasional Five Questions for Stephen Kotkin series. In this installment, Kotkin discusses the recent mutiny attempt by Wagner military group head Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin’s perhaps tenuous future, how the Ukrainian offensive might play out, and the future of the NATO alliance.
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Peter Robinson: Historian Niall Ferguson “Professor Kotkin is always right, that's rule number one. Rule number two, see rule number one.” Professor Kotkin on "Uncommon Knowledge" now. Welcome to 'Uncommon Knowledge," I'm Peter Robinson, a fellow here at the Hoover Institution. Stephen Kotkin is the author of nine Big Works of History, including the first two volumes of his biography of Joseph Stalin, "Paradoxes of Power, 1878 to 1928," and "Waiting for Hitler 1929 to 1941." Professor Kotkin is now completing, you are, aren't you? Is now completing the third and final volume, 'Stalin Totalitarian Superpower." And because he has so much time on his hands, he's amusing himself by writing a history of Siberia on the side. A believer in the application of history to contemporary policy making, Stephen Kotkin consults widely and finds himself inundated with requests for interviews, but he accepts very few. Stephen, thank you for joining us.
Stephen Kotkin: Thank you.
Peter Robinson: Five questions for Stephen Kotkin. Here's the first one, the coup attempt. June 24, under the command of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group, a private Russian militia occupies Russian military headquarters in Rostock, in?
Stephen Kotkin: Rostov.
Peter Robinson: Rostov, thank you. Prigozhin uploads a video calling the Russian oligarchy crooked and corrupt, and the war in Ukraine unnecessary. Then he sends an armored column north toward Moscow. The column shoots down several Russian aircraft as it advances. President Putin appears on television to denounce the men he calls traitors. Once the force gets about two thirds of the way to Moscow, they turn around, Prigozhin disappears, reportedly leaving Russia for Belorussia. Putin reassures the country that order has been restored. Stephen Kotkin in foreign affairs, interviewed on June 24th, as the coup attempt was taking place, quote. After all the Sturm and Drang, we could be right back where we started, close quote. Stephen, what happened? And are we right back where we started?
Stephen Kotkin: So Prigozhin had a catering business. It was pretty successful because he got Kremlin contracts and then military contracts. And like many government contracts, they were no bid contracts, meaning he didn't have to be better than the other caterers. So you have a business that's making money and you need some protection. So he establishes a little bit of protection for himself and his businesses. That turns out to be an even bigger business. That's a mercenary army. And turns out that there's minerals in Africa, who knew? And so he gets into that business as well. And so pretty soon he's a multi-billion dollar business. And in the beginning of June, the defense minister announces that these businesses will now report to the defense ministry. So let's imagine that, I don't know, you build Microsoft, or you build Apple, or you build whatever. It's built a little differently here than over in Russia, but imagine. And all of a sudden the Secretary of Defense announces, well, it's a great business. I own that business now and we don't need you anymore. So he decides he's not gonna give up his businesses. He's gonna march, first on the military headquarters for the war in Ukraine, which is in the south of Russia. And then he's gonna march on Moscow, and he's got armed fighters with heavy weapons. And Moscow is defended by riot police. Riot police are fine if you're just beating up demonstrators with no weapons. They can get that job done, but against people with heavy weapons who are battle hardened, it's a different proposition. So Prigozhin starts marching, not himself. He stays in the headquarters in a bunker, and he sends his man about 8,000 and they're closing in on the capitol.
Peter Robinson: Putin went nose to nose with a pretender, and Putin blinked.
Stephen Kotkin: Kind of. So Prigozhin is not gonna give up his businesses just like that. He didn't gain them.
Peter Robinson: Hold on.
Stephen Kotkin: Without working hard.
Peter Robinson: You said this was purely about money?
Stephen Kotkin: No, it's never purely about money in Russia. No money and power are the same variable in Russia. But so you get money by being in power. Hank Paulson was at Goldman, made his 500 million, and then he became treasury secretary. That's not the way you do it in Russia. First you become treasury secretary, and then you make your 500 million. So you need to have connections to power. And by the way, he pays off everybody. So the people who are supposed to stop him from taking Moscow, they're on his payroll, this is Russia. And so what we see is people don't rally around Putin and his regime while this group is marching, the military doesn't come out and make statements. They don't send troops. There's no rallying of the political forces around Putin with statements, everyone's playing a waiting game. Maybe this guy could be successful, maybe not. So you have three pieces to the regime that are important to know. First you got the aura, the mystique, right? The fact that you are the power, therefore, you know more, you're watching everything, you are infallible in your decision making. So that mystique, that aura, he lost already, way before these events. He lost it in Ukraine, because the war has been such a catastrophe for Russia. So he destroyed his own aura in mystique. So that didn't change, that had already happened. And the credit for that goes to the Ukrainians and their resistance, their courage, their ingenuity, they did that. The other piece though is the levers of power, right? So you lose your aura, but you're still sitting in the Kremlin. So you've got control over the television stations, the security police, the tax police, there's nothing you don't have control over. The gas industry, the central bank, there's no reason for Putin to steal money and put it abroad because all the money is his if he wants it. So that's what the Kremlin is. So no mystique, no aura, that's gone.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Stephen Kotkin: But the levers of power. But then here's the third piece. The third piece is, what's the alternative, if any, to this guy? Is this guy forever? Or couldn't we imagine somebody else? And maybe that somebody else could be better, maybe that somebody else could get us out of the situation that this guy's got us in. So the other people are watching, is Prigozhin that somebody else, especially because they're on his payroll, not because they're doing that much for him, but just because he's gotta keep all his flanks covered. So the so-called FSB, the security service, that's the successor to the KGB, I'm guessing, I mean, they haven't shown me the paperwork for some reason, but I'm guessing those guys are on the payroll here. If you have a multi-billion dollar business, and that's the security apparatus they're gonna want to cut. And so the idea about maybe somebody could be better, that's his conundrum. You see, because if he empowers somebody else to crack down and to destroy Prigozhin, if he empowers somebody to put the lid back on, all of a sudden people think, oh, you know, that person looks pretty good. That person cannot not only put the lid back on against this crazy coup, but could in fact replace the Czar and the Kremlin. So the dilemma for him is the same way he got into the pickle in the first place. You appoint loyalists who are incompetent because they're not smart enough to take you down. But then you have incompetent people running your stuff. But if you appoint somebody who's decisive, well that person's decisive. And that third piece, aha, this guy might be better. And that's the big upshot from this.
Peter Robinson: Stephen, you are describing exactly the dynamics of the mob. This is the way they talk to each other on all those tapes that the FBI pulled together on Mulberry Street with John Gotti.
Stephen Kotkin: Yeah. Well, so I'm from New York and I worked in New Jersey, I mean, so it's not like it's a foreign topic.
Peter Robinson: Okay, so let me-
Stephen Kotkin: And I watched the Godfather way back then and I read the book.
Peter Robinson: Serious question. Let me, serious question about Russia. George Kennan, George Kennan in 1947, and his famous article in Foreign affairs, Kennan argued that the Soviets had to treat the outside world as hostile because doing so provided the only justification, now I'm going to quote Kennan, quote for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifices they felt bound to demand, close quote. The dictatorship they did not know without, which they did not know how to rule. Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, your boy Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Putin, this has been going on for centuries. Imperial Japan gives way to a liberal democracy. Nazi Germany gives way to a stable liberal democracy. Russia is the Russia of a thousand years. Why? What is it about? I'm serious, question, what is it about Russia?
Stephen Kotkin: So here's that other piece, that third piece, the alternative piece, because for us, the alternative to authoritarian regimes is what happened in Japan or what happened in West Germany. It is the possibility of democracy or rule of law, or constitutional order, however you want to describe it. But in the Russian case, the alternative to the power in the Kremlin is chaos, collapse, apocalypse. And so Putin is a calamity. He's a disaster, but the alternative to him is potentially in the minds of the people around him, dissolution, loss of the Russian state. And so as bad as he is, right, and he's calamitous across the board, the alternative in their mind could be much worse. And so they're kind of stuck in this inability to get to an alternative that's viable, that doesn't equal collapse or chaos. So there are six possible futures for Russia. And there have been for a really long time, maybe at least this is my view. The first one is France. You have absolutists, monarchy, big bureaucracy. You have a revolutionary tradition, really messy, bloody and messy. You're threatening your neighbors, right, Napoleon. You blink your eyes, it takes a while. And then you've overcome your absolutist tradition. You still have a big bureaucracy because you're descended from an absolutist tradition, but you're not an absolutist monarchy anymore. Your revolutionary tradition has settled down and you're not threatening your neighbors anymore. And so France, now, we can argue that there are imperfections in France, and some of us may not see France as a model. We're just talking about Russia and France. And so what we've got in Russia, if it got to France, that would be a major achievement. So that's been the story for a long time. Can they get to France? Now, you can look at where they are now, and you can see where France is now. And you can see that the distance to travel there is not that slight. But anyway, that's the good outcome that solves not only the war in Ukraine, but it solves the Russia problem as well, because they can be who they are, just like the French, but they don't threaten their neighbors anymore.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Stephen Kotkin: Okay, so France, the second option is authoritarian leader, but don't threaten your neighbors. In other words, solve the Ukraine problem, but not the Russia problem. You're still stuck with some type of authoritarianism, which is difficult to overcome, but you recognize that trying to take over your neighbors is a losing game for Russia, not just for the neighbors. So authoritarianism, that's no longer a threat to the neighbors, the distance to that is much shorter.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Stephen Kotkin: And that's actually the potential solution to the Ukraine situation over a longer period of time. That would be winning the peace, not just the war. All right. Your third one, which is relatively new, is the Chinese puppet regime. This sounds absurd. How could we get a Chinese puppet regime in Russia, right? Stalin was the big brother, Mao was the little brother, et cetera. But the Chinese interest in Russia, as we've seen now over the past couple of decades, is very much a partner to be anti-Western, to protect China against the existence of the West. Doesn't matter what the West does, whether it promotes democracy or doesn't promote democracy, it exists. It exists as a successful alternative that has resonance around the world, including in China. And so allowing Russia to fall into that orbit is something that seems unlikely the Chinese would permit. And so if their guy gets in trouble, it's possible that they might want another guy who's not in trouble and loyal to them. So for example, Nikolai Patrushev, who is probably the most China person inside the Russian regime, I think this would be a catastrophic outcome for Russia as well as for many other reasons. And you can judge how far away we potentially are from that outcome. Let's go to number four. Number four is the biggest North Korea you've ever seen. You've got an isolated place that is not part of the international system and is therefore incentivized only for mischief. And it's mischief across the board. And the Chinese are okay with this up to a point because it's not quite the puppet regime, but it's not that far from the puppet regime. The problem is like the Kim dynasty in North Korea, they get away with things even though they're completely dependent on China, because China can't give up the North Korean regime because then it gets a pro US South Korea, all the way up to the Chinese border, and we win the Korean War. And so they tolerate the misbehavior of their client in North Korea. And we have something similar to this dynamic in the Russian case now. We have increasing isolation from the world economy, nowhere near as close as North Korea is, but much closer to North Korea than we were a year and a half ago.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Stephen Kotkin: And we have a person in Moscow who gives the Chinese grief. He ruins their relations with Europe. In other words, the Europeans don't like the Chinese support of the Russian War in Ukraine. And Xi Jinping announces that he, through his great diplomacy, has gotten Russia to promise not to use nuclear weapons and the Chinese run this up the flagpole. And four days later, the Russians announced that they're putting tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Stephen Kotkin: So there's your incipient North Korean situation, potentially. This is the path we're currently on now, it's not a good path because if you have capabilities and you're incentivized to just do mischief, if your spoliation as far as the eye can see, and then this comes to the fifth one, which is their fear. And that's the anarchy, the collapse, right? The Czarist empire collapsed, came back as the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed, it didn't come back as anything really. And so could Russia potentially collapse? It can't be excluded, it's not structured the same way as the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a chocolate bar. If you know your chocolate bars, they have these creases in them already. And one crease was Ukraine, and another crease was Estonia, and another crease was Georgia. And so you could just break off the chocolate bar at the creases, and you got 15 pieces of chocolate. It was pre-structured to dissolve. Russia's not like that, it doesn't have the structure of the Soviet Union, but it's got a volatile North Caucasus where Chechnya and other places have tried to get out of Russia. And so it wouldn't be the same dynamic as the Soviet Union, but it's a potentially troublesome outcome. And then the sixth, you always have a sixth, because that's the one which is: you have no idea. It's something that might happen that you don't foresee, you don't predict, that's why you don't make any money in the markets. That's the sixth one, which is also a possibility. But if you look at these, there's only really two that are solutions for Ukraine, living as a neighbor alongside Russia in peace, and not just Ukraine.
Peter Robinson: France, and?
Stephen Kotkin: And the authoritarian leader who's no longer a threat to the neighbors, because recognizes that Russia pays a price for that too.
Peter Robinson: Stephen Ukraine specifically, let me set this up with two brief overviews, American involvement, then the present situation on the ground. American involvement, Russia invades Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. By April, we're sending the Ukrainians Howitzers. By June, we're sending them the high Mars Rocket launcher. And we now know that the Ukrainians only fire the rocket launcher when we give them a specific target. In December, we sent them the Patriot system. Early this year, we began sending them armored vehicles, and then we promised them the Abrams tank. And just last week, President Biden announced that he's going to begin sending them cluster bombs. Forbes, quote, America's military role in Ukraine reflects a pattern of gradual escalation, close quote. Situation on the ground. When the Ukrainian counter offensive began this past spring, Russia occupied about 17% of Ukrainian territory. The Russians had dug in, they'd established trenches, minefields, and so forth. So far in this offensive, the Ukrainians have been recapturing territory at the rate of less than 50 square miles per week. Graham Allison in "The Washington Post" quote, if Ukrainian forces are no more successful in the weeks ahead than they have been so far, Ukraine will not recapture all its territory for 16 years. We have escalated, and escalated, and escalated, and the Ukrainians are stuck. How does this end?
Stephen Kotkin: Yeah, so it's heartbreaking what the Ukrainians have endured. This is a criminal aggression. Their country is being wrecked and wrecked on purpose. Their women are being raped, their children are being kidnapped, their cultural artifacts are being destroyed, or looted and taken back to Moscow, to disprove the existence of a separate Ukrainian nation, right? Destroying the cultural artifacts. And so I've been supportive of Ukraine from the beginning, and they did win the victory of preventing their capital from being captured and having an occupation regime and a puppet government and being forced in the insurgency. However, they're not winning the war despite that tremendous victory, and I've been saying this unfortunately for 15 months. I see Shirley, she asks me every meeting, do I still think that Ukraine is not winning the war? Shirley, don't you ask me that? Everyone of these sessions. So you not only have to win the war, you have to win the peace, which is the hard part. We lost the war in Vietnam, and arguably we won the peace. It's one of the most pro-American countries in the world, Vietnam. And it's gonna become closer and closer to us over time. Whether we deserve this or not, we can argue about the history and how we got there. So you can even lose the war and win the peace. But you can, of course, win the war and lose the peace. And so the question then becomes, how do you define victory? What does winning the peace look like for Ukraine? And the territorial definition is something I've never held to, and it's loosening now finally. The idea that Ukraine wins the war by regaining all of its territory because this is a criminal aggression, and it is their territory under international law and the Russians should get out. I mean, it's perfectly understandable. Winning the peace means joining the West. We've spent, I don't know how many decades in the United States trashing the West. We have whole departments here at Stanford. That's their mission, you know, trashing the West and we trash the West endlessly. And lo and behold, the Ukrainians are willing to die to join the West. They're not asking to join a rules based order. They're not asking to join a liberal international system. This is not a seminar at Brookings, or an article in "Foreign Affairs," they wanna join the West. And so what does that mean? It means a security guarantee of some sort, and it means accession to the EU.
Peter Robinson: Not NATO?
Stephen Kotkin: We'll get to that.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Stephen Kotkin: So once again, the EU may be imperfect. Some people in the audience here may have issues with the EU, but the EU is the instrument to transform Ukraine's domestic institutions, the way it happened in Poland, and also to anchor it in this western community of values and institutions, both. So how do they do that? Well, first, they need this security guarantee. And NATO cannot, it cannot bring a country into the alliance while that country is at war. It's just, it's not really thinkable. Moreover, NATO is not the only option here. You can have what I call bilateral plus, I can use things like that because I've never served in government and we have secretaries of state and others here in the audience, and I've just been in the Hoover Ivory tower. So I can talk like this. What's bilateral plus? Bilateral plus is kind of like what we have with South Korea or with Israel, or you could use other examples where we have a bilateral guarantee of their security. But the plus part is others may want to join the bilateral. So for example, Poland might want to join, or the Baltic states might want to join, or Scandinavian states might want to join. So you don't have to jump from nothing into NATO. You can jump from a US led bilateral plus potentially. If you get a security guarantee, which has to be sold to the American public.
Peter Robinson: Yes it does.
Stephen Kotkin: Because we are a democracy. And none of that work has been done. If you get a bilateral plus, then you can have an EU accession process where you need a judiciary, right? An impartial uncorrupt judiciary, you need a civil service, you need free and open media, you need a dynamic market economy, you need a whole lot of things that Ukraine didn't have before the Russian aggression. And they need it badly, they have a wartime government now. And that transformation is hard. But the EU accession process does facilitate that transformation. Think about reconstruction. People talk about $400 billion of reconstruction funds, which is now the minimum estimate to rebuild Ukraine. And of course, we know that Ukraine's pre-war GDP was 180 billion. So take the United States, what are we, 25 trillion? I'm probably off, but we have economists in the room who know.
Peter Robinson: 29? Sold.
Stephen Kotkin: So let's put double that of reconstruction funds from the outside into the US economy. And let's see, none of that money disappear. None of that money will be stolen. There'll be nothing like the COVID funds, which were a tiny fraction of US GDP, right? So they desperately need those institutions for reconstruction, to absorb those reconstruction funds, right? The Marshall Plan worked, because there were functioning institutions in Europe. You have to give the money to something, to some people. And so this is winning the piece. Some type of security guarantee and EU accession process. It can't be like the Western Balkans. The Western Balkans began their European Union accession process when Professor Condoleezza Rice and I were on a conference panel here together at Stanford, and I was a PhD student at Berkeley, and Ronald Reagan was president almost, right? So it can't be that, it can't be tick a box, okay, five years later, tick another box, 10 years after that, tick a box, the EU needs to reform and get its act together to be ready for Ukraine. And then of course there are issues because Ukraine is not rich. And in the EU right now, there are countries that are recipients, not just donors of EU funds. Ukraine comes in, and all of those recipients of current EU funds, guess what? They become donors of EU funds. So go sell that to your public at home, right? So we're nowhere near understanding this winning the peace problem. Now connect that to territory, which is where you began. It would be better. And I'm in favor of Ukraine, recapturing as much of its territory as it can. If it recaptures the territory, all of it, and doesn't get EU accession with a security guarantee, it doesn't win the peace. If it fails to recapture all of its territory, but it gets a security guarantee in EU accession, that's winning the peace that's joining the West. Remember, South Korea, no peace treaty, just an armistice. That's all they have on the Korean peninsula is an armistice. And yet we have a security guarantee for South Korea, and we have our troops stationed there. And so it's a bad outcome. The Korean peninsula is volatile. The North Korean regime is a troublemaker, as we know, and the families were separated, it's an imperfect outcome. Still, if Ukraine got on a trajectory like South Korea, South Korea is one of the most successful societies in the world, and so there you are. But we're far from that right now.
Peter Robinson: Stephen, that is not just plausible, that's a way it makes sense. It's something that could be acted upon. But it feels to me as though it would be of the scale of Harry Truman in the 1950s with the Marshall Plan, the creation, in other words, an enormous amount would rest on whether this country was capable of an act of diplomatic and sustained diplomatic and political creativity. Is that correct?
Stephen Kotkin: We are. We are capable. Look around the world, we have all sorts of friends and allies and partnerships. You want to enumerate them. We don't have enough time in the show. We wanna talk about Australia or The Five Eyes together. You want to talk about Japan and South Korea? You want to add Taiwan to this picture? You want to talk about Israel? You want to talk about the Emirates? You want to talk about the European Union? You want to talk about Canada? I mean, we do this. This is who we are. This is why we're prosperous and successful, because it's better to have friends than not have friends. And it's better to have friends who are rich, and smart, and have really good tech companies and other companies, and are there when you're in trouble or vice versa, right? That's the formula, it's not rocket science. I understand it clearly. So it's not rocket science. So it can be done. And the Europeans have stepped up. You know, we have this narrative that we've had this gradual grudging hesitant support for Ukraine. And it's, you know, first no, and then yes, and then no, and then yes, and then no. That's a false narrative. We have supported, and as the Europeans have, including pacifist, Germany, and I could go on, as our friends in East Asia have supported Ukraine to the hilt. And the scale of the support has been phenomenal. Yes, do we know more now than we knew at the beginning? Well, yeah, it's a war, and war is a learning process, and it has surprises. So it's just, it's the wrong headline. The headline is Western Unity and resolve. And the West includes our friends, like Australia, which is in the global south, by the way. It includes the first island chain in the Pacific and on it goes. So the current administration made a decision, it didn't want a wider war, it was gonna support Ukraine, but it didn't want a wider war because it thought that that was dangerous, a bad idea and an opportunity cost that was too high, given the challenges and opportunities we face in Asia. And so from the beginning, it wanted to support Ukraine without widening the war. Now you can argue whether that was a good decision, or a bad decision. I think it was a good decision. We don't have a wider war. This is not a world war. We don't have American boys and girls being killed at scale there. We don't have the war spreading to the Levant, right? The Eastern Mediterranean or spreading to Iran, or spreading to the South North Caucasus and who knows where else. And we don't have superpowers on nuclear alert. And so we've achieved an enormous amount, thanks to the Ukrainians, but also the solidarity of the West without widening the war. And that's an achievement that has come at a cost. And the cost has been the appearance of hesitant grudging commitment to Ukraine over certain weapon systems. People say, well, why don't you send them tanks? And we did send them tanks, but here's the problem. How long does a tank last on the battlefield? A modern tank on a battlefield today in World War II, Eastern Front, it was four and a half days, now it's about 14 days. So you send a tank, you have to send a workshop to rebuild the tank. And behind the work, the workshop's gotta be close to the battlefield. You can't take a broken tank and say, you know what, I'll ship it to California now and get it repaired. So can we send workshops to Ukraine to repair the Abrams, or the other fantastic armored vehicles we have. And then behind that, you need assembly lines, because you send tanks and they last 14 days. And some of them can be repaired and some of them can't be repaired. And so you need new tanks, and you need a lot of tanks if you're gonna have tank warfare. And so you need to send an assembly line, as it were, not just the mechanical shops. And so commitments like that are not just about weapons, they're much deeper, they're about supply chain, they're about military industrial complex. And so when people clamor for things to be sent to Ukraine, they're not factoring in these other dimensions, which at and in any case, war is mostly about munitions. And as we discussed nine months ago, we were gonna run out of munitions.
Peter Robinson: Stephen, the defense of Taiwan runs through Ukraine?
Stephen Kotkin: So we had a debate about the pivot to Asia. Let's say that it was an unsuccessful debate. The terms were not, they were absurd. The US pivoting to Asia would be like the Hoover Institution, right? Pivoting to conservatism, people would say, well, yeah, I mean, what do you mean pivot? We've kind of been there, this is our second hundred years. We were already in Asia. We had an Asian fleet from way before, more predating the Hoover Institution, our Asian fleet. So the pivot to Asia debate was a little bit cockamamie. I'm gonna use that technical term here 'cause we're on air. And the idea was that we were overcommitted in all these other places and we need to under commit there and shift all the resources to Asia. So what did we discover? We discovered that the pivot to Asia was the transatlantic alliance. Oh, so all of those friends of ours could be on our side in confronting tyranny and coercion in Asia at scale. And so if we supported Ukraine, we enhanced, strengthened our China policy across the board. And China got much weaker as a result of this. It lost Europe as an opponent of the US in China policy over this Ukraine. And so you look at the investment we've now made again in our alliances, and once again at the NATO summit, we had several of our Asian partners, in fact, they're there right now. Their dinner is probably over. They're probably a lot drunker than these poor people who don't have any wine and food in front of them. Their business is done. But if you read the communique, the headline in the media, forgive me for this, is Ukraine does not get NATO accession.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Stephen Kotkin: Read the communique. It's all about China and it's all about standing up to China's coercion in East Asia. It's careful language. It says that China's not an enemy. We wanna work with China. It's very well written. And then it enumerates all the activities that China is doing that are coercive and that are threatening the international order, liberty, prosperity, and the Europeans signed onto this. They signed onto paragraph after paragraph about China in this communique. So I'm looking at that thinking, yeah, for sure.
Peter Robinson: Stephen, let me give you a last question. I'm going to give you a quotation and then I'm going to give you some recent poll results. Here's the quotation. The quotation goes back. This is 1838, Abraham Lincoln, the young men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. “At what point is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we must live through all time or die by suicide.” Close quote. Here's the poll in a Wall Street Journal poll, in 1998, not that long ago, 70% of Americans said patriotism was important to them. By this past spring, that figure had dropped to 38%, and among adults under 30, only 23%. Let me repeat that. The proportion of Americans under 30, who say that love of country matters to them is less than one in four. Last question, Stephen, what makes you so cheerful?
Stephen Kotkin: You wonder why Hoover has a K through 12 education program. Wonder no longer. People don't know their own country. They don't know their institutions, they don't know their history. But that's not their fault, that's our fault. We have to do better at communicating who we are. You know, you ask the question about Russia's thousand years of history, can they overcome their history? Yes, France overcame its history, right? As I just described in talking about Russia. But we overcame our history too. We had some very big issues when we were founded as a republic and we had a civil war. Not only did we have a civil war, we had a civil rights movement after reconstruction in the south didn't succeed the way some people envisioned it should. And so that story is a really big story, overcoming our past, but with the institutions that we were granted from the outset, right? This category, citizenship, is a miracle. It's exclusionary in the 18th century civic revolution, there are a lot of people who are not citizens. In fact, they're not even considered people, it's terrible. But over time that category citizenship can expand and people who were not included in it, can be included in it. So is exclusion the story? Which is terrible and long lasting and affects a lot of people. Or is the brilliance of the category citizenship and its capaciousness over time, the story? And I would argue they're both the story, but one triumphs over the other. It's not a hundred percent triumph. It's not a triumph where you're done, because this is something that's ongoing and the strength of our system is we can denounce it. That's just incredible. Imagine you can denounce your system because you have the freedom to denounce your system. That's what your system gives you. So you can have an industry that's West bashing. I used to teach Plato to NATO back when I was, how to say this politely? I was on loan to a different institution for 33 years, and I taught the Plato to NATO course. And it had, we capped it at 325 students, which was a significant portion of the entering freshman class. And I did it year after year. And it wasn't a requirement. And they showed up because we offered western civilization and the professor knew how to pan. I mean, the professor knew how to lecture. And so it can be done. We've done it before. There have been highs and lows, and some of those lows we've lived through. You quoted that poll from 1998, but I remember the 70s. And certainly that was not a high point in American civilization or patriotism, but so it is in there, and it's on us to recuperate it, and to broadcast it and to engage people with it, including engaging them in it when they disagree with it. Once again, that's the great strength of our system. And so you can't be anything other than optimistic with that. Okay, we have a certain media environment right now, and the media business model is destruction. It's scandal, it's destruction, it's tear down, that's how they make their money. We're a free and open society and we have to live with that problem. That's a problem we can't wish away, because the solution to that problem provided by authoritarian regimes is not a solution, it's worse. And so we did this with radio, we did this with television, now we have to do it with social media. It's hard, but it can be done. And, but it can't be done by shutting things down, right? It can't be done by being afraid, afraid to engage. And it can't be done by behaving like those critics who wanna shut you down, right? You can't win as an American with the strength of our institutions by doing things that are not consonant with American values and institutions. You can't behave like the people trying to destroy you, because then you become like those people trying to destroy you. So it's a delicate balance to figure out. And we hear many inspiring concrete proposals here at Hoover about how we can go about this. We have our center for the revitalization of American institutions, right? Which is off the ground, and it's gonna be a monster in terms of its influence. And then we have a hundred million plus people who are eligible to be president of the United States. A hundred plus million people in our country are eligible to be president. And then we have those two leading candidates who we have. So yeah, I'm very optimistic.
Peter Robinson: Stephen, okay, three sentences for one of the 75% of Americans, 30 or under, who says he's not a patriot.
Stephen Kotkin: It's okay to say you're not a patriot. Our patriotism allows for that. But I want to tell you something about why I'm a patriot. That's the conversation to have with them, right? The conversation is not to belittle them, not to dismiss their views and feelings, not to say you're young and you're a fool, it's to say, well, this is why I'm a patriot. This is the history that we have in this country. These are the institutions that we have. This is the opportunity that we have. And this is why you can have a successful life, and you can do things that other people elsewhere who are less fortunate, can barely dream of, let alone achieve. And so you engage, and if they still are a holding to their views, that's okay. It's a free country and they can be who they are. Our only problem is those who wanna take the system down, right? Those people who don't just complain about hypocrisy. I'm good with hypocrisy, right? Hypocrisy is, let's just say it's not in deficit. Hypocrisy is everywhere and I've engaged in it on occasion. It was always by accident, but it happened. But what I love about hypocrisy is it calls you out for failing to live up to your ideals.
Peter Robinson: To your own ideals.
Stephen Kotkin: It says you promise this and you failed to deliver, so you're a hypocrite. It doesn't say your ideals are evil. It says, it says you failed, you made promises and you didn't redeem them. So I'll take all the hypocrisy they can throw. I just don't want them to destroy the ideals as evil. And when they talk to me about, well, you know, we get rid of capitalism, that'll solve a lot of problems. I say, why don't we have a little discussion about Stalin Soviet Union, and how that worked out, or China, or Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, if you prefer a smaller scale version of genocide, you can engage them in conversation based upon your specialized knowledge that can get at the trashing of the ideals and institutions as the evil. But as long as you're talking about hypocrisy, you're good, right? I mean, I don't wanna bring Ronald Reagan into the question, well, why not? Why not bring Ronald Reagan in, right? So he on occasion would tell a joke or two, you saw this firsthand. So this guy goes up and parks the car next to Congress and the policeman says, I'm sorry, sir, you can't park here. The politicians work inside, and the guy says, oh, it's okay, I locked the door. Right? That's us, that's who we are. So yeah, we have crime. It turns out who knew. We're hypocrites.
Peter Robinson: Stephen Kotkin, thank you. For Uncommon Knowledge and the Hoover Institution, I'm Peter Robinson.