The root cause of the epochal changes in Europe is the decline of the Russian empire. This decline will not stop neatly at the historically arbitrary frontiers of the Soviet Union. As the non-Russian peoples of the Baltic states, the Caucasus, and Central Asia are already telling us, these frontiers only mark the line between external and internal empire. There may be good tactical reasons for Western leaders to be cautious in their support for the Baltic republics’ declarations of independence at this particular moment; but it would be quite wrong for those leaders to base planning for Europe 2000 on the continued existence of the Soviet Union as a single unit. Morally wrong, but also analytically wrong. If history is any guide, the decline of empires does not stop halfway. Of course a peaceful, harmonious transition of the USSR to a democratic federation, confederation, or merely commonwealth would be preferable to a conflict-ridden, halting, sometimes violent disintegration. But the latter is more probable.
There are many worse alternatives to Mr. Gorbachev in Russian politics. But there are also better alternatives, for example in the new, non-Communist political movements and parties which broadly embrace the principles of liberal democracy, the social market economy, and the rule of law. At the moment, the worse alternatives seem more likely to gain the upper hand than the better. Gorbachev is therefore a lesser evil. But what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989 should be a warning to those who would have us deny our own principles and beliefs in the name of “realism.” The impossible happened.
At the end of the eighteenth century Immanuel Kant suggested that the only states which would not necessarily go to war with each other, sooner or later, were those in which the “civic constitution” was “republican”: that is, with limited government, the rule of law, and kings who listened to philosophers like him. The insight remains fundamental. In twentieth-century terms liberal democracies don’t fight liberal democracies. As a writer, Václav Havel restated Kant’s principle for his own country, and as president he now exemplifies it. The change in the external behavior of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary follows directly from their internal transformation. That change is therefore different in character from—and less easily reversible than—the change in Soviet external conduct. The only fundamental long-term guarantee of the change in Russian foreign policy would be the internal transformation of the Russian state and empire. In principle, our hope must be a liberal, democratic Russia.
Fortunately, that is not our only hope. At the end of the twentieth century there is another reason for states to avoid wars, one undreamed of in Kant’s philosophy. This is that they have the power to wipe each other out. The development of military technology first allowed what Raymond Aron called the “eternal rivalry of states” to wreak untold carnage in “the century of infernal machines.” But its further development then put a matchless check to that rivalry. Since 1945 we have had wars outside Europe between, or against, states that do not possess credible deterrents. We have had military invasions in Europe of states that did not possess such deterrents—Hungary in 1956, for example, or Czechoslovakia in 1968. But where there has been credible deterrence there has been no war.
Of course, this is in many ways a horrible state of affairs: an appalling second-best. We should never cease to explore new forms of trust- and confidence-building, mutual scrutiny, and international regulation. We should not abandon the ultimate liberal democratic (Rooseveltian, but before that, Kantian) vision of a world of republics, rooted in a world civil society, and regulating its affairs through a world government. But the sad fact is that in Europe until 1945, and in much of the rest of the world to this day, collective security was not enough. Whatever happened to Locarno? To the peace-making efforts of the League of Nations or the UN? The Churchillian paradox—that peace is the “sturdy child of terror”—does capture a fundamental truth about Europe over the last forty years. And even if Russia were, in Kant’s sense, republican, there would be states next to Europe—Iran, for example, or Libya—that were not. So even then we would still need the infernal machines.
Democratic Europe should therefore have, as it were, Kant in one hand, but the deterrent (whatever its precise size and shape) in the other. The former, for a vision of how people, and therefore states, can be good. The latter for when they are bad. The main present incarnation of that latter principle happens to be called NATO. If one were starting from scratch, one might not call it NATO. One might, for example, call it DETO (Democratic Europe Treaty Organization). One might also think that large, wealthy European democracies should look after themselves, with a combined deterrent.
To be sure, Western Europe’s security now depends ultimately on the American nuclear commitment, because twice (some would say, three times) in this century the Europeans have proved spectacularly incapable of looking after themselves and getting on with one another. But there is no iron historical law that says this must always be so. At the very least, if Soviet forces withdraw from Central Europe, fewer NATO forces will be needed for credible deterrence, and proportionately more might be done by Europeans for the defense of Europeans.
“The only thing wrong with NATO is that we don’t belong to it.” This characteristic quip from Czechoslovakia’s foreign minister, Jirí Dienstbier, contains a deeper truth. In a year or two it will seem very odd to, say, a visitor from Mars, that a democracy in the very heart of Europe is not a member of NATO, while Turkey is. The strong temptation is then for Czechs and others to say, adapting (Groucho) Marx: “I would abolish a club that won’t have me as a member.” The alternative, sketched by the former Hungarian foreign minister Gyula Horn is to say: “Please let us join.” And ultimately, why not? Because the Soviet Union will not stand for it? But see 1. and 2. above. However, if one merely envisages the East Central European countries joining, then the alliance—NATO or DETO—continues to look like a specifically anti-Soviet or anti-Russian one, rather than a self-defense community of democracies against any and all aggressors. No, if one is to be consistent one must ultimately envisage even a democratic Russia joining this DETO. But for that, a deep political transformation inside Russia (and therefore also in its relations to the other peoples of the Soviet Union) is a sine qua non—and one that, at best, will take many years to achieve.
If, for European security, the starting point is NATO but the goal DETO, then for the political and economic relations between European democracies, old and new, the starting point is the European Community, although the goal is also something larger. The EC as it stands is the worst possible Europe—apart from all the other Europes that have been tried from time to time. Speaking in Oxford recently, the Polish foreign minister, Krzysztof Skubiszewski, reaffirmed the prevalent view of Eastern Europe’s new democratic leaders that the EC remains the central core of the larger process of European unification.
Looking back on the “peacemaking” of 1919 during the Second World War, Harold Nicolson wrote: “We succeeded in balkanising Europe, although we europeanised the Balkans.” In a broader sense, one might say that the choice today is between Balkanizing Europe and Europeanizing the Balkans (where “the Balkans” is taken to mean an actual or potential state of affairs in parts of non-EC Europe, rather than a precise location). Basic conditions for this Europeanization include the recognition of existing state frontiers (and within the present Soviet Union, the frontiers of existing republics), however historically arbitrary or unjust; common, high standards of respect for the rights of minorities within those frontiers; and a longer-term perspective of ever-closer association with the existing EC, proceeding pari passu with internal democratization, marketization, and constitutionalization, and leading eventually to full membership.
The largest challenges in Europe over the next few years may not lie at all in the relations between states, but rather in the relations between peoples within states. Racial tensions will almost certainly be exacerbated by the social and economic strains of European unification. This applies not only to the former Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but also to the rest of Europe and notably to Germany. What one might call civic leadership will be called for as much as, perhaps even more than, statesmanship.
We should keep things in proportion. Most of the rest of humankind will (rightly) say: “If only we had your problems….”