NOVEMBER 1989 IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: A SHORT COMMENT.
The Slavic Peoples, Russia in particular is too culturally backward to advance the spiritual interests of mankind. Under the rule of the knout, Europe will be lead into a state of spiritual barbarism."
Field-Marshal Graf von Moltke the Younger, November 1914.
The Russian empire — both the Czarist and Communist versions — was a vast, multinational entity. At its greatest extent, it stretched into the heart of Central Europe; at other times, it was smaller. But it was always an empire whose constituent parts were diverse, hostile to each other and restless. Two things tied the empire together.
One was economic backwardness. Economic backwardness gave the constituent parts a single common characteristic and interest. None of them could effectively compete with the more dynamic economies of Western Europe and the rest of the world, but each could find a niche within the empire. Economic interests thus bound each part to the rest: They needed a wall to protect themselves from Western interests, and an arena in which their own economic interests, however stunted, could be protected. The empire provided that space and that opportunity.
The second thing tying the empire together was the power of the security apparatus. Where economic interest was insufficient to hold the constituent parts together, the apparatus held the structure together. In a vast empire with poor transportation and communication, the security apparatus — from Czarist times to the Soviet period — was the single unifying institution. It unified in the sense that it could compel what economic interest couldn’t motivate. The most sophisticated part of the Russian state was the security services. They were provided with the resources they needed to control the empire, report status to the center and impose the center’s decisions through terror, or more frequently, through the mere knowledge that terror would be the consequence of disobedience.
It was therefore no surprise that it was the security apparatus of the Soviet Union —the KGB under Yuri Andropov — which first recognized in the early 1980s that the Soviet Union’s economy not only was slipping further and further behind the West, but that its internal cohesion was threatened because the economy was performing so poorly that the minimal needs of the constituent parts were no longer being fulfilled. In Andropov’s mind, the imposition of even greater terror, like Josef Stalin had applied, would not solve the underlying problem. Thus, the two elements holding the Soviet Union together were no longer working. The self-enclosed economy was failing and the security apparatus could not hold the system together.
It is vital to remember that in Russia, domestic economic health and national power do not go hand in hand. Russia historically has had a dysfunctional economy. By contrast, its military power has always been disproportionately strong. During World War II, the Soviets crushed the Wehrmacht in spite of their extraordinary economic weakness. Later, during the Cold War, they challenged and sometimes even beat the United States despite an incomparably weaker economy. The Russian security apparatus made this possible. Russia could devote far more of its economy to military power than other countries could because Moscow could control its population successfully. It could impose far greater austerities than other countries could. Therefore, Russia was a major power in spite of its economic weakness. And this gave it room to maneuver in an unexpected way".
George Friedman, "Twenty Years after the Fall," 9 November 2009, in www.stratfor.com
"(One) Soviet Power, unlike that of Hitlerite Germany, is neither schematic nor adventuristic. It does not worked by fixed plans. It does not take unnecessary risks. Impervious to the logic of reason, and it is highly sensitive to the logic of force. For this reason it can easily withdraw---and usually does---when strong resistance is encountered at any point. Thus if the adversary has sufficient force and makes clear his readiness to use it, he rarely has to do so. If situations are properly handled there need be no prestige engaging showdowns.
(Two) Gauged against the western world as a whole, Soviets are still by far the weaker force. Thus, their success will really depend on degree of cohesion, firmness and vigor of which Western world can muster. And, this is a factor which it is within our power to influence.
(Three) Success of Soviet system, as a form of internal power is not yet finally proven....Soviet internal system will now be subjected, by virtue of recent territorial expansions, to a series of additional strains which once proved severe tax on Tsarism."
George Frost Kennan (Charge in Moskva) to Secretary of State ('the long telegram'), 22 February 1946, in Harry S. Truman Administration File, George Elsey Papers. Spelling and punctuation as in the original).
"Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World."
Sir Halford Mackinder,Democratic Ideals and Reality,1919.
Sir Halford Mackinder notwithstanding, the events of twenty some years ago, disproves his 'heartland' theory and all such similar hypotheses like it. While there is many things to be said about what occurred twenty years ago in Central Europe, there are to my mind, two which stand out: first) that the 'Cold War', was 'won' (yes gentle reader, 'won') by the West (AKA the Americans and their allies); second, that this result, can in retrospect be seen as being over-determined.
For the first proposition, regardless of statements by such individuals as Michael Meyers (The Year that Changed the World) among others, that there were no winners and losers in the Cold War, it is obvious and self-evident, that with the downfall of the Socialist bloc and less than two years later, Sovietskaya Vlast itself, that the Cold War was won by the Americans and their European partners. Meaning specifically, that the lands described by Churchill in his Fulton Speech of 1946:
"From Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Adriatic...Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe
No longer were under the thumb of Moskva, which until say November 1989, they very much were. Of that there is no doubt. Indeed, the upshot of the collapse of Sovietskaya Vlast was to see not only Poland, et al., freed from Russian domination, but, also for the first time since the entre-deux-guerre period (the Baltic States), if not since the reign of Peter I (Ukraine and Belarus) lands further east as well.
In short, the collapse of Moskva's empire, its sphere of influence, not only had the end-result of pushing it out of Central Europe entirely, but, it also resulted in almost entirely being kicked out of Eastern Europe as well (with the exception of Konigsberg and Trasnistria). In view of the fact that no such collapse was visited upon the Americans, it is quite accurate to say that it was very much indeed, Sovietskaya Vlast which lost the cold war.
As for our second point, the fact of the matter is, as the late, great, George Frost Kennan, the possessor of the greatest diplomatic mind ever produced by the United States in the 20th century pointed out in 1948, the entire point of the American policy of containment was that there were:
"only five regions of the world - the United States, the United Kingdom, the Rhine valley with adjacent industrial areas, the Soviet Union and Japan - where the sinews of modern military strength could be produced in quantity; I pointed out that only one of these was under Communist control; and I defined the main task of containment, accordingly, as one of seeing to it that none of the remaining ones fell under such control (George F. Kennan, Memoirs: 1925-1950, Volume One, 1967, p. 359)."
By the late 1950's, there was little doubt that Moskva would be unable to pick-off, much less conquer outright any of the other centres of industrial strength that Kennan mentions. Indeed, the failure of Khrushchev's blustering diplomacy, when coupled with the (hidden) failure of his economic policies at more or less the same time, pointed to the fact that the West had if not necessarily already triumphed, did by say circa 1961, held almost all of the trump cards in this particular diplomatic game. A fact which was obscured by the idiotic and unnecessary American war and then debacle in Indochina, commencing immediately afterwards. That, coupled with the first, mini-crisis of the post-war capitalist economies of the West in the 1973 to 1982 period, lead to the delusion that it was Sovietskaya Vlast which was making all of the running in the approximately ten years between 1968 and 1980. A delusion which was seemingly reinforced by Moskva's squandering its precious monies, resources and weaponry in supporting worthless client, or semi-client states in Southeast Asia (Vietnam), the Americas (Cuba), the Near East (Syria), or Africa (Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique). All for no material, or even much in the way of strategic value. The upshot was that by the time that the semi-reformer Yuri Andropov & a true reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev, succeeded to the leadership of Sovietskaya Vlast, theirs were a regime which was close to exhaustion, and, which, like the German army in July & August of 1918, only required one sustained set-back, to cause the entire edifice to begin to unwind and collapse. A collapse, in the case of Sovietskaya Vlast of elite confidence in the regime itself and its ability and legitimacy to rule (an insight which I fully acknowledge I have borrowed from Stephen Kotkin). The military stalemate in Afghanistan serving as a coup de grace for the entire regime. Lest anyone forget, it was in the beginning of 1989, that Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan. At the time, the collapse of the Russian Empire in Central and Eastern Europe appeared to be a completely unheralded event, but, with hindsight, one can see that the writing was on the wall, and, that it was merely a matter of time before the entire system of Russian control & influence in the so-called 'Peoples Democracies' went under. Of course the ultimate harbinger of this undoing of the results of the Second World War, was the fact that Soviet domination of the region was dependent upon one chief asset: brute force. Pur et simple. Indeed in a pattern which dates back to centuries of Russian and Soviet diplomacy, Soviet hegemony in the region from the Elbe to the Nieman was fundamentally weak, simply because it offered so little in the way of legitimizing goods and services to its client states. Ideology had become a non-starter by the early 1950's. Economic assistance for purposes of development and growth, while in existence never was large enough to enable the nations of East Central Europe to overcome the economic backwardness which being members of the Soviet bloc entailed. And, of course, Sovietskaya Vlast had little by the way of 'soft power', to make palatable its hegemony. Ergo, once the puppet rulers in all of these countries were overthrown, there was nothing to stop all of the nations of the former 'Soviet bloc', from allying themselves with the Americans and NATO. Quod erat demonstrandum.