Staunton, June 20 – Even as Moscow and its defenders talk about the threat of “a new cold war” – an impossibility the suggestion of which reflects the calculations of some and the intellectual laziness of others – what is actually on display is the demise of the most important alliance of that conflict.
Not the formal alliance of NATO which if anything has been re-energized by Russian aggression and subversion in Ukraine, but rather the politically more potent alliance within Western countries between those concerned with the promotion of democracy and human rights and those concerned with the pursuit of economic profit.
During the Cold War and indeed sustaining the West in its opposition to the Soviet Union, these two groups typically worked in tandem with communist oppression energizing the former and leading those interested in profits to support them not only because they hoped to gain new markets but also because they did not want to be tarred as “soft on communism.”
Now, with the end of communism, this alliance is no more. Those concerned with democracy and human rights remain committed to promoting these values especially in post-communist societies where these values are under threat. Because of that, they regularly press Western governments to take up this cause.
But they no longer have their old allies. Those concerned with the pursuit of profits view the post-Soviet world as being one more place to do so, and, not surprisingly given the reactions of the governments to complaints about violations of democracy and human rights as at best a distraction and at worst an obstacle to their goals.
The Kremlin and the leaders of the other pot-Soviet states fully understand this new division and routinely exploit it and routinely use it to their advantage, limiting both the willingness and ability of Western governments to promote the very values on behalf of which they had declared they had prosecuted the Cold War itself.
Unless something changes either in the willingness of post-Soviet states to be open for investment or how defenders of democracy and human rights articulate their position, there is little chance that the old alliance will be restored. A change in the first is beyond our control, but a change in the latter is not and represents a very real chance to rebuild the old alliance on a new basis.
That chance lies in one of the most important but least heralded contributions that democracy can make to any country. In non-democratic regimes, whether they are openly autocratic or use the trappings of democracy to conceal that reality, every change of leader is a potentially destabilizing event, one that undercuts stability and predictability for everyone.
Democracies, in contrast, provide a predictable and stable means of organizing successions from one leader to another, successions that will occur in every case if only because of the working out of the actuarial tables and often for other reasons as well.
Given that businesses operate most effectively and profitably in a stable and predictable environment, their leaders have an interest in precisely those qualities. Those who take a very short term approach, which unfortunately encompasses an ever-larger share of all business leaders, thus often back authoritarian leaders who at least can make the trains run on time.
But businesses who care about long-term profitability have an interest in the stability, however messy, that democracy alone can provide from one leader to another. And consequently, those who seek to promote democracy and human rights have an opening for the restoration of the Cold War alliances within their respective countries.
In recent years, such advocates have seldom talked very much about this both because they are overwhelmed with responding to violations of human rights and often have trouble talking about the ways in which democracy has been subverted by the political technologists who use the term but drain it of any real meaning.
That is all the more often the case because Western governments with which these groups work in many cases foolishly proclaimed the establishment of democracy after the first elections were held and accept the quasi-Marxist notion that all that is necessary to perfect these political systems is to get the free market to work properly.
If the West is to oppose the slide toward an ever more unstable post-Soviet world, the old alliance between the advocates of democracy and human rights and those pursuing profits needs to be restored. The stakes are very high indeed for the peoples of Russia and other post-Soviet states and thus for the West as well.
Those who want to extend democracy and freedom know that it cannot be exported by force or established simply by the workings of the market. But they must also recognize that they can achieve their goals only if they are united as they were with powerful economic interests.
There is a possibility to restore that alliance, but it can only be realized if the advocates of democracy and human rights present their cause in terms of self-interest. The time to do that is now before the instability of these authoritarian regimes comes back to haunt us when leaders are under threat or when one group of them is inevitably replaced by another.