The Indianapolis Star
April 2, 1993
Alan W. Dowd
Nearly half a century ago, Sir Winston Churchill issued America a stiff warning: "It is a solemn moment for the American democracy. With primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future." America ultimately accepted the challenge, created a transatlantic alliance, rebuilt Europe, and staved off the Soviet menace.
Sharing Churchill's understanding of America's important postwar role, President Harry Truman feared that without American assistance economic and widespread misery could give rise to dictatorship in Europe. Today, the skyrocketing unemployment and surmounting debt of Boris Yeltsin's Russia could spawn a new dictatorship in Moscow. As of January 1, nearly 8,000,000 Russians were unemployed. Some economists project 800,000 people will be added annually to the unemployment ranks of Russia over the next decade. Further destabilizing the economy is a massive foreign debt inherited from the Soviet government. Without question, these overwhelming economic problems are undermining the fragile Russian democracy and sowing the seeds of dictatorship.
Like President Truman, Bill Clinton must recognize that economic aid can smooth this period of transition, thus precluding instability. However, Mr. Clinton must realize that stop-gap measures will not enhance the already dangerous situation in Russia. The success of anti-democratic movements in Russia is directly related to the level of misery among the people, and such movements could topple the current pro-Western government in Russia. The West should consider the many advantages of a world free from Soviet communism, but also the many dangers a post-democratic government in Russia could pose. Perhaps such a government would be hypernationalist, promising to reclaim Russia's lost empire or neo-Bolshevik, resurrecting the ghosts of Lenin and Stalin; or militarist, reviving the tensions of cold war. Regardless of its name, the government which would replace the democrats would be far less accommodating than Yeltsin and his supporters.
As Mr. Clinton prepares to meet the embattled Russian leader, he must consider these possibilities as well as America's role in preventing them from becoming reality. A strategic aid package today could save America countless billions tomorrow. The funds for such a package need not be generated by a new tax, but can be found in a restructured NATO alliance. The Clinton-Christopher foreign policy team should use some of America's $100 billion annual commitment to NATO to reform and rebuild Russia. The U.S. could lend Moscow $50 billion annually over the next six years without raising taxes or losing revenue. A large portion of the aid package could be used in re-employing the millions who will be displaced in the coming years. Such an employment plan is necessary if Russia and the West hope to clear away the seeds of misery and tyranny.
Mr. Clinton should also forgive all debts incurred by the Soviet government, and America's allies must be strongly encouraged to participate in this effort. Some portion of the package could be used in demilitarizing Russia. Defense structures, many of which are obsolete or neglected, could be razed or retooled. Such an effort would not result in complete disarmament, but it would significantly reduce Russia's ability to threaten its neighbors. Tanks, submarines, warplanes, and missiles could be destroyed, eliminating the black market from which renegade military bureaucrats are profiting, and preventing the proliferation of weapons in the Middle East and Asia.
A restructured NATO might seem a radical proposal, but only in the context of Cold War ideology. NATO was forged to deter the Soviet war machine and thwart its expansionist inclinations. With the USSR disintegrated and its army in full retreat the greatest peace-time alliance in history must either be revitalized or become part of history.
While political and economic transition in Russia is an internal challenge, it can certainly be eased by America and her allies. The strong inclination to turn away from Russia and concentrate on domestic matters could result in disaster. If the whole world continues to avert its gaze from Russia, the region will again be alone, isolated from its wealthier western neighbors. Russia's reversion to the old guard would assuredly be violent. Reds and Whites will again fight on the streets of Moscow and Petrograd, joined by democrats, nationalists, and authoritarians. The military will enter the civil war, drawing Russia's neighbors in as this massive army fragments along political, ethnic, and national lines. Indeed the horrors of Bosnia and Nagorno-Karabakh will be multiplied a hundred times in a post-democratic Russia. America must act to prevent such a cataclysm.
If we listen closely, we can still hear Churchill's admonition echoing across what is again a victorious nation. Mr. Clinton's decision today will shape the future, just as Truman's foresight shaped the recent past. Russia's experiment in free government and free markets could fail even with American assistance, but is doomed to fail without our help.