TCS Daily


Russia and The End of History

By Lee Harris - February 28, 2006 12:00 AM

What a terrific guy that Vladimir Putin must be. Here we all were, worried silly about the chance of Iran getting its hands on nukes, debating about international sanctions, when suddenly Russia decides to help us out of our dilemma by trying to make a deal with the Iranians. Of course, the United States and the UN were tickled pink to accept Putin's mediation, and it is now reported that the Russians have magnanimously offered to enrich uranium for Iran on their own soil—soil that not so long ago shared a convenient border with Iran. And even if this deal does not work, no doubt Putin can figure out another way of making a deal with Iran. After all, since they are in the same neighborhood, doesn't it make sense for us to let Putin handle the problem of Iran?

There was a point in time when geopolitical cynics might have worried that Russia was trying to achieve what used to be called "a sphere of influence" in Iran. These cynics might even have worried that Russia might be deliberately courting and coddling Iran so that Russia could exploit to its own selfish advantage the current division between the West and that oil-rich and militant Muslim nation. Fortunately for us, however, our leadership no longer tolerates such cynics in their midst. Foreign policy in both the United States and in Europe has been purged of all such illiberal skepticism about the sinister motives of others. We all want the same things, don't we? Therefore, Vladimir Putin must be just as anxious to visualize global peace as any American soccer mom. As we all know, Russia is our friend, and not our enemy. Besides, we are at the End of History. Why would Mr. Putin want to start up history all over again—for example, by insisting that Russia should play a major role on the world's stage, as it once did, and not so long ago?

Of course, it is always possible that Mr. Putin has not have read Francis Fukuyama's book, The End of History. Indeed, Mr. Putin may not yet have realized that the new world order that emerged with the collapse of the USSR constituted the end of all further struggles for power and dominance among peoples and nations. Or, possibly, just possibly, he might not be at all happy with a permanent world order in which the USA is the lone Superpower, and his own once mighty nation, Russia, is reduced to a mere second or third fiddle.

This, after all, is one of the tickly points about the end of history. Those societies that have declared an end to history have done so at precisely the point at which they have achieved an enormous victory over their rivals in a long and often bloody power struggle.

For example, the first man to declare himself Emperor of China, Shih Huang Ti, also proclaimed an end of history in 221 B.C. He had, through a series of protracted wars, achieved complete dominance over China by systematically eliminating all of his rivals for supremacy. What better time to announce that, from now on, there will be no more wars, and no more conflicts? Peace and harmony will be eternally secured, because all opposition to the supremacy of the Emperor had been defeated.

About five hundred years later, the Roman Christian writer Lactantius would survey the triumph that Constantine the Great had achieved over his rivals in his struggle for supremacy, and he too would declare that history had come to an end. Peace and harmony would rule, and, once again, the newly emerged world order would be permanent and unchangeable.

The same conclusion was drawn by the Allies after their victory in the Great War, which Woodrow Wilson had dubbed "the war to end all war," very much in the spirit of Shih Huang Ti. Wilson believed that with the coming of peace, there would be a final drawing of national borders, and from then on, a person would not need to keep buying new maps of the globe simply because one nation was dissatisfied with the borders that had been assigned to it. The maps of the world, instead of changing every generation or so, would obtain the kind of permanency that maps of the United States have had since the admission of Arizona and New Mexico in 1912.

The defeated Germans, however, did not like the position on the new map that had been assigned to them. Having once been a great power, they could not suppress the desire to become a great power once again, and to create a new map of Europe that differed radically from the map that the victors had drawn up.

Can we really expect the Russians to feel much different?

Herein lies the nemesis of all those who have rashly presumed to declare an end to history after a power struggle in which they emerged victorious. Understandably, they wish to think that all such struggles are behind them. Naturally, they wish to believe that the settlement they have achieved will be permanent and everlasting. Yet the mere fact that they have achieved dominance and supremacy entails that somewhere there will be those who have lost in their own struggle to achieve the same goal--those who refuse to accept the winner's verdict that history is over and done with, and who patiently, or impatiently, await the day when they can begin the struggle for supremacy all over again.

The question is not what Russia wants, but how patient it will be in getting it.

Lee Harris is author of Civilization and Its Enemies.

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7 Comments

Putin's new son
Did you hear about Putin having a new son? He was so impressed with Cheney's staff work that he named his son Scouter Putin.

Great article
Or, possibly, just possibly, he might not be at all happy with a permanent world order in which the USA is the lone Superpower, and his own once mighty nation, Russia, is reduced to a mere second or third fiddle.
This made me laugh, though the subject is not funny.

Part of the problem, I think, is that our politicians and diplomats are used to socializing with their civilized counterparts from not-so-civilized places, and they refuse to believe how hostile to America some countries are, both their populaces and their governments. Most people in Saudi Arabia are not Oxford-educated sheiks, and most Russians are incredibly bitter towards the US.

Russia is our friend. Islam is religion of peace. American politicians left and right are full of wishful thinking. Thank you, Lee Harris, for trying to change that.

But seriously....Uranium enrichment
Two weeks ago Bush announced a global agreement to encourage Russia, the US, France, and Japan to sell low enriched uranium (LEU) to countries and, more importantly, to take back the nuclear waste.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/02/20060218.html

This is important as it means that there is a global market for suppliers of LEU to fuel power reactors and that that Russia can now bid on taking nuclear waste from other countries.

Re Iran, they can justify power reactors that use LEU if Russia will ensure that the spent fuel, now containing small amounts of reactor-grade plutonium, is returned to Russia. If subject to international verification and inspection, this would remove (at least) the cover story for Iranian nuclear development.

It also means that the US could outsource Yucca Mountain to Russia at a savings of tens of billions of dollars. Already, 10% of US electricity is fueled from Russian LEU that was once warheads and submarine cores.

I agree that Putin is playing a risky game with Iran, one that does not seem in Russia's best interests.

Russia--the end of history
The article was great! Putin, in his autobiography and other works, has made it clear that he thinks glasnost and the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a big mistake. He's been trying to rebuild the Russian Federation ever since.

His PhD thesis (University of Leningrad) espoused the theory that Russia's natural resources were crucial to its economic and political success; hence, Russia's "fueling" China, its control of the Caucuses' natural resources, and its failed attempt at controlling Ukrainian oil supplies.

To Putin, energy, including LEU, is power. Imagine what would happen to China and the US if Russia cut off China's energy supplies or doubled its prices for energy?



Energy--who benefits?
Finally, who IS really benefitting from the US and UK involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan? The Iraqis? The US? The UK? No, Russia--Russia reaps the most benefits from the US' and UK's efforts to weed out terrorists that also have been threatening Russian national security and its oil interests in the Caucuses.

Considering that Russia indirectly controls the Chinese and American economies by controlling China's energy sources and that Russia exerts considerable influence on India, Putin, in his chess game, is poising Russia to the ultimate checkmate for #1 superpower status.

slight revision to last posting
Finally, who IS really benefitting from the US and UK involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan? The Iraqis? The US? The UK? No, Russia--Russia reaps the most benefits from the US' and UK's efforts to weed out terrorists that also have been threatening Russia's national security and its oil interests in the Caucuses.

Considering that Russia indirectly controls the Chinese and American economies by controlling China's energy sources and that Russia exerts considerable influence on India, Putin, in his geopolitical chess game, is positioning Russia for the ultimate checkmate for #1 superpower status.

correction
Oops! Please substitute "Central Asia" for Caucasus.

RobinC

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