Anne Applebaum, a Russian expert, recently wrote a piece in The Atlantic entitled, “There Is No Liberal World Order.” She laments: “There is no natural liberal world order, and there are no rules without someone to enforce them.”
But who? Who is going to not only make the rules, “the liberal world order,” and who is going to “enforce” them? Sadly, Applebaum doesn’t answer these questions.
However, Applebaum hints at answers to the questions. She argues:
Because of Europe’s metamorphosis—and especially because of the extraordinary transformation of Germany from a Nazi dictatorship into the engine of the continent’s integration and prosperity—Europeans and Americans alike believed that they had created a set of rules that would preserve peace not only on their own continents, but eventually in the whole world.
Then she notes:
This liberal world order relied on the mantra of “Never again.” Never again would there be genocide. Never again would large nations erase smaller nations from the map. Never again would we be taken in by dictators who used the language of mass murder.
She concludes, warning: “Precisely because there is no liberal world order, no norms and no rules, we must fight ferociously for the values and the hopes of liberalism if we want our open societies to continue to exist.”
Reading Applebaum’s article one must shout: Open your eyes!
For all Applebaum’s well-intentioned discussion, she ignores how “ferociously” the U.S. has fought since WW-II to maintain the global hegemony she identifies as liberalism. Yes, the U.S. is a very dynamic nation with, for many, unprecedented freedom to do almost anything they want – and with the largest military (and military-industrial complex) in the world. Her celebrated “Never again” mantra is the social lubricant of decades of foreign intervention – from Vietnam to Afghanistan and everywhere in between.
Applebaum claims that at the core of the belief in “Never again” is a very simple, if profound, belief: “Wealth would bring liberalism. Capitalism would bring democracy—and democracy would bring peace.”
This belief, if not reality, defined U.S. and Europe social life for decades. People once believed in the “American Dream.” And for decades, it worked. The lives of most people in the advanced capitalist countries got materially better – be it measured in life span, medical care, income, home ownership and even sexual life. Greater political and social attention was focused on issues relating to social equality, be they involve race, gender or wealth.
However, that era of “relative” equality has been eclipsed by a new order of “inequality,” of Robber Barron capitalism reliving the Gilded Age. A century ago, the Gilded Age was an era of the celebrated grand bourgeoisie but also marked by widespread poverty, racist violence and women launching first-wave feminism. We appear to be a swimming in an unstable era marked by not only a global pandemic, but the ever-growing rise environmental concerns, increased forced migration, widespread malnutrition (especially among the very young) and neo-colonial warfare fought with postmodern techno-madness.
Applebaum, The Atlantic’s long-time writer about Russia, offers an informed overview of how the former Soviet Union was transformed into the newly constituted Russia of old, with Vladimir Putin becoming the new tzar. She informs readers:
The leaders of Russia, owners of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, were reconstructing an army and a propaganda machine designed to facilitate mass murder, as well as a mafia state controlled by a tiny number of men and bearing no resemblance to Western capitalism.
And she reminds her readers that the “for 30 years, Western oil and gas companies piled into Russia, partnering with Russian oligarchs who had openly stolen the assets they controlled. Western financial institutions did lucrative business in Russia too …”
She tells her readers that “neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush made much attempt to arm or reinforce the new NATO members. Only in 2014 did the Obama administration finally place a small number of American troops in the region, largely in an effort to reassure allies after the first Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Applebaum fails to acknowledge the role the U.S. played through NATO as its cat’s paw in seeding the current geo-political showdown. The historian Mary Sarotte, author of Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate, reported on NPR:
Over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, NATO expanded three times: first to add the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland; then seven more countries even farther east, including the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; and finally with Albania and Croatia in 2009.
Does expansion equal encroachment? And does encroachment mean conquest? These are the historical questions being played out in the Ukraine war.
Applebaum’s analysis doesn’t place Russia’s current war in a long-term historical context, nor does she consider Putin in terms of what might best be called the Russian “character” or “spirit.” She presents Putin on face value, with little or no reference to the history his personality and title embody. A reading of Vasily Grossman’s insightful novel, Everything Flows, is in order.
Applebaum makes a strong, convincing case that “Russia is not the only nation in the world that covets its neighbors’ territory, that seeks to destroy entire populations, that has no qualms about the use of mass violence.” She warns about the treats posed by North Korea, China, Belarus, Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua, Hungary and “potentially others.” She warns, “they understand that the language of democracy, anti-corruption, and justice is dangerous to their form of autocratic power—and they know that that language originates in the democratic world, our world.”
Applebaum divides the world between “democracies” and “tyrannies,” thus ignoring the great economic restructuring that’s reordered the global order over the last quarter-century. U.S. hegemony – economic, military and diplomatic — is in crisis, it’s might faltering. And with a destabilized world order, almost anything is possible.
Most troublesome, the same vehicle that Russia is employing in its attempt to take over Ukraine is the same entity Applebaum believes the West/U.S. should use to “enforce” what she calls “the liberal world order” – an all-powerful State.
To her credit, Applebaum knows how fragile the “democratic” State is, especially in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency and the January 6th failed attempted coup. But are “the language of democracy, anti-corruption, and justice” sufficient? Perhaps it’s time to think outside the formal, established “box” of social order and restructure the structure of ever-centralizing power of both the State and the oligarchs to safeguard the future of democracy in the U.S., Europe and the rest of the world.