Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

In Victory, Magnanimity

HISTORY has often witnessed unintended consequences; but few of these have been as delightful as the events set in train when Moscow's bumbling "Keystone Coup-makers" last month made their fateful decision to strike. The brave souls who turned aside the tank columns opened up entirely new vistas of opportunity for all 300 million people of Stalin's former empire.However, poverty, dislocation, and intense national sensitivities will be stalking the empire's lands for years to come, providing a fertile breeding ground for those of Stalin's heirs disappointed by the failure of the coup. The best analogy here is with the condition of Germany in 1945. Under Hitler, Germans had been encouraged to see themselves as leaders of his world order: "Deutschland uber Alles." But the allied victory left Germany in tatters. German men and women huddled in ruined cities, scrounging, begging, or humiliating themselves to feed their families. President Truman and his advisers recognized that continuing to punish a defeated Germany would serve no one's interests. That had been tried before, after World War I, and had only led to that earlier unintended consequence - the rise of Hitler. In 1945, Truman decided to treat the defeated Germans more generously: There was large-scale investment in German reconstruction, much tighter limitations on the reparations exacted for Germany's former victims, and an active policy of integrating Germany into the post-war world. The history of the past 45 years has shown that that policy, and the similar policy adopted toward Japan, were the right ones. How can we devise policies toward Stalin's former lands that will similarly prevent revanchism and turn the demonstrated capabilities of their peoples toward useful and peaceful enterprise? At first glance, the instruments available to Washington in 1991 seem far less effective than those at Truman's disposal in 1945. In the years after 1945, the American economy produced about half of the world's GNP. The promise of American investment, and of access to the American market, provided powerful incentives for the reemergence of German and Japanese industries. Meantime, the victorious occupation forces remade Germany and Japan, imposing a robust democratic order on both countries. In the former Soviet lands, the United States does not have an occupation presence. Nor do we have the kind of economic strength that would enable Washington, single-handedly, to provide incentives to the former Soviet peoples. Nor, in most Soviet lands, are there suppressed classes of industrialists who would be our natural allies in the effort to restructure. But the need to succeed in the real restructuring of Russia and its former vassal states is every bit as urgent as the need to remake Germany and Japan in 1945. The fact that Russia has not been defeated and occupied in a war, and retains nearly 30,000 nuclear warheads, makes that task at once more necessary and more difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. We have a global political balance that is uniquely favorable to our endeavor. When Truman was remaking Germany, he also had to look over his shoulder at the developing global challenge from Moscow. But in the 1990s, as Washington engages in the effort to remake the former Soviet lands, the other major world powers will be putting their economic and political shoulders to the same wheel. That help from allies will be the key to the success. They share our view that combatting Soviet revanchism is in everyone's interest. We have, in the United Nations and the Helsinki process in Europe, proven international mechanisms that can help coordinate our effort. As we remake the Soviet lands, we will be remaking and strengthening those organs of international cooperation. With the collapse of Stalin's empire, we have an opportunity to build a stable, democratic order for much of the world. With that now a possible goal, is there anyone left who thinks we should not make the effort?

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.