LAST spring, in the middle of Russia's wrenching price-reform experiment when it wasn't clear the West or the White House would aid Russia and Boris Yeltsin, critics spoke of "losing the peace" won at the cold war's end. These words, and the prospect of chaos in Moscow, caused fear in the West, and an aid package was forthcoming.
Yet "losing the peace" is still possible. The political dynamics of the East are not shifting cleanly from Marxism to democracy. Tribalism and ethnic blood feuds are working their way into the East's mindscape - even against the desires of many local leaders. Witness the riptides facing former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, now head of Georgia's provisional government, who is dealing with two fierce secessionist movements in what is already a small state.
Ethnic strife in Yugoslavia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan is only the beginning of a larger crisis of government, law, politics, and territory. A recently leaked Russian General Staff military doctrine brings this home. The policy states it is a "task" of the Russian Army to intervene on behalf of ethnic Russians elsewhere, in "the defense of the rights and interests of citizens living abroad and of persons close to them linguistically and culturally, particularly of the former republics of the USSR." Mr. Yel tsin hasn't renounced the doctrine, showing the power of the hardline generals. Russian minorities exist in most former Soviet republics. Russian troops have not yet left the Baltics. The Russian 14th Army is fighting in Moldova. A Yugoslavia scenario must not be allowed to play out there.
The West must rethink its post-cold war strategy, or lack of strategy. The White House's studied non-involvement misreads a potential larger loss of the peace in the former East-bloc and environs. The US must lead in developing powerful coalitions in the United Nations and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, that present democratic methods and demands to new states, particularly in the area of minority rights. To not do so will betray the West's own better sense of law, justice, love o f peace, and ideals.