November 01, 2011

Volcanoes and Empires

The USSR’s abrupt termination on December 25, 1991, was the most significant international event of the last half of the twentieth century. Not only was a huge empire dissolved with the stroke of a pen, the entire world order – which for 50 years had been focused on the bipolar competition of ideology, economics and military might – was turned upside down.

Yes, there were tortuous, painful and deadly repercussions to follow, from Armenia to Estonia, from Georgia to Central Asia (to say nothing of Yugoslavia and Afghanistan), but given the magnitude of this global shift, we can count our blessings that far more destructive forces were not unleashed, willingly or otherwise.

And yet, for all the changes we have seen over the past two decades, for all the summits, reset buttons, elections and reforms, it is surprising how little has changed. Russia has yet to achieve a truly democratic parliament (or presidency), an independent judiciary, a healthy free press, nor a robust, mixed economy. And U.S.-Russian relations, while vastly improved, still have far to go. There is still Jackson-Vanik, an ABM treaty gone AWOL, restrictive travel and work visa systems, and a fretful unwillingness to take a united stand for free and open societies (witness recent loggerheads in Syria, Iran and Libya, for instance).

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