Conversations (2)

Twenty years ago Montenegro broke away from the alliance with Milosevic's Serbia when the eternal PM Djukanovic recognized that Belgrade's Machiavellian use of ethnic nationalism and anti-Westernism had taken both countries on a self-destructive course. He shifted Montenegrin policy towards Euro-Atlantic integration and towards independence from Serbia.

For Podgorica, NATO membership is part of that policy choice.
For the EU and the US, NATO membership has been and remains part of this Euro-Atlantic integration as the only viable instrument at hand to support sustainable democratic and economic transformation in Montenegro, as in the rest of the Western Balkans. To put an end to almost three decades of regional instability that poses an imminent security threat to the EU and to wider Europe.

With the recent intensification of Russian activities in the region, of which its alleged lead role in the failed October '16 Montenegro coup is just the most prominent example, keeping Russia out of the Western Balkans has become the second primary reason for the West to support NATO membership. Because Moscow's approach - exploiting Western weakness, playing the spoiler to enhance its own international influence - represents a destabilizing factor for the Western Balkans and for the EU.

Dear Jeffrey,

I share your concerns that the West and Russia have been set on a dangerous collision course, already in Georgia, but much more so since the Russian annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s insurgent war in Eastern Ukraine. But I seriously doubt that any kind of detente approach aimed at striking a deal with Putin through US-Russian dialogue can be successful. Not because there is no need for dialogue with Russia – though such proposals seem often to pretend there had been no dialogue with Russia, which is simply not true. But the core question to me is what constitutes the basis for a dialogue, and what the aim. Here, it seems to be no coincidence that you refer to two key figures of US cold war policy – Kissinger and Brzezinski. In Germany, similar positions mostly come from Social Democrats who are nostalgic about the good old interwar times, who try to recycle the only original foreign and security policy Western Germany had during the cold war – the Ostpolitik. The problem is history doesn’t repeat itself. Russia isn’t the same as was the Soviet Union, nor the same as Soviet Russia, but a “regional power” - with nuclear arms. Nor is Russia’s near abroad the same any more. Neither is the West, are the US and the EU where they once were. In addition, such policy positions also seem to tend to take official Moscow ideology at face value.

What to me makes the current conflict between Russia and the West so dangerous is that it’s a clash between two sides being in crisis. Putin’s Russia is in crisis as a result of the self-destructive nature of its economic model. And in the West, we have a double crisis on both ends of the Atlantic. Both the US and the EU since the Iraq invasion and the Euro crisis have lost policy orientation and self-assurance in their value system when it comes to the global role of the West. The current Trump administration in a way concludes this development that ran from the Bush to the Obama administration – in its empty talk of US strength, its inconclusive, contradictory policy fragments and its isolationist, Jacksonian undercurrent. Mirrored in the absence of any meaningful joint European foreign and security policy.

This opens a vast space for all kinds of very dangerous political miscalculations and political sleepwalking as we have seen on both Russian and EU-US side in Ukraine. But neither a détente nor a containment approach to Russia will manage to de-conflict the relationship with Moscow under the existing circumstances. Any meaningful dialogue with Putin must be based on a position of strength. But for this, both the US and the EU need to (re-)define their global role based on re-assuring themselves in upholding the liberal democratic values on which they once built the international liberal order. But even under such a scenario, any arrangement on NATO perspective of Ukraine (and to a lesser extent Georgia) won’t solve the conflict. Because the real threat to Putin is not any hypothetical NATO membership of neighboring Ukraine. The real threat to him is that the majority of Ukrainian citizens in 2014 opted for democracy and European integration.

Trying to appease Moscow from the current position of Western weakness won’t function and is dangerous for global peace and security. Because it would invite Russia to believe and act as if it’s more than a “regional power” with nuclear arms. That’s what one can learn from the Western Balkans, where Russia has no genuine interest and would have no real leverage had it not been for the EU’s constant policy weakness over the last decade. This weakness prevented the Union from consistently using its huge leverage in the region and get the unfinished post-Balkan wars business finished, instead creating new openings for Russian spoiling.

Making sense of the world through Bronze-Age myths unsubstantiated by evidence of any sort does not seem to me to be a reasonable (let alone admirable) way of making sense of the world.  Especially not now, with science having dispelled so many of the mysteries that gave rise to such myths in the first place.

But to each his or her own, as long as no one forces such beliefs on the rest of us.  Justice Scalia has the authority to do so.  He was, after all, the starting point of our talk, and he believes in the Devil.  And as I said, he has given us plenty of reason to think he cannot adjudicate fairly or impartially, without influence from his religious beliefs.

Thanks, Zach, for the chance to debate these issues with you.

All best wishes,


Jeffrey thanks for coming on Above the Law to discuss your piece.  

For those who haven't read your full post, how would you describe and summarize your position on Scalia, both the reasoning you lay out and your specific call to action?