The Courage of Our Convictions
Vladimir Putin may not know it, but he is desperate. Russia is a country in long-term decline. The Russian population peaked in 1992, at 149 million, is now about 143 million, and is projected to drop to about 129 million by 2040. One of the more dire projections is that the Russian population will decline to 111 million by 2050. By contrast, Americans now number almost 318 million, projected to grow to 405 million by 2040, and 439 million by 2060.
Immigration to the U.S. is booming, and will continue booming for the foreseeable future. Practically no one moves to Russia.
Russian GDP ranks eighth in the world, between Brazil (#7) and Italy (#9). The U.S. ranks first, and will continue to rank first until China, with a population four times as big as ours, overtakes us in the 2020s.
Russian ranks a pathetic 130th in the world in life expectancy, at 67.68 years. The U.S., which fares poorly among industrial nations at #40, has an average life expectancy more than ten years longer.
We say we believe in democracy, civil liberties, personal freedoms, and free markets. We believe in these things because we believe that liberal capitalist democracy is the superior form of social and political organization. But we sometimes lack the courage of these convictions. The collapse of the Soviet Union took us by surprise – we somehow didn’t accept the logical conclusion of our beliefs: that authoritarian rule is doomed to fail. Similarly the Arab Spring took us by surprise – we somehow didn’t understand that Arabs, like all people, want personal freedoms and individual rights, and will overthrow governments that deny them those things.
Putin’s government is unmistakably authoritarian. Putin’s people lack individual rights enforceable against the state. Putin’s Russia is doomed to fail. QED.
American partisans are just now consumed with trivialities. Putin invaded the Crimea because President Obama does not project strength. Putin invaded the Crimea because President Obama’s foreign policy is “feckless.” Putin invaded the Crimea because the U.S. and Europe have no “leverage.” Obama should do such-and-such. Europe should do so-and-so.
In retrospect, the Cold War required only two things from us: that we remain true to our liberal, capitalist, democratic ideals, and that we avoid nuclear annihilation pending the Soviet collapse. The same is true today. All that is required to “win” this “war” is to remain true to our ideals, and to minimize death and destruction while we wait for Russian authoritarianism to collapse.
By all means, we should impose on Russia whatever sanctions we can. We should make a big show of support for Ukrainian democracy and self-determination. We should rally international opposition to Russian militarism. We should condemn Russian unilateralism. But we should do all of that with the clear understanding that it will not remove Russia from the Crimea, and it will not hasten the inevitable collapse of Putinism in Russia.
Our short-term goals should be modest. It is not failure if the Crimea separates from Ukraine, even if the Crimea re-unites with Russia. It is not failure if Ukraine is not brought into the European Union or NATO. It is not failure if Ukraine learns to balance deference to its Russian neighbor with its own democratic aspirations, as Finland did with remarkable dexterity for 50 years.
Now is time for patience, for a long view. Now is the time for the courage of our convictions.