Promote Values, Not Personalities

February 21, 1994|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris.--The United States' and the Western powers' handling of the Sarajevo bombing ultimatum has reflected two fallacies in the Western approach to Russia and the ex-Communist world since 1989.

Those two fallacies might be called the Affective and the Omniscient. The first causes the West to identify its interests with individual Russian leaders, according to the latters' willingness to follow current Western ideas of how Russia should reform itself. This then leads the West to shape its policies on other matters -- such as how to deal with Serbia -- according to how affects the fortunes of those leaders.

In dealing with Yugoslavia, the Western governments have repeatedly been constrained in what they did by concern for what their action might do to Mr. Yeltsin's domestic political standing, possibly promoting his nationalist rivals and feeding pan-Slavic tendencies. The objective realities of the international situation in which Russia and the other ex-Communist countries find themselves, and of the international structure in which they have to construct their future, has been neglected.

The second fallacy is that of Western Omniscience. We believe we alone under stand world problems. The ideas currently in fashion in Western circles are presented as truths of general validity and application. Other countries not only should adopt them but will be constrained by reality to do so. Never mind that our ideas change from one decade to the next.

This fallacy unhappily provides the orienting principle of the Clinton administration's foreign policy, as this has been described by the administration's National Security Council director and by the State Department's policy spokespeople. They say that Western-style democracy and market economics are prevailing everywhere in the world because of their self-evident truth and efficacy; American policy need merely attach itself to this general trend in order to emerge as the triumphant sponsor of the values that have made this new world.

This is a kind of ersatz dialectical materialism, a naive and sentimental imitation of Marx's belief in the ''inevitable'' march of history toward universal communism. Events in Russia, and in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, have, of course, demonstrated no such inevitable movement toward liberal society.

Quite the contrary. The reform leaders of the ex-Communist world need a firm and civilized structure of international security in their region, one that rewards respect for peaceful and democratic standards of conduct and provides punishments for not observing those standards. That supposedly is what NATO was to offer Eastern Europe, together with the eastward extension of the European Community and other European institutions, and the incorporation of Russia into the economic as well as political institutions of international cooperation. But little of this has happened.

The leaders and people of the region need evidence that a structure of political values is at the foundation of the prosperity, and political and social success, of Western Europe, the United States and the other democracies, and that this structure is one to which they can attach themselves, to enjoy its benefits and its security.

They need to see democratic values firmly and predictably defended by the West. Only that can convince them not only that these are worthwhile values but that they will win out. Exactly the opposite has been demonstrated in the Yugoslav case.

They have to be persuaded that more is to be gained by joining this system than by an anarchical pursuit of national or ethnic advantage and individual national aggrandizement. Serbia's successful aggression has been teaching the latter lesson.

And Serbia's standard of conduct risks becoming the norm, not only for the countries of Eastern Europe and the ex-U.S.S.R., but even for some governments in, or on the fringes of, NATO and the European Union, who perceive the security and political gains of the past half-century being lost and the West's authority undermined by its acquiescence in aggression, and aggression's gains.

Order will be re-established today -- if it is re-established -- not by intervention in the internal political and reform processes of Russia and the other ex-Communist countries, or by personal persuasion or personal diplomacy, but by creating or strengthening international institutions that provide order, predictability, security and the defense of democratic values.

This is the only thing that can help now in Yugoslavia. It is what Russia needs, together with the other former member-nations of the U.S.S.R., and also Hungary, with its external minorities, and Romania and Slovakia, and Greece and Macedonia, and others. Unless a climate of international security and peaceful political conduct is re-established in eastern and southeastern Europe, things could become much worse than they are now. It is necessary for the United States and the European democracies to defend their own values. If they don't, they could lose them.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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