July 7th, 2022 AAAA
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International Visegrad Fund

Think Visegrad


Brzeziński, Zbygniew: The West Adrift - Vision in Search of a Strategy

The collapse of Soviet communism calls for both a compelling vision of the future and coolly defined strategic goals (...) A policy must define strategic priorities that are attainable even if short of the wholly desirable. Current Western policy is long on vision, rich on rhetoric, generous in gestures - but vague strategically. Specifically, it has not yet come to grips with two central realities: that in the foreseeable future, only three formerly communist countries - Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia - enjoy any likelihood of a successful transition to a market-based democracy; and that in Russia, the near-term issue is not the prospect for democracy but the very definition of what modern Russia ought to be - a national or an imperial state (...).

As of early 1992, Western aid commitments to the former Soviet Union were already in excess of $81.5 billion (with slightly over $3 billion for food and medical grants, over $8 billion for balance-of-payments support and close to $49 billion for export and other credits and guarantees (...) Aid to Central Europe has also been on an impressive scale - and somewhat more focused. Loans and grants by foreign governments and international institutions come to about $31 billion. Overall, more than $110 billion has been committed - an impressive sum by any measure. However, even in Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia, difficulties are likely to mount. Unemployment might well be in the range of 15 to 20 percent by the end of 1992, with the millions out on the street not enjoying the benefits of any safety nets. Both GNP and the standard of living are currently declining. The allure of democracy and faith in the free market - not to speak of trust in the West - is likely to wane. Even under the best circumstances, the per capita income gap between these countries and their immediate Western neighbours will remain shockingly wide for a long time to come. If one makes the optimistic assumption that Germany and Austria will grow at about 4 percent per year and the post-communist states at 6 percent, it would still take Czechoslovakia 34 years, Hungary 51 years and Poland 67 years to close the gap!
However, compared to the prospects further East, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia are in a relatively favoured situation. They already have operating democratic institutions, growing though still modest Western investments and gradually expanding private sectors. They identify with Western Europe and have some real reason to expect to be part of a larger European community within a decade (...)
The two central strategic priorities for Western policy should thus be to ensure that Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia consummate a successful, model transition to pluralist democracy and that Russia consolidates its status as a post-imperial democratic and European nation, especially by normalizing its relationship with Ukraine. A Central Europe that is increasingly linked to Western Europe would itself help to draw Russia into the European framework (...)
Pursuit of these goals will require innovations in Western policy: First, the West, including its financial institutions, must show greater sensitivity to the social problems of the ongoing transition in Central Europe. It is politically and morally unacceptable for the West to insist that post-communist countries deliberately accept prolonged, massive and painful unemployment. Yet that is in effect what both the IMF and foreign private investors are demanding as part of the privatization process. At a minimum, the West should help create some temporary safety nets for victims of the transition (...)
It is urgent to stimulate the declining economies of the region in a socially positive way. Right now, Central Europe needs some major, labour-intensive projects that provide both long-term economic benefits and short-term employment and growth (...)

The West needs to enhance the sense of security of the Central European countries. They feel themselves defenceless in the face of the growing crisis in the East. They fear massive migrations, not to speak of the possible spill-over of any violence that might erupt in the event of a total breakdown of the former Soviet Union. Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia should now be more formally included in binding security arrangements involving either NATO or the Western European Union. The existence of a security vacuum in this sensitive region is counterproductive for all parties (...)

Press Conference of Zbigniew Brzeziński, 2 April, 1995, American Center in Sofia, Bulgaria
As you all know, there is a great deal of expectation today that in the course of this decade and at the latest in the first half of the next decade the four Visegrad countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary - will become members of Europe and of NATO. You have to ask yourself why is that so, and the answer is because they, like Western Europe, are genuinely ready for stable, regional co-operation. Their membership in Europe does not mean importing into Europe ethnic conflicts. Their entrance into Europe means enlarging the scope of a stable Europe. And that in turns means that NATO is prepared to ensure the security of a larger Europe. But Europe will not come and NATO will not come to those parts of Europe which are dominated by ethnic conflicts.

Zbigniew Brzeziński
Political scientist. Served as United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). Currently counsellor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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