March 1, 2019

Dark Clouds Over Estonia

Every book by Robert Kagan is worth celebrating.

His On Paradise and Power, published in 2003 on the eve of the Second Gulf War, has gained its place among the literary treasures concerning foreign policy thanks to the expression “Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus”. The Jungle Grows Back, published last year, is a logical follow-up to his two previous works: The Return of History and the End of Dreams and The World America Made. History repeats itself, Americans are too tired of maintaining the world order they themselves created and it will collapse, dreams will fade, and a jungle will take over our beautiful gardens.

Robert Kagan, The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World. Knopf, 2018. 192 pp.

Kagan has been called a neo-con, or neoconservative. He hates this title and prefers to be described as a liberal interventionist. He was a member of the Republican Party for decades but left in 2016 in protest at the rise of Donald Trump. His argumentation against Trump was summarised well in his article for the Washington Post from May 2016, “This is how fascism comes to America”.1 In the piece, he wrote: “This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes, but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac …”

Kagan’s “jungle book” talks about how the world order that has brought unprecedented economic well-being and peace to the world for the past seven decades is not a thing in itself, has not emerged by itself and is not everlasting. It is not the result of decades and centuries of evolution. On the contrary: it is a collection of exceptional coincidences in the second half of the 1940s and the result of a determined and consistent effort by the US then and over the following two generations. The cornerstones of this world order are the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, free trade agreements and the World Trade Organization, European integration (which led to the establishment of the European Union) and US military alliances (the most important for us being NATO, established nearly 70 years ago on 4 April 1949) as a result of the Bretton Woods conference. However, this currently crumbling world order is mainly based on the capabilities and readiness of the hegemon—the US—to support the world order—with the help of weapons, if necessary.

Maintaining a garden requires daily work by the diligent gardener: weeds have to be pulled out, plants must be watered in the dry season and staked if necessary. If the gardener gets tired or no longer cares, the weeds will grow back. The beautiful garden will be overgrown with weeds and the plants will be stunted or disappear. Estonia is one of those plants that will not last long in the wild jungle. The Baltic states are also mentioned in the book—as an example of countries that will be the first to lose their independence as soon as the current world order is no more.

One of the effects of those 70 good years is the peace in Europe. This is, of course, relative: the war is still going on in Ukraine and the Western Balkans were caught up in very bloody conflicts during the 1990s. But the great powers of Europe—Germany, France and the UK—are allies and friends. Even though Russia would be happy to divide Poland once again, Warsaw is certain that Germany is on its side and not a divider. The achievements of the biggest peace project in the history of the world—the European Union—are incredible. There have been several attempts to unify the continent through war. Now the unification has been a success—without war or violence. A crumbling world order will also undermine the EU. Should the US stop protecting Europe, the face of the whole continent will change. Kagan draws an ugly picture: wars will break out once again between current friends and allies, the way they always have with the exception of these 70 years. If we consider the scope of human history, autocracy in its various forms is a typical regime. The fact that small countries are able to shape their own future and are protected by international law and alliances is an exception, not the rule.

It is worth spicing up Kagan’s jungle book with his article published two years ago in Foreign Policy: “Backing Into World War III”. The strapline is “America must check the assertive, rising powers of Russia and China before it’s too late. Accepting spheres of influence is a recipe for disaster”.2 The article is summarised so well in the title and strapline that I will not try to improve on that.

A repeating chorus of Estonian foreign policy is that the world order based on values and international rule of law complies with Estonia’s interests. We constantly talk about this world order, created two generations ago but which Estonia has unfortunately only been able to enjoy for the last 25 years. Looking at what is happening in the world right now, I would like to add to the chorus: having a world order based on values and international law and upholding it among the states who share those values is in Estonia’s interests. We need to maintain order with the help of weapons if necessary.

In some ways, “jungle” is a misleading metaphor for Nordic people. Climatically, the warning “Winter is coming” from the TV show Game of Thrones would be more appropriate—not just a season, but an ice age that lasts for at least a generation. The peoples ruled by the Stark family living right next to the wall that separates good from evil feel and know the coming winter a lot better than the lands in the south—long before the wall comes down.

If you are worried about Estonia’s security, this book is perfect for you. If you aren’t worried yet, you will be after reading it.





This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.

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