February 17, 2011

Summary

February 6 marked the 100th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s birth. This issue of Diplomaatia pays homage to the memory of a man who played a significant role in the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago and who was more widely appreciated and respected in the so-called New Europe than at home or in the West in general.

February 6 marked the 100th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s birth. This issue of Diplomaatia pays homage to the memory of a man who played a significant role in the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago and who was more widely appreciated and respected in the so-called New Europe than at home or in the West in general.

Summary

February 6 marked the 100th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s birth. This issue of Diplomaatia pays homage to the memory of a man who played a significant role in the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago and who was more widely appreciated and respected in the so-called New Europe than at home or in the West in general.
The uncompromising ideological debates during the final years of the Cold War and the developments that followed provoke questions about the relevance of idealism and realism, values and pragmatism in the foreign policy debates of our time. In addition to reflections on Reagan’s legacy and more abstract discussions on the meaning of idealism today, this issue contains an update on Finland, indicating that even this pragmatic neighbour of Estonia is all but strictly consensual about these issues.
In the opening essay, Mart Laar, a Member of the Estonian Parliament, discusses the legacy of Ronald Reagan as President of the USA and – according to many Russian democrats – the ‘real father’ of Soviet perestroika. Laar reminds us that Reagan won the presidency against many odds and that his views were not self-evidently representative of the Western world, as relatively pro-Soviet attitudes were not rare in the West in the mid-1980s. Laar pictures Reagan as an uncompromising politician who would not listen even to his own advisers when they tried to caution him to leave the now classic call “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” out of his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 1987.
Marko Mihkelson, also an Estonian MP, describes Reagan’s role as an accelerator of the collapse of the Soviet Union in more specific terms, analysing the military and economic developments of the time. Mihkelson offers a detailed overview of the means Reagan consciously used to weaken the Soviet economy both by implementing strictly economic strategies and through a build-up in the arms race. He also revisits the ideological side of the Cold War.
An international lawyer Robert Amsterdam talks about his work as a defender of victims of political repression in many places from Russia to Thailand. Faced with the question whether protecting human rights through law is a form of political advocacy and with the critique directed against the promotion of ‘Western values’ in the world, Amsterdam insists that human rights and the rule of law are universal values and that cultural arguments used to justify human rights violations are often a cover for the economic interests of the oppressors.
György Schöpflin, a Member of the European Parliament, offers a critical analysis of geopolitical – or geostrategic – thinking both at a general theoretical-philosophical level and through an analysis of John Cassidy’s, George Friedman’s and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s recent books, which represent this strain of thought. Although there has been much talk lately about the return of geopolitics and the end of the post-1991 idealism, Schöpflin argues that geopolitical thinking is based on an overtly simplified worldview and as such it fails to take into account the unpredictable human factors that do play a role in the real world.
The pragmatic foreign policy of our northern neighbour Finland has often been contrasted with Estonia’s more value-oriented approach to foreign policy. However, there is no full consensus within Finland on the uncontested prudence of its choices. In this issue, a Finnish veteran foreign policy columnist Olli Kivinen analyses the recent NATO debate in the country, or rather, the lack of it. Kivinen argues that some important facts are ignored in this public debate and that Finland’s ‘special relationship’ with Russia has not delivered the results that its proponents have hoped for.
Finally, there is a review by Erkki Bahovski of a new pamphlet by a Finnish historian Arto Luukkanen, titled somewhat provocatively Finland in Russia’s Pocket (Suomi Venäjän taskussa), and an essay by Luukkanen, in which he introduces the main themes and arguments of his book to the Estonian reader. The pamphlet boldly opens up discussions on Finnish-Russian relations, indicating that in spite of the well-known prevalence of the pragmatic approach in Finland’s foreign policy, a lively internal debate has been initiated about the country’s place on the mental and geopolitical map of today’s Europe.

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