Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ukraine and the Cost of National Dependency

Dependency results in loss of control and abdication of responsibility.  Dependency occurs at the national as well as the individual level.  Ukraine has been in the throes of dependency for decades.  As a state Ukraine has failed to obtain any sufficient economic and financial independence.  Today this dependence is resulting in a possibly catastrophic threat to their newfound sovereignty.  As long as the economy was held afloat by the “goodwill” of outsiders, primarily Russia, Ukrainians felt no overwhelming sense of urgency to make meaningful changes to their government. 

This dependency on Russia naturally put Ukraine in a position of weakness.  Russia has maintained the upper hand in its relationship with Ukraine by providing energy resources at a discounted rate, postponing the payment of debt, and other forms of aid.  All of this help from Russia has done little to make the Ukrainian economy stable or the government solvent.  

It is interesting to note that Russia was stuck briefly in this same cycle of dependency following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Accepting the consequences of a large-scale default on national debt and massive currency devaluation in 1998, Russia began to reassert its financial and political independence.  Today Russia is largely independent financially from the West.

Without a strong government committed to the rule of law, Ukraine has had little chance to gain economic, financial, and political independence.  Extended dependence on Russia, as well as other historical and cultural factors, has created a deep-seated sense of disdain for the relationship.  Ukrainians have tired of what is perceived as overbearing Russian influence. Ukrainian citizens, fearing a fall back into the full grasp of Russia, desire and are pushing for a closer relationship with Europe.  The hope was that the EU could pull Ukraine out of the muck and help form it into a true liberal democracy with a market economy.

The changes required by any type of meaningful relationship with the EU, however, will require significant changes—changes that, if carried out, will prove painful and perhaps unacceptable to many in Ukraine.

A meaningful relationship with the European Union will mean significant changes for the Ukrainian state—changes that will prove painful and perhaps unacceptable to some.  The EU will require the institution of the rule of law to a degree that many elected and other government officials in Ukraine, those who rely on institutionalized corruption and fixed elections in order to enrich themselves and their families, may balk at giving up the perks of office.  It is likely that this is one reason that Yanukovych was unwilling to go through with an agreement with the EU.  Russia would have allowed, even encouraged, continued corruption and controlled elections.

Conceivably more onerous would be the requirement for Ukraine to get its fiscal and economic house in order.  Requirements by the EU would include austerity measures—measures likely to create pain and suffering for a significant portion of the population as government welfare programs are reduced and brought into control.  Financial aid from Russia would allow the status quo to continue—an economy and government propped up in exchange for a degree of control and influence.

Today Ukraine is in no condition to be independent.  Whether it’s Russia or the West, Ukraine must rely on someone else to help them economically and financially.  This dependence requires that they turn some degree of their sovereignty over to others.  That is the nature of dependence.  Those giving the necessary support do so with some expectation that their wishes will be met.  Failure to meet their expectations may result in a withdrawal of the necessary aid.

The question isn’t what dependence on Russia means for Ukraine.  Rather, the question is: what will dependence on the EU and the US mean for Ukraine?  Initially, this dependence will be painful for the powerful and the not so powerful.  It will require a firm commitment.    Will the Ukrainians be able to bear the perceived hubris of the EU and the US?  Will the pain and sorrow be worth the ultimate goal of rule of law, free and open elections, and a working market economy? 

Russia will seek to keep Ukraine as dependent as possible.  The US and the EU will push Ukraine to seek greater independence and greater responsibility for their own welfare—but still within the limits of their association agreements.

Honestly, at this point, it is unlikely that the majority of Ukrainians who are pro-Europe understand the costs of aligning themselves with the EU.  Long term it is most assuredly a better option than remaining completely under the Russian umbrella, but once headed down that road it might not seem so welcoming.  Moving forward Ukrainians should come to realize and accept a close relationship with Russia.  There are shared interests, shared history, and shared opportunities that can be used to the advantage of both nations.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thoughts on Bundy Ranch: The Errors of Both Parties

Events in southeastern Nevada have shown how wrong both sides can be in a disagreement. 

First we are a county of law and order.  The rule of law allows us to get along as a civilized society.  For the greater good, laws should be enforced and followed.  At the same time, however, laws should reflect as best as possible the will of the people and protect the interest of the people.

Federal control of large areas of territory within sovereign states has the potential to cause a number of problems.  Laws and administration of the land is not based primarily on the desires or interests of the local population.  Think back to the British administration of the American colonies.  Laws and policies formulated by those seemingly a world away naturally generated dissatisfaction and resentment among the colonists.

We are seeing this play out on the Bundy Ranch today.  Cliven Bundy, his family, and his supporters resent the intrusion of the federal government into the cattle business.  For more than a century cattle ranchers managed to prosper in the area without the federal government.  With the transition to federal control of the property and the introduction of increasingly onerous regulations, the cattle industry in the area has vanished.

Without any proof at hand, my guess is that most local citizens, if not most Nevadans, would support the interests of the Bundy family and other cattle ranchers.

Second, the Bundy family has handled the situation poorly in terms of threats they’ve made against the federal government.  In the face of such threats federal authorities have little choice but to take it seriously.  Whether or not the laws are wise or the move to confiscate cattle well considered, once they made the decision to move in they were forced to move in with force sufficient to protect their agents and their contractors.

Moving forward, the citizens in the West and elsewhere should take note of federal laws and actions, particularly as it touches the administration of federal lands.  While there are some rational reasons for the federal government to have control of some pieces of territory in individual states, control of broad swaths of land will not protect the interest of the local population.  Rather it has the potential to generate significant resentment through the loss of local control.

Significant legal steps should be taken to remedy the situation insofar as it is possible.  Federal control of lands in the West should be reduced to those areas that directly impact the role of the federal government such as national security.  Control of land just for the sake of controlling it and protecting it should not fall to the federal government.  Creation of federally protected areas and any future national parks should be subject to the approval of the local state through a statewide referendum.

The current situation on the Bundy Ranch is unnecessary.  While legal in the technical sense, perhaps, it represents a significant overreach of federal authority as originally envisioned by the U.S. Constitution and Founding Fathers.  Federal authorities and members of U.S. Congress should rethink their entire role in the area.  The federal government should be required to make a case to the people of Nevada to justify federal control of those lands.

The Bundy family should back down their rhetoric and stop any and all threats.  Civil disobedience may help to bring the level of attention necessary to make real changes in the current situation.  It may, however, be too late for the Bundy Ranch.—another casualty of an overreaching federal government.  Rather than blame the federal government, the people of Nevada and the United States should blame themselves for allowing the servant to take control of the master.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ukraine: The Delayed Civil War?

As the Soviet Union collapsed in the early nineties, the world held their breath, waiting for the bloody civil wars that seemed sure to occur.  It seemed inconceivable that the Soviet/Russian Empire would collapse without a struggle.  The expectation was that Russia would be unwilling to let certain pieces go.  Stalin and successive Soviet leaders had made the possibility of peaceful dissolution difficult by planting ethnic Russians through out the Soviet Union.

Lviv, Ukraine

For the most part, however, the transition away from the Soviet Union and communism was not bloody.  This relatively smooth transition was made possible in large part to two factors:

-       Russia’s new leaders were too focused on obtaining and maintaining power at home in the face of economic and political crises

-       The new leaders in the former Soviet republics were the old leaders who had thrown off the worn and torn cloak of communism and donned the bright new coat of capitalism and democracy.

Outside of the Baltic states, the majority of former Soviet republics have struggled with implementing the rule of law, democracy, and a truly fair market system. 

Ukraine was of particular concern as the Soviet Union collapses.  The battle for national identity, separate from that of the Russians, is a long existing debate with many on both sides of the borders split in their opinions.  The problems of national identity in Ukraine are exacerbated by history, geography, ethnicity, politics, and ideology.

Ukrainians and Russians share origins.  The Kievan Rus’ state was dismantled and fragmented by the invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century.  Political and ethnic histories diverged between the Ukrainians and Russians from that point, but remained closely linked based through the eventual expansion of the Russian Empire. 

For a brief period following World War I and the fall of the Romanov Empire, an independent and sovereign Ukraine existed.  Ukraine with its present boundaries became part of the Soviet Union.  Stalin’s industrial, agricultural, and ethnic policies wreaked havoc upon the Ukrainian people.  During the early 1930s a combination of state decisions and natural factors created a famine, known as the Holodomor.  Somewhere between three million to twelve million Ukrainian peasants were killed as a result.

During World War II, Ukrainian loyalties were split.  Some Ukrainians viewed the Nazis as liberators from the Soviet Union.  They failed to understand Hitler’s goal to obtain and use the resources of Ukraine while gaining additional living room for ethnic Germans. 

Following World War II some partisan groups, particularly in western Ukraine, continued to fight against Soviet forces.  It is important to note that some Ukrainian national groups joined the Nazis in committing atrocities and acts of genocide against ethnic Poles and others.  Ukrainians were no longer perceived as trustworthy by Stalin.  The Ukrainian Liberation Army and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army had fought alongside the Nazis.  Also, they had been under foreign occupation which automatically made them suspect in the eyes of Stalin.  Forced deportation of tens of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians occurred with the intent of weakening nationalist sentiments and establishing the authority of the Soviet Union.  Stalin also sent ethnic Russians into Ukraine to live and help in administering the government and industry.

Following the death of Stalin, Nikita Krushchev sought to bring about better relations between Russians and Ukrainians.  He went so far as to give the territory of Crimea, traditionally seen as a Russian possession, to the Ukrainian Republic.

Since early in their history, there has existed a natural divide between the Ukrainian people.  The split generally occurs along the length of the Dniper River.  Those in western Ukraine have had multi-ethnic experience, belonging to multiple states.  Ukrainians in the east have identified more closely with their Russian cousins.  This relationship in the east is made easier by the presence of a greater density of ethnic Russians.

Lykhachevo Cemetery - Lviv, Ukraine

Returning to the collapse of the Soviet Union—it seemed unlikely that Russia would simply let Ukraine go without a struggle.  Defying expectations, Russia did let it go.  Successive leaders in Ukraine have sought to maintain sovereignty while balancing the national security needs and historical expectations of Russia.  Over the past twenty-five plus years, a strong undercurrent of competing interests between the two states has shaped policy and attitudes. 

Russia, recovering from it’s near complete collapses in 1991 and again in 1998 is seeking actively to regain its footing.  Using energy pricing and supplies as well as other forms of financial aid, Russia has sought to increase its influence in Ukraine.  These efforts suffered a steep setback with the Orange Revolution in 1994.  At the time, however, Russia was unable to do anything meaningful to bring about immediate change.  The failure of Ukraine’s duly elected leaders, Yushchencko and Timoshenko, to bring about real improvements in the rule of law, to avoid corruption, and to set the economy on stable footing, resulted in the election of a politician with closer ties to Russia.

All of the concerns and causes of disagreement and disaffection between Russians and Ukrainians and between western Ukrainians and eastern Ukrainians, long kept under wraps, has bubbled to the surface.  With the Russian annexation of Crimea and calls for referendums in eastern Ukrainian cities, the civil war that originally was avoided, may occur in the coming weeks and months.

If Russia truly plans to seize more of Ukraine, it will lead to civil war.  Russia may even view the outbreak of civil war in its favor, giving it a reason to send in their military to consolidate control of eastern Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians.  Once eastern Ukraine is secure, Russia may justify moving into western Ukraine to protect itself from the spread of violence and unrest.

The new government in Ukraine seems ill equipped to handle the current situation.  They are, however, treading very carefully.  Few options to stop Russia remain.  There is little NATO, the EU, the US, or Ukraine can do to stop Russia if they decide to annex part or all of Ukraine.

At this point it appears that Russia is preparing to do just that.  The only other option is that they are putting the threat of further annexation on the table in order to gain greater concessions from the Ukrainian people and the West.  Any concessions they gain, however, will be obtained while they have their boot on the Ukrainian throat with the knowledge that the country is theirs for the taking, at least for the foreseeable future.

Please see my other posts about events in Ukraine:

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Marvelous Work: A New Blog Venture

I am transitioning to using multiple blogs for my different topics and themes.  As the first step, I'd like to introduce my new blog titled:

A Marvelous Work

This will focus on gospel topics and be a bit more personal in nature.  Please feel free to follow this blog and share your thoughts in the comments.

Here is the first post for the new blog:

The Love of the Father and the Son: April Conference 2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Imperial Lessons: Russian and British Experiences

Russia, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, underwent a complex transition as a nation.  As the inheritor of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union was one of the last great empires to fall.  Other nations have been forced to deal with the loss of empires, empires that largely defined those nations—the British Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, and others.  Each of those has gone from positions of dominance across the globe to regional powers at best.

Under the dynamic and forceful leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia is struggling with the concept of lost empire and influence.  The Russian/Soviet Empire was able to hold on for a bit longer than the others for some reason, even expanding when most were collapsing or had collapsed.   Perhaps the reason why it lasted so long, and the reason why it has been so difficult to let go, is because the empire was located in the near abroad rather than being strung out across the globe. 

Empires may be considered worth maintaining for a number of reasons.  Two of the most important are national and economic security.  Over the past few centuries, however, Russia missed out on the most important developments and lessons associated with an empire.  These developments directly impact national and economic security.

The impact of an imperial past, when comparing Russia to the Great Britain, is largely affected by geography.  Great Britain is an island nation with limited natural resources.  Development and control of natural resources for the purpose of trade and national defense was a necessity.  Since these resources could not be developed to a sufficient degree at home, they did it abroad.  The pursuit of wealth and security created the largest economic empire in the world.  Within the global and complex British Empire, capitalism and a market economy developed and eventually flourished.  As colonists and subjects enriched the empire they demanded and received greater political participation.  British political society, liberal democracy, is the result. 

Russia is a vast landmass with substantial natural resources.  It grew primarily in response to external threats.  Each piece was added to enhance national security.  While natural resources were harvested, utilized, and traded from vassal states and subjects, economic development was a secondary concern.  The command economy of the Soviet Union, while different in its focus on technological advancement as compared to that of the Russian Empire, was not an unfamiliar model to many Russians.  Economic and political power was the concentrated in the hands of a very few.  In response to internal and external threats, Russian political society was harsh and centrally controlled.  The general populace was not encouraged to participate in the economic or political system beyond the basic expectations that they work and comply with the will of the authorities.

Capitalism demanded the development of codified rules and expectations.  Law and order were essential to the participants in order to make risk taking in the development of wealth a worthwhile venture.  The command economy, combined with the strong central control, of the Russian and Soviet empires had the opposite effect.  Those in power felt free to exercise their will as they saw fit.  Rules and laws were not meant to bind the state, but to bind the subjects.

The collapse of empires, therefore, brought different results.

Many of the former colonies of the British Empire gained, along with their independence, a system of government and economics based on law and order and a market economy.  These former colonies, with some struggles, were able to move effectively into independence.  Some of Great Britain’s former colonies are now among their greatest trade partners and strong participants in the global economy—the United States, Canada, Australia, and India.  While the citizens of the United Kingdom no longer control a global empire, they do have in place a stable and secure society.

Many states and nations formerly controlled by the Russian and Soviet Empires, those who had limited history of independence, have struggled to develop stable economies and viable governments that maintain law and order.  The Central Asian states and Belarus have struggled to break free of the rule of totalitarian dictatorships.  Ukraine, despite efforts at the development of democracy and capitalism, has repeatedly elected officials who disregard law, order, and the needs of the nation in favor of enriching themselves and their families.  Economic growth remains stunted because of the lack of law and order. 

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians felt they made a good faith effort to embrace capitalism and democracy.  Rising and forward thinking Russian leaders implemented the tenets of the painful Washington Consensus in an effort to rip the economy out of a spiral and put it on the upward trajectory of capitalism.  The strict fiscal policies brought real fiscal pain to the average Russian people but were softened with the promise that things would get better.

Without the key ingredient of law and order, however, a successful transition to a market economy remained out of reach.  As Russia’s new political leadership, often the same Communist leaders with new political labels, took control, they used the state apparatus to enrich themselves almost beyond belief.  Market and democratic principles could not take hold in such an environment and the promises of something better fell apart drastically.  Newly wealthy and powerful leaders, instead of taking responsibility for their actions, lay the blame on the West and the decadent concept of a free market.

Vladimir Putin came to power as the people faced this second economic collapse.  He expressed the feelings of many Russians—that of sorrow at the passing of what had once been considered a great nation and state.  He desired and called for a return to stability and improvement.  By 1998 Russia was in a desperate situation as many internal institutions failed to perform their basic functions. 

Putin managed, to a noticeable measure, to bring a degree of order back to Russian government and to the economy.  Unfortunately, this change was not based on an increased role of the population.  Civil society in Russia remained largely a hoped for concept.  Central government control was reestablished.  The Russian government, however, was not completely subject to the rule of law and order.  While a form of a market economy and foreign direct investment occurred, economic growth was based on rising energy prices rather than on real economic development.

Today, with a sense of economic security and political control, Vladimir Putin is moving to reestablish Russia at least as a regional power with his eye toward perhaps something bigger.  In order to address the embarrassment of the 1990s and the encroaching threat of NATO and the EU, he has moved decisively to establish Russian willingness and capability to project its will abroad.  Central to his aims is to build a Eurasian Union, envisioned as an economic and security institution that will have considerable impact in the region.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that Vladimir Putin has adopted a number of market economy principles, he has failed to learn the most important lessons of collapsed empires.  First, law and order matter.  Significant and sustained economic growth, despite cyclical ups and downs, requires the maintenance and state compliance with law and order.  Without this in Russia or a Eurasian Union, economic growth will be hampered and limited to the prevailing supply and demand of energy resources.  (With the advent of fracking technology, Russian dominance in the region may be nearing its end.)

Second, the use of overt compulsion and threats against neighbors and trade partners will not inspire confidence in potential trade partners who could help improve the Russian situation by opening new opportunities.  Such tactics will force existing trade partners to look for other sources as they become available and affordable.

Third, the invasion and annexation of a non-threatening state is unacceptable.  It sets you apart from the modern, civilized world.  Despite its problems, Georgia and Ukraine did not represent physical, imminent threats to the security of Russia or Russians.  Rather they represented opportunities to convey messages about willingness and intent.  In the case of Ukraine there was also the chance to regain a part of the empire, perhaps with the intent of gaining more.  Russian actions in Georgia and Ukraine did, however, highlight Russia’s perception that the principles of liberal democracy from the West are not acceptable.

Which leads to the fourth lesson Vladimir Putin has failed to learn—liberal democracies tend to be more stable, in terms of security and economics, than states that discount and discourage the participation of its populace. 

What are the likely results of Putin’s failure to learn the important lessons of ailed empires?  Russia’s managed democracy and managed economy will fail to keep pace with the West and China.  Once again the leading world economies will prefer not to do business with Russia more than is necessary.  The lack of law and order and uncertainty generated by the control of a few will discourage investment and partnerships.  Russia’s few remaining friends and “vassal” states will have little to contribute or be incapable of contributing.  Russia increasingly will fall further behind those who they will view as threats and competitors. 

The West has not performed overly well in its relations with Russia either.  After the fall of the Soviet Union the West managed to make Russia feel like a failed state.  The eastward expansion of NATO, while understandable based on the historical predilection of Russia to move west, was not done in a way to engender trust.  Perhaps worst of all, the West has failed to understand or countenance Russia’s legitimate national security interests, assuming that Russia would simply fall in line because there was no other choice.

Responsibility for the consequences of Russia’s actions lies largely at the feet of President Putin and his associates in the government.  Without the ability or willingness to act, the Russian people are unable to control events.  The Russian people, however, seem to support President Putin in his actions and intentions.  It appears that President Putin is willing to trade the prospect of long-term economic and national security for greater political control at home.

Please see the additional posts on the Russia-Ukraine issue:
The Limits of Russian Expansion
 Ukraine: The Prism of Russian National Interest

Monday, March 24, 2014

Talks That Inspire: General Conference--October 2006

With General Conference approaching, I though I would share some remarks from the October 2006 General Conference that touched me recently.  We are truly blessed and loved to have a Heavenly Father who blesses us with counsel that pertains to our day and to our lives.

Salt Lake Temple

To each of us our Savior gives this loving invitation:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

“Take my yoke up one you, and learn or me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

…At times we may despair that our burdens are too great.  When it seems that the tempest is raging in our lives, we may feel abandoned and cry out like the disciples in the storm, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38).  At such times we should remember His reply: “Why are ye so fearful?  How is it that ye have no faith?” (v. 40)

The healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ—whether it removes our burdens or strengthens us to endure and live with them like the Apostle Paul—is available for every affliction in mortality.

…The Atonement also gives us the strength to endure “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind, because our Savior also took upon Him “the pains and the sicknesses of his people” (Alma 7:11).  Brothers and sisters, if your faith and prayers and the power of the priesthood do not heal you from an affliction, the power of the Atonement will surely give you the strength to bear the burden.

In the lonely hours I have spent a great deal of time thinking about eternal things.  I have contemplated the comforting doctrines of eternal life.

To become worthy, we make choices that will enable us to return to our Heavnenly Father’s presence.  We do those things which will qualify us to claim all the blessings that He has in store for us.  This is the reason we are here on earth—“to see if [we] will do all things whatsoever the Lord…shall command.”  It is through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that we can resist temptation.  Our faith will enable us to shun evil.  It will be repulsive to us because “light cleaveth unto light” and “virtue loveth virtue.”

To become unspotted from the world requires not only faith but repentance and obedience.  We must live the standards and do those things which will entitle us to the constant companionship and guidance of the Holy Ghost—for the Spirit cannot dwell in unholy temples.

Thirty-eight years ago my husband and I were married in the Salt Lake Temple by President Gordon B. Hinckley.  The counsel and direction he gave us that day have become a beacon for our lives…[He] counseled us to remain worthy.  He said, “Always live in such a way that when you need the Lord’s blessings, you can call upon Him and receive them because you are worthy.”  He said: “There will come times in your life when you will need immediate blessings.  You will need to live in such a way that they will be granted—not out of mercy but because you are worthy.”

We who hold the priesthood of God cannot afford to drift.  We have work to do.  We must arise from the dust of self-indulgence and be men!  It is a wonderful aspiration for a boy to become a man—strong and capable; someone who can build and create things, run things; someone who makes a difference in the world.  It is a wonderful aspiration for those of us who are older to make the vision of true manhood a reality in our lives and be models for those who look to us for an example.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking in this meeting in April 1998, gave specific counsel for young men:

“The girl you marry will take a terrible chance on you…[You] will largely determine the remainder of her life…

“Work for an education.  Get all the training that you can.  The world will largely pay you what it thinks you are worth.  Paul did not mince words when he wrote to Timothy, ‘But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel’ (1 Tim. 5:8)

Good men sometimes make mistakes.  A man of integrity will honestly face and correct his mistakes, and that is an example we can respect.  Sometimes men try but fail.  Not all worthy objectives are realized despite one’s honest and best efforts.  True manhood is not always measured by the fruits of one’s labors by the labors themselves—by one’s striving.

Though he will make some sacrifices and deny himself some pleasures in the course of honoring his commitments, the true man leads a rewarding life.  He gives much, but receives more, and he lives content in the approval of his Heavenly Father.  The life of true manhood is the good life.

Circumstances change, but our message does not change.  We bear testimony to the world that the heavens have been opened, that God, our Eternal Father, and His Son, the risen Lord, have appeared and spoken.  We offer our solemn witness that the priesthood has been restored with the keys and authority of eternal blessings.