- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The 18th century saw a number of “wars of succession,” in which struggles for the throne in key states profoundly affected the international balance of power.

The most notable was the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), in which the alignment of Madrid, still the capital of a global empire, was at stake. The French monarch Louis XIV and the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I both had dynastic claims. England and Holland opposed the union of French and Spanish dominions, which would have made France the leading world power. They allied with Leopold in a struggle that made the Duke of Marlborough famous and started the Churchill family on its road to fame.

The War of Polish Succession (1733-35) saw France’s Louis XV back his father-in-law, while the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI and Queen Anna of Russia backed the deceased Polish king’s son. In the War of Austrian Succession (1741-1748), France tried to weaken the Hapsburgs by supporting rival claimants.

Today, politics revolves around presidential elections rather than royal bloodlines, but the stakes can be just as high for outside powers as for domestic factions. The current crisis in Ukraine is a case in point. Ukrainian internal issues make those between the “red” and “blue” American states seem trivial.

Ukraine is among the oldest nations in Europe, with a rich cultural tradition of literature, architecture and religion. Yet, because of its tragic history of conquest by neighboring states, it finds itself now engaged in nation-building. It needs a government that reflects its society’s strength. Ultimately, that is what the Orange Revolution of Viktor Yushchenko is about.

To establish itself as an independent state, Ukraine must orient away from its former semicolonial status within the Soviet/Russian empire and form new alignments with both Western Europe and the United States. The example of Poland is useful.

Poles and Ukrainians both suffered under the czars, but their situations became intolerable under the Soviets. Stalin tried to destroy Ukraine as a community and even used genocidal famine in the 1930s. Ukrainians were inspired by the Solidarity movement in Poland that spearheaded the process that brought down the Berlin Wall and liberated Eastern Europe from Soviet puppet regimes. Both lands found strength in their Roman Catholic faith and its role in shaping their identities.

After the aborted 1991 coup in Russia, Ukraine declared its independence as the Soviet Union disintegrated. But in recent years, Russia has tried to pull the Ukraine back into its orbit, using the ethnic Russian population of the eastern Don Basin and southern border region. Those among the elite who profited from the rampant corruption under outgoing President Leonid Kuchma also back the status quo. The authentic Ukrainians nationalists in the western provinces and Kiev backed Mr. Yushchenko against Mr. Kuchma’s chosen successor, Viktor Yanukovych, who was actively backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Ukraine crisis further discredits the liberal notion, popular in the 1990s, of a “democratic peace” ending international conflict via the voting booth. Too many countries have parties and factions with very different ideas on what their proper alignments and foreign policies should be based — whether ties of ethnicity, religion or ideology.

Elections are thus part of the perennial global struggle, not the end of its history. It is not enough to champion democracy in the abstract. Statesmen must be prepared to wage political warfare as they would a military campaign.

For the United States, it is important that the Ukrainian patriots win the redo election set for Dec. 26. Ukraine is as large and populous as France. It was the largest and most developed part of the Soviet empire to break away. In doing so, it insured post-Soviet Russia would lack the resources to regain superpower status. The National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, Freedom House, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and other American groups have worked in Ukraine in progressive ways helpful to Mr. Yushchenko. These efforts need to be redoubled to ensure a favorable outcome in the next vote and offset what the Kuchma regime and its Russian backers do to reproduce the rigged vote of Nov. 21.

Washington, in concert with European allies, must also make clear that any Russian pressure endangering Ukrainian independence will be countered. Russia and its client state Belarus blocked a statement supporting the new election at a meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe on Dec. 7. Secretary of State Colin Powell only responded indirectly, by assailing Russia’s failure to remove its troops from two other independent border states, Georgia and Moldova, and criticizing Belarus for trampling human rights and democracy. Let us hope the Bush administration has used more direct language in private to deter Moscow.

It is completely proper for the United States to shape events in foreign capitals to maintain its preeminent position in the global order. It is how great powers have always played the game. And if a West-leaning Ukrainian government emerges, it should be offered NATO membership, as was Poland, to secure its independence.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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