- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

What if Ukraine’s good guys win? That’s the question the United States and Europe likely will face soon after Ukrainian voters return to the polls Dec. 26 to elect their president.

If Viktor Yushchenko wins, should we embrace this historic opportunity to enlarge the community of free nations by putting Ukraine on the track to European Union and NATO membership? Or should we risk creating a “Euro Curtain” redividing East from West in Europe?

Since September 11, 2001, there has been much talk of the potential clash between Christian and Islamic civilizations. But in his 1996 book on the clash theory, Samuel P. Huntington focused as much on the potential divide between Orthodox and Western Christians.

“Where does Europe end?” he asked. “Europe ends where Western Christianity ends and Islam and Orthodoxy begins.” With substantial Roman Catholic and Orthodox populations, Ukraine is clearly on the Mr. Huntington’s fault line.

As the former Soviet satellites of Central and Eastern Europe have joined NATO and the EU, while Ukraine and the other former Soviet republics have not, a new dividing line is being drawn in Europe. All the new EU members, and all but two new NATO members, are Protestant or Catholic; all the former Soviet republics to the east are Orthodox or Muslim.

Why are Ukraine and other former Soviet republics such as Georgia anxious to join NATO and the EU? Certainly the perception of protection against Russian domination is a major reason.

But there is a deeper, and probably more important, psychological reason, particularly in the case of the EU. The IMF and the World Bank push policies quite similar to those of the European Union, but generate at best indifference and at worst fear and hostility. In contrast, countries yearn to join the EU.

Why? The answer is the difference between a bank and a family. A bank is controlled by someone else and is looking out for its own interests. We want to take advantage of its loans, but we want to be out of debt quickly.

In contrast, when we marry, we are joining a family as a partner, not as a supplicant. We see the relationship as permanent, rather than transitory. And we see it primarily as a social transaction, not an economic one, even though it has substantial economic components. That is the EU. It is a family, and a prosperous one at that.

The EU accession process, and the parallel expansion of NATO, is both a result and a cause of the new Europe’s relative success in making the political and economic transition from the Soviet bloc.

Hope and fear are among the most powerful motivators of human behavior. Both are speculations about the future that affect action in the present. That’s why the EU and NATO are such powerful motivators for people — at all levels of society — in aspirant countries. The invitations to join increase hope and decrease fear of the future.

For countries such as Ukraine, prospective memberships are the most powerful levers to accelerate consolidation of democracy and economic growth. In its neighborhood, the EU is the hegemon of soft power; NATO is the hegemon of hard power.

On Dec. 17, the EU set a date to begin negotiations with Turkey to join the EU. Its candidacy for EU membership is generally painted as a difficult and defining challenge to Europe’s future. It’s big, its population is growing fast and it’s Muslim. But it’s already quite integrated with the West. Turkey has been a NATO member and a market economy for decades. It has long had close trade and labor ties with Europe.

What to do about Ukraine is really much more challenging — and probably much more important. Continuing, and even accelerated, political and economic divergence from new Europe cannot be good for those on either side of the “Euro curtain.” Or for Americans.

Expansion of the European Union and NATO clearly made a big, positive impact in new Europe. Expansion to Ukraine would almost certainly have the same effect.

What’s the argument against it? It could irritate President Vladimir Putin and his allies in Russia. Mr. Putin is a sometime ally of the United States in the fight against Islamic terrorism; Russia is Europe’s major gas supplier. Are those reasons enough to say no? And will consolidation of democracy on Russia’s border make that country more dangerous to us — or less dangerous?

Certainly either policy entails risks. And we can’t want democracy for Ukrainians more than they want it for themselves. But can’t we want it as much?

Jim Rosapepe was ambassador to Romania (1998-2001) and now serves on the boards of several European investment funds.

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