Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Learning The Lessons Of a Decade

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

No doubt the "10th-Anniversary Story" will be a popular genre in the months ahead. The first volleys have already come across the wires in the form of articles devoted to the July 1, 1991, Kremlin meeting at which the Warsaw Pact was buried.

Scribes around the world are already scratching away at stories on the 10th anniversary of the Aug. 19-21, 1991, coup attempt; the December 1991 meeting at Belovezhskaya Pushcha that effectively dissolved the Soviet Union; and the resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev later that month.

The old debates over whether Russia was reformed too much and too fast or whether reforms have had mixed results because too few were implemented too half-heartedly will be granted a new lease on life. Most of these arguments will certainly still be around when we mark the 20th and the 25th anniversaries as well.

This is not to say, though, that such discussions are not worth having and that they may not produce conclusions that could be useful even now.

This could certainly be a good time for the West and the world to consider the different evolutionary paths of the countries of central Europe (including the Baltic States) and those of Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union.

Why is it that the former countries have kept more or less on a straight path and are now well on their way toward European and global integration, while the former remain virtual outcasts, not only not integrated into organizations like the European Union and NATO, but without even the faint hope that they someday could be? Is it not at least conceivable that if the West had, from the beginning, offered the same hopes of inclusion — even if they would be many years being realized — to Russia as it did to, say, Poland, then Russia's path toward democratic and open-market reform would have been much more linear and much more successful?

And how about the countries of central Asia? Wouldn't they have made at least some progress toward democracy over the last decade if their peoples were convinced that the West viewed them as something besides obstacles to be surmounted in an effort to get access to Caspian Sea oil? Now it is a decade since the end of the Warsaw Pact. And the issues on the table are NATO expansion — how to isolate, not include Russia — and missile defense.

To a considerable extent, these are probably the same things we'd be chewing over even if the momentous changes of 1991 had never occurred at all.