Editor’s Introduction

The dark uncertainty that characterizes international affairs was (strange as it might seem) captured in a recent remark by Vice President Joe Biden, who observed that the world order we’ve known for nearly seventy years seems now to be “literally fraying at the seams.”

We here at World Affairs feel that literal fraying, too. Yet we also believe that its continuation is not predetermined, which is why we’ve published an excerpt from Michael Zantovsky’s forthcoming Havel: A Life. Zantovsky (currently the Czech Republic’s ambassador to the Court of St. James’s) was a friend and comrade-in-arms of Vaclav Havel’s during the days when Charter 77 helped cause a different kind of fraying—of the loathsome fabric of the Soviet Union. In this essay, he recalls the first days of Havel’s presidency of the Czech Republic, when he conceived of a sort of Golden Rule of international politics, the kind that might have prevented the fraying Mr. Biden now laments: “Our indifference toward others can after all result in only one thing—the indifference of others toward us.” This view led Havel to embrace a statecraft based on the twin assumptions that appeasement is the enemy of man’s fate and that evil must be confronted wherever and whenever it appears.

In concrete terms, this conviction led Havel to work for the expansion of NATO as a way of enlarging the zone of human freedom and countering the once and possibly future evil of the former USSR. As Zantovsky tells it, Havel was at first rebuffed by the Clinton administration, which still harbored illusions that Russia could be integrated into the European security apparatus. But assisted by Hungary and Poland, countries that also spoke from experience with communism, the Czech leader used all his intellectual power and charismatic resourcefulness to convince the Americans of the importance of expansion. It was appropriate that President Clinton came to Prague when he finally declared, in 1994, “Now the question is no longer whether NATO will take on new members but when and how.”

The inside story Zantovsky tells is an appropriate memorial for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Wall and the Velvet Revolution, in which Havel played so heroic a role. Even more, it is a tonic for the gloomy paralysis that seems to have settled upon Europe and the US. As Zantovsky notes, the one hundred million people in Central and Eastern Europe who entered NATO in two waves, in 1999 and 2004, now enjoy a political and economic stability that is virtually indistinguishable from that of their western neighbors. By contrast, the countries that continue to be stranded between the domain of NATO and that of Russia—Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine—have had their sun blocked by Vladimir Putin.

The question that arises from Zantovsky’s meditation on the worldview and achievements of his old friend is whether Havel’s ideal of an international politics based on forcefully confronting evil and rejecting the seductions of appeasement still has a future in the West. Can the US and Europe repair that strategy of expanding freedom and containing evil that now seems to be “fraying at the seams”? Can they find a way to deal with the crises their passivity and inaction have allowed to threaten the future of Europe, the transatlantic partnership, and the rules-based system that has guided the international order for generations?

These issues are addressed in a slightly different way by another essay in this issue, Jeffrey Gedmin’s examination of whether or not Germany, the EU’s key player, will take the lead in defending the liberal order in Europe now being directly challenged by the Putin Doctrine, which holds, in Gedmin’s view, that if you’re not in NATO and the EU now, forget about it; you will never escape the Russian sphere of interest.

Gedmin, a longtime Germany-watcher, understands the obstacles in the way of Berlin’s acceptance of a more assertive role—its addiction to geoeconomics and its paralyzing financial entanglements with Moscow; the residual power of the anti-American left in its domestic politics; and especially the lack of a “mature, self-confident strategic class.” (Fifty years worth of military promotions have never produced a German general with combat experience.) But he also feels that Germany may be waking up and that if the US takes the lead in reinvigorating transatlantic ties and rehabilitating the Atlanticist vision of the European future, it will likely nudge Berlin into pushing back against the advance of Putinism.


The confiscation of the Crimea and the inexorable assault on Ukraine have put a focus on Europe and its identity crisis, but we haven’t lost sight of the equally daunting problems elsewhere in the world. One of the most serious (although unaccountably invisible) of those problems, as longtime human rights activist Nina Shea reports, is the religious cleansing that exists in parts of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. With virtually no protest from the rest of the world, except for a brief moment of concern when the flamboyant evil of ISIS hit the front pages of the international press, Islamists have been systematically hunting down Christians and other religious minorities with impunity during the last decade.

Shea catalogues the atrocities committed against the “apostates from Islam.” In addition to outright murder of individuals and attacks on spiritual communities, there are forced conversions and rampant and deliberate destruction of houses of worship, sometimes while filled with worshippers—all of it carried out while the US government turns a blind eye and deaf ear to what can only be considered religious genocide. In Iraq alone, one million, or between one-half and two-thirds of a once vigorous Christian community, have fled the country since 2003. After an exhaustive analysis of the evidence, Shea writes: “‘Crime against humanity’ is not an accusation the US should deploy lightly. But it should know it when it sees it.”

Asia is also on the front burner in this issue. Hudson Institute senior fellow John Lee writes about a troubling twist in the region’s politics that has potentially damaging implications for the Asian future: South Korea’s deepening rancor against Japan is subordinating the interests of regional solidarity and collective security to domestic political gain. Seoul’s animus has largely to do with historical issues—what it feels are insufficient expressions of remorse by Tokyo for the Japanese Imperial Army’s rape and pillage during its occupation of South Korea during World War II. Japan has tendered regrets, but Seoul has not yet taken yes for an answer and is expressing its independence with overtures toward China and North Korea that could undermine the larger regional effort to restrain these two countries’ war-mongering impulses in the region. Lee explores the damage this feud can do to the region and to South Korea itself. His advice to Seoul: move on.

In a similar vein, Hai Hong Nguyen and Charles Knight analyze another rift in the Pacific that has implications for US policy—Vietnam’s increasingly tense relationship with China. Only in part about disagreement over who owns the Spratly Islands, it is also about China’s abuse of its assumed and patronizing role as “elder brother” and its effort to dictate Vietnam’s future. Nguyen and Knight note that in 1972, feeling similarly oppressed by the USSR, Beijing decided to “play the America card” to counter Moscow’s increasing influence at the time. The ongoing conflict in the South China Sea is becoming serious enough, they believe, that it “provides an excuse for Hanoi to do the same thing.” Foreign correspondent Michael Totten, in his dispatch from Vietnam, wonders how America might respond.

There are many other good things in this issue. Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel reports on Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s rough first year in office. Joshua Muravchik reports on John Kerry’s disastrous personal record in public life. James Kirchick reports on the global demonization of Israel. And Roland Flamini reports on China’s advance into the heart of American finance.

Happy reading.

— James S. Denton

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