Can a Libertarian Pragmatically Support Pax Americana? The Case of Freedom in Central and Eastern Europe.

By: Karol Mazur

The war in Ukraine has brought back the debate on international security among European countries, especially in the countries of the former Soviet bloc in Central and Eastern Europe. Most of these countries, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, broke free from the communist regime with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s. These countries began to build democratic structures with a relatively free market economy.

The shift from central planning economy to capitalist enrichment mechanisms and privatization has become a reality. In some countries that transformation unfortunately was done not in peace but in accordance with Jefferson’s famous sentence that „the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

A few years ago, before the war was started, Polish organization „Stowarzyszenie Libertaria?skie” (Libertarian Association) wrote an optimistic statement about Ukraine:

We are witnessing a repeat from Lithuania, but on a larger scale. In the elections, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president, whose political staff openly admits to libertarian ideas. (..) it is worth keeping your fingers crossed for the initiative and potential implementation of several libertarian postulates in the beautiful Ukrainian lands. 

After February 24, 2022, the discussion on security flared up again, also on the websites of European libertarians and supporters of the Austrian school of economics. In an interview with Dr. Micha? St?pie? from the Department of International and European Law at the University of Wroc?aw, published on the website of the Polish Mises Institute we read that:

The scale of armed aggression by Russia with the participation of Belarus against Ukraine since February 24, 2022 and the related scale of crimes against humanity, which is being committed by the Russian army, has meant that the previously used arguments of Russia, assuming that it is a defense of the Russian minority living in Ukraine and Georgia, is completely inconsistent with the actual situation witnessed by the international community. In the event of the occupation of Crimea, the Russian armed forces pretended not to be the armed forces of Russia. What the armed forces were, today is absolutely beyond dispute, so this trick is legally insignificant. In the case of the military operations undertaken on February 24, 2022, the armed forces conducting the military operations against Ukraine have been officially announced by the Russian authorities.

Support for Ukraine and words of encouragement come from libertarians for obvious reasons. However, the fundamental question that arises is whether, in such a situation, the libertarian can compromise using ideological pragmatism. Can we accept the fact, for the needs of the moment, that the domination of the United States within Pax Americana as a hegemon and gendarme of the world was and is necessary in this part of Europe to maintain civil liberties, free market, and to expand these aspects within the self-determination of newly liberated countries?

The European freedom perspective is closely correlated with the analysis of the imperial activity and policy of the United States, to which the former Soviet bloc states owe their freedom. So, does a European libertarian, e.g., a Polish libertarian, can and has to adopt the view that the involvement of the United States can serve to extend freedom? Paradoxically, this thesis is not as obvious as it might seem. After all, as a political movement, libertarianism believing in small government, is opposed to imperialism, unfounded aggression, and the destructive role of violence in human relations. Maybe some societes can take advantage of US hegemony, according to geopolitical rules, to expand their sphere of freedom, democracy and free market? The conflict in Ukraine, despite the obvious reasons on the side of the attacked Ukraine, seems to divide many libertarians. Libertarians, as we read in the principles of Libertarian Party:

…believe that war is justified only in defense. We are opposed to a draft. If a war is just and necessary, Americans of all backgrounds will volunteer to fight it. We believe that a draft enforced by law is no different from slavery.

Much has been written about international relations from a libertarian perspective (including classics of thought like Murray N. Rothbard and H.-H. Hoppe). But the European perspective of the libertarian movement seems to be a little different. This is probably because many European libertarians know historical aspects and realize that without the involvement of the United States, especially in their culminating moment, i.e., the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe might still be in captivity and Russian dependence, like in Belarus or Chechnya for other example. 

Fear of the Russian Federation seems to be a natural determinant of the European libertarians’ view of the collective involvement of Western forces in helping Ukraine. By the way of example; Polish libertarians expressed their indignation at the words of the famous psychologist Jordan B. Peterson speaking on the war in Ukraine. Peterson declared that he saw the conflict (war) as a clash of values. As we said libertarians’ support for Ukraine seems obvious.

Various supporters of freedom seem to recognize this problem and support Ukraine by sending money and basic necessities. But is it enough? Does the role of commitment end there? Many freedom activists says that the case of Hong Kong should be a warning to the free world. The prospect of a libertarian Ukrainian state that breaks out of the gloomy Kremlin despot seems very tempting and possible. For example, Rainer Zitelmann sees opportunities for Ukraine, which may become an economically liberal state in which political currents of freedom thought can and develop.

Conclusion

This short and provocative reflection maybe open the great debate. The problem outlined here requires a broader attention to this issue throughout the Austro-libertarian community. If we have two or more agressive imperialist Leviathans, should we choose the lesser evil among them? What strategies of freedom should be adopted in the face of that kind of crisis? Are there any alternatives to imperial military alliances? What criteria for collective self-defense of states should be adopted from a libertarian perspective? The answers still remain open and we should not avoid them.

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