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Journal ArticleDOI

Carr goes east: reconsidering power and inequality in a post-liberal Eurasia

15 Mar 2019-European politics and society (Routledge)-Vol. 20, Iss: 2, pp 172-189

Abstract: This paper analyses Western policies towards Russia from the realist perspective of E.H. Carr. His critique of inter-war liberal ‘utopianism’ pointed to the tendency of liberal states to disregard ...
Topics: Carr (57%), Democracy (50%)

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Carr Goes East
Oskanian, Kevork
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Oskanian, K 2018, 'Carr Goes East: Reconsidering Power and Inequality in a Post-Liberal Eurasia', European
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Carr Goes East: Reconsidering Power and Inequality in a Post-Liberal
Kevork K. Oskanian
Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Birmingham, Birmingham,
United Kingdom

Carr Goes East: Reconsidering Power and Inequality in a Post-Liberal
This paper analyzes Western policies towards Russia from the realist perspective of
E.H. Carr. The latter’s critique of inter-war liberal 'utopianism' pointed to – among
others – the tendency of liberal states to disregard the role of power in shaping an
international normative order of their making; their discounting of contingency in
favour of a progressive, teleological view of history; and their insensitivity to the
structural inequalities reproduced by that order. These predispositions can also be
observed in the liberal West's policies towards Russia in the immediate aftermath of the
end of the Cold War. A teleologically expanding ‘Kantian zone of peace’ centred on
the EU and NATO and based on the liberal tripod of institutions, democracy, and free
trade - became the core of Europe’s de-facto security regime. Uncovering the power-
political behind the normative, this Carrian perspective subsequently explains the
gradual deterioration in relations between the West and the Kremlin through the latter’s
exclusion from institutions shaped at a time of its acute weakness, its inability to
counter the symbolic power of democracy through political reforms, and its structural
consignation to the semi-periphery of the globalized economic system. The article
concludes by proposing a realist alternative for future engagement with Moscow.
Keywords: Russia; realism; NATO; EU; democracy; E.H. Carr
After the fall of the Soviet Union, several liberal assumptions took hold of strategic
policymaking in Western capitals: that international security would now be bolstered through
an ever-deepening array of laws and institutions; that democracy would inexorably spread
throughout the world, bringing with it peace and stability; and that free markets, and ensuing
interdependence, would further contribute to a more peaceful world. In Europe, the
expansion of a Kantian ‘zone of peace’ – based on this “liberal tripodof democracy,
international institutions and interdependence (Russett and Oneal, 2001; Russett, Oneal, &
Davis, 1998) – came to be seen as part of the inevitable progression of history. These quasi-
teleological claims became enshrined in the post-Cold War European security order through

the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO; the deepening and widening of the continent’s
human rights regimes; and the predominance of free markets and free trade, both in the
economic canon of Western policymakers, and the institution-building programmes aimed at
the former Soviet satellites.
This system based on a stability borne from international legality, democratic rule,
and economic interdependence is being challenged today as never before since the end of the
Cold War: a ‘crisis of liberalism’exacerbated by Russia’s great power revisionismhas
disrupted many of the assumed links between institutions, democracy, interdependence and
peace underlying the European security order. The upholding of international law by
institutions like the UN and the OSCE has been confronted by the realities of Russia’s
conventional and hybrid interventions in Georgia and Ukraine (Allison, 2008, 2014).
Democratisation in the former Communist bloc has stalled, and, in some cases, seen
reversals, including within some Central European EU members (Carothers, 2002; Gel'man,
2006; Rupnik, 2016). Moreover, instead of supporting the existing security order, the
purported advantages of economic interdependence have translated into a series of
imbalances and inequalities that have left the European project vulnerable to populist
challenges, in no small part supported by a Russia unable – or unwilling – to adapt to the
exigencies of a liberal, globalised world.
While distinct, the challenges facing Europe’s liberals
today do show certain
parallels with those seen during the previous, ill-fated major experiment in ‘idealism’
Here, ‘liberals’ and ‘liberalism’ refer to a broad ideology emerging from the Western enlightenment,
combining a belief in free individual reason with a preference for liberal democracy, free
markets, and international institutions/international law as the foundations of international order.
These ideas provide the core of the ‘utopianism’ criticised by Carr (2001, pp. 12-41) in his day,
founded as it was on these three latter principles. As argued by Ikenberry and others, this
‘liberalism’ became the bedrock of the post-World War Two order envisaged by the United

preceding the Second World War. As during the 1930s, established international legal
frameworks are being tested by an authoritarian, revisionist state through threats to the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of newly independent, relatively powerless European
states. Feeding off the imbalances in the liberal order, an ‘illiberal international’ is
challenging fundamental values throughout Europe and beyond. Liberal states are confronted
with a choice between upholding an established order – and risking all-out conflict or
allowing the challenge to stand, all the while seeing their own democracies challenged by a
populist, anti-liberal wave. Parallels between the interbellum’s ‘twenty-yearscrisis’ of
liberalism and its contemporary equivalent therefore abound.
Comparisons to the interbellum have become something of a ritual in recent decades:
appeals to Munich, 1938 were, for instance, previously applied equally disparately to Iraq
(Record, 2007), Kosovo (Paris, 2002), Iran (McCann, 2015), Syria (Dyer, 2016), and have
now been reproduced in Ukraine by those advocating greater intervention (Traynor and
MacAskill, 2014). These rhetorical exercises are usually applied in defence of the existing
liberal order, obscuring the many taken-for-granted assumptions that have left this order
vulnerable to decay and attack in the first place. In other words, the interbellum has become a
cautionary tale providing arguments for forceful intervention in defence of liberalism, while
leaving the weaknesses and blind spots that left the liberal order prone to destabilisation in
the first place unquestioned.
In fact, rather than a straightforward admonition against appeasement, the inter-war
years provide a much more nuanced narrative, in the person and thought of one of the rare
realists of that particular era: E.H. Carr (2001, originally published in 1939). Carr’s ‘Twenty
Years Crisis’ remains a classic of the International Relations canon; the work – and the
States, and provided the Kantian normative core within the broader European project – largely
confined in the non-Communist West during the Cold War (Ikenberry, 2009, 2012; Manners,

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"Carr goes east: reconsidering power..." refers background in this paper

  • ...If Carr was a realist, he certainly was one with a strong critical slant, seeing the uncovering of unequal power relations behind claims to moral and legal superiority as an essential element in maintaining the peace (Cox, 1981; Howe, 1994; Linklater, 2001)....


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"Carr goes east: reconsidering power..." refers background in this paper

  • ...…of the ‘democratic peace’ (a scepticism which also emerged in Western scholarship; see, e.g. Henderson, 2002; Layne, 1994; Mansfield & Snyder, 2005; Zakaria, 1997), Russia’s eventual rejection of the ‘democratisation’ norm – after futile attempts to conform to it in the 1990 – was amplified by…...


  • ...scepticism towards the various claims of the ‘democratic peace’ (a scepticism which also emerged in Western scholarship; see, e.g. Henderson, 2002; Layne, 1994; Mansfield & Snyder, 2005; Zakaria, 1997), Russia’s eventual rejection of the ‘democratisation’ norm – after futile attempts to conform to it in the 1990 – was amplified by democracy’s...


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"Carr goes east: reconsidering power..." refers background in this paper

  • ...The underlying idea is that accountable government, international law and institutions, and free trade – three elements that Russett and Oneal (2001, 1998) have referred to as the ‘tripod of the liberal peace’ – can overcome the power politics of the past....


  • ...In Europe, the expansion of a Kantian ‘zone of peace’ – based on this ‘liberal tripod’ of democracy, international institutions and interdependence (Russett, Oneal, & Davis, 1998; Russett & Oneal, 2001) – came to be seen as part of the inevitable progression of history....