Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Melissa M. Lee's "Crippling Leviathan"

Melissa M. Lee is an Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at the Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Crippling Leviathan: How Foreign Subversion Weakens the State, and reported the following:
From page 99:

Like Georgia, Estonia since 1994 exemplifies extreme policy incompatibility. Unlike Georgia, upon independence Estonia had no qualms about where its future lay: in the arms of Europe. Tallinn’s Western ambitions put it on a collision course with Russia’s preferences regarding Estonia’s foreign policy orientation. Because of its history of forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union, postindependence Estonia had little interest in joining the Russian-led sphere, worrying that it would fall under Moscow’s subjugation again. Tallinn could not immediately pursue this objective because it first had to secure the withdrawal of former Soviet troops based on its territory. Now under Russian command, these troops posed such a latent threat to Estonian security that Tallinn could not make foreign policy freely until they were withdrawn. In any case, the West was not particularly enthusiastic about welcoming Estonia and the Baltics into the fold, preferring instead to concentrate its efforts on integrating the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, the former satellite states. For the first few years after independence, Estonia expressed the foreign policy aim of geopolitical neutrality—a politically expedient position that was also effectively its only reasonable course of action.

After settling the troop withdrawal issue in 1994, and removing this check on its foreign policy, Estonia made its intention to break with Russia clear. Institutional integration with the West would complete Estonia’s “return” to Europe; NATO membership and the alliance’s security guarantees would free Tallinn from a future Russian threat. In 1994 Tallinn applied for NATO membership, and in the fall of 1995 it applied for EU membership. To persuade Western Europe that it was serious about integration, Estonia and its two Baltic neighbors undertook the painful and difficult transformations necessary to secure their admission to the Western club. Tallinn modernized its military, privatized large parts of its economy, and reformed its political institutions.

This decisive turn to the West precipitated a period of intense policy incompatibility with Moscow. Russia was willing to tolerate Estonia’s EU ambitions, recognizing that it could profit from its economic interdependence with Estonia if the latter eventually joined the EU. Tallinn’s NATO ambitions were a different matter entirely. Unlike the former satellite states, which were already moving toward NATO membership, the accession of Estonia and the other Baltics would bring the alliance into the post-Soviet space proper. Russia’s sensitivity toward that psychological barrier cannot be overstated. Worse, NATO would bring the West to Russia’s very doorstep. Behind the immediate security issues loomed the larger problem of geopolitical competition. By 1995, Russia had abandoned its embrace of the West in favor of maintaining a sphere of influence....
Page 99 of Crippling Leviathan discusses an important foreign policy dispute between Estonia and Russia that began around 1994 and continues through the present. The dispute concerns Estonia’s pro-Western foreign policy orientation: Tallinn’s desire to join NATO and the European Union, and Moscow’s vehement opposition to what it saw as a threat to its sphere of influence.

Readers opening my book to this page might erroneously infer that Crippling Leviathan is about military alliances, the liberal order, or even conflictual international politics in the post-Soviet space. They would be right to hone in on foreign policy incompatibilities between states. But disputes are important less for their specific issues (although the details are fascinating!) and more because severe policy incompatibilities motivate the use of a form of statecraft that I call “foreign subversion” – the empowerment of insurgents to undermine the state. This is what Crippling Leviathan is actually about: foreign subversion and its role in the territorial deconsolidation of the state.

Interestingly, the words “subversion,” “state authority,” and “state weakness” never appear on page 99, despite their centrality to the book and its main claims. In fact, their absence is revealing. The Estonia case is one piece of the larger empirical examination of when and why states deploy subversion in their foreign relations. I argue that two factors are important: policy incompatibility (motive) and proxy availability (means). Only when both factors are present should we observe subversion and its harmful effects on state authority. Estonia exhibits a high degree of policy incompatibility given its pro-Western international orientation, but it lacks local proxies. This helps explain why Russia has not subverted the Estonian state, and why we do not observe a Ukraine-like situation in Estonia’s ethnic Russian northeast.

The Estonian case therefore demonstrates the limits of subversion as an instrument of statecraft. Foreign subversion is war by other means, a way to pursue state interests that is harder to observe, cheaper to use, and more difficult to attribute than military force. It is highly effective; Crippling Leviathan amasses an array of careful evidence that demonstrates the harm that subversion inflicts on governance on the ground. Estonia shows why subversion is not commonplace in the international system. Motive is not enough. Foreign adversaries must also have the means – and fortunately for Estonia, Moscow lacked the means.
Visit Melissa M. Lee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue