Occidental Tradition Or The Oriental Spirit?

A Review of Edwin Dyga's “Eastern Promise—Why the West Needs Mitteleuropa”.

Edwin Dyga's, “Eastern Promise—Why the West Needs Mitteleuropa,” upcoming in Quarterly Review, 5:2, Summer 2011, confronts a subject many today are unhappy over, that is, the future possibilities of Central European countries vis-a-vis post Soviet Russian intentions.  After the fall of both the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc Communism, all hoped that this past could be, if not completely forgotten, at least remembered without the specter of new Russian imperialism.  Mr. Dyga argues that such hope is naïve, and that the West, taken in its larger Atlanticist meaning, must be prepared for the possibility of Russian geopolitical hegemony within the lately freed Eastern bloc countries and environs.  The chief European country in mind is Poland, however others making up the greater Central Europe are not excluded.  His essay is directly addressed to American “conservatives,” both neo and paleo, as he believes American conservatives should be natural allies.  

A conservative bond between Poland and America is viewed as a “natural” consequence of shared ideals.  Specifically, an awareness of a people’s “ancestral legacy, [a] desire to preserve it, as well as the presence of a ‘transcendent element’ to their identity as a people…”   Cohesive ethnicity and religious faith within a majority of Polish citizens are cited, and in spite of the introduction of “social liberalism” and secularism, conservative traditionalism was and is maintained both during and after the fall of Communism.  Historically, Edwin Dyga reminds us that the Polish people’s solidarity runs from the gates of Vienna (1683 against the Ottomans) to the gates of Warsaw (1921 against the Bolsheviks).  

At the same time there is a countervailing worry among more “established” liberal European states who consider carefully any increase in Poland’s rightist claims:

“…Poland can only avoid being the battlefield of neighboring empires by becoming a power capable of exerting influence beyond its borders in its own right, she can only become a successful regional leader if her power projection is perceived as mutually beneficial to her immediate neighbors.”  

With this in mind, the author suggests that American conservatives could express common ground in order to “form a partnership” with the Poles.  But why at the expense of Russia?  There are several reasons.

Russian political nationalism longs for better days, glory days of the not so distant past, and is demonstrated by increased military spending encompassing both the tactical and strategic.   Russian interventionism in Georgia is cited, while existing agreements and understandings are questioned in light of the Russian (actually Soviet) failure to honor pledges made subsequent to World War II.  Finally, the rationale against geographic encirclement is viewed as less a legitimate argument for Russian military buildup than as an indigenous Russian interventionist “pathology.”  Clearly the viewpoint offered is that Poland is existentially threatened by potential Russian expansionism, the stirrings which can be recognized now.  The author’s primary solution is to enact some sort of United States military guarantee made possible by either a shifting of existing US commitments, or something altogether new.  

The fundamental ground for this state of affairs is given by the author as an incommensurate ethno-cultural divide between Russia and the remainder of the Western Europe, including America.  Here, Russia manifests an “Orientalist spirit” wherein the Orthodox faith is more akin to Islam than Catholicism, nor is it antagonistic to Confucian-Buddhist thinking.  This genetic ground, being incommensurate with Occidentalism, precludes by nature any lasting treaty.

Without discussing the political implications of the author's “Atlanticist” scheme, or even whether his view of Russia is tenable, we can certainly offer some practical questions that must be appreciated before making any appeal to American “conservative” good will.  First, as the author understands, regardless of any cultural-ideological bond between Poles and American paleoconservatives, at this time the general will for “foreign entanglement” is not strong among the vast majority of Americans.  Even neoconservatives, at least some of them, are rethinking their position on “nation building” in the Middle East.  Too, given certain of their own foreign policy ideas, their own cultural and ethnic background, plus their memories (or, more likely, received history) of the Second World War, whether certain influential neoconservatives would ever want to associate themselves with an indigenous European nationalist conservatism is a big question.    

Next, it is also a big question as to the fiscal future of America.  That is, whether she will be in any position to do much of anything, anywhere.  Right now any new commitments would by necessity have to be financed from either external (China et al.) borrowing, or internal monetization.  The author’s suggestion of a reorganization of existing commitments, say transferring troops and equipment from Korea to Poland, would just be shuffling the economic deck chairs on a slowly sinking ship of state, and could never account for much in the long run.  

Finally, paleoconservatives are small potatoes within the overall American political spectrum.  Not only that, but they are becoming smaller spuds, every day.  The demographic future of America does not bode well for Europeans as America becomes more like a mish-mash of Mexico, a failed state (if it ever was a viable state), certain areas of Africa where civil society can only be sustained from without, that is, with “help” from non-Africans, or some Islamic caliphate, the latter which precludes an affinity with Polish, or any Western styled, conservatism (or even liberalism for that matter, although liberals probably don't understand that, yet). 

The West, Poland and Russia

Without the benefit of having read Dyga’s article, and relying solely on the review above and comments, I have to say that the author’s arguments should not be dismissed so lightly.

Moscow is no shrinking violet. The country’s military infrastructure is far from ‘painted rust’ and its intelligence services have expanded well beyond the reach and powers of the old KGB. Last years publication of Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan's The New Nobility - The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB, shows that these concerns are not misplaced. It is also not the only book published over the last decade about the rebirth of totalitarian and neo-imperial tendencies in the so-called New Russia. Its military build-up and modernization program have been covered by the mainstream press well enough and need not be repeated here - they are no secret. Also no secret is Russia’s friendly relations with governments unsympathetic to the West: Teheran and Beijing immediately come to mind. Ignoring these trends is as naive as the ignorance of the Islamic threat, and today the West is guilty of ignoring both.

True, Poland is too weak and too small to offer substantial opposition to any threats from the East. Its government’s policy should be to arm itself to the teeth and create some regional defense co-operative. A brief report by George Freidman at Stratfor (‘Visegrad: A New European Military Force’) shows that the region knows it is ultimately responsible for its own security interests. But that doesn’t mean that the US should avoid creating a special relationship here too. Granted the economic situation is preventing America from being the interventionist power it was during the Cold War, but for this very reason its future governments should actually welcome new regional pro-American power blocks. Helping them does not have to be so costly either: why go to such a bother moving US troops from South Korea into Poland when they can be shifted there from Germany next door?

As for a ‘Polish Nuke’, it is doubtful whether building its own bomb will ever be politically feasible - it would rub everyone the wrong way, Russia and the West too. Still, it’s not completely without precedent: ‘Poland’s Atomic Adventure’, Air International, July 1996. Bolstering its air defense grid, modernizing its army, energy independence are all more important short to long term interests, and staying well out of the common currency too. If these things can be achieved, and there is no reason to believe that they are impossible, then Poland can become quite a valuable asset.

On the Dyga piece

  1. Dyga’s essay (as per the review) is a regurgitation ideas put forward two decades ago by Huntington, Kaplan and others


  1. There is no “new Russian imperialism” at work under Putin.  Russia’s economic and geopolitical reach contracted sharply after the dissolution of the USSR, but this contraction was made the worse by Yeltsin administration.  Far from leading an expansion, Putin has only stabilized Russia’s decline


  1. A combination of demographic decline and economic reliance on commodities leaves Russia vulnerable to both China and the core Western economies.  Russia’s nuclear deterrent, influence in Central Asia and economic relationship with the EU are its only major attributes


  1. The United States filled the power vacuum in the post-Soviet world.  However, the American political class has taken the “unipolar moment” for granted.  Rather than congratulating themselves on their ties to Latin America and India, ability to launch military operations throughout Africa and West Asia with relative impunity, and virtual geopolitical “encirclement” of rivals Russia and China, they are terrified when Russia wins back a Central Asian dictator or when China opens a mine in Africa


  1. Poland is not large enough to be a significant US ally.  The dream of uniting Poland, the Baltic republics, Belarus and Ukraina against Russia will remain just that.  Fortunately, Russia’s conventional military capabilities are degraded to the extent that they would probably have difficulty investing even Estonia


  1.  The ideal solution is to further integrate Poland and the other “fast adjusting” post-communist states into Western Europe, and then slowly start to bring Russia into the fold

what goes around...

It seems that very few people have an idea just how precarious the fiscal situation of the United States is.  To ask for American "help" in any substantial form is really to be put in a ridiculous sitation.  One may review the political shenanigans between Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl,


where the former leader of an essentially bankrupt Soviet Union begged the Germans for no interest loans in order to "tide the country over" until he could figure out what to do with his political antagonist, Boris Yeltsin.  This was 20 years ago.  The United States will be in the position of the Soviet Union in 20 years, but who then will be around to offer "interest free" loans?

Michael Presley #2

I agree with Traveller on the substance of his advice to the US and to Poland.  I disagree with him on two lesser points:

- Europe is NOT bombing "civilians" in the desert;

- and "the Russians" DO forget historical lessons (as the rise of Putinism confirms).  


@ marcfrans

They definitely do, I saw it and wouldn't be so upset if I had not seen it.

When you bomb a hospital you say sorry but you don't say it's an army barracks.

When you bomb a school, same situation.

When you bomb 5 times the TV building you look for civilians working there and when you bomb an electrical power plant and 6 high voltage sub-stations you go after civilians.

Be sure that the FSB, the new KGB, will not go for foreign adventures today, mindful of the old mistakes.

Putinism is the reïnforcement of the FSB in their own country, they will always do that, they don't consider this a mistake.

@ Michael Presley

This whole subject is a European subject

I know that Europe doesn't have the guts of doing more than bombing civilians in a desert, but as long as Europe is the hopeless socialist bureaucratic dictatorship it is now without any real policy or guidance, I advise the US to stay away from Europe and to concentrate on Asia.

Even the encirclement of Russia with US bases is an outdated policy, it is not necessary anymore.

Russia knows that the Soviet Union went bust through its imperialistic projects, they won't repeat that. One thing the Russians do have, a definite respect for history and they don't forget historical lessons.

It's normal that Poland is still scared of the Bear next door, their whole history is a painful reminder of what can happen

Poland should do their own Polish and European strategic thinking and a nuclear arsenal should be the beginning.