There are two schools of thought on whether Russia should be admitted to the WTO, and until now LR has taken no position (though we’ve often and emphatically said Russia should be booted out of the G-8, we’ve seen the WTO as a different animal). Today, we take one. We’re against WTO admission. Here’s why.
One school of thought is that the Kremlin doesn’t really want to be admitted to the WTO, only Russia’s liberals do. Under this school of thought, we should support WTO admission, since it will give the West increased leverage in Russia by opening Russia’s markets more fully to Western trade. Following the “catch more flies with sugar” line of reasoning, this school believes we can kill the Kremlin with kindness.
The other school of thought is that Russia is an evil empire in the making that must be opposed exactly the way the USSR was. This school believes that the Kremlin wants WTO admission desperately, because allowing Russia into international organizations confers a certain amount of legitimacy that the Kremlin can use to bolster its image among the Russian people along with sham elections and occasional bribes. This school contends that Russia’s increasing isolation makes it increasingly difficult for the Kremlin to reign in the Russian population, which in the age of the Internet can find out just how utterly the Kremlin’s policies are being rejected in the West.
It’s impossible to know for sure which version of reality is correct, and it’s definitely a good idea to do the opposite of what the Kremlin wants (any other policy would betray not only Western security but the fate of the people of Russia) because the Kremlin is so fundamentally duplicitous and dishonest. And for that very reason, we must err on the side of rejection. The WTO is a trading organization. Trade implies a fair bargain, that Russia can be trusted in international commerce, that it won’t be wolf in the hen house. Russia has proven time and again that it can’t be trusted, and its scores for societal corruption from Transparency International are among the very lowest in the whole world.
To put it mildly, you wouldn’t buy a used car from this country. The Kremlin is most likely trying to reap the benefits of WTO admission without paying any of the costs; once it’s been admitted, the idea of ejecting it will be out of the question. Russia routinely ignores international law, as it did when it allowed Iranian General Mohammad Bagher Zolqadr into the country recently. It ignores the world’s wishes on providing nuclear technology to Iran, just as it ignores U.S. national security in providing caches of weapons to madman Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Russia wouldn’t vote to allow the U.S. into the WTO if the U.S. were providing weapons like those to Chechyna, yet it expects U.S. support for its own bid. Hypocrisy is the natural outgrowth of duplicity. Therefore, it can’t be admitted.
Finally, it’s clear that the U.S. and Russia are on the brink of a new arms race and a new cold war; the latest flareup is over the installation of defensive U.S. missile systems in Eastern Europe. Quite simply, it would be insane for the the U.S. to provide such an enemy with the economic juice WTO membership could provide, much less the propaganda value.
If the rest of the world was united in opposition to the Kremlin as it should be, and if it had a solid plan for concerted action to protect itself from the neo-Soviet Union, and if Russia’s liberals were similarly united and dynamically vocal about wanting WTO admission as a lever, that would be one thing. It’s not the case. The world has been pusillanimous in the extreme, and Russia’s liberals have been disorganized and lazy (as usual). Blocking WTO admission seems to be the only message the U.S. is currently capable of sending that is in any way tangible that it opposes the rise of the neo-Soviet Union, so it can — it must — send that message. As is so often the case, it appears that the U.S. is the only country in the world willing to put its money where its mouth is where democracy and liberal values are concerned. So, once again, it must lead the world to the waters of liberty and hope it will drink.