One periodically encounters critical evaluations of the CIS, but a more nuanced analysis is motivated by bringing into the open some hidden assumptions and by shedding light on some blind spots in Western analysts' predictions of the CIS's imminent demise. Such predictions we may call the "Goldilocks model" of CIS (dis)integration: where the main thing that Goldilocks is attempting to do is escape the embrace of the Russian Bear by getting out of the house. Different variants of the Goldilocks model contain as many as three related fallacies that misunderstand the meaning of integration in the present-day international system.
THREE FALLACIES OF THE ARGUMENT OF CIS INSIGNIFICANCE: WHAT DOES INTEGRATION MEAN?
1. "Integration" is taken to mean the re-establishment of a Russia-dominated sphere of influence. However, "CIS integration" can occur even if this does not conform with Russian designs, with the vision of other CIS members, or with the analyst's favorite model. To conclude that CIS consolidation is not occurring because Russian visions are not being realized, is a leap of logic; and actual Russian visions are not always what the analyst assumes them to be.
2. "Integration" is assumed necessarily to take place "from above" and to occur by definition through official supranational directives. But in a recent article, Sergei Karaganov (member of the Presidential Council) counted the reinforcement of multilateral CIS bodies as only in the third rank of Russia's interest: behind assuring the well-being of Russians inside and outside Russia; and behind assuring Russia's access to raw-materials, commodity, and labor markets of other CIS states. Yet these last-mentioned conditions surely represent integration.
3. "Integration" is construed in a "perfective" rather than "imperfective" sense. That is to say, the analyst minimizes any steps towards integration or cooperation because they have not yet achieved arbitrarily broader or deeper goals that the analyst may explicitly or implicitly impute. This fallacy consists in conceiving of integration as a goal and treating it as incapable of only partial realization, rather than seeing it as a process. Yet the processual nature of integration is the reality of the European Union as well as the dominant analytical tendency in European Union studies. (This should not be taken to imply that I believe the EU to be the future of the CIS.)
The argument in its complete and explicit form thus runs: Integration is possible only on Russian terms; it can be accomplished only by statist diktat; and partial success is failure by definition. If one instead considers integration from the standpoint of the other member states, as indicated by less formal yet still important measures, and as an ongoing rather than completed process, CIS integration looks rather different.
TWO VARIANTS OF THE ODNAKO PROBLEM: EVIDENCE AND MEASUREMENT OF INTEGRATION
In addition to the aforementioned fallacies, discussions of the CIS's weakness frequently have other serious problems. The most telling of these concern the use of evidence and the measurement of integration:
1. Evidence is adduced in a manner which, if it were restated, could easily promote an opposite conclusion. That is, in the style of the old Pravda editorials, what counts is what comes after the adverb odnako ("however"). Compare: "Russia continues to account for over three-quarters of Ukraine's total exports to the Former Soviet Union; however, since Ukrainian exports to non-FSU increased from one-half to two-thirds of total exports between 1993 to 1995, markets outside the FSU have become more important for Ukraine." And: "Ukraine's exports to the FSU countries decreased from one-half to one-third of total exports between 1993 and 1995; however, since Russia continues to account for over three-quarters of Ukraine's total exports to the FSU, and one-quarter of total exports, Ukraine remains highly dependent upon FSU markets and Russia in particular."
2. Realistic goalposts, according to which success would be acknowledged, are never made explicit. A related analytical pitfall is to establish those goalposts without reference to the actual declared goals of CIS participants. A corollary variant of the latter involves ignoring realistic obstacles to CIS integration or absolutizing them and treating them ahistorically (e.g., differing levels of economic development among the CIS countries, differing degrees of accomplished reform among them, or the retardation of reform in many of them).
AGAINST HISTORICAL INEVITABILITY: FOUR UNIQUE EVENTS
Integration in general may be motivated by elites who are acting on their own, responding to public pressure, or reflecting what has already occurred at the grass roots. None of these conditions has in general been met in the CIS. This is not to say, however, that the current state of "disintegration" among CIS participants is historically pre-determined. Rather, four unique events produced the present result:
1. The civil war in Tajikstan. This was the pretext for suppression of the democratic opposition in Tashkent by Karimov, who thereby initiated the swing towards authoritarianism in Central Asia, setting the anti-democratic tone for the region and demonstrating its impunity. This anti-democratic environment has eliminated popular pressure for the amelioration of conditions of daily life, and thus also eliminated one of the motive forces for cooperation with other CIS participants.
2. The forced reduction of the ruble zone to Russia. When the concomitant introduction of national currencies outside Russia left the Newly Independent States to fend for themselves, transnational corporations and international financial institutions became important actors shaping their macroeconomic policy and domestic legal-financial regimes. This forced a differentiation that rendered economic cooperation among NIS state administrations much more difficult.
3. The shelling of the Russian Parliament. This especially notable turning point marked a strong downward shift in the role of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, presided by Khasbulatov who through it had sought--and not without success--to increase the significance of the Russian Parliament, as against Russian executive power and Yeltsin himself. Khasbulatov's involvement discredited the CIS Assembly in Moscow, and it has never recovered; meanwhile, Russia acquired a much stronger presidential system.
4. The fall from power in Minsk of Shushkevich and his team. These individuals had intended to use the seat of CIS institutions as a diplomatic instrument for their proclaimed foreign policy of non-alignment, in the tradition of European small states. Their success would have strengthened the CIS institutionally.
THE CIS AND THE POST-WAR WORLD
To judge state-centric cooperation among CIS participants as the sole, or even the principal, criterion for evaluating the significance or "success" of the organization is questionable from the start. Yet even if this criterion were adopted, let us note that in calendar year 1996, commodity turnover among CIS participants rose to $60 billion, an increase of nearly one-third in comparison with 1995. The appointment of Evgenii Primakov as Russian Foreign Minister may not be coincidental. Both his personal biographical details and "academic" career under the Soviet regime furnish prima facie reason to believe otherwise, not to mention his consistent policy declarations favoring close relations among CIS states. On this basis alone, the burden of proof falls on those who contend that such relations will not continue to grow.
Moreover, the integration of state-based "cognitive sets" and increased inter-organizational contacts among state bureaucracies will in the longer run provide a real basis for the integration of the policies of the post-Soviet states. It will become possible to speak of a "post-Soviet foreign policy" in certain well-defined issue areas, such as the international public policy of Aral Sea ecology.
Furthermore, the new information environment has radically altered the existing situation. As recently as two decades ago, coordination through exchange of information frequently required physical face-to-face meetings in order to follow up and assure follow-through. Distributing information in order to coordinate often required a de facto secretariat; and the supervision of joint action required the establishment of a separate, however small, office or committee (i.e., "it necessitated formal institutionalization"). In practice all this can now be done via the Internet, where the only coordinating "institution" would be the shared software through which participants exchange information, plus the network of data transmissions among them.
This means that the activity and significance of any formal international institution is today much more likely to be underestimated than overestimated: because "traditional" research methodologies cannot account for all the transactions and flows among participating states that may be empirically salient. This potential blind spot sets such traps as attributing various states' differing policy outputs to an opposition of interests, when in fact they result from an undetected yet coordinated division of labor, or from the adaptation of a single agreed general policy line to different specific (national) circumstances.
Writing off the CIS becomes easier when one falls back upon well-worn notions of integration, institutionalization, and even security. However, the atemporal universality of those criteria in the current post-bipolar international system, and under conditions of the information revolution that is changing how international relations are conducted, is far from demonstrated. To write off the CIS in such circumstances becomes as much an act of faith as to suppose that it will promote the renaissance of a neo-Soviet Union. If we cannot avoid having analytical prejudices, we should at least bring them into the twenty-first century.
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First published in Analysis of Current Events, vol. 9, no. 3 (March 1997): 3, 6.