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Against Resignation: For a Western Renaissance Against Russia and China | Opinion

“At the base of the Kremlin’s neurotic view of international affairs is the traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. […] This political force has complete commanding power over the energies of one of the world’s greatest peoples and over the resources of the world’s richest national territory, and spreads through deep and powerful currents of Russian nationalism. […] is impervious to the logic of reason, and highly sensitive to the logic of force […] its success will really depend on the level of cohesion, firmness and vigor that the Western world manages to muster”.

These phrases in quotes do not come from a recent analysis of Putin’s Russia after the attack on Ukraine, but from the famous ‘Long Telegram’ with which the American diplomat George F. Kennan offered Washington his analysis of the USSR in February 1946. Almost everything in that text sounds extraordinarily relevant today. One other passage, in particular, deserves attention. “Much depends on the health and vigor of our own society […] If we cannot abandon resignation and indifference to the shortcomings of our own society, Moscow will take advantage.” Moscow, or Beijing. We are in those.

In his nefarious speech this week, full of slurs and hate speech, Vladimir Putin pointed to real problems that undermine “the health and vigor” of Western societies that Kennan wrote about. “Data registered by international organizations […] They clearly show that social problems, even in the most advanced Western countries, have been exacerbated in recent years, that inequality and the gap between rich and poor are widening, and that racial and ethnic conflicts are making themselves felt,” Putin said. The statement must be qualified, pointing out that there are Western countries that cope much better than others with these two issues, and that inequality under the Putin regime has obscene features of enrichment without talent and pure corruption. But it would be stupid to ignore the seriousness of these problems, not to observe the deterioration of the confidence of so many citizens in the efficacy and fairness of liberal democracies.

There, then, are the two legs on which the new great European social contract will have to walk. Care thoroughly for the “health and vigor” of our societies, with a determined effort to ensure social cohesion. Conscientiously prepare to dissuade certain adversaries with the logic of force when the logic of reason is not enough.

All this cannot, and does not have to, be done at the expense of other fundamental objectives. The disconnection from dependence on Russian energy must be achieved by redoubling the push for renewables. Investment in defense can and should be the driving force behind technological and industrial excellence. Military spending does not have to be subtracted from social spending. In the case of Spain, it should be remembered, tax collection is consistently lower than the average of comparable European countries: there is clear room to raise it.

All this has already been done. Faced with the threat of the USSR described by Kennan, Western Europe responded with the construction of social protection systems of considerable scope and with the adhesion to the Atlantic Alliance led by the United States and huge spending on Defense: health of society and logic of force in case that of reason fails. However, in recent decades there has not been enough momentum to renew these bets, adapt them to the current time.

Now, the pandemic has cleared the eyes of many about the importance of public services; Putin has cleared many others of doubts about the importance of being able to defend yourself against bullies. The EU and national governments have succeeded in conceptually responding to these challenges. There is an enormous amount of work ahead, but by abandoning the resignation that holds so many back and embracing the moral clarity that eludes some, great achievements can be achieved, as in the post world war. The EU itself is the daughter of that moral clarity and the exile of resignation.

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