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Lessons to Learn from the Post-Soviet Transition

The international community should bear in mind these key points from the post-Soviet transition as it deals with turmoil in the Middle East.

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Foreign policy experts are heatedly debating whether there are useful precedents from the post-Soviet period in Central and Eastern Europe as they try to wrap their heads around the rapidly evolving and unsettling situation in the Middle East. But the truly valuable lessons from the period after the Berlin Wall fell are not about Egypt, or Libya, or Bahrain and how much or how little these countries are like Poland, Russia, or Slovenia. They are about the international community itself and how it deals with upheaval, uncertainty, humanitarian interventions, and shaky democratic transitions.

Western diplomats, aid agencies, and legislatures are still prone to the same types of approaches—both good and bad—that they employed in the early 1990s. They are already replicating some of these missteps. What’s more, we must approach the countries in the Middle East as very different than those in the former Soviet space, as Tom Carothers argues in Foreign Policy.

Here are some key points, based on what happened in the post-Soviet transition, that the international community should bear in mind as it deals with turmoil in the Middle East:

  • We should expect mixed and very uneven results.
  • Diplomatic discord is immensely counterproductive.
  • Old suspicions will complicate assistance.
  • We can help achieve great things.
  • Expect old enmities to flare up.
  • You can’t do half-hearted humanitarian interventions.

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