January 30, 2019


VENEZUELAN TROUBLES: Learning From History (Edward Luce, 1/29/19, European Edge)

[H]istory suggests that using diplomatic recognition as a weapon is a tricky business. After the Bolshevik revolution, most Western countries boycotted the new Soviet authorities. That stemmed from a mixture of hope (that the communist experiment would be temporary) and fear (that it might spread). European countries opened diplomatic relations quite quickly (starting with Estonia in 1920); the United States waited until November 1933. It is hard to see what gains that brought. The West made a similar mistake with the Communist authorities in China, with most countries waiting until the regime in Beijing took over the Chinese seat at the UN from Taiwan in 1971.

That is not to say that symbolic moves are worthless. When Lech Wałęsa became president of Poland in 1990, he received the seal and other insignia of office not from the outgoing communist authorities in Warsaw, but from the president of the government-in-exile in London. Fifty years on the sidelines were suddenly vindicated.

In the State Department lobby, the flags of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania hung throughout the years of Nazi and Soviet occupation. They no longer existed de facto, but the United States, and most Western countries, did not recognize Soviet rule there de jure. That seemed a pointless, even quixotic, stand during the Cold War. But when the Baltic states regained independence, it paid off. Countries like the U.S. and the Vatican that had looked after the Baltic states' interests during the years of occupation felt justly proud. Those that had not, blushed. (In the early 1990s Britain, for example, had to pay the three countries £90m in compensation for their gold reserves, handed back to the Soviet authorities in 1967.)

At the United Nations, it was the other way around.

Posted by at January 30, 2019 12:02 AM