Attending the Lennart Meri Memorial Conference, I was struck by how three countries seem to be defining -- for better and for worse -- the West's future in the post-communist space.
Those three countries are Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine. Each one presents a unique challenge.
For Belarus, the challenge is this: How can Western countries back pro-democratic forces without engaging in the unsavory under the table diplomacy favored by the West's opponents? In short -- how do you win a basketball game playing by the rules against a street team that always wants to play dirty? This question in itself drives us to question our faith in our values -- and if there's one thing the Western press likes, it's talking about itself.
For Georgia, the challenge is this: How can the West positively reward and encourage reform at a time when its institutions already seemed saddled by obstacles. Between EU enlargement that grew membership from 15 members to 27 in the course of three years, uncertainty over the future of the EU constitution, and NATO operations in Afghanistan that are criticized by the alleged lackluster support from some members, how can the West hold out the carrot of NATO and the EU to Georgia while it has its own doubts about the development of those organizations? In essence, can you really help your friends study for final exams when you don't know the material that well yourself?
Finally, there is Ukraine. Ukraine gave the world the "Orange Revolution" and the easy-to-empathize-with face of President Viktor Yushchenko. Yet Yushchenko this week signed an order to dissolve the Ukrainian parliament headed by his 2004 presidential rival Viktor Yanukovych. While nobody in the West likes the Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych, they don't entirely like the idea of a president dissolving parliament one year after elections for what are, as it seems, political reasons. Here the challenge is this: Are we more interested in the means or the ends? Is a EU, NATO friendly Ukraine worth more than a principled, democratic Ukraine, warts and all? And who do you root for, if nobody has any principles?
I'm not sure anyone really has the answers to these questions. But I do think that these are three central debates that are burning in foreign policy circles right now.