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Wall Street Journal: Putin's Hollowed-Out Homeland

Author: Nicholas N. Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
May 7, 2014

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"But while Russia's childbearing patterns today look entirely European, its mortality patterns look Third World—and in some ways worse. According to estimates by the World Health Organization, life expectancy in 2012 for a 15-year-old male was three years lower in Russia than in Haiti."

History is full of instances where a rising power, aggrieved and dissatisfied, acts aggressively to obtain new borders or other international concessions. In Russia today we see a much more unusual case: This increasingly menacing and ambitious geopolitical actor is a state in decline.

Notwithstanding Russia's nuclear arsenal and its vast territories, the distinguishing feature of the country today is its striking economic underdevelopment and weakness. For all Russia's oil and gas, the country's international sales of goods and services last year only barely edged out Belgium's—and were positively dwarfed by the Netherlands'. Remember, there has never been an "energy superpower"—anywhere, ever. In the modern era, the ultimate source of national wealth and power is not natural resources: It is human resources. And unfortunately for Russia, its human-resource situation is almost unrelievedly dismal—with worse likely in the years to come.

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