KIEV, Ukraine — For the last several months, the nation of Ukraine has taken central status on the world stage. The protests that led to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ousting was prompted by a free trade agreement with the European Union meant to spark the Ukrainian economy. After Russia pressured Yanukovych into backing out of the agreement, the resulting reaction by the populace was the spark for the protest movement. None of this would have happened if the Ukraine was stable economically, but the country is in dire straits.
There have been recent calls for a Marshall Plan-esque package that could make Ukraine economically viable again. There have been a surprising number of comparisons drawn from the current situation in the Ukraine to Europe before the Marshall Plan. The comparisons may be overemphasizing the dire straits Ukraine is currently in, but there is a subtext that shows a common threat towards democratic Europe from Russia. Still, the comparisons to a 1940s economic package may be vague to some, and an explanation of the package and what it did may be needed for a 21st Century observer.
World War II had left Western Europe devastated and the United States emerged as a superpower alongside the Soviet Union. With few functioning democratic economies left to trade with, and amid worries that Communism would spread past the “Iron Curtain” that had formed over Eastern Europe, decision makers felt a need for drastic change. Following the military support the U.S. had offered during the war with the Lend-Lease program, the U.S offered the Marshall Plan to Europe.
Named for Secretary of State George Marshall, a veteran general from the war, the plan proved to be a smashing success after it passed in 1948. The U.S. gave out $17.6 billion in aid (over $100 billion in today’s dollars,) which was administered swiftly over the course of four years. The figure was astronomical and helped raise nations like France and West Germany from their postwar malaise. The legacy of the law is tied to the formation of the Western bloc in the Cold War and that bloc’s eventual victory over Communism.
Considering the success of the plan and its lasting legacy, the plan is a popular memory to evoke when advocating help in the Ukraine. Any conflict with Russia today will bring to mind memories of the Cold War for the West, and hopes are to win popular support using this view of history. Considering the heated debates throughout the West on what to do with the Ukraine, easy comparisons like this help.
While movements on the geopolitical stage are the primary goals in the minds of Western decision-makers, the potential collapse of another European economy is a scary thought for the people on the ground struggling to get by. While a number of European economies are on the brink of collapse, the nation of Ukraine actually has strategic importance for the United States. This case at least could provide a positive example of the type of foreign aid the Borgen Project hopes to encourage in other areas of the world and bring relief to those facing extreme poverty.
– Eric Gustafsson