To complement some of the answers that other educators have provided, I would like to consider the importance of studying comparative politics from a historical perspective. If we want to understand the rationale behind the socioeconomic systems and political dynamics that human societies embrace today, we cannot do so without...
To complement some of the answers that other educators have provided, I would like to consider the importance of studying comparative politics from a historical perspective. If we want to understand the rationale behind the socioeconomic systems and political dynamics that human societies embrace today, we cannot do so without considering the historical circumstances that led to their emergence in the first place.
Why does the United States so strongly embrace the principles of free-market capitalism? Why, in the twenty-first century, has the world become hyper globalized? Why is it that people, both in the advanced, capitalist countries and in the Global South, acknowledge the existence of something they collectively label the “Third World?” Answers to these kinds of questions can only be discovered via a deep and critical evaluation of history. This is because the ways in which we conceptualize politics today is nothing like how we did whenever these issues first presented themselves to the world. Finally, “comparative” politics is critical in this regard, because no political decision is ever made in a vacuum.
To take a current-day example, we might interrogate Russia’s decision to become violently engaged in various international conflicts. Why did the Russian Federation invade Georgia in 2008? Why does Putin support the Assad government? What benefits does Russia obtain by helping perpetuate partisan conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine? We might be tempted to argue that all of this is simply the result of an inveterate Russian expansionist mentality coupled with a series of immoral leadership decisions. This point of view is palatable to most Westerners, but it does not employ a comparative approach to understanding Russian politics. For that reason, it is not critical.
We may, then, decide to compare Western political values with those of the Russian Federation today—an exceedingly difficult task. Oil interests aside, Syria possesses Tartus, the only Russian port that opens up onto the Mediterranean. EU and US energy sanctions on the Russian Federation over the past decade have put a stranglehold on much of its domestic economy, forcing Russia’s leadership to look for alternative sources of revenue. The valuable oil pipelines that run through Georgia are tempting. Georgia is close to Russia and contains a Russian ethnic minority. Assuming control of the flow of oil and natural gas through the region could supply Russia with a much-needed source of income. Although one may still not agree with Russia’s methods, a comparative analysis of the political situation (or crisis) in the country can more clearly elucidate Putin’s decision-making process.
Finally, a historically comparative approach to Russian politics will provide us with the clearest picture that we can make.
Why does Russia care about Ukraine, anyway? In the first place, Russia’s largest natural-gas pipeline has run straight through the heart of the country since the Soviet era. Since the collapse of communism in Russia and the formation of Ukraine, Russia lost nominal control over the pipeline. Ukraine deprived it of much-needed oil and gas revenue. This is a comparative approach, if one was only aware of US reservations against Russian-Ukrainian interventionism.
In the second place, Ukraine is the historical heartland of the Slavic peoples. The territory of the Donbass region has been disputed between the Russian Empire, Soviet Union, and Russian Federation and the Ukrainian people on and off for centuries. Russia has an enormous cultural and economic investment in the region, and a large percentage of the people living in the East are actually ethnically Russian and speak that language. Thus, the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, and Russia and everywhere else, for that matter, is not as simple as good versus evil. One can only reach this sophisticated conclusion by engaging both in contemporary and historical comparative political analysis.