The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
The annus mirabilis 1989 has made it clear that the Soviet Union and the United States now have it in their power to put an end to the cold war—the most important, expensive and dangerous phenomenon of the second half of our tumultuous century. It is too soon for historians to say that the cold war is over. There are still many unresolved tensions where mistakes on one side or the other could revive it. Moreover, excessive optimism could again be a cause of failure as it has been in the past.
Disappointed hopes about Joseph Stalin were one reason for the intensity of American responses in 1946 and 1947, and disappointed hopes for détente more than 25 years later led to the renewal of the cold war in the decade of 1975-85. If these two great nations are to make durably strong the stable peace between them that is so clearly in prospect as we enter the 1990s, the first point for both to keep in mind is that this task will take continued effort by both parties. The December meeting in Malta between Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush seems to have been a hopeful step toward such a joint effort.
Nonetheless it is right to celebrate the great events that made 1989 the best year for East-West relations since World War II. At the end of the year in Eastern Europe there was one splendid surprise after another. The Poles had a government led by the men and women of Solidarity; the Hungarians were preparing for free elections after their Communist Party changed its name and lost most of its members; the old man who had ruled Bulgaria for 35 years was forced to quit; the massive demonstrations of those who would be free ended neo-Stalinism in Czechoslovakia and overthrew Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. In the largest surprise of all, the East Germans decisively rejected their own hard-line leaders and an interim regime responded to millions of peaceful demonstrators by opening the Berlin Wall.
Every one of those great events has been accepted, and most have been explicitly encouraged, by the government of the Soviet Union. More astonishing still, those massive changes—except in Romania—have taken place with less violence than we have come to fear from a single soccer game.
If the cold war could be ended as easily as it began, we could readily argue that the changes in Eastern Europe are in themselves enough to finish it off: It started there, and it is ending there.
The single set of events that was decisive in ending wartime hopes for lasting Soviet-American friendship was the Stalinization of Eastern Europe between the arrival of the Red Army in 1945 and the death of Jan Masaryk in 1948. Franklin Roosevelt had tried to prevent what happened, but the words of the Yalta declaration—clear in their pledge of free elections in all the countries set free from Hitler, and hailed by Americans left, right and center—were overridden by Stalin's army and his local henchmen. The Yalta conference is misunderstood when it is remembered as a meeting in which Roosevelt and Winston Churchill gave away the freedom of East Europeans. That freedom was never theirs to give. Both leaders may have put more trust in words than they should have, but were they wrong to try? At the very least, as I argued 40 years ago in this journal, the words of that declaration set a standard by which Stalin's actions could be judged.1 The great events of 1989 have precisely this meaning: If the rush to freedom is carried through, "the test of Yalta" will finally be passed, and the principles of the Yalta declaration will be realized.
The revolutions of 1989 have undermined the cold war in another way. They have given a massive and final blow to the appeal of international communism as the political wave of the future. Those of us who are old enough remember how much the cold war owed, in its beginnings, to fear of communists everywhere. Some of that fear was wildly exaggerated, though not all of it, but we need not here review that balance. What matters for the 1990s is that international communism has now plainly lost its missionary appeal. The communists who have been thrown out in Eastern Europe stand exposed as corrupt, tyrannical and incompetent, and their repudiation is plainly the work of the masses for whom they claimed to speak. The unfinished contest for China's future leaves that country without political appeal beyond its borders. Even Gorbachev, attractive as he is as a politician, has no exportable ideology. Individual communist tyrants can still oppress their own people and trouble those nearby, as in North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. But communism as a worldwide political movement died in 1989. There will be a parallel decline in the political appeal of anticommunism; not many will persist in endless war against the dead.
The peoples of Eastern Europe are themselves the primary authors of the great events of 1989. Without the clear consent and the general approval of Gorbachev those changes could not have come as they have. It is right that his name should have been cheered in East Berlin, but what is forcing change, amazingly, is the will of the peoples. I know of no one, expert or not, who foresaw these events, but their unexpectedness can only increase our admiration for the people who brought them to pass. In that number we must include those in government who have been willing to bend. If in 1776 there had been such men in power in London, our own revolution might have been fast and peaceful.
Still we must not suppose that the overthrow of tyranny is the same thing as the establishment of stable and peaceful democracies. Within each East European country there are deeply rooted antagonisms, and there is almost none without its memories of land and people now beyond its boundaries. Almost everywhere there is economic distress, and the task of economic turnaround will be harder than it was 45 years ago in Western Europe. External assistance is already in prospect, most generously from Western Europe, and it is probable that local wars can be prevented by the weight of Soviet power on the side of the territorial status quo. Nonetheless there will be a time of testing for all of the self-liberated countries.
The hardest problems of all—and the most important in terms of European peace—are those that lie ahead for East Germany. The apparently durable regime of Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker did seem to stand in the way of major change. In its way it was thus a guarantor of a strangely stable central Europe, where two world wars had been let loose in 25 years.
It is distressing, but not really surprising, that some of those who are habituated to the predictabilities of the cold war have displayed withdrawal pangs over the fall of the Iron Curtain. And it is entirely natural, indeed politically essential, that the future choices of both West and East Germans should take account of the interests of all their neighbors and of both superpowers. In terms of international law those interests are justified by the absence, still, of a German peace treaty. In terms of international politics they are more decisively justified by the reality that all the concerned parties must be reliably assured that there will never be a third world war caused by Germany.
My own conviction is that there is no such danger. I believe that the people of West and East Germany, perhaps more than any others, are now immunized from war-making. I also believe that one citizenry has learned from success, and the other from failure, that the real rewards of today and of the future are to be found in the arts of peaceful and productive work. I also believe, on a question that would be decisive by itself, that no German government, West or East or united, will ever develop its own nuclear weapons. I believe that such propositions would be widely accepted both by Germans and by those who know them best.
We cannot limit our interest in that enormous question, however, only to what will in fact happen. We must be concerned also with possibilities that will be feared. And what Germans might do in those matters will indeed be feared, even after forty years of West German statesmanship and East German obedience. That is the inheritance, unwanted but unavoidable, that we all have from Adolf Hitler.
It follows that the arrangements of the Germans must include safeguards that will adequately take the place of the vanished Iron Curtain as a guarantor of the German commitment to peace. I do not here venture to suggest what those arrangements should be. The variables are many, and since the central concern must be with what does and does not prevent fear, we must allow for the likelihood that what is needed will change over time.
What deserves emphasis right at the start, however, is that the requirement of reassurance against what Germany might do is not a judgment against the Germans. It is not even a requirement placed on Germany only in the interest of others. The Germans, as much as any other people, need the same reassurance; except for the Jews, the people who in the end suffered most from Hitler were the Germans themselves.
One great guarantee of peace remains in place for the present—the armies of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. It is more than likely that there will be some early cutbacks in the forces deployed on both sides; there has already been progress in 1989 toward agreement on large-scale reductions in military forces, and there should be more in 1990. There is good reason, however, for both armies to maintain for some time the military presence that has been customary for so long. It will be appropriate for the two superpowers to reduce to a minimum the inconvenience that their presence imposes on those who live in the two Germanys. Training exercises in particular can be cut back. The professional readiness of those forces simply does not have the urgency now that it was thought to have in earlier years.
The political rearrangement of Germany will take time, and it would be a mistake for any government to pretend to certainty about what that eventual rearrangement should be. In the first weeks after the Berlin Wall was opened, it was easy and natural for individual commentators to express themselves in sweeping terms—that German reunification was inevitable, or impossible. In truth, no one yet knows the answer. It is understandable that Chancellor Helmut Kohl should have expressed his own long-run hopes in his November 28 speech, which was also notable for its awareness of the distance from the present to the realization of such hopes. What we all need to remember here is what both German governments know very well. They have been actively negotiating the German future with each other for two decades now, and while there will be much more to discuss in the future than in the past, there is a great deal to be learned from their experiences.
The great innovator here was the former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who led the way to the set of agreements that opened the way to serious relations between the two Germanys in 1972. Brandt had the courage to reverse the priorities of West Germany—from an insistence on unconditional and therefore unobtainable reunification to an acceptance of the boundaries of the two Germanys as they were, along with a new Soviet guarantee for the security of West Berlin and a new acceptance by each German government of the other's existence. He then set out, and his successors have followed him, along a course using modest economic concessions—relatively easy for the rich West Germans—to increase the human and economic connections across the Iron Curtain. By 1989 those small steps had covered a lot of ground; the annual contribution of the rich West to the straitened East was running about six-to-seven billion deutsche marks, and the overall advantage to East Germany of its preferred trading relation with its larger and richer brother-state was even greater.
In the autumn of 1989, with change the order of the day in the East, the government of Helmut Kohl made it clear that further steps, and larger ones, could and would be taken in response to the East German abandonment of one-party dictatorship. In effect the West Germans are offering massive reinforcement to their fellow Germans insofar as they commit themselves to free and democratic elections by May 1990. No one can predict with precision the kind of relations that a freely elected government will and will not want with its neighbors. It is a safe assumption that East Germany will want and get large-scale economic help from Bonn, and that there will be large-scale movements of Germans back and forth in both directions, for work and for play.
Over time the free movement of Germans, the free elections of a new East German government, and the offer and acceptance of a new economic partnership are likely to lead on to political relations that will go beyond those that are usual in separate states. If the winners of the East German elections should come in with a mandate for reunification, both the speed and the magnitude of such political change would almost surely increase. Obviously it will remain possible for the Soviet Union to prevent such change, but only at very high cost to its own objectives of lower tension, lower defense bills and greater economic connection. Moreover, there is much that German leaders can do to reduce the likelihood of a Soviet veto. First they can make it wholly clear that their new political arrangements reflect the commitment to democracy and human rights that have so strongly marked both the forty-year tradition of Bonn and the people's revolution of 1989 in the East. The Gorbachev government is not likely to believe that a Germany with that kind of political base is eager for conflict.
The Germans can also draw on the examples of Konrad Adenauer and Brandt to reaffirm and deepen two great commitments already part of their own history: the rejection of German nuclear weapons and the acceptance of the Oder-Neisse line between East Germany and Poland. Both decisions were not so much a matter of right and wrong as a matter of good sense. The underlying reality is that neither boundary changes nor nuclear weapons would ever be as valuable to Germany as the international reassurance that has come from the decisions by both Adenauer and Brandt to keep those issues off the German agenda. The wisdom of their actions is amply demonstrated by the evident reality of political, economic and societal success in the Federal Republic. The newly connected Germany now on the horizon, whether or not in the end it becomes a single unified or federated state, will greatly reinforce its own peaceful future by unilateral and unconditional reaffirmation of those decisions.
As they address the future of the two Germanys, the leaders of West Germany will be concerned not only with what will give reassurance to all their neighbors, but also with the maintenance of their notable and constructive role in Western Europe. The West Germans will have the enormous asset of their solid record as good citizens of Western Europe, an honored and well-tended inheritance from Adenauer. The ways and means of community in Western Europe have a complexity that defies summary, but it is notable that there is not a single working organization in the region in which the West Germans are not active, effective and trusted. Every postwar German chancellor has been a good European; what Adenauer understood first is now understood almost across the board in Bonn, and it is backed by a profoundly European electorate.
For that reason it is natural, in West Germany, to think about "the German question" as part of "the European question." Even in its first passionate response to the opening of the Berlin Wall the government in Bonn did not lose sight of its interest in Poland's future; it has been responsive also to the reality that Hungary, by a timely opening of borders, played a most important role in the retirement of Honecker. Other European leaders, like French President François Mitterrand, have been quick to recognize that the right response to new freedoms in the East is self-confident generosity from the emerging Europe of the West. The West Germans, by wealth and location and self-interest, will have a great role in all this—all the more so because their credentials as loyal Europeans have been validated by more than forty years of commitment and performance.
Finally, there is the relation between the Federal Republic and the United States. At the end of the year in which John McCloy died it is natural to remember that in the forty years since he went to Germany as U.S. high commissioner, each country has been the other's most important friend. For us the Japanese are now even more important economically and the British are even closer, but the Germans have been the most important to us and we to them. A breakdown of German-American trust at any time in all those years could have meant the end of freedom in the center of Europe.
Are we to suppose that this great connection no longer matters? The question answers itself. The relationship will evolve—fewer American soldiers on the scene, not so many angels (or devils) dancing on the head of the pin of nuclear policy, a need for cooperation in durable détente with Moscow, as against solidarity in standing up to threats. But there is no substitute available to either government for its partnership with the other. There may come a day when the peace of Europe does not need the Americans, or even a day when the peace between the superpowers is so strong that Europe can relax in its shade, but along the way to such distant goals the Americans and the Germans will still need each other.
Let us return to the two superpowers and remind ourselves that just as the Americans will still have a guarantor's role in the West, so the Soviet Union will insist on remaining a guarantor of its own security in the East. We can go clear back to the Yalta conference and remind ourselves that one large element in what Roosevelt and Churchill were attempting there rested on their own awareness and acceptance of the Soviet need for unthreatening neighbors. We can also remember that not every ardent Polish nationalist of that generation would have seemed a good neighbor even to a less black-and-white Soviet judge than Stalin. There will always be watchful Soviet eyes on the new leaders of Eastern Europe, but there are also great differences between 1945 and 1990. So far those new leaders have shown sensitivity to the requirement to avoid threatening the Soviets' power. Moreover, the Soviets appear to have reached a clear decision that they need neighboring governments that make them feel secure, but not governments that hold their own peoples in a neo-Stalinist grip.
We do not know—and quite probably Gorbachev himself does not know—just what is meant by his requirement that those newly awakened societies remain both socialist and loyal to the Warsaw Pact. If, as I think, it is right to expect that both Gorbachev and the new leaders of Eastern Europe will strongly prefer genuinely peaceful coexistence to any renewal of ancient quarrels, then it is also reasonable to expect that Gorbachev will succeed in finding enough socialism and reliability among his neighbors to satisfy his announced standards. There is no more elastic word than socialism, unless it is the word market, and it may well be that in the long run the new socialism of Eastern Europe, and the perestroika of the Soviet Union, will all be definable as cases of market socialism.
As for reliability, if it be defined as a relationship that ensures peace both within the group and with others in Europe, then it can be found in many arrangements less expensive than that of allied armies fully deployed. Obviously the rearrangement here must be careful and it must take place in both alliances, but there is nothing in the declared purposes of either side that requires the two sets of deployments to remain as they are. No leader understands that reality more plainly than Gorbachev; none has less need for the postural rigidities that hardened in both alliances during the cold war years.
It is not yet clear that there is a parallel subtlety of understanding on the Western side. In December, as he visited NATO after Malta, President Bush appeared to share the general view of NATO leaders that if Germany is to be reunited, it should be reunited inside NATO. It is unlikely that such a formula would be acceptable to Moscow and it does not really make sense for Washington either. Does anyone really suppose that the détente so skillfully nourished at Malta would survive the incorporation of all of Germany in NATO and the arrival of American forces at the Polish border? Even supposing that the Russians would in fact withdraw in our favor from an occupation we have accepted for 45 years, do we really want to generate the fear and mistrust that would result if we took their place?
Those who talk of a united Germany as a member of NATO have not really decided what that would mean or how it could be acceptable to the Soviet Union. It is a shorthand way of asserting that a Germany rooted in Western Europe and linked to the United States is better for all than a Germany not so rooted and linked. That more general assertion is correct, but it is also incomplete if it does not respect the equally correct assertion that the Soviet Union, with its own intense memories of the war against Germany, will insist on safeguards more direct than those offered by the self-restraint of a self-consciously righteous NATO embracing all of Germany.
Fortunately the problem presented here is more apparent than real. Sooner or later it will be clear to all that the liberation of the six former satellite countries totally changes the calculus of danger in Europe. Those countries, in their new freedom, constitute a wide and strong buffer zone protecting both the Soviets and the West Europeans from their historical fears of one another.
In that situation the roles of both American and Soviet forces must change over time because the level of fear is so greatly reduced. It then becomes entirely reasonable to expect that there need be no more Americans in West Germany than the Germans truly want, and no more Soviet forces in liberated Europe than the liberated Europeans are willing to accept. It becomes quite likely that there should be no foreign troops at all in what is now East Germany. Sobered by all that was unexpected in 1989, I do not venture to foretell the eventual result. What does seem predictable, however, is that any result that is satisfactory to the free people on the spot will also be a stable reassurance to all concerned. Already in 1989 we have seen that interconnection, as the lowering of tension in the East decisively reduced the West German interest in modernizing short-range nuclear weapons. Each such demonstration of Western moderation is likely in its turn to help the men and women in Moscow feel at ease with change in Eastern Europe.
The reduction of American and Soviet forces in Europe will also help to increase the confidence of each superpower in the peaceful intentions of the other. In 1989 there was a gradual but significant shift in Washington from wariness to confidence about the reality of Moscow's commitment to major reductions in conventional forces. By the end of the year Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney was planning American reductions on a scale that he would have denounced as dangerous folly when he took office. The Malta meeting reaffirmed the commitment of both governments to the early conclusion of a broad agreement on conventional arms reductions. Both the negotiations and the design of reduced military budgets will be demanding on the defense leaders of both countries, and it may well turn out that the rate of change is less rapid than optimists hope. But here as elsewhere in the new world of the 1990s it is the general direction of change, and not its magnitude in any one season, that matters most.
There is a busy season ahead, then, as each of the two superpowers rearranges its relations with the part of Germany and Europe to which it has been connected. What is striking about that prospect is if the two countries continue as they have begun, the changes required in the interest of good relations with allies will also be changes that improve the direct relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. We have here the exact converse of what happened in the first years after World War II, when the abrasive impact of oppressive Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe was rapidly countered by the integration of Adenauer's Germany into a recovering West.
Yet it is also right to emphasize the magnitude of the changes of 1989. It is hard to overestimate the value, both to the self-confidence of Europe and to the direct relations between Moscow and Washington, of the reduction in the Soviet threat in Europe that has resulted from the combination of multiple national revolutions and Soviet conventional restraint. By the end of the year there was official acceptance of what was already obvious to public opinion throughout the Atlantic alliance: Warsaw Pact countries, large and small, had neither the intent nor the capability for rapid assault on the West, and there would be ample advance warning of any large-scale move to change that reality.
In strictly bilateral terms there is a special importance to the strategic nuclear arms race. In Soviet memory it is almost surely the American atomic bomb, not the Iron Curtain, that marked the beginning of the cold war, and the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949 sharply increased cold war tension in Washington. It remains true today, as it has been since the 1950s, that each of the two nations lives in constant awareness that its whole society could be smashed in a day by the missiles of the other.
Strategic arms control had a thin decade in the 1980s. The second Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) Treaty was signed in 1979 by Jimmy Carter but never ratified by Congress. Ronald Reagan never understood what was and was not possible in the nuclear competition, so he committed himself recklessly to the unattainable goal of a leakproof space shield and then in his summit meeting with Gorbachev flirted briefly with a misconceived "abolition" of strategic missiles, thus making Reykjavik a permanent word of warning to his successor. In the end, when Gorbachev's good sense and the responsive diplomacy of George Shultz and Paul Nitze brought an excellent strategic agreement within plain reach, Reagan stubbornly preferred his dream of effective defense. That decision made a messy legacy for President Bush, and it is not all bad that 1989 has been a year of deliberation.
Yet much more is now possible and there are new forces on the side of large-scale strategic reductions. The most powerful, for both governments, may be the pressure on military budgets. New systems, pressing as they do against the limits of what is technologically feasible, come in at prices hard to defend at a time when the strategic stalemate is sturdy and the charge of dangerous imbalance long since dismissed by Reagan himself. What exactly is it that makes a single Stealth Bomber worth half-a-billion dollars? As the year ended, the Stealth program was being stretched out. Still more significantly, the appropriation for strategic defense was repeatedly cut from Reagan's last proposals—by President Bush, the Senate and the House. No one now claims that there can be a leakproof shield, and those who proclaim the value of enormously expensive partial protection are each year less persuasive in Washington.
There is some tension between the downward pressure on military budgets and the complex process of agreed reduction by arms control agreements. It is often supposed that the only way to get agreements is to have good systems you can trade away—the most notable examples may be the primitive antiballistic missile deployments that were limited in the SALT I treaty and the Pershing missiles that were traded for Soviet SS-20s in 1987. Such build-and-bargain tactics, however, are not the only way of getting balanced and mutually reassuring reductions. In the new political environment that we all owe primarily to Gorbachev, it becomes entirely possible to make a virtue of moderation and to count it as a part of the process of constructive bilateral reductions.
It is also reasonable to hope that both great governments are beginning to escape from the pressure of the war-fighting doctrines embraced by military leaders on both sides in earlier years. The low point in the U.S. discussion on that issue came in the late 1970s when conservative civilians, with some help from retired military men, argued that Soviet leaders committed to victory in nuclear warfare were in fact acquiring a strategic superiority, which they would be able to use as nuclear blackmail to obtain a decisive cold war advantage.
It was one of Reagan's most valuable contributions as president that he made mincemeat of those false fears with a single sentence, first uttered in 1982 and then repeated regularly and in his last years jointly with Gorbachev: A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The proposition is both deeply correct and highly constructive. Its practical meaning is that most of the new weapons systems developed by both sides in the last twenty years have been unnecessary or even destabilizing. Because nuclear war is unwinnable, only weapons (such as better submarines and single-warhead mobile missiles) that add significantly to overall survivability are worth buying, and even then not too many of them.
Yet not even a president with a gift for phrase-making and an earned immunity to criticism from conservatives can undo a whole strategic mindset by a single sentence. There is much serious work to be done in thinking through what it means, in terms of strategic doctrine, planning and procurement, to start from the proposition that a nuclear war cannot be won. The central tradition of military thought in both countries is that what you must do in war is win. In the particular version adopted as a formal service credo by the U.S. Air Force, you must win by the resolute and decisive application of strategic air power—nuclear since 1945 and including submarine-launched missiles since 1960. Unless Reagan and Gorbachev are all wrong about nuclear war, such pursuit of victory is quite literally nonsensical. You cannot win, and if you try to, you will only commit national suicide.
Senior military men are obviously not blind to that reality. In practical terms what they expect from strategic strength is deterrence, not victory. Nonetheless they have been slow to address the habits of mind that lead planners and service leaders to seek ways and means of attack that might in some numerical sense "win"; this creates, for example, a demand for ever more numerous "prompt hard-target killers." There will never be enough to win—that is the meaning of Reagan's statement—and building more and more only stimulates the new deployments of the opponent. What you need is enough to deter, as Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to say, and both sides have vastly more than enough as the 1990s begin. I believe that the president who tells his senior commanders to apply common sense to strategic doctrine will find a ready response; many military men understand that there is an unbridgeable gap between inherited doctrine and the reality of strategic stalemate.
The stalemate of today would be a stalemate even if one side were to go on building while the other cut back by half its many survivable warheads. The band of parity, in Robert McNamara's phrase, is very wide. In such a situation there is no need for either government to be greatly troubled by the exact numbers of vehicles and warheads agreed in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks treaty now so near to completion. What is needed on both sides is political determination, and here the words from Malta are encouraging.
There is also room on both sides for acts of unilateral moderation. Over time of course, such acts must be roughly matched if there is to be a sustained process of two-sided restraint, but it helps a lot not to have to worry about precise balances at every step. Indeed in that situation, once it is clearly understood, the side that takes the lead in moderation is doing itself a favor. It is saving money without risk. Bilateral moderation, with or without formal agreements, will be reinforcing to mutual trust. The two superpowers cannot abolish nuclear danger, but they can greatly strengthen their confidence in each other's rejection of nuclear war and by doing so reinforce each other's acceptance of stable peace.
Each side has much to learn about those realities. Budget pressures, improved doctrines, sensible restraint in procurement and new formal agreements will take time to have their effect on each other and on the overall attitudes of both governments. There will always be voices for caution in both capitals. On the American side there is a particular hazard of rigidity among those who really believe in the nuclear orthodoxies of NATO planners. Fortunately there is also a much more impressive tradition in NATO, the one represented among American leaders by General Eisenhower and his best student, Andrew Goodpaster. In that tradition the underlying purpose is always the political reassurance of allies, not the deployment of this or that specific weapons system. Precisely because political reassurance will be much easier in the emerging post-Stalinist Europe, it will also be easier to avoid renewed entrapment in "requirements" that have their basis in dated doctrine, not in nuclear or political reality. American nuclear moderation, across the board from battlefield weapons to intercontinental missiles, will be reinforcing to Western self-confidence in the coming decade.
The most uncertain of all the relationships between the two superpowers are those that occur not in their direct encounters over strategic weaponry or over Europe, but in their relations to other countries, most of them in the Third World. Except for the important and welcome Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, we cannot call 1989 a year of great improvement in those relations. It is not surprising that the Malta summit produced no visible progress on the question of large-scale Soviet support for the unrepentantly old-fashioned dictator Fidel Castro and, through him, for communists in Central America. American policy in that region remains narrow, and much of the U.S. concern about turmoil in those small countries is absurdly exaggerated. Central America is not the soft underbelly of American security—Panama is an exception because of U.S. interests in the canal (and because of the viciousness of the fallen Panamanian leader, General Manuel Antonio Noriega).
As the year ends, the large Soviet role that is played in and through Cuba remains a source of mistrust and a serious constraint on other improvements in bilateral relations. Nothing would do more to ease the way for such improvement than a visible and sustained reduction in the Soviet subsidy to Castro, and it will be entirely understandable if that happens only by independent Soviet choice, not by superpower negotiation.
Underlying the Soviet-American relationship—whether in Europe, in strategic weaponry, in Third World countries or indeed in matters of economics and human rights—is the question of communication and understanding between the two governments and their societies. In that broad field 1989 was a good year and, as in the case of freedom in Eastern Europe, we must give decisive importance to the role of President Gorbachev. Glasnost is not the same as free speech, because it goes only as far as authority permits, and there are still limits that are not unimportant merely because they are unspecified. Nonetheless the change since 1985 has been large and good, perhaps as great in those four years as in all the decades between the death of Stalin and Gorbachev's succession.
The new openness both in Soviet diplomacy and in political discourse is both a major element in the easing of the cold war and a major reinforcement of the prospect for stable and confidently peaceful relations between the two superpowers. In 1989 we had a striking demonstration of the constructive power of glasnost when Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze made a formal public acknowledgment that the radar at Krasnoyarsk violated the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, thus ending years in which implausible Soviet denials had interacted destructively with wildly overstated American claims that this one misplaced radar was of decisive strategic importance. Shevardnadze's courageous statement reflected a new level of Soviet understanding that systematic deception is the enemy of trust between nations. Conversely, when great governments deal openly with one another, and when they do what they say they will do, the reinforcement of their mutual trust can be both quick and strong.
Before the cold war began, the great nuclear physicist Niels Bohr tried to persuade Roosevelt and Churchill that the first requirement of the nuclear age had to be openness—above all between the great powers, and most of all between the United States and the Soviet Union. He was not heeded at the time, and it is far from clear that what he wanted could have happened while Stalin lived. Nonetheless, Bohr was right. As the 1990s begin, the most important single source of new hope is that both governments do now seem to have leaders who expect to be open with each other and with their friends, to the common advantage of all. As a matter of history we cannot yet say that the cold war is over. But looking ahead from where we are now it is not wrong to say that the last decade of the century bids fair to be a time of steadily stronger peace, both in Europe and in the overall relations between the two great protagonists of the years since 1945.
1 McGeorge Bundy, "The Test of Yalta," Foreign Affairs, July 1949.