In 1989, while the nations of Western Europe celebrated the bicentenary of the French Revolution, the nations of Eastern Europe reenacted it.

The similarities were striking. In every major country east of the Iron Curtain, anciens régimes that had lost all ideological credibility had been brought by corrupt and incompetent leadership to the point of economic collapse. As in eighteenth-century France, economic crisis precipitated mass popular discontent, led by intellectuals who had long been harassed by a censorship severe enough to infuriate but not sufficiently brutal to crush them. In some cases-the Soviet Union and Poland-the governments themselves took the initiative (as had the ministers of Louis XVI of France in summoning the Estates General) by opening consultations with opposition elements they had long tried to ignore or destroy. In others-East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania-the regimes simply crumbled (like the French monarchy between 1789 and 1791) before repeated and implacable mass demonstrations.

The process reached a climax on the afternoon of November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall, a symbol of oppression at least as gruesome as the Bastille, was pierced by crowds who poured into West Berlin, dancing, singing and weeping for joy. Unlike the events of 1789 all this happened, Romania alone excepted, without the loss of a single life.

We can well understand the feelings of William Wordsworth when he wrote:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive

But to be young was very Heaven!

The parallel is not altogether a comfortable one. Wordsworth lived to regret his youthful enthusiasm. The fall of the Bastille in 1789 was followed by events so terrible that many Frenchmen still wonder whether the revolution deserves to be celebrated at all.


There are other analogies yet more disquieting. The French Revolution did not set off an immediate chain reaction throughout Europe, unlike the revolutions of 1848 when, fired by the example of Paris, crowds in Brussels, Vienna, Budapest, Milan and Warsaw poured onto the streets. Barricades were erected, governments collapsed like ninepins, leaving a power vacuum into which moved eloquent but inexperienced leaders, faced with the task of translating into reality the ideals they had been preaching in opposition. They fumbled and fought among themselves. Liberals and radicals found they had as little in common as either had with the old order. The forces of reaction, scotched but not killed, bided their time and struck back. By the end of 1849 order had been restored, the revolutionary leaders were in exile, and tougher if more pragmatic gendarmes had taken charge of the European continent. That Springtime of Nations was over almost before it had begun.

Argument by analogy is an activity that professional historians properly mistrust. For one thing, the events we recall occurred in a context so richly different from our own that we are liable to misunderstand their significance. For another, the memory of those past events is itself a historical determinant. The men and women of 1848 would not have acted as they did had they not remembered the course taken by events in Paris after 1789. Lenin might not have acted as he did in 1917 had he not drawn from the events of both 1789 and 1848 the idea of establishing a "dictatorship of the proletariat" before free elections could bring moderates to power. President Mikhail Gorbachev does not need the expertise of the West to remind him of the fate of the tsar liberator, Alexander II of Russia.

The lesson of 1789 and 1848 is not that events repeat themselves in some Thucydidean fashion. It is that during long periods of peace such as those which Europe enjoyed from 1763 to 1789, 1815 to 1848 and 1945 to 1989, economic and social development engenders a political dynamic of its own. If governments are not responsive to that force they will sooner or later be swept away. Paradoxically the man who discerned and explained this process most clearly was Karl Marx himself-a great European philosopher whose works appear to have been as little studied in the Soviet Union as they are in the United States.

In the Soviet Union since 1945 that process was slow but nonetheless inexorable. After a generation of wars and civil wars, the iron framework imposed on the Soviet peoples by Stalin and maintained in its essentials by his successors at least provided a measure of stability and order that made possible the gradual modernization of Soviet society. For Soviet citizens who remembered the early years of the twentieth century, the system was no worse than what had gone before, and there were good indicators in the economy of the 1950s that life was improving. The Western record of boom and slump, unemployment and pockets of Fascism certainly looked increasingly unattractive. Khrushchev cannot have been alone among his fellow-countrymen with his confident prediction to the West, "We will bury you."

By the 1970s, however, it was clear that the Soviets could do nothing of the kind. The socialist system was not, after all, delivering on its promise of rewards in this world-a promise that distinguished it from earlier ideologies whose consolation for human misery in this life was the promise of felicity in the next. Agreed, the earthly paradise had to be deferred. The Soviet peoples had to accept deprivation so that future generations could reap the rewards of their labor. But the Soviet cohorts growing up in the 1970s and 1980s were the future generation. They had no collective memory of tsarist oppression, invasion or civil wars. Increasingly literate, intelligent, urbanized, and bourgeois in their inclinations if not in their occupations, they wanted their inheritance now. The aging Soviet leaders relapsed into immobilism and corruption like the cardinals of a decadent church. Only the presence of a few enthusiastic acolytes in the Third World and the continuing military confrontation with the West continued to provide the leadership and its ideology with a raison d'etre.

Gorbachev was thus no fortuitous deus ex machina. He was exceptional in his talents rather than in his perceptions; talents first appreciated by Yuri Andropov, who as chief of the KGB had recognized the worsening predicament of his country, and who, before his premature death, managed to maneuver Gorbachev into the line of succession. Not even Andropov, however, could have foreseen the skill with which Gorbachev would consolidate and maintain his internal authority and the boldness with which he would unleash the forces of revolutionary change. For five years the world watched astounded as, like an expert skier, Gorbachev used the very steepness of the slopes down which he hurled himself to maintain his balance and momentum. It watched also with apprehension, fearful that at any moment he would come crashing to the ground.

Last year revealed the huge dimensions of the task confronting Gorbachev. The Soviet economic situation worsened. The coal miners, on whose cooperation economic recovery heavily depended, went on strike. Nationalist and ethnic disorders broke out in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Uzbekistan. The three Baltic republics mounted demonstrations demanding independence that were impressive for their dignity and restraint. They provoked Gorbachev's ire, but there was no backlash of repression.

The Soviet leader was calm in his handling of the March elections to the Congress of People's Deputies, when Communist Party candidates were defeated even in cases when no alternative candidates offered themselves. Meetings of the congress were televised live, and the scathing criticisms of the regime voiced by the new deputies only strengthened Gorbachev's hand in disposing of the old guard. Predictably he found himself attacked from both sides, radicals who thought he was doing too little and conservatives who thought he was doing too much. When in May he was elected president with greatly enhanced powers by a suspiciously large majority of 95.6 percent, and when a few months later he summoned his chief newspaper critics and berated them for an hour and a half, right-wing critics in the West were able to argue that nothing had really changed; the old authoritarianism was there under a new guise. Anyhow, they gloated, he was clearly bound to fail.


The people who watched Gorbachev's discomfiture with the greatest satisfaction, however, were the leaders of the People's Republic of China. They had realized, almost two decades earlier than had the Soviets, that the modernization promised by Marxism would never be achieved without some concessions to a market economy and massive borrowing of capital and technology from abroad. They realized also that such a process could be immensely disruptive unless it was controlled with an iron hand from above. Once an entrepreneurial society had developed, they explained to sympathetic Western visitors, political reform would automatically follow; to introduce it prematurely would be to place their whole future in hazard. The troubles unleashed by Gorbachev's policies in the Soviet Union seemed to indicate that the Chinese leaders were correct.

But the People's Republic could no longer be so insulated from the world that modernization could occur under ideal laboratory conditions. Scores of thousands of young Chinese had now visited the West to be trained in the skills needed for China's development, and they now knew what they were missing. For them and their generation, events in the Soviet Union provided a model to be followed rather than an example to be shunned. An announcement by Chinese Premier Li Peng on April 3, 1989, that his government would not initiate any Soviet-style reforms, followed by the death of pro-reform leader Hu Yaobang on April 15, sparked off student demonstrations, which by the end of the month had coalesced into a huge and continuous mass meeting in Tienanmen Square in the center of Beijing.

Perhaps more skillful leadership on both sides, combined with more sophisticated riot-control techniques, might have avoided the bloodshed that followed on the night of June 3-4, when army tanks moved in and crushed the protesters under the eyes of the world's television cameras. Perhaps the hard-liners in the Chinese leadership were determined anyhow to use the occasion as they did, simultaneously to destroy the protest movement nationwide and to purge the party of its more moderate members under Chairman Zhao Ziyang. In any case, an example was set that horrified the world.

The repression, in the short run at least, proved effective. There did not yet exist in China, as in the communist countries farther west, a Marxist-type "revolutionary situation" in which a developed middle class and a powerful industrial proletariat had been fused by their frustration into a serious political force capable of finishing what the students had begun. Like the Europeans in 1848, the Chinese masses in a still overwhelmingly agrarian society remained quiescent and the army loyal. But like the governments of 1848, the Chinese authorities have gained only a breathing space. The more successfully they press on with modernization, the more their power will be eroded. Unless they imitate Gorbachev's courage in embracing the future, the Chinese leaders will be faced, sooner or later, with other Tienanmen Squares.

The June 1989 massacre of Chinese students and their supporters, however, showed the East European leaders of communist regimes that if they wanted to stifle protests in their own countries, that kind of bloodshed was the price they would have to pay. Gorbachev made it clear that he would not do it for them, and only Romania's despot, Nicolae Ceausescu, had the nerve to do it on his own-at the cost of his and his wife's lives and the slaughter of thousands of his countrymen. In any case, both Hungary and Poland had already passed the point of no return. In Budapest an already liberalized Communist Party bought peace by granting freedom of political association and allowing multiparty elections; the new leaders stopped calling themselves "communists" and dropped the title "Workers' Republic" from the name of the state. More important, Hungary opened its frontier with Austria, permitting a stream of emigration to the West from East Germany that by the autumn had turned into a flood.

In Poland Solidarity, a unique body that was more than a trade union but less than an organized political party, had already established an unassailable position, with the support of the Catholic Church, as the legitimate voice of the Polish people. In January Solidarity was again legalized by the Polish communist regime; in February it was brought into formal consultation; in April it approved a new representative constitution; in June it swept the board in free elections; and in August Solidarity became the senior partner in a coalition government headed by its own man, Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Poland's communist leaders were as reluctant to concede power to the independent labor union as Solidarity was to take it. When Mazowiecki assumed office he confronted an economic nightmare. But Gorbachev forced through a shotgun marriage, no doubt calculating quite correctly that once Solidarity was in power the burden of sustaining Poland's economy would be shifted from the shoulders of the Soviet Union to those of the sympathetic and wealthy West.

Even the most optimistic Western observers did not expect the hard-line communist states of Czechoslovakia and East Germany to fall so easily. For one thing their economies were comparatively successful; their standard of living was respectable even by Western standards. For another, Czechoslovakia and East Germany constituted the frontier provinces of the communist world; it was assumed that military considerations alone would prevent the Soviet Union from allowing them the freedom of action possible for their more sheltered neighbors farther east.

But in the autumn the regimes of East Germany and Czechoslovakia collapsed as well. In August tens of thousands of East Germans went on holiday in Hungary and did not come back. Passing through the newly opened Austro-Hungarian border, or directly from Czechoslovakia, the East Germans traveled to West Germany where they knew they could obtain automatic rights of citizenship. By November their number was approaching 200,000, an emigration on the scale that had forced the East German government 28 years earlier to erect the Berlin Wall.

The hemorrhage began, as it had then, to drain the East German economy. In October, mass demonstrations in Leipzig and East Berlin forced the resignation of Erich Honecker and his government. Honecker's successor, Egon Krenz, tried to control the situation by dismantling the Berlin Wall and promising free elections, before he also was swept from power at the beginning of December.

As for Czechoslovakia, a combination of firm warnings from Moscow and increasingly bold street demonstrations toppled the administration of Miloš Jakeš on November 17 and set that country back on the path to democracy from which it had been so cruelly diverted half-a-century earlier. The Balkan satrapy of Bulgaria had already fallen into line, and on December 22 Ceausescu was bloodily deprived of power.

By the end of the year the communist era in Eastern Europe was only an evil memory.


Even to chronicle the events of 1989 leaves one breathless, and it is still too soon to appreciate their full significance for the future of East-West relations. One thing, however, is clear. The liberation of Eastern Europe occurred not in face of objections from Moscow, but with positive Soviet support. Gorbachev advised the communist leaders in Poland to co-opt Solidarity. He warned both Honecker and Jakeš of the consequences of resisting the stream of history; he kept Soviet troops in their barracks; and (so far as we know) it was he who also advised Krenz to demolish the Berlin Wall. By the beginning of December the Soviet Union and its allies in the Warsaw Pact had explicitly renounced the Brezhnev Doctrine, as the West had been demanding they should for the past twenty years.

The course of those events could only signify a deliberate decision by the Soviet leadership to withdraw from the affairs of Eastern Europe. Soviet troops remained, but they were now on alien if not hostile territory. Events had undoubtedly moved far faster and further than Gorbachev had expected, but still, he must have believed that any loss in military security would be outweighed by the abandonment of a huge political liability.

Gorbachev no doubt further calculated that the West would be compelled by public opinion to respond with some dismantling of its own military structure. Skeptics in the West maintained that this had been the Soviet objective all along-that behind the Soviets' pacific professions there lay the Machiavellian intention of dividing the United States from its European allies. Others accepted Gorbachev's assurances at face value. It seemed quite logical that he should want to end a confrontation as unnecessary as it was counterproductive, and rejoin the world from which the Soviet Union had turned away seventy years before. Whatever Gorbachev's intentions, by the end of 1989, Eastern Europe was free and seemed likely to remain so. If this produced problems within the Western alliance it did not seem an excessive price to pay.


How was the West to respond to all this? In the United States a new president had taken office at the beginning of the year. In spite of his long familiarity with affairs of state, George Bush was an unknown quantity: an affable and apparently rather weak man who needed to reassure his party's hard-liners that he was "hard-nosed" and "tough." His presidential term began badly. Bush arrived in the White House after an electoral campaign whose combination of triviality and personal abuse had been watched by overseas friends of the United States with amazement and by intelligent Americans with shame. He was initially surrounded by advisers who seemed to see little difference between the conduct of American foreign policy and that of an election campaign. For them, Gorbachev simply replaced the Democrat Michael Dukakis as an adversary who had to be upstaged. Gorbachev's policy initiatives were seen as ploys to be countered, and his regrettable skill at seizing the headlines needed to be met by comparable Madison Avenue techniques.

From the American media, as usual, came insistent demands for dynamic leadership and policy initiatives-sweeping arms control proposals, spectacular budget cuts. Congress equally demanded budget cuts but insisted that the United States should not let down its guard. Hard-line conservatives, who had been losing power even in the final months of the Reagan Administration, warned that even if Gorbachev was "for real" he was atypical and would be swept away by stronger forces that would reestablish the traditional Soviet threat. What kind of policy would Bush fashion out of all this?

Fortunately the president's learning curve was steep. The advice of the foreign policy and intelligence communities, the views of his European allies and the rapport established between Secretary of State James A. Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze all combined to convince Bush that Gorbachev was indeed "for real," a responsible colleague in the reshaping of the world order rather than (in the unfortunate phrase of presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater) "a drugstore cowboy."

During the spring the Soviet Union initiated the unilateral reduction of its forces in Eastern Europe, which Gorbachev had promised at the United Nations in December 1988. In May 1989 both the United States and Soviet Union submitted proposals for conventional arms reductions in Europe within negotiable reach of each other. In the light of these reductions, President Bush was able quite skillfully to defuse the wrangling among his European allies over whether new land-based tactical missiles should be installed in West Germany to replace those removed under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1988. Strategic Arms Reduction Talks were resumed in Geneva in June, albeit without any evident sign of progress. The United States still refused either to abandon the Strategic Defense Initiative or to submit its naval forces to any kind of arms control. But both leaders made it clear that they now expected results from arms control negotiations. Congress, facing the consequences of the gigantic deficit run up by the Reagan Administration, began to expect them as well.

When Presidents Bush and Gorbachev met for an unscripted discussion at sea off the island of Malta in December (a choice of venue that starkly illustrated how little either knew about the Mediterranean and its winter climate) all, except the barometer, seemed set fair. Bush laid out a program of economic cooperation to ease, however marginally, Soviet domestic problems. He and Gorbachev agreed to press on with arms reductions at a rate that left some U.S. officials shaking their heads. Both leaders confirmed their conviction that the peoples of Eastern Europe should be allowed to find their own way to freedom, without intervention by the superpowers. And they took their first look at a totally unexpected possibility that, whether they welcomed it or not, lay beyond the power of either to prevent: the reunification of Germany.

The assumption by the overwhelming majority of Western observers (including the present writer) that East Germany was the most stable and successful of the Soviet satellites had inhibited any serious speculation, let alone planning, about what would happen if the regime there collapsed. The best expected was some liberalization that would make possible a greater degree of Annäherung (rapprochement) with the Federal Republic of Germany. The initial October demonstrations in East Germany against Honecker had indicated no popular demand for German reunification, and the emerging opposition groups were explicitly set against it. Professing socialists as they all were, absorption by their wealthy capitalistic cousins was not the destiny they preferred for their country.

By the end of November, however, the cry Deutschland einig Vaterland was being bellowed out by the crowds of Leipzig. That response may have been a gut reaction against not only the detested regime but also the entire state apparatus that it had created. It may have been a simple desire to share as quickly as possible in the West's material advantages of which they had been deprived for so long. It may have been atavistic nationalism of a kind highly unwelcome to their Polish neighbor, to name only one. But it meant that, however sincere Western leaders like Margaret Thatcher were in saying that German reunification was "not on the agenda," they were badly mistaken. Reunification was very much on the agenda for the Germans themselves. Chancellor Helmut Kohl surprised and discomfited his allies but delighted the deputies of the Bundestag when he announced on November 28, without prior consultation, a program by which he hoped to achieve it.

By its constitution's Basic Law the Federal Republic was pledged to seek German reunification. Its allies had equally pledged themselves to support this goal. But the entire postwar structure of Europe had been created on the basis of two distinct and independent German states. Their reunification would involve radical change of a kind less welcome to Germany's neighbors than their political leaders liked to admit. There was little fear that a reunited Germany would revert to the hideous policies of the Third Reich, but its East European neighbors, much as they might enjoy German economic aid and investment, looked with no enthusiasm on the revival of German political power. As for the European Community, the prospect of so large an increment to the population and economic potential of the Federal Republic created problems of balance of an all too familiar kind-one that evoked historical sensitivities especially in France.

Given the strong economic, political and military links established between the Federal Republic and its Western neighbors, and given also the virtual dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, a neutral Germany was almost unthinkable and not seriously discussed. But would a reunited Germany embedded in the West be tolerable to a Soviet Union whose security interests the United States had tacitly undertaken to observe? If the alliance structures remained, would the presence of Soviet forces in the eastern territory of a reunited Germany be compatible with German sovereignty? If Soviet troops were withdrawn, would the presence of American forces be seen as necessary, either by the Germans or the United States?

Those were some of the huge questions that confronted statesmen of both East and West at the end of the year. Barring a total reversal of Soviet policy, which became less likely with every passing day, it was clear that the answers lay neither in Washington nor in Moscow but in Europe itself, and that the superpowers would have to adjust to whatever decisions the Europeans made about ordering their own continent. Never had the cries for American leadership, which continued to emanate from Congress and the media, sounded so archaic. The low-key style favored by President Bush may have irritated Americans who looked for drama and headlines, but the qualities on which he prided himself-prudence, caution, concern for allied susceptibilities and a thorough understanding of the issues-were as appropriate to the new conditions in Europe as President Truman's rugged courage had been forty years earlier.

George Bush reassured the allies that American troops would remain in Europe for as long as they were wanted. He reassured President Gorbachev that the United States would not exploit the situation to the Soviet disadvantage. Given the extraordinary concatenation of events, Europe was as fortunate to have Bush in the White House as they were to have Gorbachev in the Kremlin.


For the nations of the European Community these new problems could hardly have presented themselves at a less convenient moment. They were already deeply at odds with one another. Under the urging of the extreme centralist president of the European commission, Jacques Delors, with the backing of his countryman François Mitterrand, the Community was being driven toward the target date of 1992, by which time an entirely free market was due to be created, at a speed that alarmed the British-or at least their idiosyncratic leader Margaret Thatcher. The further steps of creating a single convertible currency, a central bank and homogenization of labor regulations were ones that she refused even to visualize, and at European summit meetings she repeatedly found herself in a minority of one.

For the British, the sudden emergence of the new German question-together with the not improbable eventuality of the countries of Eastern Europe demanding associate membership-seemed a good opportunity to pause and take stock. For the French it seemed even more important than ever to lock the Federal Republic into an indissoluble West European system before Bonn began to develop independent yearnings towards the East. At the final European summit in Strasbourg in December Chancellor Kohl, anxious to show that his government's commitment to reunification did not affect its commitment to the West, again sided with the French. President Bush gave clear support for the rapid achievement of European unity. Domestic developments in Britain strongly indicated that Mrs. Thatcher was not politically immortal. In spite of her resistance the development of a strong, centralized European Community, capable of absorbing East Germany and acting independently on the political scene, seemed by the end of the year to be more probable rather than less.

"The German question," as Kohl himself stressed, could only be solved within a European context. It was not only the frontier of Germany that would be moved east if reunification took place, but that of Europe as a whole. President Gorbachev spoke movingly of the creation of "a Common European House." Whether there would be room in such a house for the Soviet Union was problematic, but the establishment of democratic regimes in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and even Romania, all economically dependent on the West, meant that it would certainly stretch "from Brest to Brest," and that Germany would be at the heart of it. Within that framework it was not too difficult to visualize links between the two Germanys developing from the financial and the administrative to the political, leading to a confederal structure as close or as loose as circumstances demanded. There were plenty of models to choose from in Germany's past. Whether the German Democratic Republic would be able to maintain any separate identity, however, remained to be seen.

It is also shared opinion between East and West that the two alliances should remain in being, to ensure stability during a transitional period likely to be turbulent. It will not now be easy, however, for the military of either side to get anyone to take seriously their demands for modernization. Military planning and updating to meet the traditional "threat" will seem increasingly unreal. Conventional arms reductions indeed may well outrun formal agreements.

As for the situation at the end of this transitional period, it remains undefined. Events in Europe have moved too fast for anyone, East or West, to clarify their new strategic objectives. But two developments must be reckoned with.

First, a reunified Germany, whenever and however it comes about, would mean a reunified German army, with all that it implied in the enhancement of West European military potential. Second, the political withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Eastern Europe would mean the withdrawal, sooner or later, of Soviet military forces. The Finlandization of the area-the creation of a neutral belt over which the Soviet Union would have a droit de regard-would be the appropriate result. Under these circumstances the American troop presence could be reduced to the maintenance of base installations for mobile and predominantly maritime forces. All these options now seem to be open, and it is hardly premature to begin thinking of them. Prudent statesmanship would suggest a transitional period extending over at least ten years, but events have a habit of running ahead of prudent statesmen.


1989 was indeed "the Year of Europe," in a far more profound sense than that announced with such Olympian condescension by Henry Kissinger 16 years ago. Events on so seismic a scale have occurred nowhere else in the world. But disturbing long-term processes have continued that may force their way to the front of tomorrow's agenda. Conflicts in the Middle East and Central America remain unresolved and apparently unresolvable. Racial confrontation continues in Southern Africa together with starvation and civil war elsewhere on the continent. Sophisticated weapons still proliferate to unstable Third World countries; and among Islamic fundamentalists there remains a sullen and inextinguishable hatred of the West and all its values.

More disquieting has been the continuing inability of Third World countries to absorb their rapidly multiplying populations, and the magnetic attraction of those wealthy Western societies that cannot prevent their poorer neighbors from crossing their borders and eking out a living; thereby creating internal social and political tensions of a deeply alarming kind. For the nations of southern Europe, Spain, Italy and France, the Mediterranean rather than the Elbe has for long been emerging as the real front line, as has the Rio Grande for the United States and perhaps the interface between European and Asiatic Russia in the Soviet Union. One can become too apocalyptic about the future. The world is not about to become engulfed in a global race war. But the end of the ideological cold war will only reveal the vast dimensions of the problems still confronting us. History will go on and it will be far from boring.

The end of ideological confrontation, however, should have one far-reaching consequence for the affairs of the world. The Soviet Union (barring its total disintegration) will remain a great power and will continue to pursue its interests throughout the world; but those interests will be as likely to lie in cooperating with the West as in opposing it. The Soviets may no longer see it to be in their national interest to support every revolutionary movement in the Third World that, professing Marxism-Leninism, turns to Moscow for help.

Conversely Washington may no longer feel it necessary to support any regime, however brutal, corrupt and arbitrary, that opposes communism. The emergence of an agreed settlement over Namibia is almost as hopeful a portent of such cooperation as events in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union may find it as hard to control the policies of Cuba as does the United States those of Israel, but Moscow is bound to realize the profound unwisdom of even appearing to countenance revolutionary regimes in Central America. Then the United States may abandon its neurotic obsession with that unhappy region and cease picking at it like a scab, by its constant interventions creating the very wounds it is trying to heal. The United States might also come to appreciate that an Afghanistan stabilized under Soviet influence might suit U.S. interests better than one controlled by Muslim fundamentalists. Ideologues nourish one another, and the eclipse of those in Moscow should at least erode the passions of their doppelgänger in Washington.

What, finally, of our disquieting historical analogies? Will liberation inevitably be followed by anarchy, reaction and renewed repression as in the earlier Springtime of Nations? The exact pattern of events is unlikely to repeat itself for the reasons already given, but no one can be under the illusion that the next ten years in either the Soviet Union or in Eastern Europe will be happy or easy ones. To free oneself, as André Gide once remarked, is only the beginning. The real problem is to live in freedom.

But there is another analogy perhaps even more pertinent than those of 1789 and 1848. In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson visited Europe and was hailed by ecstatic crowds in London, Rome and Paris as a peacemaker, a statesman whose vision and wisdom had ended a terrible war and now promised perpetual peace. No less well-deserved enthusiasm has greeted Mikhail Gorbachev on his visits to the West; but as with Wilson, support for him at home is muted and his domestic problems accumulate. The question insistently presents itself: Whatever his own transcendent abilities and undeniable goodwill, can Gorbachev bring his own country with him? Or will the new European order he is trying to build collapse as did Woodrow Wilson's, for lack of the essential support that his own country alone can provide?

To this question 1990 will no doubt provide the answer. There may indeed be a backlash, bringing to power a tough, authoritarian regime that will put an end to both glasnost and perestroika. But authoritarian regimes, as Jeane Kirkpatrick has so frequently reminded us, are not totalitarian regimes. However brutal, a new regime could not restore the exploded ideology of Marxist-Leninism. Any future Soviet leader would still have to solve the same problems that brought Gorbachev into power and to recognize, like Gorbachev, that the solution lies in good relations with the West, a reduction in military expenditure and a renunciation of global ambitions. As for the reimposition of Soviet rule on an Eastern Europe from which every shred of communist legitimacy has now disappeared, it is hard to see what benefits Moscow would hope to set against the enormous and calculable costs. A post-Gorbachev Soviet Union, like the post-Wilsonian United States, might relapse for a time into self-absorbed isolation within its own borders. The West could live with that outcome. Our relations with the Soviet Union would be no worse (if no better) than those with the People's Republic of China. But that is the worst outcome that can plausibly be visualized: not agreeable, certainly, but considerably more tolerable than anything that has gone on before.

Whatever happens, the structure of world politics has been changed, and changed irrevocably. The problems that those changes present to our statesmen are urgent and complex, but never has there been a better opportunity-not in 1945, not even in 1918-to construct a new order that will finally defuse Europe as a focus of world conflict and allow it to reemerge, after nearly a century of pain and horror, as a dynamic and stable center of prosperity and peace. However inadequately those opportunities are grasped, 1989 is likely to be seen as a historic turning point, one ending the catastrophic era that began in 1914. It has been an annus mirabilis: a truly wonderful year.

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  • Michael Howard, formerly Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, is now Robert A. Lovett Professor of Naval and Military History at Yale University. He is President of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
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