The style and policies of Mikhail Gorbachev are certain to have a powerful, perhaps dramatic, impact in Eastern Europe. They are unlocking forces in six individual countries that may be difficult for the Soviet leaders to contain, even to comprehend. Simply stated, crises of the type that have occurred in Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Poland (most recently in 1981) will happen again.

Because Eastern Europe is on the verge of change, now is the time to reevaluate U.S. policies toward the region. Without important shifts of policy, the United States will be no better prepared to influence events in the next decade than it was in the past. This essay addresses how the United States might better position itself to deal with and even promote peaceful change in Eastern Europe as the Gorbachev era unfolds.

Although less explosive than Khrushchev’s 1956 secret speech against Stalin, which reverberated for over a decade in Eastern Europe, Gorbachev’s calls for glasnost (public airing), perestroika (restructuring) and "democratization" are shaking the foundations of the Communist old regimes. The leader of the Soviet Union has released political prisoners, declared his proposals open to debate and, most important, suggested new directions for reform of the political-economic system and for changes in military force levels in Central Europe.

A well-informed contact in Prague recently told me that Gorbachev had said to his fellow East European general secretaries at a spring 1985 meeting in Sofia: "Socialism is a leaky ship. I do not want any of you jumping ship and going for the life boats. You must stay on board and help us patch up this mighty vessel." Even if apocryphal, these words evoke the state of mind that Gorbachev’s criticisms of the socialist system have brought about among the party officials of Eastern Europe.

In designing reforms for the Soviet Union, Gorbachev has shown confidence that he can channel and control the process despite domestic resistance. When he looks outward to Eastern Europe, his behavior suggests that he has learned a key lesson from Khrushchev and Brezhnev: that failure to control the process of change in the repressed "satellites" would doom his domestic reform program as well as shatter his efforts to charm (and divide) the West.

The aging leaders of Eastern Europe, however, whose regimes were shaped in the Brezhnev era, have watched that era being swept away in the Soviet Union with foreboding, with the understanding that the "new broom" could sweep away much more than a few tired bureaucrats in Central Europe. They doubt seriously that Gorbachev can sustain his reforms. They also recognize what Gorbachev apparently does not: that should the Soviet leader persevere for two to three years, the ensuing change in their countries will be extremely difficult to control.

Gorbachev’s words and promises to the Soviet people, therefore, become threats and blandishments to the ruling elites in Eastern Europe. This is happening at a time when the old leaderships are on the verge of successions, when their economies are struggling to meet multiple demands from Moscow and their dissatisfied populations, and when their stagnation in technological and social development is making the distance between East and West in Europe ever greater.

Gorbachev is clearly approaching Eastern Europe with great caution. What should be the approach of the United States toward the uncertainties of this emerging situation?


A more energetic U.S. policy toward Eastern Europe is overdue, but we are ill equipped to devise such a policy. The fact that there is so little American understanding of Eastern Europe is shocking, but explainable. Shocking because the two alliances that border the "iron curtain" comprise the most heavily armed, militarily alert region of the world. More destructive weapons, tanks and armed forces are positioned in this area than in any region at any time in history. Moreover, it is precisely in this central part of Europe that Western civilization’s most destructive wars have been concentrated in this millenium. With such an enormous military commitment, why have we failed to devise policies that have an impact on the region? The answer is that the area seems to be politically dead.

The U.S. policy toward Moscow’s satellites since 1956 can be called minimalist. The attitude has been: Why do more? This approach is as close to bipartisan and consistent as any aspect of U.S. policy over the last three decades except for our commitment to the NATO alliance. It has been a low-key policy conducted largely by a small group of professional diplomats knowledgeable about the region; little White House support or understanding has been forthcoming because the region appears boring, unchanging, incomprehensible and incapable of rendering visible foreign policy "victories" over the short run. Now more than ever, as Gorbachev’s policies begin to have an impact, the United States needs to be more attentive to the region.

Since the 1956 Hungarian revolution the evolving U.S. approach has correctly reflected the realities and the primacy of Soviet power in the region. It was clear to all when the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest that the rollback policy of the Dulles era and Radio Free Europe’s ambitious promptings to uprising were a rhetorical substitute for policy. The record since that time shows an evolution in point of view, if not policy, toward Eastern Europe.

Eisenhower began his people-to-people initiatives to reduce hostile attitudes. In a 1963 speech at American University, Kennedy addressed the East Europeans: "If we cannot end our differences at least we can make the world safer for diversity." He called on the satellites’ leaders to direct attention to "common interests." Johnson in 1964 spoke of "building bridges of understanding" across the gulf to Eastern Europe, and in 1966 proposed the expansion of peaceful trade.

In 1973 a spokesman for the Nixon Administration outlined the beginning of a policy "to engage the countries of Eastern Europe." The policy had three components: (1) to deal with each "as an independent, sovereign state," (2) "to create a continuing economic relationship," and (3) to promote the engagement of these countries "in the affairs of Europe as a whole." Nixon knew the region and had visited most of the capitals of Eastern Europe as a private citizen during the 1960s. The Nixon-Ford-Kissinger period witnessed the first major effort at détente with the Soviets and the beginnings of selective wooing of East European leaders—a policy later known as "differentiation."

The Carter presidency was a period of heightened attention to Eastern Europe, partially because his national security adviser, Polish-born Zbigniew Brzezinski, was interested in the region. President Carter visited Poland and, in an important symbolic gesture to give impetus to Hungarian individuality, returned the Crown of St. Stephen to Budapest. In my testimony before Congress as deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe in September 1978, I discussed the evolution of U.S. policy toward the region and the policy of the Carter Administration "to recognize and support the individuality of each nation in Eastern Europe."

The Reagan Administration in its first term, despite its hostile posture toward the U.S.S.R., continued many of the basic elements of the policy of differentiation. This policy, as it has evolved, rests on several assumptions: that each nation of Eastern Europe, because of differing culture, history, ethnic composition and geography, seeks to be different from the Soviet Union and from its neighbors in the pursuit of its national interests. Moreover, the ruling elites in each country have a certain degree of independence of action that could be encouraged or promoted through Western policies, despite their dependence on the Soviet Union and despite Soviet controls over East European behavior through interlocking party, police and military connections. Finally, it was assumed that Western use of carrots and sticks in dealing with Eastern Europe would provide incentives to these ruling elites to pursue policies different from the Soviet Union’s, though not challenging Soviet primacy in the region. Western policies, specifically U.S. policies, could promote economic reforms (in Hungary) or some independent behavior in foreign policy (in Romania), thus making an impact at the margin.

The policy of differentiation was articulated in its bluntest formulation by Vice President George Bush in a 1983 speech in Vienna, as a frontal challenge to Soviet control. As formulated by the vice president, the policy became an offensive instrument, in the eyes of our friends as well as enemies in Europe. The adverse reaction to that speech made clear to the vice president (and all newcomers to the issue) how difficult it is to discuss Eastern Europe, much less understand it, and why so many Western governments have chosen to leave it alone.

The policy of differentiation as it has evolved under the Reagan Administration has included several deviations that limit U.S. effectiveness in the region, especially during the new Gorbachev era, when the region is likely to reemerge as a crucial factor in East-West relations:

—The policy of sanctions against Poland, adopted in the wake of Wojciech Jaruzelski’s brutal application of martial law in 1981 to crush the union Solidarity, froze our posture toward the freest, most religious, most anti-Soviet and most open nation in Eastern Europe. Only in recent months has the Reagan Administration finally moved to correct this key fault in the U.S. approach to the largest country in the region by lifting sanctions.

—The policy of encouraging the independent foreign policy actions of Romania (Bucharest’s refusing to hold Warsaw Pact exercises in Romania, establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, permitting thousands of Romanian Jews to emigrate, attending the Los Angeles Olympics) has put us on friendly terms with the most oppressive dictator in Eastern Europe. Some of our own leaders have come to the false conclusion that since we are friends of Nicolae Ceausescu (indicated by our high-level visits and granting of most-favored-nation trade status), he must be a liberal. Ceausescu, meanwhile, in order to pay for decades of bad economic policies, has virtually switched off the nation’s power and is pushing Romania slowly back into the nineteenth century. The other East Europeans are amazed that we cultivate Ceausescu with such enthusiasm.

—The Jackson-Vanik Amendment, as it has been applied in Eastern Europe, has linked trade to emigration and, by extension, to human rights performance throughout the region. Only Hungary and Romania are encouraged to trade with us by being granted most-favored-nation status (and Poland, which has recently been restored to this status). Yet emigration is not a profoundly important issue for the United States in most of Eastern Europe, since unification of family issues are resolved rather quickly and Jewish emigration is only an issue with Romania. Jackson-Vanik has in effect forced us to be on the sidelines in trading with and influencing the trading practices of the key countries of Eastern Europe at a moment when each is being subjected to increasing Soviet economic demands.

—Finally, the Reagan Administration’s vigorous denunciation of the Yalta agreement at worst suggested a return to the rhetorical excesses of the Dulles era, at best demonstrated a profound lack of understanding of what Europeans understand the Yalta agreement to signify. To Europeans Yalta means stable frontiers, whereas to Americans it means Soviet betrayal on the issue of self-determination in Poland and, by extension, in the rest of the region.

In sum, the Reagan Administration until very recently had turned the policy of differentiation into a rigid straitjacket, leaving it very little room to do much more than applaud the Hungarians and Romanians for their maverick behavior.


A comprehensive U.S. stance toward Eastern Europe should learn from past policies and should be based on the realities of the East European predicament. The following are a series of propositions about these realities that form the analytical basis of my policy recommendations.

Proposition. The first reality is that there is no prospect for fundamental change in the relationship between the Soviet Union and any East European Warsaw Pact member in the near future. This is true whatever Gorbachev says and certainly for the next decade. Soviet security interests will continue to dominate Moscow’s thinking, even though economic interests and Soviet prestige will possibly be increasingly important factors in Politburo discussions on the satellites. The Brezhnev Doctrine, which originated in the justifications given for the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, suggests that military force is justified to save socialism. The Soviets do believe their "revolutions" are irreversible. More important, Soviet leaders believe the territory of Eastern Europe must be dominated by Moscow to assure Soviet security. The Final Act of the 1975 Helsinki accords is important in promoting East-West discussion of our differences, but it does not change Soviet interests at all.

Proposition. Political and economic pressures dictate that explosive events or crises will occur every five to ten years in one or more East European states; the Soviet reaction will naturally be decisive.

But it will also make a big difference how the West reacts in these crises. Western policies should encourage gradual change, but they should not work to promote radical solutions. Each of the major crises in Eastern Europe has set back the process of change; the Soviet Union’s short-term reaction has been to tighten controls and define stricter limits in the region (and inside the U.S.S.R.). If indeed the impact of Gorbachev’s behavior on one or two nations of Eastern Europe is so dramatic that Soviet power is challenged there, a decision to repress reform forcefully would affect not only all of Eastern Europe but the course of internal Soviet reform as well. The key question for Gorbachev and for the regimes and people in Eastern Europe remains: What would provoke another Soviet invasion in Eastern Europe?

Predicting where the next crisis will occur, what form it will take, and what the Soviet response will be in such a volatile part of the world would be foolish. But each nation has the potential for presenting the Soviets with an agonizing set of choices, including whether to take military action:

—Poland is always a leading candidate because of its irrepressibly anti-Soviet, religious, nationalist population. Jaruzelski feels himself in the ironic position of being close to Gorbachev and welcoming the reforms, but unable to implement a Polish version, because the Polish population demands so much more than the party (and the Soviets) can give.

—Romania is in such miserable economic condition and the political structure has been so distorted to serve the family interests of Ceausescu that the Soviets may find dealing with his succession more like dealing with the passing of a Latin caudillo than a transfer of power in a ruling communist party. Ceausescu is always worried by a resurgent Soviet leadership. Historically, his compromise with the Soviets has been that, despite his maverick foreign policy, internally he runs a country that is almost as closed as the U.S.S.R. How does he now cope with a Soviet leader who advocates openness, releases prisoners and calls (even if cynically) for greater "internal democracy"?

—In Hungary, János Kádár and his party are outwardly delighted that Gorbachev seems to have swallowed a large morsel of Hungary’s "goulash communism," including the idea of secret ballots for multiple candidates, but they are privately skeptical as to the eventual outcome. The Hungarians are already struggling over whether to press their troubled reform program even further into the political arena, and Gorbachev’s almost sophomoric enthusiasm adds an unpredictable new factor. The Soviet mistake would most likely be underestimating the depth to which economic and political reform has become rooted in the society and trying to change or slow it down. This could occur if the succession creates pressures for reform that threaten the party leadership’s control of the process.

—In strategically key East Germany and Czechoslovakia the death or departure of rulers could lead to rapidly changing policies. East Germany’s Erich Honecker, who emerged two years ago as one of the most innovative and "independent" Warsaw Pact leaders, seems concerned that while Gorbachev’s economic reforms appear consistent with his own, the political implications of glasnost and perestroika could be damaging to party control of the process in East Germany and even sweep him from power.

—Czechoslovakia best symbolizes Gorbachev’s dilemma. The regime represents the worst residue of the Brezhnev era and symbolizes all that Gorbachev is attacking at home. Yet any effort to change this stable leadership could open up the dangers of another "Prague Spring," already a subject of Soviet discussions in Eastern Europe. During his April 1987 visit to Prague, where Czechs with no little irony and much curiosity greeted him enthusiastically, Gorbachev cautiously said to Gustáv Husák, "We shall be glad if our experience can be useful to fraternal Czechoslovakia." In anticipation of Gorbachev’s visit, Husák had uttered in public "reform"—a word forbidden in official propaganda since 1969.

It is unlikely that there would be popular disturbances in East Germany or Czechoslovakia of a magnitude to provoke Soviet action. But these are the two most important front-line Warsaw Pact allies to which Soviet power is most forcibly committed, so any change will have great importance.

American policy should incorporate several basic aims. We must promote the yearning for national identity which, after Soviet power, is the second most powerful force in the region. American administrations must plan for the long term and realize that there are no quick "victories." We must be true to our conviction that long-term investments will pay off eventually in a freer, more independent Eastern Europe.


Proposition. Lack of understanding of the region will hamper U.S. statesmen and foreign policy makers in the event of a crisis. Dulled by decades of inattention, they will probably (as in 1956, 1968 and 1981) act clumsily, be driven by the media and ultimately make it easier for the Soviets to act. Some senior Western officials might even privately be relieved by Soviet military repression of an East European revolt, which would prove once again to NATO and the world the brutal nature of Soviet power. Others would be indifferent, as many were in 1968. Then the Johnson Administration was so anxious to get on with opening strategic arms talks with the Soviets that it seemed to consider the Warsaw Pact invasion largely a rude intrusion on the White House’s East-West agenda.

Such responses are in large part due to ignorance. Only a handful of people in the United States follow events in Eastern Europe closely, except perhaps for Poland. I know of no one in any branch of the U.S. intelligence community who has spent more than three years working on Czechoslovakia. In the entire United States there are less than a handful of people who are scholars on the German Democratic Republic. Moreover, the intelligence branches of the U.S. government turn over their people dealing with Eastern Europe so rapidly that it is not unusual for a complete turnover of analysts to occur every two or three years, in Europe as well as in Washington. We gather enormous quantities of intelligence from many sources. Yet from top to bottom, from the policymakers and leaders to the Western intelligence community, there are few who can evaluate and make sense out of the volumes of raw information.

The United States needs to improve its own capacity to evaluate and analyze the wide range of intelligence and open information we have on trends in Eastern Europe. We must develop incentives to encourage long-term commitment by analysts and scholars for each country in the region. Most important, the NATO alliance should discuss frequently, not only on the "expert" level but also at higher levels, trends in and policies toward Eastern Europe in order to calibrate approaches and to be prepared for crises and more Gorbachev initiatives, which are certain to occur.

Proposition. If the West is uninformed on Eastern Europe, the Soviets also seem surprisingly ignorant. The Soviet leadership often seems confused by the diverse nationalistic forces at play in Eastern Europe. Moscow’s multiple power sources—the military, KGB, party, government-economic structure—relate to each East European satellite in different ways and with imperfect understanding. Gorbachev himself, with little experience in the region, most likely harbors a Great Russian’s condescension toward the region. The Soviets are troubled by strongly ambivalent attitudes: on the one hand, jealousy and resentment at the relatively higher living standards in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary; on the other hand, Russian contempt for the "lesser" Slavic peoples and the minor Hungarian and Romanian colonies. The Soviet Union represents enormous power in these countries; it resembles more a colonial metropole than a fraternal, cooperative neighbor.

We can never really know what the Soviet Politburo thinks, knows or debates, so one must speculate. But, drawing on three decades of professional contact with the Soviet Union and its allies, I am persuaded that the Soviet rulers do not appreciate the depth and significance of anti-Soviet attitudes in Eastern Europe, the tremendous impact of Hungarian reforms on the party and the people, the potential for change in Czechoslovakia once the delicate balance of the Husák-Bilák regime is broken, the genuine chronic weakness of the communist party in Poland, or the peculiar caudillo-like political system the Ceausescus have built in Romania—a system that the Latin American author Gabriel García Márquez would perhaps understand far better than Anatoly Dobrynin.

Gorbachev appears to have some sense of this chronic blindness toward Moscow’s allies. Europeans report that a group of better-informed, better-traveled Soviet East European specialists have emerged around Gorbachev and in the party Secretariat. Yet even as Gorbachev (as Andropov before him) tries to strengthen cadres in this vital area, he and his colleagues in the Politburo are shaped by a generation’s mind-set that obstructs understanding.

This situation adds to the potential danger of a crisis in the satellites. Moscow is apt to be erratic in a crisis, as the Soviet leaders have been in previous East European upheavals. It seems clear that the cost to Moscow of using military force in Eastern Europe has probably risen substantially since 1968. As the indigenous communist parties become weaker—a clear trend—the alternative means by which Moscow can retain its authority, short of an invasion, are likely to be the local military forces or the police. But relying on these alternatives would create problems in keeping the satellites viable and stable members of the Warsaw Pact in the long run.


Proposition. Each East European nation will follow a path different from the Soviet Union and different from one another. The "Hungarian model," attractive to Westerners since it appears so logical, is not likely to be replicated elsewhere. The economic approach of the German Democratic Republic, which has provided significant economic, although not yet political, returns to the society (developing large industrial/ trading combines along with some privatization in key service sectors), may have more impact on the Soviet Union, and probably eventually on Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, than the Hungarian experience has had. Poland, with its religion, its relative intellectual freedom and its non-collectivized agriculture, presents a unique case to the Soviets and to any Polish leadership. Some form of economic reform is essential in Poland, but the military-party alliance seems determined to do the minimum necessary to hold on to power. Even Czechoslovakia has evolved a unique form of national opposition. They call it "anti-politics." By internalizing their frustrations and energies, the Czechoslovaks have evolved a society which is cowed but which has one of the highest standards of living in Eastern Europe; yet it is ready for political regeneration when the moment comes.

Proposition. Despite these differences, change cannot take place in any of these countries without the initiative, or at least the collaboration, of the communist regimes. The impetus to reform can spring from a variety of sources: leadership changes (G.D.R.), popular pressure (Poland), the vision of individual leaders (Hungary), reformist pressure from the party and technocracy (Czechoslovakia), or from Moscow (after Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization speech and now the era of Gorbachev). But in each case the party has been part of the process. If a party elite is not involved, the Soviets would have to intervene. Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania will likely lose their supreme leaders within five years. Opportunities will again arise for new faces anxious to discredit their predecessors. These heirs will, like Gorbachev, come from the senior party ranks and have been formed as bureaucrats in the party’s stifling environment. Yet the bureaucratic bases in Eastern Europe are more sophisticated and more frustrated than those in the Russian party. New energies in the more "European" and more open satellites have a chance to erupt, particularly if encouraged to do so from Moscow.

Given this situation, the United States should expand relations with senior officials in all these countries and enlarge contacts with the technocracies and the scientific-intellectual communities, in order to learn more about them and even to help shape on the margin the decisions of these oligarchies which will inherit power over the next decade. IREX (International Research and Exchanges Board) has been a vital link in maintaining exchange programs with Eastern Europe. Its work should be supported and expanded with U.S. government support.

U.S. contact, particularly at the level of the party and government, should not necessarily imply approval. After all, if we can deal with Gorbachev and his gang, why should we shy away from dealing with any of the lesser oligarchs in the Soviet colonies? To gain access, however, we must have cultural, economic, political and even military relations. We should be selective and should not deal with each leadership and bureaucracy in the same way. There is little or nothing to lose; dealing with communist officials does not diminish U.S. standing. On the contrary it could enhance our ability to understand and perhaps even affect the future of the region.

Proposition. The active opposition groups and more passive intellectuals and technocrats are significant forces in defining the cultural and nationalistic direction of each nation. These groups will not achieve power, but they keep alive the cultural and linguistic uniqueness of each nation and articulate the anti-party and anti-Soviet sentiments so deeply implanted in the peoples of Eastern Europe. There is a revival of the discussion of the concept of "Central Europe" as a cultural and intellectual territory and state of mind that is distinct from Soviet Russia. The phrase "Central Europe," as described by Czechoslovak playwright Václav Havel, defines more accurately the nations of Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia and Hungary as nations formerly dominated by the Hapsburg Empire or Germany, which experienced the same cultural history and renaissance as the West European nations, and which even today enjoy an intellectually and culturally distinct experience from that of Russia.

This practice of dealing with opposition groups has proved important and fruitful in its application to the U.S.S.R. When I served in our Moscow embassy as a junior diplomat in the 1960s, I became closely involved with a wide range of dissidents and other intellectuals. We learned a great deal from them about the closed society, and they wanted to derive some insurance benefit from Western knowledge of their plight. A senior diplomat who supervised me in the embassy at that time tried to discourage all such contacts, arguing that these individuals were irrelevant to U.S. policy and probably were secret police agents as well. Nevertheless, the range of my contacts was broad and included some writers who are prominent today and some dissidents who subsequently either left the U.S.S.R., became prisoners of conscience or died in prison.

We must always keep in touch with major opposition elements, and do it regularly and openly. It is a rule to be followed in the Philippines, Iran and Latin America as well as in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe. The fact that Gorbachev found it useful to release so many prisoners of conscience is dramatic testimony to the fact that constant Western attention to the issues of human rights and the nonviolent opposition in these societies does pay off.

This practice was also followed in Czechoslovakia. Under my ambassadorship in Prague the U.S. embassy made very clear to the Czechoslovak officials that we would work toward better and more constructive official relations. At the same time, however, we regularly met with and invited to our functions representatives of the opposition elements in the society. The Czechoslovak government occasionally protested this behavior, just as we protested their human rights practices. Yet we continued over two-and-one-half years to preserve this clear and open two-track policy. Before my departure from Prague we concluded and brought into force the first official exchanges agreement in the history of our troubled and tense relations with the Husàk regime, and our official relations were put on a somewhat better footing.

Such two-track policies are not, unfortunately, followed consistently by our embassies in Eastern Europe, particularly when political appointees serve as chiefs of mission. Those ambassadors, who lack the experience and knowledge of the region that is necessary to pursue confidently policies of dealing constructively yet forcefully on a daily basis, often are either intimidated by communist officials or are so biased against them that they will not deal with them even on official matters. Rather than acting on individual whim, U.S. representatives should have a policy directive to pursue regular contacts with intellectuals, technocrats and dissidents as a clear demonstration of our support for human rights, for the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, and for the cultural vitality and independent spirit of these societies. Short-term expediency, such as the requirements of having to negotiate or conclude agreements with the governments, should not deter us from this policy. Moreover, these regular contacts should include efforts to expand the flow of information to and from these groups and, most important, to promote and improve Western radio broadcasts to the region.


Proposition. It is a basic axiom of this analysis that the more viable the East European nations become in an economic and social sense, the more different they become from the Soviet Union and the weaker communist party control will be. U.S. policies, it must be emphasized, can neither create nor fundamentally affect developments in Eastern Europe. West Europeans, particularly the Germans and the French, can probably have a greater impact on the region than the United States. Yet by working together the West can be a vital stimulant to change.

Western economic and trade policies are clearly the most useful instruments available to achieve some degree of influence over the choices made by the East European regimes over the next decade. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the 1974 Trade Act and the Stevenson Amendment severely limit our ability to gain leverage over decision-making in Eastern Europe. U.S. trade policies should not be tied to emigration policies there. U.S. trade policies should be related instead directly to the trade and economic policies of the East European regimes. We should use our trade and technology to open up these societies to Western firms, joint ventures and the export of nonmilitary technology.

The Reagan Administration has objected to trade with the East not so much because of Jackson-Vanik as out of concern over the loss of U.S. military technology. This is a legitimate concern. Yet, as recent studies of U.S. trade policies and controls over technology transfer have underlined, many of the restrictions have been ineffective, misdirected and enormously harmful to U.S. exports.

Take one example of what trade could accomplish. A more active U.S. trade policy in Eastern Europe would greatly expand the use of personal computers, management information systems, VCRs and video cassettes. The wide range of new electronic systems for transferring information could have a shattering effect on the restraint of information flow in these closed societies. Whereas the Czechoslovak government limits the number of carbon copies to 12 and restricts the availability of Xerox machines, the proliferation of personal computers and VCRs is rapidly making it impossible to control the flow of information. U.S. technology should be there alongside Japanese, Swiss and West German goods.

In my view, we should repeal the Jackson-Vanik and Stevenson Amendments or at least their application to Eastern Europe, and develop policies that encourage trade and economic relations with all East European states. A program of expanded U.S. business access, including joint ventures, and a progressively larger role for U.S. trade in general, would be more consistent with our commitments under the Helsinki Final Act, would provide longer-term assurances to East European leaders who may seek an alternative to total economic dependence on the Soviet Union, and would bring our policies closer to those of our NATO allies. This shift would not include expanded transfer of military technologies to Eastern Europe or U.S. assumption of a greater share of the existing hard currency debt of Poland or other large debtor nations.


Proposition. The military and security issues in Central Europe will continue to define the limits of political and economic change in the region. For example, the national military and security forces in Eastern Europe are likely to become increasingly important contenders with the communist parties for power in some East European countries. The security riot police and the military stepped in to save the Polish communist party from total collapse in the face of Solidarity’s challenge. These forces may not necessarily be more loyal to Moscow than the party leadership. Moreover Gorbachev, looking back on the growth of the Soviet military establishment under Brezhnev, would certainly perceive Bonapartism as a dangerous trend in the satellites. Such a trend would significantly alter the nature of the Warsaw Pact-COMECON alliance, weaken even further Soviet authority in the region and present a different order of risks and opportunities for Western nations.

General Jaruzelski helped the Soviets avoid a costly invasion of Poland. Yet the Polish military has a long tradition of patriotism that carries in it the seeds of trouble for the Soviets. In Romania, should the Ceausescu family not retain party control after the death or departure of the present supreme leader, the security or military forces would be well positioned to take power from a weakened party. And a resurgent military in East Germany, although at present not nearly equal in power to the party or the Soviets, would be a worrisome trend indeed.

The large Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe is the ultimate source of control over the satellites. A significant reduction (over 50 percent) of regional nuclear and conventional forces in Central Europe over the next decade, therefore, would likely promote other types of political dynamics in Europe. Such reductions would certainly contribute to a process of change. Lower levels of militarization in Central Europe might well have the effect of raising tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, temporarily making the region more unstable and promoting the evolution of new types of special European relations. One focus of these changing relationships is likely to be the German national question. Should the German question reassert itself in East-West relations, it is in the United States’ interest to retain strong ties to West Germany, but also to be better positioned with the German Democratic Republic than it is today.

The potential for instability and tension makes it advisable to structure force reductions carefully, but they should be pursued because the eventual benefits would be significant. The evolution of diversity and national identity in Eastern Europe would be greatly encouraged by a policy decision to manage over a decade or more the gradual decline of Soviet and U.S. military forces in the heart of Europe. The United States should work with its NATO allies toward a formula for negotiation on the reduction or elimination of medium-range nuclear weapons (already under way), and a significant reduction of conventional forces by breaking the decade-long stalemate in the Vienna Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks—or by defining another forum to consider both tactical nuclear and conventional force reductions.


Proposition. Even though the basic political dynamics within the Warsaw Pact cannot be changed by a Western strategy, we must base our policies on an appreciation of the fact that the internal forces at work in the Warsaw Pact nations support the assumption that there is a growing scope for diverse behavior.

Ethnic nationalism is still a powerful force in Eastern Europe. The ethnic homogeneity of the German Democratic Republic, Poland and Hungary shapes the distinct, forceful challenge that these three nations present to Soviet authority, whereas the ethnic divisions in Czechoslovakia and Romania give the Soviet Union leverage in Prague and Bucharest. While the ethnic divisions provide Soviet leverage to weaken the leadership by playing ethnic groups off against each other, this weakness also has in it uncertainty over whether the divisions might produce new types of reform. For example, the Czech and Slovak division could be a powerful factor, as it was in 1968, in turning to reform rapidly should a Czech replace the Slovak Husák. The Czechs would most likely resume power on a reform platform. On the other hand, the growing strength of Hungarian and Romanian disagreement over the Hungarian minority in Romania erodes the unity of the Warsaw Pact while increasing pressure on the Ceausescu regime.

At the core of anti-Sovietism is the anti-Russian attitude of these powerful ethnic groups. It is this nationalism that informs a prediction that these countries will continue their struggle to be different if not fully independent from the Soviet Union.

The United States can continue through radio broadcasts, information and exchange programs, and research and scholarship to satisfy the thirst of these ethnic groups for support and greater knowledge about themselves. We cannot and should not, however, seek to exploit ethnic differences per se—either through promoting division in Czechoslovakia or between Romania and Hungary. The recent excesses of Bulgarian repression of Turkish minorities are all too revealing of the dangers inherent in inflaming hatreds.

Proposition. The Warsaw Pact nations most important to Moscow (and to the West) are Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. They represent the bulk of East Europe’s population, industrial might and armed forces. The direction these nations take over the next decade and the type of crises they experience are likely to have a profound effect on East-West relations. Yet Western policies, under "differentiation," have favored Hungary and Romania over the past ten years because of the opportunities and models they present.

We should now turn attention and energies also to these three most important Warsaw Pact members and seek to influence their policies. The United States should compete more creatively and energetically to encourage the different nationalist instincts of the G.D.R., Poland and Czechoslovakia.

There is a prominent notion that if the West were to actively promote the independent behavior of the nations of Eastern Europe, it would thereby increase Soviet insecurity and reduce the chances that Moscow will enlarge the opportunities for those nations to seek their own national identity. Even if U.S. leaders could strike a deal with Gorbachev that would permit greater East European flexibility in exchange for restrained U.S. activity in the region, such a policy would be completely unacceptable in this democratic society. People would see such a strategy as a cynical betrayal.

The United States should sustain its policies of encouraging the national identity and diversity of all the nations of Eastern Europe through periods of U.S.-Soviet tension as well as détente. It is particularly important not to lose interest in promoting expanded contacts at middle and top levels in East European regimes during periods of détente with the Soviets. U.S. policy should not be permitted to become a function of or obedient to Soviet policy in the region. Our policy toward each nation of Eastern Europe should have its own dynamics, its own energy and its own consistency.


The management of East-West relations is the central issue of U.S. foreign policy, and Eastern Europe is an integral part of those relations. The major threat to the survival of mankind is the danger that one or both of the superpowers will mismanage their conventional and then nuclear weapons in Central Europe. As Charter 77, the Czechoslovak human rights group, wrote in "The Prague Challenge" in 1985: "For 40 years no war has been fought on European soil, yet Europe is not a continent at peace. Quite the contrary, as the foremost arena of the friction between two power blocs, it is the focus of constant tension posing a threat to the entire world."

Other areas encroach ever more on the American foreign policy agenda; yet it is in Central Europe that the enormous power of two giant military blocs is concentrated. We must support our military deterrence of a Soviet threat to Western Europe with a political and economic deterrence based on sensible, long-term policies in Eastern Europe. At a minimum we must be prepared for change, perhaps at a surprising pace, as the Gorbachev era begins to have an impact. As the Soviet leader undertakes significant or even modest reform at home the East Europeans will react and interpret these moves in their diverse tongues. In this there is a potential for new crises and yet, clearly, also a scope for new opportunities.

Gorbachev has stirred hope in some Europeans that many of the most delicate political issues of the postwar era can now be addressed. Yet the NATO alliance is simply not prepared psychologically or politically for the dazzling array of initiatives and pronouncements coming from the Kremlin. The West and East Germans are, not surprisingly, the most interested and actively responsive. From West Germany we hear appeals that the West must help Gorbachev succeed. The Italians are also intrigued. While the French and English are more skeptical, clearly this new Soviet leader is seizing the peace initiative in Europe only a few years after the Soviet propaganda machine under Gorbachev’s patron, Yuri Andropov, was alarming Europeans that a third world war was looming.

U.S. policy should not be to "help Gorbachev be successful." It should be to use Gorbachev’s personal ambitions and domestic requirements to help "the West be successful" in achieving a safer, less divided Europe. The Helsinki Final Act is an excellent framework within which to test Gorbachev’s sincerity.

We are perhaps entering the most important and creative period in the postwar history of East-West relations. The United States must be alert to the rapidly changing psychological and political forces that Gorbachev is stimulating in the two Europes, East and West. We should be prepared not only to seize the opportunity to conclude favorable agreements on reduction of regional nuclear weapons, but press hard for the reduction of conventional forces—including a major cutback in the Soviet tank force. The United States and its allies should not simply respond to Gorbachev’s initiatives, or only expand our relations with Eastern Europe. We should formulate our own vision of what a more peaceful Europe would involve. Might that vision someday include, for example, a negotiated East-West agreement, not unlike the Austrian State Treaty, that would guarantee the gradual neutrality, arrived at over a period of a decade or more, of Hungary? The ultimate question will remain whether we are prepared to discuss what that vision might contain for the two Germanys. Now is the time for the United States to engage these issues with its allies and press Gorbachev to move beyond style and rhetoric.

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  • William H. Luers, Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1983-86) and to Venezuela (1978-82), became a career Foreign Service officer in 1957. He is now President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Copyright © 1987 by William H. Luers.
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