Courtesy Reuters

The U.S. and Eastern Europe

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

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