Mikhail Gorbachev addressed a closed party audience: "What is at stake today is the ability of the Soviet Union to enter the new millennium in a manner worthy of a great and prosperous power. . . . Without the hard work and complete dedication of each and every one it is not even possible to preserve what has been achieved." This speech, only a part of which has been published, continued: "There has been a failure to perceive properly the need for change in some aspects of production relations," to perceive the need to overcome "the stagnant conservatism of Soviet production relations."

In Marxist-Leninist terms this kind of statement is as critical on economic matters as was Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" in 1956 on political matters. Will the words of Gorbachev that so solemnly toll the gravity of the crisis inherited by the new leadership be followed by deeds that fundamentally reverse the decline of this great superpower?

Great expectations preceded the new general secretary into office. The enduring succession of a resolute and capable leader was heralded as a decisive event that would shape Soviet policies into the 21st century. Predictions were made of radical responses to grievous structural weaknesses of the Soviet economy and polity. After the long paralysis of Leonid Brezhnev's last years and the fleeting passage of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, a kind of hunger for dramatic change seized members of the Soviet elite as well as Western statesmen, analysts and journalists. Attributed to the new leader, by Soviet and Western observers alike, were personality traits and policy preferences that seemed logically to suggest and even to foretell a fundamental transformation of Soviet life.

But how realistic are these expectations? If leaders can better the fate of nations, they can also fall victim to the confining conditions of their social, political and economic environment. Even rulers to whom the centralized Soviet system offers such great potential for power are ultimately constrained by the substance of their legacies, by the ideological formulas on which their regime's legitimacy rests, and by the human material with which they must work. On the eve of the 27th Party Congress, scheduled to begin on February 25, sufficient time has passed to evaluate the unfolding world of Mikhail Gorbachev.


The new Soviet leadership bears a heavy burden. It came to power with the explicit commitment to arrest and reverse the trend of decline, policy drift and leadership paralysis. Gorbachev and his associates inherited a far-reaching and multidimensional systemic crisis.

The present economic system cannot deliver the sustained expansion without which Soviet power will falter. It cannot create and assimilate the new technology or command the high labor productivity without which intensive growth is not possible. Declining growth rates have limited the availability of new capital. The cost of extracting natural resources has skyrocketed; there are labor shortages; the Soviet machine stock is the oldest of any industrial power. Few incentives are available to stimulate worker productivity and technological progress. The system of centralized, direct planning stresses quantity over quality and lacks the flexibility necessary for innovation. The backward infrastructure of industry, construction and agriculture produces enormous waste. Bottlenecks in steel, transportation and machine-building are chronic. Scientific research is divorced from productive application.

The political system has exhibited its grave shortcomings by being unable to provide dynamic leadership. High and low officialdom's unparalleled longevity in office rewarded incompetence, perpetuated corruption and frustrated the ambitions of younger generations. The Soviet bureaucracy successfully resisted exhortations of the leadership to achieve greater efficiency; it condemned to failure even the half-hearted attempts at reform. Apathy and cynicism made the population impervious to the leadership's attempts at mobilization.

The social system was weakened as private concerns took precedence over social and communal responsibility. Neither coercive countermeasures nor ideological slogans and appeals to patriotism could halt the decline of social discipline. Alcoholism, absenteeism, systematic theft of public property, and lying as a norm of conduct assumed gigantic proportions. The illegal underground economy became a basic purveyor of services to the population.

The attraction of Soviet ideology declined steeply, both at home and abroad. Its effectiveness as a mobilizing and legitimizing force has radically diminished. Most importantly, the gap between ideological prescriptions and promises and domestic and international realities became unbridgeable and embarrassing. The Soviets have always proclaimed that the contest with capitalism would be decided in favor of the system best able to secure high productivity and speedier technological progress. According to this test, capitalism has virtually won.

In the last decade, for the first time in postwar history, the productivity and technology gap between the United States and the Soviet Union grew. The problem for the Soviets has become not to catch up to the West, but to keep from falling further behind. Two-thirds of a century after the Bolshevik Revolution and 40 years after the Second World War, Soviet propagandists have no evidence to support their thesis that the communist system is superior to the capitalist system.

In the cultural field the process of atrophy accelerated. Outstanding figures like the poet Brodsky, the writers Solzhenitsyn and Nekrasov, the musician Rostropovich, the dancers Nureyev and Baryshnikov, the theater director Liubimov all work abroad. At home neoclassicism maintains its deadly grip on ballet and theater. Pretentious stories with "social messages" dominate film and television. Technical perfection of Soviet musicians goes hand-in-hand with traditional interpretations and a paucity of interesting new compositions. If a new note of cultural pessimism has penetrated the arts, it makes little headway against the stale prescriptions of "socialist realism."

The domestic crisis is compounded by the uneasy situation in the Soviet East European empire, by the relative weakness of the Soviet international position, and by the specter of an intensified arms race. If Russian nationalism acts as a source of stability in the Soviet Union, for the illegitimate regimes of Eastern Europe nationalist feelings are directed against native communist elites and their Soviet patron. The social and political stability of these regimes, aside from Soviet military power, is predicated on economic performance. Yet the Soviet Union offers its satellites nothing to remedy their declining growth, the stagnation or fall of their standard of living, their technological backwardness. Hope for economic improvement in Eastern Europe depends entirely on greater economic and political cooperation with capitalist industrialized democracies. Without economic improvement the stability of the Soviet empire is in jeopardy.

The international position of the Soviet Union is conspicuously weaker than during the decade of expansion in the 1970s. To use the Soviets' own measure, the correlation of world forces has shifted demonstrably in America's favor. Evidence includes the resumption of American international activism, the trend in the military balance, the explosion of the technological revolution in capitalist democracies, the prospects for far-reaching modernization in the People's Republic of China, and the growth of opposition to and struggle against Soviet-supported regimes in the Third World.

The arms race further menaces Soviet stability in the 1980s. The American deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe redressed the imbalance of theater nuclear forces there. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) process of the 1970s has virtually lost its constituency in the West. The Soviet leadership faces a protracted competition with the United States in both defensive and offensive weapons, as technological advances and the development of exotic weaponry make extremely difficult a comprehensive and verifiable strategic arms agreement. The cost of this competition, relative to military expenditures of the 1970s, will be significantly higher.

Under Leonid Brezhnev the very existence of this general crisis, let alone its extent and depth, was not publicly acknowledged. Gorbachev, by contrast, speaks of his "titanic task."


Gorbachev's present criticism of Soviet economic performance recalls, the fundamental intraparty debate of the 1920s concerning the choice of developmental roads. The discussions in the Soviet press among lesser party leaders and professionals are no less forthright and penetrating in their identification of the country's ills; they differ little from Western economic analysis of the last decade. What strikes the foreign observer, however, is the failure to explore seriously and profoundly the most important systemic sources of Soviet difficulties.

The shallow, even trivial, explanations of the leaders and elites lead to the inescapable conclusion that they find no fault with the nature of the system. They do not ask whether the system is wrong, but rather what unacceptable results it has produced. In the final analysis they attribute their predicament to the failure of leadership. Since the early 1970s, they argue, the system has required urgent adjustments in forms of planning, in direction of socioeconomic policies, and in managerial style on all levels, but the management of the economy was permitted to proceed on the old conservative path; relatively easy-to-correct malfunctions were thus allowed to reach dangerous proportions.

If one takes their diagnosis at face value, the new leaders basically believe that the Soviet system is a superior form of sociopolitical and economic organization that has failed to realize its true potential because of top leaders who grew self-satisfied and conservative in office, bureaucrats who were not properly supervised, middle- and low-level managers who learned how to take advantage of the system for personal gain and lost their sense of responsibility to the state, and working people who, without pressure and good example from their superiors, adopted the old Russian attitudes of "The hell with everything," "It's all the same to me," and "I don't want to get involved."

The old elite were realistic planners who identified many of the system's operational shortcomings and strove to improve its functioning but remained convinced that it was workable and appropriate for the Soviet Union. The new and younger leaders, it is clear, are very impatient with the deficiencies of the system, but in general they too appear to feel that its potential has not been exhausted. Like successors in any country, they believe that the system is not well run and that they will be able to do much better than their predecessors. Such an analysis of the causes of the difficulties obviously dictates the scope of remedial actions, and, as one may expect, its relative narrowness.

There are three major types of reform in the Soviet Union: policy reforms, organizational-administrative reforms, and structural-institutional reforms. The first is directed at changing long-standing policies; its major instrument is the redistribution of resources. The second is directed at changing and streamlining the decision-making process; its major instrument is reorganization of the existing administrative units. The third is directed at changing the existing basic political-economic structures; its major instruments are fundamental reorientation of priorities and major shifts in the power of existing institutions. Only the third type of reform can be called radical or fundamental. It is this reform, or rather group of reforms, that crosses the parameters of the Soviet economic system.

The parameters of the system can be defined in various ways. They will always include the following three elements; direct planning, where microeconomic units receive their economic directions from above; the ratchet principle, the essence of which is planning next year's production on the basis of last year's production; and the passive nature of money, prices and credit, which do not reflect actual costs or the pressures of supply and demand.

A principal characteristic of the Soviet system-and of other communist systems-is the primacy of politics over economics. This primacy can be expressed in a set of four interlocking propositions. First, economic growth is of crucial importance to the leadership and cannot be left to the managers who directly administer the Soviet economy. Second, economic priorities are set in accordance with the political priorities of the leadership and elite. Third, the administration of the economy and the implementation of economic plans is designed in a way that will not impinge on the political power of the leadership and the elite. Fourth, while economic growth and its attainment are a central preoccupation of the leadership and elite, economic factors and considerations in themselves do not determine the formulation of these goals and the methods by which they are to be attained.

Thus, radical economic reforms, in the normal sense of the term "reforms," are impossible in the Soviet Union. What is possible are radical political reforms that have fundamental economic consequences.

We are speaking about a thorough overhaul of a political economic system that has been in existence for over half a century. To undertake radical reform, and the radical means required to accomplish it, involves the conscious process of decision-making. One does not somehow arrive at a new economic reality with small evolutionary steps or without upheaval. And that very important dimension of decision-making, the setting of the agenda, is profoundly affected by ideology, the most vital function of which is not to dictate specific behavior but rather to proscribe behavior, to define what should not appear on the agenda.

Radical reform, moreover, requires a basic change in the work habits of the leadership, elites and sub-elites; it would have a significant impact on other spheres of Soviet life. One does not embark on such a serious undertaking unless one is convinced that the existing system has exhausted its potential. The old leadership never reached this conclusion, and there is no compelling evidence that its successors have done so either. There is no evidence whatsoever that the new leadership's attitude toward the classical, that is, Stalinist, economic system and the post-Stalinist political system contains criticism of its basic foundations. Indeed, Gorbachev and his lieutenants are quite optimistic that the economic system can in fact be made to work well and that the political system is basically sound. Their central proposition is, of course, that what the system needs is better leadership and more effective policies.

The guarded optimism of the leaders is also reinforced by a calculation of favorable economic prospects beyond the 1980s with regard to demographic trends and Siberian development. Major increments to the labor force are forecast for the 1990s which will probably reverse the trend of serious decline in recent years; the Politburo may well decide that the large-scale exploitation of Siberia's natural riches can be accomplished with the means at hand. Such considerations could only reduce the magnitude of economic changes that the leaders would be willing to introduce in the 1980s.

The speeches and writings of Soviet leaders, the terms they use in their resolutions, the discussions in the press, the appointments of experts-all point to an approach that for the foreseeable future excludes radical reform. Indeed, unlike Western analysts, the Soviets avoid the very word "reform"; they use the phrase "improving the economic mechanism." That only limited change in the economic system is presently being considered may be confirmed in two recently published articles outlining Gorbachev's economic policy for the near term by a leading economic adviser, the respected and innovative academician Abel Aganbegyan, who now chairs the Commission for the Study of Productive Forces under the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, while still the party boss of Georgia, also explicitly confirmed this approach in his comment: "The improvement in our economic mechanism will take place on the basis of the already existing mechanism."

Gorbachev's attitude toward radical reform can also be evaluated on the basis of a major speech delivered late in the summer of 1985 to the secretaries for economic affairs of the central committees of the East European communist parties. (This unpublished speech was reported by absolutely reliable East European sources.) The most revealing themes were his attack on reforms that are directed at creating market socialism, his defense of centralization of economic control, and his negative evaluations of the Yugoslav model of socialism and the Chinese economic revolution.

Gorbachev warned against the false glitter of market-oriented reforms. After acknowledging the difficult situation of the East European economies, he remarked: "Many of you see the solution to your problems in resorting to market mechanisms in place of direct planning. Some of you look at the market as a lifesaver for your economies. But, comrades, you should not think about lifesavers but about the ship, and the ship is socialism."

He deplored the tendency to consider economic centralization as the source of the failure of communist economies to achieve continuous growth and technological progress; he argued that centralization was not only necessary but in all probability would even have to be strengthened. With regard to investments, he asserted that the mistake of past leaders was not overcentralization but insufficient centralized control that left enormous capital expenditures frozen in unfinished construction, and thereby useless. Centralization, he further argued, was absolutely necessary in pricing policies to assure the supply of basic consumer items, an important foundation of social stability.

Moreover, centralization in the state's allocation of resources, he stated, was indispensable in pursuing the correct policy toward minorities in a multiethnic state. The distribution of resources based entirely on economically profitable criteria would favor the most developed ethnic regions and would inevitably foster ethnic discord.

Finally, centralized administration and control was necessary in foreign trade, particularly in the acquisition and disposition of advanced foreign technology. In a situation where the hard-currency resources of socialist states are severely limited, decisions regarding what to buy and how to distribute it must be highly centralized.

In this same speech, Gorbachev commented extensively on what he called the negative examples of Yugoslavia and China. He described the market socialism of Yugoslavia as a failing experiment on several counts: its generation of immense inflationary pressures; its dependence in areas of foreign trade, export of labor, and payment balance on the cyclical changes of the capitalist world market; its contribution to the ethnic strife that resulted when the federal government relinquished a centralized policy to upgrade backward regions and let the market decide the ratios of development in the ethnic administrative units.

With regard to China, Gorbachev's approach reveals much about his attitude toward Soviet development. Contemporary China, he said, serves to warn us about the dangers of two policy tendencies. The first is exemplified in current Chinese policies that are non-socialist: spontaneity dictates the course of economic development; it jeopardizes the survival of the Chinese socialist economy as well as the very political system. The second danger concerns policies of the Mao period that neglected economic factors and stressed economic autarky and deliberate international isolation. The thrust of Gorbachev's assessment was very clear. The fanaticism and leftist exaggerations of the Mao period had led to the rightist exaggerations and orientation in post-Mao policies. Gorbachev's position on China was simultaneously a warning against Stalinist inflexibility and anti-socialist deviation.

In the final element of decision-making, the selection among options placed on the agenda, one can plausibly, and in the case of Gorbachev certainly, expect a broad innovative approach. Which options are accepted as the party's general line could make a major difference, but they will not include, for the time being at least, radical transformation of the system.


The number of reform measures affecting policy and organization that Gorbachev has initiated, intensified or targeted for the near future is significant. He has begun, not surprisingly, like his mentor Andropov, by declaring an open season against workers who do not come to work, managers who falsify reports, storekeepers who steal, officials who are incompetent or corrupt. In contrast to the ouster of officials under Andropov and Chernenko, many of those dismissed by Gorbachev are not honorably retired but fired for publicly announced reasons like "corruption," "irresponsibility" and "incompetence." The most visible object of Gorbachev's public wrath has been alcoholism.

The draconic sobriety campaign has closed many liquor stores, confined sales of alcohol to the hours of 2 to 7 p.m., raised the price drastically, and decreed stiff punishments for drunkenness, especially at work. Even pharmacies have been enjoined from selling alcohol-based medicines before two o'clock, while eau de cologne has disappeared from store shelves and deaths from alcohol poisoning have risen. The establishment itself enjoys no immunity, for vodka no longer flows at official banquets and parties. It would be miraculous were the campaign to have a lasting impact on a society addicted to intemperate drinking and disinterested in hard work. To change these ubiquitous habits would require a combination of social policies-greater incentives to work, greater availability of consumer goods, better housing and better facilities for leisure time.

Given Gorbachev's assessment that problems in the socioeconomic structure have stemmed from the absence of a strong khoziain, or boss, and vigorous talented elites, the major priority within the party-state establishment is no surprise. The replacement of personnel from top to bottom, together with a concerted campaign to restore social discipline, is well under way. Of course Gorbachev's basic need to consolidate his political power through loyal support of his own appointees dictates the purge of the "old guard" on all levels. At the same time, these new appointees are central to his plans to restore health and dynamism to the society and economy. The job of replacing old cadres, incompetents and shirkers is proceeding rapidly and will probably be quite successful. It signifies, however, only the first essential part of Gorbachev's attempt to improve the quality of administrative-managerial activity, just as does the long-range campaign, waged from the center to the lowest levels, to improve social discipline through coercion, material incentives and appeals to patriotic duty.

The more difficult part of personnel reform will be to educate the newcomers to be more truthful, more responsible, more flexible, and to display more initiative than their predecessors. One can easily predict that neither persuasion nor coercion alone will achieve the results sought by the new leadership. Younger deputies, more energetic and eager to please, can of course replace the "old guard"; but their experience, socialization and instincts are also geared to the old type of management. Successful reeducation also requires an altered economic environment in which the new managers will function. Newcomers, who are on the whole better educated, better motivated, and more ambitious, will nevertheless be forced by an unchanged system to replicate the characteristics of their predecessors. Moreover, while prodding from above may push the new administrator, manager and party official to change their style of leadership, deeply ingrained instincts will urge them in the direction of old habits.

The considerable number of policy and organizational measures undertaken or contemplated by the new leadership can be organized into seven categories: wholesale change in managerial and administrative personnel and their reeducation; increase in labor discipline; diminution of the number of indicators in central planning and greater stress on quality and costs; technological progress; agricultural improvement; development of infrastructure; education; and effective utilization of the Soviet strong point, centralized mobilization of resources for essential goals.

Several aspects of Gorbachev's measures should be noted. First, while new technology and the growth of productivity are undoubtedly key factors in Gorbachev's plans, his programs pay central attention to supply of food, consumer goods, and the standard of living generally. These items are in the forefront of his Fifteen-Year Plan of economic development, which will be presented to the upcoming 27th Party Congress. It is clear that the new leadership considers improvements in the consumer economy as the basis of social stability in the Soviet Union, as the means to slacken strong inflationary pressures, and as a key step to render more effective material incentives in the nonagricultural sector, the increase of which is an indispensable condition of improving labor productivity.

Second, reformist measures, particularly personnel changes and cuts in the size of supervisory economic cadres, are creating healthy tensions within the bureaucracy. Administrators on all levels and in all areas are exhibiting greater anxiety and industry, more caution in their illegal shenanigans, and considerable eagerness to produce better results. How long this will last without the introduction of bigger changes is, of course, impossible to predict.

Third, and most important, Gorbachev's reforming activities, separately and in sum, do not add up to a course of radical reform. Nor do the plans announced for the upcoming Party Congress convey the promise of such reform. A comprehensive model for radical reform does not exist. The situation in the Soviet Union rather resembles French society during the revolutionary years 1848-1851. The picture is one, to quote Karl Marx, "of the most motley mixture of crying contradictions, . . . [of] a more confused mixture of high-flown phrases and actual uncertainty and clumsiness, of more enthusiastic striving for innovation and more deeply-rooted domination of the old regime, of a more apparent harmony of the whole society, and more profound estrangement of its elements."

The character of announced policies and organizational changes clearly speaks to Gorbachev's confidence that a dynamic leadership working to tap the unused potential of the existing system can produce rapid and significant results without resorting to structural change. So also does recently published evidence on specific goals of economic plans in the near and long term. These goals betray a stunning optimism concerning the expected yield of limited reforms. The plan for 1986, for example, projects the highly unrealistic target of an eight-percent growth in investments. The Fifteen-Year Plan prepared for the Party Congress projects an increase of 250 percent in productivity and a doubling of national income. The goals for growth in agriculture and the size of investment necessary to achieve them will prove costly and unattainable; in essence the leadership is relying to a large extent on methods of development that gave poor results in the 1970s. A review of economic plans leads to the inescapable conclusion that to reach many goals will be virtually impossible and to raise expectations of rapid improvements will carry high risks. The limits of moderate reform are bound to become readily apparent.

Experience shows that the frequent policy and organizational reforms in the post-Stalin period did not produce cumulative change. Rather than leading to changes in the system itself, these kinds of reform produce results that gradually fade and in time are simply absorbed into existing structures. They are like drugs administered to a body that has already developed a tolerance for them; only a radically increased dose will produce results. This helps to explain why, despite the sheer numbers of such reforms constantly introduced over the last three decades, the economic system remains essentially unchanged. Like elections, which occur more often in the Soviet Union than in any other country and yet do not result in democracy, these frequent reforms do not alter the economic "command system."

We are now only at the beginning of Gorbachev's rule. Stalin took power when he was less than 50 years old; Khrushchev became first secretary at the age of 59; Brezhnev was 58. Gorbachev was 54. All his predecessors left a major mark on the Soviet system. Their initial steps, however, were not always accurate signposts of their later direction or of the far-reaching change they would accomplish. Gorbachev could well have at least as much time as his predecessors to shape the Soviet system in accordance with his vision. As in the past, very much depends on the extent of the power he wields and on the nature of his leadership and that of his closest associates.


The consolidation of Gorbachev's power, while still far from complete, has been very swift by any standard-a tribute to his intelligence, caution and political astuteness. Other circumstances, however, also play an important part.

First, his road to supreme power started well before Chernenko's death. The support of both Mikhail Suslov and Yuri Andropov brought him to Moscow in November 1978 and to full membership in the Politburo in 1980. When in March 1982 Andropov relinquished his KGB chairmanship and replaced the deceased Suslov as a secretary of the Central Committee and then advanced to the post of general secretary in November 1982, Gorbachev was singled out as Andropov's closest collaborator and, in time, his heir apparent.

Andropov bequeathed to Gorbachev the power base he had shaped through personnel changes in leading institutions. Gorbachev broadened this base and enhanced his power position by the skillful tactic of allying with Chernenko. When Chernenko became mortally ill, Gorbachev was strategically placed as leader of the Party Secretariat and Politburo. Gorbachev's rapid consolidation of power after Chernenko's death in March 1985 can also be explained by the overwhelming mood of urgency generated during the decision-making paralysis of Brezhnev's last years and intensified during the two abortive successions. Gorbachev benefited from the frustration, embarrassment and even rage of party and elite opinion, as a tired leadership vacillated before domestic difficulty and international challenge.

Decisive new leadership appointments in 1985 have cemented Gorbachev's political position on the eve of the Party Congress. His inner core of associates includes Yegor Ligachev, Nikolai Ryzhkov and Vitali Vorotnikov. Having expelled his rival Grigoriy Romanov, he has a clear majority in the Politburo. He dominates the Party Secretariat and controls the Presidium of the Council of Ministers through his right-hand man Ryzhkov as prime minister and his loyalists Nikolai Talyzin and Geidar Aliyev as first deputy prime ministers. He decides foreign policy thanks to Andrei Gromyko's replacement by the young Georgian party boss Shevardnadze. His position with regard to the military also appears strong. The minister of defense, 74-year-old Marshal Sergei Sokolov, will soon depart; his second-in-command, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, has limited authority and standing with political leaders. For the first time since Stalin's death the military has no representation in the full membership of the Politburo.

All in all, Gorbachev approaches the Party Congress with the certainty that his actions and position will be confirmed and legitimized. Moreover, the steady turnover of high officials in the center and provinces makes highly probable the biggest percentage change in the composition of the new Central Committee during the post-Stalin period.

Gorbachev's impressive political strength will be used to fuel reform activities that seek to improve the economic mechanism by means of policy and organizational changes. His announced actions and plans contain no commitment or even preference regarding structural reforms. But how to interpret the significance of these actions and plans? Might it not be too early to rule out movement in the direction of fundamental reforms in the foreseeable future?

The first, and simplest, possibility accepts available evidence at face value. Gorbachev, while a reformer, remains persuaded of the system's unfulfilled potential and does not regard radical reform as essential. He will introduce many policy and organizational reforms, streamline the system, strengthen discipline, fight corruption, and improve performance. He will not become a proponent of "market socialism."

A second possibility concedes that Gorbachev and his comrades believe they can improve the system without radical reforms but expects experience to convince them by the late 1980s or early 1990s that only radical reforms can reverse Soviet decline. At that point Gorbachev, already well consolidated in power, will attempt to build a coalition capable of achieving a radical transformation.

A third possibility assumes that Gorbachev aims to undertake radical reform. An oligarchic leadership, however, is ill suited for initiating and executing major reforms of structures, procedures, or even policies. Singular determination and unrelenting pressure from a very powerful leader are required for even moderate success, given the strong and widespread opposition to fundamental change at all levels. Until Gorbachev achieves such power, he cannot openly advocate radical reform. Should he succeed in achieving such power, he and his associates could well continue on the road of partial reforms, for by then they would be caught up in the daily operations of the system and committed to the vested interests of their constituencies.

To judge which possibility best reflects or predicts Soviet realities goes well beyond knowledge conveyed by primary sources. The first option is probably most accurate, but intuition and study of the system suggest that the third is likely as well.


The less we know about Gorbachev's long-range plans, the more useful it becomes to contrast the nature of his leadership with that of his two principal predecessors in the post-Stalin period. Khrushchev's leadership was populist and ideological. He believed in people, appealed to them, and undertook a campaign of ideological revitalization. Brezhnev's leadership was corporatist and conservative. He maintained the institutional representation of all major bureaucratic hierarchies in the top leadership bodies and attempted to rule by compromise and consensus, by reconciling divergent institutional interests. Unlike Khrushchev, Brezhnev was conservative in his personnel policies; he perpetuated the rule of the "old guard" and remained committed to preserving the system in its traditional mold.

Gorbachev's leadership appears to be managerial and reformist. It is managerial in the sense that it enforces strict vertical lines of authority rather than engaging in institutional bargaining and compromise. Gorbachev and his associates appear determined to restore discipline and encourage innovation despite the hostility of entrenched interests among party apparatchiks, economic managers, foreign policy functionaries and the armed forces. Their objective is not consensus, the lowest common denominator of diverse institutional interests, but conformity with their own reformist direction. Their style is that of chief executives who supervise, control and determine for their subordinates the line of action.

Gorbachev's leadership is reformist in the sense that it pursues a far-reaching personnel turnover that in fact constitutes a generational change in the elite. It reexamines and alters inherited policies and organizations. It devotes accelerating effort to improving central planning and to concentrating on the crucial issues of technological progress and material incentives in the service of the faster growth of labor productivity.

Reformism in the case of the new Soviet leaders has nothing in common with liberalism, a connection too often made erroneously in the West. Gorbachev's reformism stresses authoritarian rule, discipline and predictable conformist behavior. Cultural experimentation, not to speak of expanded political rights, has no place in his world. To him, "liberalism" suggests negative characteristics: irresponsibility and permissiveness on the part of leaders and managers; a lack of commitment to hard work and prevailing norms of behavior by individuals. In the past the inefficiency of the state machinery tempered the oppressiveness of society. Should Gorbachev prove successful in making the state more efficient, the extent of its oppressiveness will also increase.

The managerial and reformist leadership of Gorbachev will seek and find its most congenial allies among the so-called technocrats. The new leadership at the national, republican and provincial levels, however, is not composed entirely of individuals with a technocratic background. Indeed, Gorbachev himself and Ligachev, his right-hand man for party organization and personnel, have an education and career pattern different from those of the technocrats. Nevertheless, one has the impression that the new party apparatchiks at the top either consciously adopt a technocratic way of thinking or are at least very well disposed toward it. They see it as the proper way to tackle the economic confusion perpetuated by the old generation of narrow ideologues and conservative administrators. In this sense, technocrats are now by and large in charge of the Soviet leadership.

The quintessential technocrat offers a reforming regime technological expertise, managerial experience and acumen, and political skills. Ideally, like the new Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, Gorbachev's alter ego in economics, his technical education is the basis of a rise from rank-and-file worker through all stages to the ministerial and central-planning level. The technocrat knows the production line, the obstacles facing industrial managers and their subterfuges, the workings of a major industrial ministry, the intricacies of top-level planning, and the unwritten political rules of survival and influence in top-level economic administration.

The technocrat is confident of his ability to lead and has few doubts about the "correct" course of action. He is primarily a manager; successful political maneuvering is only the necessary route to greater scope for managerial activities. His formula for a better and stronger country can be reduced to four ingredients: leadership, discipline, stratification and technology.

The technocrat condemns the old leadership for failing to preserve a high degree of social discipline in society at large and among workers in particular. If he considers Stalinism anachronistic, the perhaps inevitable but unsavory extreme of the "primary accumulation of capital" and a first industrial revolution, he is no less opposed to "rotten liberalism," dissent, and permissiveness in work, culture and life-all impediments to the effective and efficient functioning of society. For him authority should be just, not liberal. He places great faith in coercive methods and material inducements to strengthen labor discipline. Pragmatic and empirical, he is preoccupied with instrumental, not normative, questions.

The technocrat believes in an authoritarian and authoritative vertical structure with a clear delineation of rights and duties. At the same time, he opposes excessively detailed supervision of managerial personnel and overly detailed prescriptive indices from planning organizations that curtail the manager's flexibility and initiative. He opposes the egalitarianism of Khrushchev and Brezhnev. He considers the present stratification of society insufficient to guarantee intense, high-quality work. He wishes to widen the material distance between various strata, with the greatest benefit at the top. Energetic, hardworking, well-qualified foremen, engineers, managers and administrators should have a higher monetary stake in success. Within every vocational and professional group sinecures should be abolished, sloppiness punished, good work rewarded.

In a society where the technological ethos is still strong, where progress is synonymous with technological advance, the technocrat is especially frustrated by the country's relative technological backwardness. He still believes that technological progress combined with discipline, incentives and leadership will solve the difficulties. His plan of action calls for harnessing the energy of scientists and engineers employed in institutes of theoretical and applied science and economic ministries directly to enterprises and production branches. He wants to steer central planners away from their preoccupation with quantitative indices of production to those indices that stimulate technological progress. He is determined to create conditions in which managers will enthusiastically accept new technology because of special incentives, including the stabilization of production plans for a number of years after the new technology is introduced. If the technocrat's concentration on advanced technology rings clear, less clear is how technological progress can accelerate sufficiently within the present institutional framework.

When Gorbachev opens the Party Congress in February he will join to his impressive political strength in key institutions of party and state the eager expectations of this vast talented reservoir of reformist technocrats. Gorbachev can already command the support among his close collaborators necessary to guide through the Politburo any combination of reforms designed to improve the economic mechanism through policy and organizational changes. In practice, however, his reforms could be effectively undermined after the Party Congress when resolutions adopted there meet the inertia, indifference, confusion and hostility at middle and lower levels of bureaucracy and society.

Gorbachev seems to understand this very well. He seems ready to meet these obstacles head on and to purge anyone who stands in the way of revitalizing the country. At a meeting of the Leningrad party organization on May 17, 1985, he made his position clear: "We must, of course, give all our cadres the chance to understand the requirements of the moment at this stage and to adapt themselves accordingly. But anyone who is not prepared to adapt and who, moreover, impedes the resolution of these new tasks should get out of the way. Get out of the way and don't interfere!"

Managers too, however receptive to reforms, can undermine their implementation. The success of even the most limited change depends to a considerable extent on the reforming behavior of managers across the country whose rational actions in an irrational economic environment have contributed to the crisis. The political-economic system separates what is rational for the individual manager from what is beneficial to the economy as a whole. Many decades of working in the system warp a manager's conception of what is economically right and wrong. In fact, it turns the average manager into a staunch supporter of the existing system in which he learned how to cope with his responsibilities and how to obtain legal and illegal rewards. Yet this manager is now the one driven by the leadership to reform. He will certainly be unable to do so without a major transformation of the economic environment in which he operates.


Bureaucratic inertia and hostility constitute another formidable threat to success. Gorbachev's most difficult task will not be the acceptance of reforms in the Politburo, the Central Committee Secretariat or the Presidium of the Council of Ministers. It will be to assure their implementation by the bureaucracies. The energy exerted to push through even limited economic reforms must be greater than the energy expended by bureaucratic opposition and the forces of inertia. From a political perspective, the question of the formulation and implementation of major economic reforms will depend to a large extent on Gorbachev's talent for building and sustaining alliances.

Gorbachev's alliance-building is now, and will remain for some time, based on personal associations. He benefits from the fact that those persons brought to power by Andropov and by himself may be regarded as loyalists rather than as representatives of institutional interests. The time may come, however, when this will no longer be true, and personal loyalty and the desire for change will cease to outweigh commitment to inertial bureaucratic interests.

The formidable military hierarchy poses special problems for the new leadership. Although military leaders welcome the prospect of revolutionized capabilities that economic regeneration promises, they will surely resist the close scrutiny of military priorities and expenditures it entails. For over half a century military power has been the primary objective and principal beneficiary of Soviet economic development. In that time, however, the military establishment, especially the high command, has not effectively shaken or seriously challenged the civilian party monopoly of policymaking.

Today the leaderships of the party-state and the military constitute two separate professional groups joined by few bonds of sentiment or debt. Gone is the fusion of interests among the political and military members of the "old guard" so prominent under Brezhnev. Gone are virtually all these old leaders, not only in the party and the military, but in the military-industrial complex as well. Gorbachev and his associates give every indication of opposing any usurpation by the military of their political prerogatives. Their assertion of firm civilian control may be deduced from a combination of circumstances affecting the military establishment-the absence of full members from the military in the Politburo; the appointments of the elderly Marshal Sokolov as a transitional minister of defense and the untried Marshal Akhromeyev as chief of the general staff to replace the outspoken Marshal Ogarkov; and signs of increased weight of civilian strategists in the Military Council, a policy initiated by Andropov. Moreover, the pattern of retirements, transfers and promotions suggests Gorbachev's wager on the gratitude of a group of young military leaders who owe their advance to him.

In the summer of 1985 Gorbachev met his senior military commanders in Minsk. He assured them of his commitment to military development, but at the same time he raised the painful questions of streamlining the military structures and evaluating the size, growth and priorities of military expenditures. According to reports, a lively discussion of these matters ensued among the military high command under the watchful eye of party and economic leaders.

In the final analysis, the single most formidable and fundamental obstacle to the success of serious reform in the Soviet Union is not political but social. It is the quality of the human resources available to the new leaders, not only bureaucrats and managers but, even more important, peasants and workers. Over half a century ago Soviet power declared war on peasant smallholders, shattered their way of life, and excised them from the larger society. The peasantry today does not constitute a proper class; it is an agglomeration of isolated groups deprived of dignity, community and spirit. Over half a century ago Soviet power inaugurated, with the Five-Year Plans, a particular structure of industrial organization and attendant work patterns that stifled the initiative of workers, undermined their pride in quality performance, and ultimately corroded their work ethic. The attitudes, habits and values that survived these decades among peasants and workers will drag powerfully against that significant rise in labor productivity on which reforming success is predicated. How very different is the human foundation for economic reform shaped by the Chinese revolutionary road.

Sober calculation of the full array of historical tradition, institutional force, and ingrained habit that resist the formulation, acceptance and execution of any reforming program, moderate or fundamental, weighs heavily on the new leadership and bears mightily on its decision to pursue limited policy and organizational change. If Western, especially American, analysts tacitly assume that nothing short of radical reform will improve Soviet economic performance, they have in mind the comparison of Soviet and Western labor productivity, levels of technology, and efficiency. If Soviet analysts explicitly argue that their economic performance can be significantly improved without radical reform, they have in mind the comparison of actual and potential performance within their own system.

Khrushchev and Brezhnev succeeded in improving economic performance without resorting to structural changes by partially eliminating irrationalities and tapping unused potential in the system. Gorbachev's determination to follow the same route more expeditiously, to mobilize more effectively existing reserves of growth, will be even stronger, for even stronger than at any other time in the post-Stalin period is the urgency to do so. Of course, at some time in the not-too-distant future, the leadership will certainly come up against those fundamental institutional bulwarks, both political and economic, that block the country's access to the global third industrial revolution. Whether Gorbachev possesses the will, the political talent, the consistency, the vision, the strength to proceed against them will then be tested.

What clearly strikes the student of the Soviet Union is that with any turn toward structural reforms the magnitude of the obstacles, the force of the political and economic culture, the preconditions for success will push hard in the direction of concentrating and maximizing power in the hands of one leader. To be a fundamental reformer Gorbachev will have to be ruthless and feared by his colleagues, subordinates and citizens. Gorbachev was recommended to the Central Committee for his "iron will," for the "iron teeth" behind the "affable smile." In the present succession the Soviet Union puts forward the very best it possesses. Should failure overtake the present team of leaders, first-rate by any standard, the crisis of effectiveness of the Soviet system may pass the point of no return.


Gorbachev's domestic reform program is at the same time his most basic foreign policy statement. He regards the significant improvement of Soviet economic performance as the indispensable foundation not only of internal order but of external power as well. Perhaps no leader since Stalin has been so persuaded of the decisive bearing that domestic strength has on the effective conduct of foreign policy. This persistent and vigorous motif in his speeches recalls Stalin's famous inventory in 1946 of specific production goals essential for achieving security from attack and for fueling the international advance of socialism. If Khrushchev often masked domestic weakness with arrogant bluff to risk foreign gain, Brezhnev, who achieved the most significant prize of all, strategic parity with the United States, allowed in his conservatism and caution the deterioration of domestic resources to a point where they ceased to support Soviet global aspirations. Gorbachev strenuously pursues domestic vitality as the condition of international success.

The centrality of domestic priorities, both the consolidation of the new leadership and the pursuit of economic reform, presently dictates the general framework of Soviet foreign policy. Its basic characteristic is retrenchment, the insulation of domestic concerns from foreign influence. The Soviet leadership will shun international crisis and confrontation. It will seek improved relations with the United States and other industrial democracies, though not at any price. What we witness is one of those intervals of respite between periods of expansionist activism that harks back to the Leninist concept of peaceful coexistence.

Within this general framework, a consideration of Soviet foreign policy can usefully begin with exclusion rather than inclusion. Soviet policy, in our opinion, will not be one of isolationism. It will not be one of foreign adventurism. It will not be one of "benign neglect" of the United States or "Europe First." It will not be one of significant dependence on Western technology and credit that increases vulnerability to Western pressure.

A policy of isolationism, or what some call neoisolationism to distinguish it from its Stalinist form, does not and will not accompany the concentration on domestic problems. Such a policy would deny to Soviet leaders the rewards of their predecessors' hard-won achievements. The sacrifice of generations yielded a powerful state and a great empire. The toil of decades brought the singular guarantee of global power and influence-strategic parity with the United States. The confident new leaders, spared the experience of hardship that tempered the policies of their predecessors, cannot be expected to forgo their ambition to leave a strong imprint on the international order. Moreover, they see active international engagement as a necessary condition of security. However "closed" their society, they appreciate the interconnection of their internal and external situation with regard to military expenditures, foreign trade and credit, global market prices, and technology explosion. If Stalin believed the country could afford the direction of autarky and isolation, the present leadership renounces it.

A policy of "Europe First" is no less unlikely now and in the foreseeable future. Obviously Soviet efforts to preserve détente with Western Europe become more important as relations with the United States deteriorate. The primary goal of Soviet attention to Western Europe, however, is not the shattering of the Atlantic alliance, which the intermediate-range nuclear force debacle showed to be unrealistic. It is rather the goal of encouraging Europeans to pressure the United States for policies more accommodating to Soviet interests.

If the United States discovered, especially under President Carter, that it cannot sustain a policy of "benign neglect" toward the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union cannot but confront the fact that it is the United States alone which possesses the military power, the alliance system, and the firm will to oppose Soviet expansion, that it is the United States which determines the qualitative and quantitative direction of the arms race. Both parties are fated to accept the centrality of their mutual relations. Only with regard to economic matters, where adequate American exports and credits to the Soviet Union do not appear to be forthcoming, does the thesis of "Europe (and Japan) First" hold.

A policy of foreign adventure designed to divert public attention from domestic austerities is an even less attractive option, given the character of Soviet patriotism and the cost of such endeavors. Patriotism is more easily manipulated and mobilized on matters of defense than offense. Strong policies toward China and Eastern Europe that draw on fear and pride elicit more support among the populace than military aid to Angola or outright intervention in Afghanistan. If Soviet citizens decry the sacrifice of their children and their standard of living on foreign soil, Soviet leaders who pursue these foreign adventures will exacerbate rather than alleviate the domestic crisis as they expend precious resources. This is not to argue that Soviet leaders would not plunge into foreign adventure were the temptation irresistible, the prize splendid, and the risk tolerable. They would do so, however, on the merits of the case and not in order to relieve internal tensions.

Finally, those analysts will be disappointed who predict greater Western leverage on Soviet conduct through trade and credit policies that help satisfy the Soviets' urgent need for technological imports. To begin with, Soviet leaders carefully calculate their imports in relation to the availability of hard currency generated by the export of raw materials, the quantity of which will probably stagnate in the next few years. They will not succeed for some time in accumulating sizable hard-currency reserves through the stimulation and growth of export manufactures or through the reduction of need for agricultural imports. As for borrowing, the Soviet leadership in past decades has been reluctant to seek major investment credits from abroad and, even should it wish to, it will not in all probability succeed in obtaining them from Western Europe or Japan, not to mention the United States.

What most significantly undermines this projection of greater dependence, however, is the critical difference between the approach of Gorbachev's team and that of past Soviet and present East European practice. Gorbachev's team insists on the primacy of the native foundations of Soviet modernization, of the domestic generation and diffusion of technology. The message is clear: we will rely primarily and decisively on our own efforts to transform the country.

What will in the last analysis significantly affect the shape of Gorbachev's emerging foreign policy is the new leadership's response to three key concerns-Eastern Europe, Soviet credibility abroad, and the global role of the United States.


Perhaps the principal passage from domestic to foreign policy for the Soviet Union lies through its most prominent, perhaps sole, foreign success and its most intractable, perhaps dangerous, foreign vulnerability-Eastern Europe. Uppermost among concerns of the new leaders is the inescapable interconnection between East European internal developments and Soviet imperial policy on the one hand, and Western policies and prospects for affecting stability in this area on the other. Indeed, Eastern Europe could well provide the principal avenue for Western influence on the Soviet power system. Although Soviet leaders know there will be no retreat from the domination of Eastern Europe, they have yet to determine the objectives and sequence of specific policies, for indeed there are no clear and safe choices.

Created by foreign force, devoid of popular legitimacy, the communist governments of Eastern Europe are maintained by an internal police and an external Soviet army. Apart from the reality or threat of coercion, socioeconomic performance is the principal guarantor of the durability of native communist elites. Like the metropolitan country, however, the satellites suffer grievous economic difficulties. The entire region may be called with full justification the Greater East European Co-Stagnation Sphere. The growth of Eastern Europe's gross national product falls below that of the Soviet Union, while in the last several years the standard of living has declined in three Eastern European countries and stagnated in two others.

Soviet leaders are unable to underwrite the renovation of East European economies and are constrained by their own circumstances to cut subsidies and press for greater East European investment and integration into the Soviet economy. Eastern countries can turn only to the West and Japan for the new technology, managerial skills and investment credit they desperately require, but the Soviet Union will not tolerate a growing dependence on Western economic ties that can so quickly become political ties. To state the dilemma succinctly, Soviet policies that contribute to orthodoxy and cohesion contravene those that promote stability and viability. To date Gorbachev has chosen the hard line of orthodoxy and cohesion.

A declining standard of living, a frustrated upward mobility during a period of stagnation, an outraged response to social inequities-all feed a growing anti-Soviet nationalism and renew the probability that social instability will translate into political unrest. It goes without saying that the unreliability of this area, and particularly the key link, Poland, has already impinged seriously on fundamental aspects of Soviet strategic military planning for the European sector.

The effectiveness and credibility of Soviet policy in the international arena, a second major concern of the new leadership, has been brought into question by a number of debilitating stalemates and embarrassing defeats suffered in recent years and months. Most striking, of course, was the Soviet inability to restore normalcy in Poland after the unprecedented year and a half when Solidarity, with the support of the Polish people, defied what could almost be called the "provisional" communist government. The irremediable breach of confidence between rulers and ruled, the irreconcilable divisions within the ruling elite, and the persistence of military instead of party rule give evidence of truce, not peace. Future historians will regard this episode as a turning point in the history of the Soviet empire, the onset of its patent decline.

The Soviet global image has been further tarnished in world public opinion first by the invasion of Afghanistan and then by the failure to win the protracted and brutal war; by defeat of a clumsy intervention in West German elections as a means of forestalling the deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles; by stalemate of their "policy action" in Angola and withdrawal of sizable aid to black front-line states in southern Africa; and by inferiority of their weaponry as demonstrated in the skies over Lebanon.

To reverse the fact and the perception of Soviet ineffectualness in the international arena the new leaders pursue two parallel lines of policy, one concerned with fomenting strife, the other with deploring it.

In regions of South Asia and Africa, where Soviet prestige is heavily committed, they vigorously assert Soviet power. They have accelerated the war in Afghanistan while pressuring Pakistan to dam the flow of men and weapons to Afghan guerrillas. They have underscored their commitment to the survival of the Angolan government by vowing to supply the arms necessary to meet any threat from the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) or South Africa. They have increased their aid and settled down for the long term in Ethiopia, the only true Marxist-Leninist state of Africa. In the Middle East, where Soviet power has fewer opportunities, they display greater flexibility than their predecessors. They have made overtures to moderate Arab states like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan with which they share a fear of Muslim fundamentalism. They continue to court Libya; they have apparently chosen Iraq in the desultory Persian Gulf war; they have commenced informal negotiations, if not formal relations, with Israel.

The second line of policy aims to orchestrate a many-sided and sophisticated peace offensive designed to capture the initiative on arms control, the issue that most profoundly touches the fears and hopes of countless millions around the globe. They have returned to the bargaining table in Geneva prepared to discuss any arms control issue; they are now willing to separate negotiations on European theater weapons from overall strategic issues. They have taken unprecedented initiative in proposing a radical and comprehensive arms control treaty that responds partially to American concerns by including a 50-percent cut in strategic vehicles as well as limitations on the proportion of land-based missile warheads in their entire arsenal. They have presented a number of proposals, such as the moratorium on all underground nuclear testing which taxes them little but gains applause in Europe. They have, most importantly, intensified and perfected their major campaign against the Strategic Defense Initiative, putting the United States on the defensive. Without in any way altering Soviet military policy and nuclear deployment, the new leadership has already succeeded in persuading many that its commitment to arms control is more genuine than that of the United States.

Quite apart from their limited successes in refurbishing the worn image of Soviet international stature, the new leaders well understand that the character and quality of their global role ultimately depends on the third key question that shapes emerging Soviet foreign policy-the global role of the United States. Just as the Soviet image was beginning to decline in Brezhnev's last years, so America's image was recovering from the blows of Vietnam and Watergate. Renewed international activism, dramatically increased military spending, heightened resistance to Soviet moves, especially in the Third World, and substantial support for foreign policies from the public and Congress-all contributed to an image of the virtual invincibility of American power.

To undermine and destroy that image is a major goal of Soviet foreign policy. One key means in that effort we have already discussed-initiatives on arms control that force the United States onto the defensive. Equally important is the probing of America's weaknesses abroad, the zealous attention to those regional trouble spots that could subvert America's capacities as a global force. The Philippines, Pakistan and Central America come immediately to mind. Less noticed perhaps is the special attention the Soviets give to Mexico, Egypt and South Korea. In all cases the actual and potential disorders are rooted in local or regional issues. In all cases the Soviets can harvest benefits without high profile, inordinate expense or great risk.

But the advantages that may accrue to the Soviet Union from initiatives on arms control issues or support of regional conflicts that erode America's strength and credibility are relatively minor compared to those promised by another, even more desirable eventuality: the renewal of détente. However modified from its 1970s form, détente would weaken the awesome and relentless shadow of American power over Soviet destiny and, more modestly, would relieve American pressure on the energies and resources of a reforming leadership faced with crisis at home. To this end the new leadership is seriously studying the domestic configuration of American political forces as they bear on foreign policy. It asks two connected questions. What is the character and strength of American conservatism generally and Reaganism particularly? Is there a constituency now or later for a renewal of détente? Their evaluation has yet to yield firm, commonly held conclusions.

Soviet analysts no longer undervalue the strength of conservatism and anti-Soviet sentiment in the United States as they did in the 1970s. Indeed they see it transcending Republican Party lines and surviving President Reagan's term in office regardless of his successor's party. Becoming more astute in their analysis, they have begun to distinguish types of American conservatism. They now contrast the ideological conservatism propounded by Senator Jesse Helms or Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle with the pragmatic conservatism of Secretary of State George Shultz, Paul Nitze or Senator Robert Dole. They debate the possible evolution of President Reagan from the first to the second type. They are beginning to discover the pragmatic conservatism of the Republican Senate majority.

Thus for them the principal question is not simply the durability of conservative views in government and society but which type of conservatism will prevail. Ideological conservatives shun negotiations with the Soviet Union; they aim to break their adversary. Pragmatic conservatives seek negotiations with the Soviet Union; they aim to moderate their adversary's conduct. While in the final analysis both are considered enemies, pragmatic conservatives can be partners in negotiations. Soviet leaders must base their strategy in the intermediate range on a judgment whether American politics and public opinion are swinging away from ideological to pragmatic conservatism. They are at present hopeful but uncertain.

Some Soviet experts do not exclude an even more dramatic swing of American political and public opinion away from conservatism and anti-Soviet sentiment in the direction of renewed détente. The sources for such a swing are there, they believe, in the fear of nuclear war, the danger of superpower confrontation, the fatigue over global conflict, the very high opportunity costs of an unending and escalating arms race. These could magnify with a serious economic downturn, a rekindling of inflation, an international financial crisis, or a dangerous international incident that aggravates the menace in a world bristling with arms. The Soviets do not preclude that all or some of these conditions could catalyze an irresistible public pressure for comprehensive agreements with the Soviet Union.

Although Soviet leaders now appreciate how prone American populist democracy is to swings in mood and inconsistencies in policy, they are not acting as if they expect an immediate turn away from conservatism, though they do not rule it out. Most discouraging to them at present is the strength of conservative feelings among American young people and the inability of the Democratic Party to regroup, choose a convincing leader, and conceive a viable alternative to Reaganism. In the long run they seem to believe that time may be on their side in political relations with the United States.

Whether investigating the possibility of a new détente or explaining the collapse of the old, Soviet analysts have been blind to the impact of Soviet conduct on outcomes. In this, as in other decisive issues affecting superpower relations, they have concentrated entirely on the domestic and historical determinants of their adversary's policies and ignored the effects of their own actions on shaping these policies.

Gorbachev's predecessors self-righteously blamed the United States for dooming détente. The new leaders, given the current tense situation, admit only privately some "contribution" to the demise of détente but show no sign of appreciating the full extent of Soviet responsibility. It is important to remember that the new leaders took no part in formulating the critical decisions on foreign and security policy during the Brezhnev years. Their trenchant criticism of these policies permits a blurring of fiercely argued lines of self-justification, not only on the issue of détente but on Afghanistan and SALT II as well. Nevertheless, the Soviet leadership still accounts for American foreign and security policies primarily on the basis of an internal momentum on which Soviet conduct has no decisive influence. Until the policymakers of both sides take into account the significant effects that their own decisions have on the policies of the other, they will fail to analyze rationally or manage satisfactorily the complex issues that divide them.

On the eve of the Party Congress, one can summarize the principal elements of Gorbachev's approach to foreign affairs. He stresses the fundamental importance of improved economic performance for the conduct of a successful foreign and security policy. He attaches top priority to supporting orthodoxy and the cohesiveness of the East European empire. He aims to restore Soviet credibility and its superpower image. He expects to profit from disorders in regions strategically important to the United States. He works to compromise America's image, particularly in the Atlantic alliance, by exposing alleged intransigence on arms control issues. He resolves to wait patiently for changes in the American domestic environment that might lead to more accommodating foreign and security policies. He is determined not to overextend limited Soviet foreign policy resources again and will refrain from precipitous intervention in the Third World. He is not reconciled to the idea that détente with the United States cannot be resurrected sooner or later. He wishes most of all to avoid potentially dangerous confrontations that divert energies and resources from his program of domestic revitalization.


Gorbachev's entrance into the global arena coincides with one of the cardinal turning points in the postwar history of strategic development. The formulation of Soviet foreign and security policy in this period will require formidable skills from a new leader for whom the process is as much one of learning as of decision-making.

Gorbachev's efforts to grasp, assimilate and respond to the critical foreign and security issues of the late 1980s are and will be channeled through the doctrinally prescribed analysis of the correlation of world forces. The application of this fundamental concept in Soviet political thinking requires the evaluation in both static and dynamic aspects of the multiple elements that bear ultimately on the relative strength of the two superpowers. Included in this complex calculation are variables as diverse as the geopolitical situation, economic and technological performance, the military balance, projected global image, costs and contributions of alliances, and psychological and ideological sources of social instability worldwide. Soviet leaders, with the assistance of specialists in political-academic research institutes, are currently rethinking the experience and assumptions underlying the foreign and security policies of their predecessors in the 1970s. Their ongoing reinterpretation, particularly of the correlation of forces, provides the context for those specific actions and general tendencies in Soviet foreign and security policy that we set forth in the previous section.

The prevailing Soviet assessment of the correlation of forces during the 1970s can be reduced to two sets of propositions. The first set derives from the signal achievement of Soviet policy, strategic parity with the United States. Strategic parity was seen to guarantee superpower equality politically as well as militarily. Soviet leaders and analysts ceaselessly reiterated the Soviet claim to their legitimate right as America's "equal" to assert global power and to take part in managing all major international problems. "There is no international issue of any importance that can be resolved without participation of the Soviet Union," declared Gromyko in the mid-1970s.

Strategic parity, moreover, enabled the Soviet Union to join the United States and its allies in a détente that was regarded not simply as a means to reduce the danger of confrontation but as a means to prepare the "breakout" of Soviet power and influence across the globe and especially in the Third World. Under the umbrella of strategic parity and détente the Soviet Union would use its vast conventional forces as a massive wedge to expand influence and power in the Third World.

Attainment of strategic parity, moreover, served as the most brilliant illustration of the correctness of the principal thesis underlying the second set of propositions on the correlation of forces. Soviet leaders and analysts forecast the long-term historical trend of American decline and Soviet ascendancy that would reward with success the Soviet quest for international dominance. They amassed evidence, especially in the early 1970s, to contrast strong Soviet economic growth and optimistic economic projections with the stagnation and expected decline of the still formidable American economic performance. They juxtaposed, as well, the assertiveness and ambition of Soviet leaders with the evident political decline of the United States, which no longer exhibited the will to act decisively in international politics or to continue a dynamic leadership role in the Atlantic alliance.

The outstanding conclusion drawn from the continuing reappraisal of the 1970s concerns the second set of propositions. Soviet leaders recognize that the earlier analysis vastly overestimated the economic and political conditions of Soviet ascendancy and grossly exaggerated the economic and political conditions of American decline. They may still believe that long-term historical trends favor the Soviet Union, but they now confront the opposite.

Painfully aware of how their own economic and political drive has slowed in recent years, they witness the impressive reinvigoration of the economic and political sources of America's global power. They are convinced that the industrial democracies, especially the United States and Japan, have entered a major cycle of growth and modernization despite serious internal and external monetary and fiscal problems. They watch as for the first time in Soviet postwar history an already broad gulf continues to widen between the Soviet Union and its empire and the United States and the capitalist world as a whole. Four key comparative measures will suffice: the relative size of the GNP and all its major components (agriculture, manufacturing, construction and services); the absolute size of the gap in these GNP elements, which has doubled since 1958; labor productivity in agriculture, manufacturing, construction and especially services; and the modernity and technologically advanced nature of the product mix in manufacturing. To compound the dilemma, while previous Soviet leaders succeeded in the first industrial breakthrough and advanced partway through the second revolution in mass consumption of durables, they ignored or underestimated the preparations and implications of the third industrial revolution in information, communications and services.

The rapidity and intensity with which the United States has reasserted its global power tended to catch Soviet leaders by surprise. Initially slow in accepting the significance of the Vietnam and Watergate experiences on American capacity to sustain its international role, Soviet leaders took advantage of American weakness to accelerate a military buildup and to apply force in the Third World. Their actions, in the final analysis, speeded up the reversal of America's decline, a process they again were slow to appreciate.

The healing of domestic divisions, the leaders' resolve and the public's support for activist policies taught the Soviet leadership an important lesson: never underestimate the United States. Always concentrate on long-range trends and potential. This lesson will not be lost on even such a self-assured, confident and secure leader as Gorbachev.

The reassertion of America's power also affects Soviet evaluations of the Atlantic alliance. Soviet leaders, more realistic since the INF debacle, no longer consider possible the disintegration of a relationship with such profound geopolitical, historical, ideological and strategic roots. If the most advantageous situation for the Soviet Union calls for a disunited Western Europe deprived of a strong Atlantic alliance, the most disadvantageous specter is a united Europe as a "third force" joined to the United States. A united Europe would not only intensify the military threat to the Soviet Union. It would also magnify the political threat to the East European empire, where the popular slogan "One Europe" reinforces the irresistible economic, political and cultural pull of the West on the East, forecloses the desired economic and political integration of the Soviet empire, and underscores the separate identities of East European countries and their Soviet overlord.

In calculating the changing correlation of forces in the 1980s, Soviet leaders continue to regard Europe as the central theater of superpower contention. Yet sufficient evidence suggests that they are receptive to the idea that the center of gravity with regard to superpower economic, political and security concerns is shifting from Europe to the Far East. The accelerating process of Siberian economic development, the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline Railroad, the upgrading of Soviet nuclear bases in the Sea of Okhotsk, the priority buildup of the Soviet Pacific fleet, the attention to continuing American naval and air superiority in the region-all work toward significantly increasing the relative weight of the Far Eastern theater. The emergence of Japan as a major political as well as economic power, the modernization of China, and the dynamism of newly industrializing Asian countries are also fundamental to understanding the new strategic importance of the Far East and West Pacific.

Soviet attitudes and policies toward the Far Eastern theater are conspicuously colored by their apprehension concerning the three major powers in the area-the United States, Japan and China, which compose what they regard as the new hostile encirclement of the Soviet Union in Asia. Soviet leaders have become attentive to Japan's efforts in the last several years to safeguard its great economic power by enlarging its international political role and to strengthen its alliance with the United States while striving for greater independence from that relationship. A measure of the new seriousness in Soviet-Japanese relations is the exchange of high-level visits: Foreign Minister Shevardnadze visited Japan in January 1986, and Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone will probably visit the Soviet Union later in the year.

Soviet policy toward Japan is perforce low-key, long-range, and, in light of Japanese commitments, needs and political potential, quite realistic. Territorial disputes preclude the signing of a peace treaty. Japanese dependence on both the American security link and market presently discourage major Japanese investments in Siberian economic development and confine immediate prospects for agreement to marginal improvements in trade and scientific exchanges. If Soviet leaders are worried by the global economic and technological leadership of Japan, by the growth of its political influence and regional military force (the latter much overestimated in the Soviet Union), by its contribution to China's modernization, and by its crucial role in American global military strategy, they do not intend to express displeasure in withdrawal but rather to maintain a strong diplomatic presence that could lead to unexpected positive results.

Japan's importance in present Soviet thinking about the region is eclipsed not only by that of the United States, with its impressive military and political strength in the Far East, but by that of China, which has become a greater long-range strategic threat to the Soviet Union even as relations between the two countries have improved. The consequences of the stabilization and modernization of China that strengthen its economic and military potential and the steady progress of Chinese-American relations, especially in the military sphere, are perceived by Soviet leaders as a far greater long-term threat than was the China torn by the Cultural Revolution and brawling on their common borders.

In the short and middle range, major advances in Sino-Soviet relations are precluded. Of the three conditions set by China for serious progress, the Soviet leaders are powerless to meet two and will perhaps move, albeit modestly, on the third. Withdrawal from Afghanistan is difficult because of the connection to Soviet superpower credibility. Withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia is difficult because the Soviets cannot control Vietnam as they do the countries of Eastern Europe. Withdrawal from the border area, especially in Mongolia, could perhaps be negotiated, but only in the symbolic form of removing a small number of units; it might be timed to coincide with Deng Xiaoping's succession. In the short and middle range, continued normalization of relations will be reflected primarily in improved trade, scientific exchanges and greater contacts. In this period neither party will regard the other as a danger because both are preoccupied with their respective stages of economic transformation. In the longer range, however, mutual suspicion and enmity will characterize the basic strategic relations between the two countries.

The steady movement of the economic, political and military global center of gravity to Asia, the intended development of eastern Siberia, the Chinese military modernization, the important Japanese contribution to American military strength in the Far East, and the continuing American naval and air superiority in the Pacific necessitate a very strong and sustained Soviet military presence in the area. Of fundamental importance is the impact of Pacific concerns on Soviet strategic thinking. A Soviet military official recently alluded to a new position on the Soviet concept of global parity. Just as in the 1970s the Soviets insisted that within their concept of global parity there must also be regional parity in Europe, in the 1980s they will insist on regional parity in the Far East as well.


If the second set of propositions held in the 1970s on the correlation of forces proved faulty, the first set was no less productive of frustration, disappointment and fear. Both old and new leaders saw that strategic parity had failed to deliver on the Soviet claim to global equality with the United States in political as well as military terms. Not only was it clear by the mid-1970s that the United States was unwilling to concede the right of the Soviet Union to assert its global power and to participate in consultations and negotiations on all key international problems, but faltering Soviet economic performance denied Soviet leaders the abundant resources needed to assert and sustain political influence abroad. While détente did for a time moderate American pressure on their energies and resources, it failed to augur the "breakout" of Soviet power, especially in the Third World. To the key question of Soviet foreign policy-how to translate military power into political influence-leaders in both the 1970s and 1980s came to conclude that the opportunities and means chosen had yielded results far short of expectations. More ominous to old and new leaders alike was evidence that even their military resources no longer sufficed to support an activist role abroad. Most ominous of all to the new leaders, however, is the threatened obliteration of the very fact of strategic parity, owing to the menace from America's ambitious Strategic Defense Initiative.

The dimming of Soviet hopes of the 1970s and early 1980s is all the more depressing to Soviet leaders in the historical context of the military drive to the pinnacle of strategic parity. From the time of Lenin, powerful stimuli forced concentration on military growth as the central priority of economic development-the ideological worldview of party leaders, foreign intervention and its persistent threat, the feared consequences of "capitalist encirclement." Historically, in their interpretation of the international situation they have assigned a decisive role to military power. "Power grows from the barrel of a gun," was Lenin's slogan; "How many divisions has the Pope?" was Stalin's question.

While the Soviet Union developed the nuclear systems which gave strategic parity, it was not reducing its already sizable conventional forces. Soviet military power benefited substantially from a methodical and thorough modernization of all conventional forces, west and east, that yielded a commanding overall lead in most categories of conventional force. Not only were Soviet leaders asking what tangible results would derive from strategic parity in the international arena. They were asking whether in the nuclear age Soviet conventional forces could be used as an active instrument of foreign policy. The single-minded preoccupation with developing military power led over time to a pronounced built-in imbalance in the character of resources available to foreign policy. Military power was, is, and will long remain the most important Soviet resource in service of international goals.

In the 1970s Soviet leaders began to appreciate the limited yield and ephemeral nature of influence derived from their parsimonious export of nonmilitary resources and their liberal distribution of military resources in the form of arms sales, military aid, training and advice. Their disillusionment with this indirect route deepened their frustration over the realization that the United States was unwilling to concede their "legitimate right" as superpower in the context of their understanding of détente. Taking advantage of their rival's grave weakness, they engaged in the direct application of military and security power-their own and that of their allies-to selected targets of opportunity in the Third World. Their goal was no longer influence but control.

In the long run, the military resources of the Soviet Union proved inadequate to the ambitious tasks of the 1970s and early 1980s. The Soviet Union became seriously overextended at a time when glaring deficiencies of political leadership and economic performance made obvious the need for the contraction of international commitments. Soviet leaders were brought up against the hard fact that to claim the right of international political equality with the United States and to enforce it were entirely different propositions. Their indignation, one might even say their frenzy, over the seeming injustice of America's denial of their political equality erupted in many a conversation of the 1970s and 1980s. They contrasted, for example, Soviet willingness to treat with the United States during the war in Vietnam with America's virtual refusal to treat with them after the intervention in Afghanistan.

The new leaders also ask the same questions: What tangible results can strategic parity produce and how can conventional forces actively advance the goals of foreign policy? It is far too early, however, to know how they will answer. Gorbachev clearly shares with his predecessors the deep conviction that his country has a legitimate right to political and military equality with the United States. He fully appreciates, however, that the adverse trend of the correlation of forces will impinge on Soviet ability to make good on that claim. Gorbachev clearly believes with his predecessors that military power plays a central role in the international arena. He is more realistic than Brezhnev, however, about the possibility and the desirability of its use.

Gorbachev, like his predecessors, seeks détente as a corollary of superpower equality. Given his more sober appraisal of Soviet vulnerabilities both at home and abroad, his conception of détente has a defensive ring in sharp contrast to its offensive ring in the 1970s. Gorbachev will not of course end Soviet direct military intervention in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Angola because Soviet credibility is on the line. But he is also not likely to hazard new foreign adventures because he realizes that the Soviet Union is already overextended, that the risks of new military adventures will far exceed those of the 1970s, that his foreign policy resources are severely limited.

Soviet publications convey a serious loss of confidence in the effectiveness of Soviet policies in the Third World and in the expectation that the internal political dynamics in these countries will make them "natural allies" of the Soviet Union. They convey growing recognition that influence in the Third World depends significantly on economic instruments that the Soviets have in short supply.

The entire question of projecting Soviet and satellite power abroad remains an open one. It is difficult to predict whether the likely reluctance of Soviet leaders to pursue foreign temptation will signify a tactical restraint generated by the present situation or a long-range strategic decision. One should not, however, underestimate the confidence and ambition of the relatively young new leader. One can only reiterate the proposition that the international situation of the Soviet Union joins with its domestic situation to focus his attention on the more compelling affairs of country and empire. At such a juncture, genuine possibilities emerge for compromise on international issues, especially in the critical area of arms control.

The experience of the 1970s and 1980s has shown that contentious political issues between the two superpowers can be reconciled only in a marginal way. The barrier of diverse values and interests defies their enduring resolution but clearly, because of the nuclear danger, requires management. In the present situation almost the entire burden of improved relations is carried by arms control negotiations and the prospects for initiating a constructive arms reduction process.

The new Soviet leaders make manifest their genuine interest in a comprehensive agreement to reduce offensive strategic weapons. The reasons behind this interest are only secondarily dictated by domestic economic considerations. Far more significant are Soviet security concerns. These include the widening American technological preponderance, the accelerating American offensive nuclear arms program, and the tension and danger inherent in a new arms race. Even more important than fear of the known is fear of the unknown, the terrible uncertainties concealed in America's grandiose Strategic Defense Initiative. If Soviet leaders question the feasibility of the larger design to defend cities, they accept the feasibility of the more limited design to defend missiles or military installations. Even this less ambitious program includes deployment in space and on land of exotic weaponry that in their opinion constitutes a staggering menace to Soviet security. In the Soviet view it could nullify a Soviet first-strike capability (in the Western sense of a counterforce strike). The worst fear of all is that a major American antiballistic missile system could give the United States a possible first-strike capability for perhaps a few years until the Soviet Union succeeded in deploying a comparably effective ABM system of its own.

If such awesome security considerations are more important than economic considerations in the minds of the new leaders, together they afford the United States the firmest foundation for potentially successful negotiations with the Soviet Union on strategic arms control. Soviet security and economic interests in this case coincide, or should coincide, with American security and economic interests.


The unprecedented propulsion in less than six years of an unknown provincial party secretary to the summit of Soviet power is seen by many, within and without the Soviet Union, as a singular opportunity to alleviate the accumulated national burdens of decades. The new leader, so long awaited and so sorely needed, epitomizes the best traits of his generation. He has already demonstrated his promise as a brilliant politician, an energetic innovator, and a determined realist. He has begun to gather around him a disciplined group of associates who share his strong sense of duty to the state, his relative autonomy from the approaches and policy choices of the past, his orientation toward material over spiritual values, his belief in the still vast potential of a superior system, his faith in the revolutionary promise of advanced technologies.

Few doubt that the Soviet Union today is at a major turning point in its history. The weight of ineffectual and archaic political and economic institutions conspire to deny the country access to the global third industrial revolution and to its concomitant, the authoritative role of a great world power. Mikhail Gorbachev and those around him aspire to revitalize the country and empire. Will they have the means to realize their vision of the Soviet future or will they, like so many of history's leaders, succumb to the inertial pressures of self-defeating tradition?

The "titanic task," the quality of the new leader, and the stakes riding on his success make it imperative for us to study attentively the genesis and evolution of Gorbachev's world. At this turning point the industrial democracies and the United States in particular can have some influence, in varying degrees and at various times, on the Soviet national and international future. May these opportunities be used with wisdom and determination to shape a constructive role for the Soviet Union in the international community.

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  • Seweryn Bialer is Director of the Research Institute on International Change and Ruggles Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. Joan Afferica is Professor of History at Smith College.
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