Gorbachev: A New Foreign Policy?

Courtesy Reuters

Since Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party on March 11, 1985, the conduct of Soviet foreign policy has improved. A skillful public relations effort has become an important component of Moscow’s diplomacy, but the substance of the U.S.S.R.’s international behavior has also changed considerably. Gorbachev himself increasingly talks about the need for "a new approach" in addressing the problems of the world. At the 27th Party Congress in February 1986 he said:

It is not only in internal affairs that the turning point has been reached. It characterizes external affairs as well. The changes in contemporary world development are so profound and significant that they require a rethinking and comprehensive analysis of all factors involved. The situation of nuclear deterrence demands the development of new approaches, methods and forms of relations between different social systems, states and regions.

In a speech in Vladivostok in July, Gorbachev was even bolder, claiming that "the current stage in the development of civilization . . . is dictating the need for an urgent, radical break with many of the conventional approaches to foreign policy, a break with the traditions of political thinking."

Rhetoric, of course, comes cheap. But the foreign policy changes under Gorbachev have gone beyond words. He reshuffled the national security leadership, bringing younger and less doctrinaire officials to key positions and giving himself more personal control over decision-making. The new team quickly distinguished itself not only in launching Gorbachev’s "charm offensive" but also by introducing a wide variety of foreign policy initiatives ranging from arms control proposals to overtures to China.

It is still far from certain how far, how fast and even in what direction Gorbachev intends to proceed. After less than two years on the job he needs more time to consolidate his authority. Until he became Yuri Andropov’s de facto deputy after Brezhnev’s death in November 1982, Gorbachev had little exposure to international affairs. His education as the chief architect of Soviet foreign policy is

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