When Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981 he had a clear mandate to pursue a tough policy toward the Soviet Union. During the Reagan presidency, however, U.S.-Soviet relations changed dramatically, from the incipient cold war of the early 1980s to the summit meetings and agreements of the last four years. George Bush has said that he will try to ensure that U.S.-Soviet relations continue to improve. But the task he faces is more subtle than that which Ronald Reagan set himself, for he has to assess the meaning of Mikhail Gorbachev's new thinking and its implications for the United States.

Under Gorbachev's leadership the Soviet Union has embarked on major domestic reforms and proclaimed the need for new political thinking in international relations. This new thinking, which Gorbachev set out most recently last December in his speech to the United Nations, embraces a number of propositions about the nature of international relations in the modern world: human interests take precedence over the interests of any particular class; the world is becoming increasingly interdependent; there can be no victors in a nuclear war; security has to be based increasingly on political rather than military instruments; and security must be mutual, especially in the context of U.S.-Soviet relations, since if one side is insecure it will only make the other side insecure too.

This new thinking rejects many basic assumptions of earlier Soviet foreign policy, and should be understood primarily as a response to the crisis in foreign relations to which Leonid I. Brezhnev's policies had brought the Soviet Union by the early 1980s.


It was a central premise of Brezhnev's foreign policy that the correlation of forces in the world was moving in favor of socialism. For the Soviet leaders this movement provided the basis for détente; the West would find it impossible to deal with the Soviet Union from a position of strength, and would therefore be more willing to reach agreements on arms control, trade and technology, and political issues. Although the concept of the correlation of forces embraces political and economic forces as well as military power, Brezhnev and his colleagues clearly regarded the growth of Soviet military power, in particular the attainment of strategic parity with the United States, as a crucial factor in the move toward détente.

The Soviet Union and the United States had very different conceptions of détente. They both believed that the Soviet Union was growing more powerful, but they drew different conclusions from this belief. The Soviet Union thought that as its own power grew, the West would become more accommodating. The United States, especially during Richard Nixon's presidency, wanted to make the Soviet Union a less disruptive force in world politics by tempering Soviet power, curbing its growth and restraining the way in which that power would be exercised.

By the mid-1970s, however, American critics of détente were claiming that any hope of restraining the growth and exercise of Soviet power was an illusion. They argued that despite the agreements of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the Soviet Union was building up its forces in a determined drive to achieve strategic superiority and using its military power to make political gains in the Third World. They cited Soviet military writings to show that Brezhnev and his colleagues believed they could fight and win a nuclear war, and that therefore they were not deterred by the threat of assured destruction.

Although often exaggerated, these criticisms contributed to the sense of alarm at the growth of Soviet military power. The Carter Administration was impelled to embark on its own military buildup in the late 1970s. When Deng Xiaoping came to Washington in January 1979 he called for an anti-Soviet united front, thus conjuring up for the Soviet leaders the specter of encirclement by a Sino-American-Japanese-West European coalition. Even before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, it was clear that Soviet expectations about the benefits of détente were not being realized.

In the 1970s Soviet analyses of world politics relied heavily on the correlation-of-forces model of international relations. This model does not regard equilibrium as either the goal of policy or as an inherent characteristic of the international system. Rather, it assumes that the world is moving toward socialism; the aim of Soviet policy is to help this transition or at least to prevent the West from stopping it. This concept proved, however, to be a poor guide to international relations. The growth of Soviet power did not elicit accommodation from the Soviet Union's rivals. On the contrary, it evoked an effort to counterbalance that power. As the Soviet historian Vyacheslav Dashichev has written, in the 1970s the Soviet Union "erred in assessing the global situation in the world and the correlation of forces."1

Whether this failure resulted more from incompetence and bureaucratic sluggishness than from conceptual blinkers remains unclear, but preconceptions about the nature of international relations may have played a role. One Soviet author has suggested that the effect of Soviet Third World policy on the United States was well understood by some Soviet diplomats, but discounted because it was assumed that peaceful coexistence at the interstate level would not be affected by the "world revolutionary process."2 Similarly, one may wonder whether the correlation-of-forces model, by suggesting that the West would remain committed to détente because of the growth of Soviet power, helped to blind Soviet policymakers to the effects of their own actions on other governments. It may have encouraged them to believe that foreign leaders, no matter what harsh rhetoric they used, would in time accommodate themselves to the new realities of power.

Brezhnev was slow to recognize the failure of his policies. At the 26th Party Congress in 1981 he remarked that the previous five years had been a "complex and stormy" period in international relations. But he offered nothing to guide foreign policy into calmer waters. It was not until October 1982, a month before his death, that Brezhnev gave a more urgent assessment, declaring that the United States had "launched a political, ideological, and economic offensive" against the Soviet Union and had begun an "unprecedented arms race."3

In 1983 Soviet foreign policy was at an impasse. The Reagan Administration's military buildup was well under way, and the president's speech on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), threatened the Soviet Union not only with a less predictable strategic relationship, but also with an intense technological arms race. In the autumn NATO began to deploy ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing 2 ballistic missiles in Western Europe, an area which had seemed to be the weakest link in the encirclement of the Soviet Union. The invasion of Afghanistan had resulted in a debilitating war rather than in political control of that country. East-West relations were at such a low ebb that many people began to speak of a new cold war. A slight thaw had begun in Sino-Soviet relations following China's adoption of an independent foreign policy, but Beijing's "three obstacles" remained to be surmounted; relations with Japan remained chilly.

In his brief term in office Yuri Andropov did little to make things better. He withdrew from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) talks and Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) after NATO began INF deployment. This decision, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze has said, made it easier for the United States to create "a second strategic front" against the Soviet Union in Europe.4 In September, after the Korean Airlines flight 007 incident, Andropov issued a statement declaring that "if anyone had any illusions about the possibility that the policy of the present American administration would change for the better, then the events of the recent period have finally dispelled them."5 Andropov's policy toward the United States was defiant and rigid; only under his successor, Konstantin Chernenko, was there some slight movement out of the impasse when the Soviet Union and the United States agreed in January 1985 to reconvene the space and nuclear arms control talks in Geneva.


The failure of Brezhnev's foreign policy presented Gorbachev not only with practical policy problems, but also with conceptual puzzles. The collapse of détente had discredited the premises on which Brezhnev's policy had been based. The movement in the correlation of forces toward socialism had not ensured a reduction in tension; on the contrary, the world in 1983 and 1984 seemed a more dangerous place than it had been ten years earlier. If the movement toward socialism made the world more tense by evoking dangerous countermoves from other states, what should the Soviet Union do? Should it conclude that its primary goal is socialism or should it strive above all to secure peace? If a potential conflict exists between peace and socialism, which should receive priority?6

Gorbachev's response to this question was to point to the overriding importance of peace. In October 1986 he said that "Lenin in his time expressed an idea of colossal depth-concerning the priority of the interests of social development, of all human values, over the interests of one or another class." Gorbachev went on to speak of the importance in the nuclear age of the "thesis of the priority of the all-human value of peace over all others to which different people are attached."7 Taken by itself this proposition may seem banal, but it is significant in the Soviet context because it implies that the goals of peace and socialism may come into conflict, and further it provides a justification for giving priority to the pursuit of cooperation with the West over the search for unilateral advantage.

The argument that peace has priority has attracted controversy in the party leadership. In July 1988 Shevardnadze said that "peaceful coexistence" was acquiring a new meaning in the light of this concept, and condemned as "mistaken" and "anti-Leninist" the view expounded during the Brezhnev years that peaceful coexistence is a specific form of the class struggle.8 The following month Politburo member Yegor Ligachev took issue, implying that there is-and can be-no contradiction between peace and socialism. "We proceed from the class nature of international relations," he said. "Any other formulation of the issue only introduces confusion into the thinking of Soviet people and our friends abroad. Active involvement in the solution of general human problems by no means signifies any artificial 'braking' of the social and national liberation struggle."9

Two months later Vadim Medvedev, the new party secretary responsible for ideology, reasserted the importance of universal values: "Today, when universal values are embodied with utmost specificity, primarily in ensuring mankind's survival, they come to the foreground of international relations and constitute the nucleus of the new political thinking."10 Then, at the United Nations in December, Gorbachev stressed the importance of human values and argued that differences in ideology should not be allowed to affect relations between states.

The thesis that human values take priority is closely linked to the argument, also advanced by Gorbachev, that the world is increasingly interdependent. Capitalism and socialism cannot develop in isolation from each other because they are part of one and the same human civilization. Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States can feel secure if the other feels insecure. In an interdependent world it is cooperation in defense of universal values, not the conflict between capitalism and socialism, that is at the heart of international relations. This argument provides the basis for Soviet proposals to make greater use of the United Nations and other international organizations in maintaining peace and dealing with global problems. In criticizing Brezhnev, Gorbachev is not returning to the premises of Stalin's foreign policy. On the contrary, just as he is trying to replace the Stalinist system at home, so he is rejecting the unilateral, territorial approach to security characteristic of Stalin, who thought that Soviet security depended on the insecurity of others.

Gorbachev's new thinking does not indicate that the Soviet Union wishes to abandon its role as a world power, but it provides a different picture of the world and redefines the Soviet role in it. It assigns a less important role to conflict in international relations and calls for the Soviet Union to base its world role not on military power and the search for unilateral advantage, but on a more cooperative-more normal-involvement in the international system.


The growth of Soviet military power in the Brezhnev years was not accompanied by commensurate gains in foreign policy objectives. Far from making the Soviet Union more secure, it merely provoked the United States and its allies into building up their own forces. This in turn created new threats to Soviet security and imposed new military requirements on the Soviet Union. Shevardnadze has said that "one of the most unfavorable phenomena of the period of stagnation, which had a negative influence on our international positions, was the lack of agreement between military and political directions."11 The failure of Brezhnev's détente policy forced the Soviet leaders to reexamine the relationship between military power and foreign policy. A central tenet of the new thinking is that security should be based not on the accumulation of military power, but on such political measures as arms control, the settlement of regional conflicts and the removal of irritants in relations with other states.

One of the key elements in the new thinking has been the reformulation of Soviet military doctrine to bring its military-technical aspect into line with its political premises. This is being done not out of a passion for intellectual tidiness but to ensure that military power does indeed contribute to Soviet political purposes, since conceptual ambiguities in military doctrine contributed to the Soviet Union's political problems in the Brezhnev years.

When the Soviet military first acquired nuclear weapons in the 1950s, the strategists regarded them largely as a means of increasing the firepower available to the armed forces. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, the rapid growth in the number of nuclear weapons and delivery systems led, in the words of Marshal N. V. Ogarkov, former chief of the General Staff, "to a radical review of the role of these weapons, to a break with previous views of their place and significance in war, of the methods of conducting battles or operations, and even of the possibility of waging war at all with the use of nuclear weapons."12 This shift in thinking was reflected in a series of speeches by Brezhnev in which he elaborated a deterrent rationale for Soviet strategic forces, emphasizing that it would be suicidal to start a nuclear war and declaring that sufficiency, not superiority, was the Soviet goal.

The Soviet High Command concluded in the 1970s that because nuclear war would be so destructive, a major war might remain conventional, even in Europe. Many Western analysts believed that if there were a war in Europe, the Soviet military would mount rapid conventional offensive operations in hope of achieving a quick victory. Improvements in Soviet conventional capabilities supported the argument that the Soviet Union was indeed giving particular importance to conventional offensive operations.

In Western opinion this doctrine was at best ambiguous, at worst dangerous and menacing. Although Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders made it clear that they wished to avoid nuclear war, the Soviet military stressed the importance of preparing to fight and win such a war. And although Soviet leaders asserted that Soviet military doctrine was profoundly defensive, the military emphasized that the offensive was the primary form of military operation. These conceptual ambiguities aroused suspicion and mistrust in the West. They helped create political support for strategic programs such as the MX missile and SDI, and for efforts to improve NATO's conventional forces. Soviet military doctrine contributed to the image of a Soviet threat abroad, and by provoking a military reaction from other states it imposed new military requirements and economic burdens on the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev has introduced the principles of defensive (or reasonable) sufficiency and defensive (or nonoffensive) defense in order to bring the political effects and the economic costs of defense policy under control. In the last three years Soviet leaders, both within the party and the military, have stated more clearly than ever before that a nuclear war cannot be won; they have emphasized that a large-scale conventional war in Europe would be almost as devastating in its consequences. The military has now been instructed to take the prevention of war, not victory in war, as the overriding goal. This implies that the Soviet Union should not try to build forces to win a major war but should aim for defensive sufficiency.

At the strategic level, sufficiency has been defined as the ability to retaliate under any and all circumstances. What that means in operational terms is not clear, since the targets to be struck in the retaliatory strike are not specified. At the conventional level, defensive sufficiency implies a rejection of the view that the Soviet Union should be prepared to win a major war in Europe by rapid offensive operations. In May 1987 the Warsaw Pact adopted a statement on military doctrine which stressed the defensive nature of the pact's doctrine, and called for the reduction of armed forces on the Continent to a level "at which neither side, in guaranteeing its own defense, would have the means for a surprise attack on the other, for mounting offensive operations in general."13 The implementation of this concept would remove the inconsistency in Soviet doctrine between defensive intention and offensive capability.

This shift in doctrine has not merely been imposed upon the military by the party leadership. Some members of the high command seem to have had doubts all along about the feasibility of winning a conventional war in Europe by means of rapid offensive operations. Such a strategy had obvious problems: the political decision to strike would have to be made at just the right moment and would require precise and reliable intelligence; the danger of escalation to nuclear weapons could not be excluded; and NATO was beginning to develop a deep-strike strategy to counter Soviet offensive operations. Thus a military reassessment has combined with political considerations to move military doctrine toward the principles of defensive sufficiency and defensive defense.

These principles have been widely debated in the Soviet press. No one rejects them outright, but there has been much discussion as to what they really mean. Four questions have been at the center of this debate.

First, do these principles entail a major shift in doctrine with far-reaching consequences for strategy, operational planning and force structure, or do they merely codify an existing doctrine? Second, what role should the offense play in a defensive strategy? Is a counteroffensive capability a necessary part of a defensive strategy and can such a capability be distinguished from surprise attack potential? Third, is reasonable sufficiency the same as parity? Some have argued that it means parity at a lower level; others, that it should be understood as a minimum deterrent force. Still others have argued that while the forces and strategy of the other side have to be taken into account there is room for unilateral changes in force posture and force levels. The fourth question follows from this: Can these principles be implemented in a unilateral manner or only by agreement with other countries? In this debate the military has tended to stress the need for a counteroffensive capability, and to insist that defensive sufficiency and defensive defense can be realized in practice only if NATO and the Warsaw Pact both take steps to do so.

Western governments have been skeptical of Soviet statements about the principles of defensive sufficiency and defensive defense because, until Gorbachev's U.N. speech, they had seen no sign of a major redeployment or restructuring of conventional forces, or of a major reduction in defense expenditures or weapons procurement. Gorbachev's decision (in apparent disregard of military advice) to cut the Soviet armed forces by 500,000 men over the next two years indicates, however, that there is more to the new thinking than words alone. He has promised to withdraw and disband six tank divisions from Eastern Europe, and to remove river-crossing and assault units. These are key elements of Soviet offensive capability in Europe, and their withdrawal will be a significant practical step toward the adoption of a more defensive posture. Gorbachev has also said that the remaining Soviet divisions in Eastern Europe will be reorganized and their tank complement reduced in order to make them more clearly suited for defensive operations alone.


The new thinking has provided the basis for a much more flexible and dynamic arms control policy. Gorbachev has advanced numerous proposals for arms control ever since his January 1986 call for nuclear disarmament by the year 2000. The most notable achievement so far has been the INF treaty, which is significant not only because it eliminates a whole class of nuclear weapons systems but also because it permits unprecedented on-site inspection to verify compliance with its provisions.

In signing the INF treaty the Soviet Union dropped its previous position that the Soviet SS-20 missiles should be counted against British and French systems. Several explanations may be offered for this change. First, NATO's deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces which could strike Soviet territory gave the Soviet Union a new incentive to reach agreement. Second, Gorbachev was anxious to revitalize arms control, and in particular to obtain an agreement that would restrain SDI. Although he eventually abandoned his efforts to link talks on INF with START, nonetheless Gorbachev may have hoped that an INF treaty would pave the way for a START agreement. He may have wanted to reach a major agreement with the Reagan Administration in order to make arms control politically respectable once more in the United States. Third, Gorbachev redefined the concept of sufficiency in 1986 when he rejected the idea that the Soviet Union should try to be as powerful as any possible coalition of opposing states. Besides, he no doubt hoped that removal of the SS-20s would help to improve relations with Western Europe and China.

The INF treaty has given impetus to arms control in general. In coming to the United Nations in December 1988 Gorbachev evidently wanted to ensure that momentum was not lost in the transition from one administration to another. Most of the requirements for a START treaty, which would cut strategic offensive arms sharply, have already been met. Although there are still difficult issues to resolve, an agreement could be concluded in 1989.14

One outstanding problem is the vulnerability of U.S. ICBM forces to a surprise attack. It is a matter of dispute how great a technical problem this really is, but it is clear that a START regime will not be stable if there are persistent worries about ICBM survivability. The United States will have to solve this problem by itself, at least initially, through its decisions on ICBM modernization; and since mobile missiles can contribute to stability, the United States should modify its present insistence at START that mobile missiles be banned. In the longer term the United States should press the Soviet Union to move toward a more stable regime with single-warhead missiles on both sides.

A second issue concerns long-range nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs). The Soviet Union wants to limit the deployment of these systems while the United States maintains that such a limit would require an unacceptable degree of intrusive verification. Verification would indeed be very difficult to arrange and it may be necessary to postpone a detailed agreement on this question, making do for the time being with a political understanding about the numbers of SLCMs to be deployed.

Third, a START treaty will not be possible without an agreement on the interpretation to be given to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty over the next seven to ten years. If the Bush Administration wants a START treaty it should agree to abide by the traditional interpretation of the ABM treaty over that period. That would still allow a robust research and development effort in strategic defense. It would also allow time for negotiations about extending the ABM treaty to technologies and systems whose characteristics were unclear when it was signed in 1972.

There are thus serious problems to be resolved before an agreement can be signed. It should, nevertheless, be possible to find some way of dealing with these problems. The Soviet Union may modify its position on SLCMs, but it is less likely to change its stance on the ABM treaty, since the desire to limit SDI has been a consistent policy aim since 1983.

Gorbachev's new thinking offers some hope that progress may be made in conventional arms control. Even after his unilateral reduction of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe, the Warsaw Pact will still have more forces than NATO in central Europe. Given the asymmetries between the two alliances in geography and force structure, it will take time to agree on what constitutes an equitable balance. The approach that promises the best results for the short term is to agree on confidence-building measures that would reduce the danger of surprise attack in Europe. Data could be exchanged about manpower and equipment; observers could be exchanged to monitor key mobilization areas, transport junctions and air bases; zones might be designated where offensive forces could not be deployed. Measures of this kind could contribute greatly to security in Europe and pave the way for reductions in forces.

The agenda for arms control is clear. The first priority is to conclude a START treaty, while the second is to pursue an agreement that would reduce the danger of war in Europe. Gorbachev's new thinking has helped to create a favorable political climate for arms control; and arms control will test whether that climate can lead to beneficial results.


In focusing on the external stimuli to the new thinking, I do not mean to slight its internal sources or its importance for perestroika. The foreign policy crisis that Gorbachev faced in March 1985 was only part of a broader economic and social crisis affecting the country. The buildup of Soviet military power had been accompanied by the erosion of the economic and technological basis of that power, and by a general demoralization of society, as evidenced in such social ills as alcoholism and corruption. These economic and social problems were the most obvious signs of a crisis in the Stalinist system by which the Soviet Union has been ruled for sixty years.

It is this crisis that has been Gorbachev's first priority. He is not trying to improve the Stalinist system, but to replace it with a more efficient and more open model of socialism. It is conceivable that in 1985 another leader might have tried to muddle through, or adopted a more repressive policy at home and a more rigid policy abroad. But Gorbachev has shown his determination to deal with the crisis of the Stalinist system by far-reaching economic and political reform, and this has shaped his response to the foreign policy problems he inherited.

Gorbachev has tried to create a more stable and predictable international environment for his domestic reforms. Shevardnadze has said that the main requirement in foreign policy "is that our country should not bear additional expenditures in connection with the necessity of supporting our defense capability and the defense of our legitimate foreign policy interests. That means that we must seek paths to the limitation and reduction of military rivalry, to the removal of confrontational moments in relations with other states, to the damping down of conflicts and crises."15 The needs of domestic policy have thus merged with the failures of Brezhnev's foreign policy to impel the Soviet Union to look for new approaches to foreign and military policy.

Gorbachev's domestic reforms have given his foreign policy greater flexibility; the improvement in human rights policy and the relaxation of censorship have raised Soviet prestige abroad and helped to convince Western governments that Gorbachev is serious in his efforts to reform the Soviet Union. Glasnost has also had its effect on foreign policy. The party leadership and the foreign ministry seem to be more open to nonofficial Soviet advice than before. A wider range of views on foreign policy now appears in print, and civilian analysts are writing studies of military doctrine and arms control. Most striking of all is the way in which the secrecy surrounding Soviet military affairs has been breached by on-site inspection to verify compliance with the INF treaty.

Gorbachev's determination to reform the Soviet system springs in part from a recognition that unless something is done to improve economic and technological performance, the Soviet Union will lose its status as a great power. The new thinking proclaims the need for a different balance between political and military instruments in foreign policy, while perestroika would benefit from a reduction of the military burden on the economy.

Further changes will be needed in the policymaking process, however, if the political, economic and military bases of Soviet security are to be brought into a better balance. Serious public discussion about defense policy will be possible only if information is provided about defense expenditures, force levels, military production and procurement plans. And to ensure that military policy does not contradict foreign policy, it may be necessary to adopt Shevardnadze's proposal that innovations in military policy should be checked by the foreign ministry to see that they conform to the Soviet Union's treaty obligations and foreign policy positions.


Gorbachev's new thinking has been dismissed by some commentators as little more than propaganda, intended to lull the West into complacency. Certainly there is propaganda here, for the new thinking is designed to improve the image of the Soviet Union abroad and to reduce the perception of the Soviet Union as a threat. One of the great failures of Brezhnev's foreign policy was his mismanagement of relations with the United States. One of Gorbachev's most important challenges has been to convince the United States that it should seek a stable and cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union. He has had considerable success in this, partly because he has taken practical steps-signing the INF treaty, beginning the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, working for the settlement of regional conflicts and announcing unilateral troop cuts-to show that more than propaganda is involved in the new thinking.

In pursuing a more cooperative relationship with the United States, Gorbachev has not neglected the other great powers. He has sought, with great success, to reduce West European suspicion of the Soviet Union. He has succeeded in improving relations with China to the point where the danger of a U.S.-Chinese united front no longer exists. (Soviet-Japanese relations remain cool and distant, though Gorbachev may take some initiative to resolve the territorial issue that blocks the expansion of political and economic ties between the two countries.) Gorbachev has not, however, pursued better relations with the countries of Asia and Western Europe as an alternative to good relations with the United States. He has tried rather to influence the United States by depriving it of the capacity to organize an anti-Soviet coalition, thereby removing one of the main threats that Brezhnev's policies provoked. By presenting the Soviet Union as more cooperative and less threatening, Gorbachev is introducing a subtle change into U.S. relations with Western Europe and China (and perhaps eventually with Japan).

The new thinking has helped Gorbachev to extricate the Soviet Union from the foreign policy crisis of the early 1980s. Progress has been made in settling some of the regional conflicts that embittered U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1970s, and arms control has become once more an accepted part of the East-West relationship. The improvement in political relations offers some hope that the military competition will be restrained. Will the new thinking survive once it has served these tactical purposes?

Gorbachev has presented the new thinking as a long-term approach that not only meets Soviet interests, but also as an approach that responds to changes in the nature of international relations. There is, however, opposition to the new thinking in the Soviet Union, on the grounds that it embodies too romantic a view of the world and that it has resulted in too many Soviet concessions. It is also clear that some military leaders have reservations about the changes in military doctrine and wish to minimize the practical effects of these changes. It is difficult, therefore, to be categorical about the future of the new thinking, especially since there is no certainty about the success of perestroika. If present trends continue, it will be many years before perestroika produces significant economic results, so that the economic incentives for the new thinking are not likely to change soon. Besides, the premises of Brezhnev's foreign policy have been discredited, and a return to them is therefore unlikely.

The new thinking provides a general framework for policy rather than a detailed plan of action. Hence there is much that is still unclear about it and its implications for Soviet policy. It is not apparent, for example, precisely how force structure and operational plans will be brought into line with the principles of defensive sufficiency and defensive defense; nor is it evident how far the Soviet Union will try to implement the new thinking by unilateral measures rather than by negotiated agreements.

Nor, to take a more specific instance, is it clear how Soviet attitudes toward Eastern Europe will be affected. Gorbachev has spoken of freedom of choice for all countries without exception, and Soviet spokesmen have renounced the Brezhnev Doctrine. But the Soviet Union might justify intervention by declaring, as it did in Czechoslovakia in 1968, that any threat to its security interests resulted from Western interference and not from indigenous political developments.

It is right for Western governments to test Gorbachev, to probe the obscure areas in the new thinking, and to explore the practical implications of what he has said for arms control and for regional security. They should press for more openness in Soviet military affairs as one of the conditions for a stable and predictable strategic relationship. But the new thinking should also be tested in cooperative ways to see whether more can be done jointly with the Soviet Union in dealing with such global problems as disaster relief, protection of the environment and the elimination of disease.

The failure of détente in the 1970s showed how important it is for the United States and the Soviet Union to heed each other's concept of international relations. It also showed that declarations of principles should be assessed in terms of their practical implementation. The Bush Administration should pay attention to the new thinking and exploit the opportunity it offers for practical and specific measures to move East-West relations, and the Soviet-American relationship in particular, onto a more stable and cooperative footing.

1 V. Dashichev, Literaturnaya Gazeta, May 18, 1988, p. 14.

2 A. K. Nikiforov, SShA, No. 12, 1987, p. 8.

3 Pravda, Oct. 28, 1982, p. 1.

4 Speech of E. A. Shevardnadze, in Vestnik Ministerstva Inostrannykh Del SSSR, Aug. 15, 1988, p. 33.

5 Pravda, Sept. 29, 1983.

7 Pravda, Oct. 21, 1986.

8 Shevardnadze, op. cit., p. 32.

9 Pravda, Aug. 6, 1988.

10 Pravda, Oct. 5, 1988.

11 Shevardnadze, op. cit., p. 34.

12 N. V. Ogarkov, Istoriia uchit bditelnost [History Teaches Vigilance], Moscow: Voenizdat, 1985, p. 47.

13 Pravda, May 30, 1987.

14 See Sidney D. Drell, speech to the DARPA Strategic Systems Symposium, Oct. 26, 1988.

15 The text of Shevardnadze's speech to a meeting of the Diplomatic Academy on June 27, 1987 is published in Vestnik Ministerstva Inostrannykh Del SSSR, Aug. 26, 1987, p. 31.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • David Holloway is professor of political science and member of the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University. He is the author of The Soviet Union and the Arms Race, and co-author (with Sidney Drell and Philip Farley) of The Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative: A Political, Technical and Arms Control Assessment.
  • More By David Holloway