A revolution is under way in Soviet foreign policy greater than any in the postwar period, indeed greater than any since Lenin in the early years of his regime accepted the failure of the pan-European revolution and allowed the Soviet Union to join the game of nations. The current upheaval is on a scale with the other dramatic foreign policy reorientations of the last half-century: comparable to the 1940s when U.S. foreign policy moved from isolation to global engagement; greater, in fact, than the 1950s when French policy passed from the modest aims of the Fourth Republic to the grand enterprises of de Gaulle's Fifth Republic; and greater, too, than the 1960s in Chinese policy, a ten-year transition from a troubled alignment with the Soviet camp to an emerging realignment with the West.

Steadily but chaotically, with a lurching, creative energy, the transformation has cut wider and deeper into the rudiments of Soviet foreign policy. For three and a half years, changes have accumulated, spreading from one sphere to the next, altering not merely the workaday calculations that trapped Mikhail Gorbachev's predecessors in their Afghan imbroglio and in their leaden approach to the Euromissile challenge, but altering the assumptions by which the Soviets explain the functioning of international politics and from which they derive the concepts underlying the deeper pattern of their actions. Revolutions of this kind do not make states into saints nor do they remove them as preoccupations in the policies of other nations, but they do leave a vastly different challenge. Once understood by the outside world, such revolutions create new imperatives and often new opportunities.

Why now? Why, when only a few years ago Soviet policy seemed so menacing in its rigidity? A part of the answer lies in the fact that radical circumstance often stirs radical change, and the Soviet circumstance these days is surely radical. Rarely, if ever, has a leadership under the duress of a basic failure of its system attempted so much. It would be difficult to do what Gorbachev wants to do to the Soviet economic and political order and not also affect the foreign policy order, to focus on massive problems in one sphere and ignore those in another, to turn society upside down but leave the external stakes of the country untouched, or to reexamine the entire Stalinist experience but give no thought to the lessons of the last twenty years in foreign affairs.

When a foreign policy has diminished national welfare and weakened the state's ability to influence or control external change, as so many Soviet spokesmen now freely admit has been true of Soviet policy, the price of not responding mounts. Moreover, no country, least of all a superpower such as the Soviet Union, can disregard the constraints and requirements of a changing international environment, one less and less amenable to old formulas and presumptions. In the Soviet case, intellectuals and various parts of the foreign policy establishment have known this for some time, and over the last decade they have slowly created the foundation of a substantially different Soviet approach to international politics. When all these influences converge, especially in the presence of a leader like Gorbachev, great, even revolutionary, departures come more naturally.

Revolution is not a word to be used lightly. To qualify, change must be of historic proportions. It would not be enough for the Soviet leadership to alter its actions in this or that respect, even if some of those shifts represented important breaks with the past. Even far-reaching modifications in strategy would be insufficient.

What must change is thinking. Real revolutions are, ultimately, conceptual. Unless the national leadership's understanding of the realities of the world undergoes a modification, no initiative, no matter how surprising, carries sufficient depth or conviction. Therefore, to assume that only deeds, and not words, count, as cautious Western audiences have so often done in reacting to Gorbachev, ignores what deeds owe to words, when words represent the concepts by which leaders come to terms with reality. Before behavioral revolutions come conceptual revolutions.


Since Gorbachev came to power in March 1985, Soviet ideas about international politics and how the Soviet Union should perform as a superpower have been in constant flux. No aspect of policy, no dimension of the intellectual underpinning of policy, remains untouched. In the process the tumult has slowly engulfed the whole of policy, from the mechanisms of its formulation to the core assumption on which it rests. Indeed, the sheer sweep of the drama is what should have first caught our eye.

There is, however, a good deal more. What gives such power to the conceptual revolution currently under way is its appearance on three different and critically linked levels. Change at any one level would be important enough. Take, for example, change in what might be called basic concepts, or the key notions by which the Soviet leaders and foreign policy elites make sense of the opportunities and problems posed for them by the world outside. These have not been so thoroughly reconsidered for more than sixty years-not since the wrenching adaptations to the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, the civil war and the Rapallo accords. Literally every dimension of Soviet policy is being touched.

First, Gorbachev has radically altered the Soviet concept of national security, or, at least, the framework within which it is discussed. He has raised the most fundamental questions: What constitutes national security in these waning years of the twentieth century? How is a superpower like the Soviet Union to pursue it without becoming its own worst enemy? His answer, boiled down to its two essential parts, stresses, as the answer of no Soviet leader has before, (1) the insufficiency of military power as the way to national security, and (2) the link between national and mutual security.

As early as the 27th Party Congress in February 1986, Gorbachev began to convey an unusually complex appreciation of what constitutes national security. The military dimension, he has since said over and over, is but one aspect of the problem-almost certainly not the main one. It is not merely, to use his words from the party congress, that "the character of contemporary weapons leaves no country with any hope of safeguarding itself solely with military and technical means, for example by building up a defense system, even the most powerful one." More to the point, in the present era, according to Gorbachev, most threats to national well-being are not military but economic and political-and the possession of military power, let alone its use, provides little or no solution to these threats.

The second theme emerged in the fall and winter of 1985. After that year's Geneva summit Gorbachev went out of his way to emphasize his "deep conviction" that, were the United States to possess less security than the Soviet Union, only bad could come of it, because inevitably only mistrust and greater instability would follow. No nation's security, he has repeated often since, can be achieved at the expense of another country. Thus national security cannot be divorced from mutual security. "To think otherwise," he said in August 1986, "is to live in a world of illusions, in a world of self-deception."

Of still greater significance, Gorbachev has also helped to reorder a second basic concept. From Lenin's day it has been an article of Soviet faith that the struggle between two social systems, capitalism and socialism, creates the core dynamic of international politics. The notion is not simply hollow cant. What the Soviets have thought about the possibilities of East-West relations and what they have felt obliged to do for Third World revolutions derive from it.

No longer, say Gorbachev and the many who take their cue from him. Not the struggle between classes but the common plight of man forms the central imperative. Not a Manichaean contest between good and evil, but the entangling effect of interdependence, holds the upper hand. Aleksandr Yakovlev, Gorbachev's alter ego in the Politburo, spoke last August of a "planet compressed to an unprecedentedly small size," a world whose history can end with "the touch of a button," a world in which "any event becomes the property of five billion people within hours," a world needing not the primacy of "individual countries or classes, people, or social groups," but ways of countering "the forces of separation, of opposition, of confrontation, and of war, which have already delayed the development of civilization by whole centuries."1 The Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, third among the most powerful Soviet foreign policy figures, views as "anti-Leninist" the Khrushchev-Brezhnev thesis of peaceful coexistence as a specific form of class struggle.

The third change concerns the place of the Third World in international politics, and of the superpowers in the Third World. Soviet thinking in this respect no longer resembles what prevailed in the pre-Gorbachev era. Hardly anyone pretends any longer that the woes and turmoil in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America are part of some grand, heroic "national liberation struggle," once the excuse for Soviet commitments and intrusions. Instead, Third World conflicts are portrayed more as a vast drain on the pitiful resources of developing countries and a "catalyst to local and international tensions."2 Or, as Gorbachev proclaimed in his speech before the U.N. General Assembly this past December: "The bell of every regional conflict tolls for all of us." There is a corollary: not so long ago Soviet leaders and elites treated their own country's role in the Third World imperiously (beyond reproach and none of the United States' business); now they agree that any future agenda of détente with the Americans must set limits to superpower intervention.

Finally, the concepts by which Soviet leaders order their relations within the world of socialism-with Eastern Europe, China and nonruling communist parties-are no less in flux. Considering the importance and scope of the conceptual categories already discussed, to add this fourth one is to say that no piece of the foundation of Soviet foreign policy remains unaffected.

From the late 1940s, when Stalin made over Eastern Europe in his own image, according to the Soviet catechism, the socialist world has been a universe unto itself: Soviet leaders have refused to admit that within it relations could be anything other than harmonious, built as they were on the "general laws" (or imperatives) of socialist development, laws validated first and foremost by the Soviet model. Assuming a natural, even preordained, unity, Soviet leaders and their proconsuls in Eastern Europe presumed not merely a need, but a right to discipline any serious deviation from it.

Under Gorbachev, the catechism has changed. Those who reflect deeply on the power of the Soviet Union in its relations with Eastern Europe (and, in the long run, in Sino-Soviet relations), including Gorbachev, Yakovlev and Shevardnadze, now acknowledge that socialist international relations are no different from those of any other type of polity. They are as prone to conflicts, including armed engagements arising from self-interest and ambition, as are relations among and with other systems. In light of this, Soviet leaders now ask: Why pretend, let alone demand, that a "single truth," a single shared wisdom, should prevail within what until recently was called the socialist commonwealth?


The revolution in Soviet foreign policy is occurring on yet another level, where notions more directly inform practical choice, the level of policy concepts. The change is stunning and portentous. If Soviet leaders are rethinking the very notion of national security, they are also revising the concepts that guide their defense decisions and their negotiating posture in arms control settings. Three new ideas form the core of this transformation.

The first is the notion of "reasonable sufficiency," an idea Gorbachev himself first introduced at the 27th Party Congress in 1986. By these words, he and other nonmilitary commentators mean something less than parity, not to mention superiority. In simple terms, they are advocating that the Soviet Union cope with, rather than keep up with, the Joneses. Rather than imitate every new U.S. program, such as the Strategic Defense Initiative, it would be better, in their view, if the Soviet Union were to take the cheaper and simpler route of developing means of foiling the weapons the Americans field. And rather than match the capabilities of each and every country whose arms could threaten the Soviet Union, they would ask of Soviet defenses only that they meet threats that might be plausibly imagined.

Gorbachev has not provided specifics, doubtless because he does not yet have them in mind. But others, beginning with his foreign minister, are filling in the blanks, and their thoughts have far-reaching implications for the Soviet approach to the military competition with the West.3 In the strategic nuclear realm "reasonable sufficiency" would end the quest for a Soviet arsenal designed to overmatch the United States at every rung up the ladder of nuclear escalation-including, in the end, a force designed to devastate the nuclear arms of the other side-and replace it with a secure retaliatory force capable of ensuring some essential but minimal level of deterrence. In conventional arms the concept would leave the Soviet Union with forces capable of defending against a surprise attack but not of launching one or, more important, of conducting a large-scale, extended offensive. As for Soviet military power usable at great remove, according to the new doctrine there should be enough to help discourage outside interference in local crises, but not to make revolutions or save clients too feeble to defend themselves.

The other two ideas are strategic stability and defensive defense, the latter with its corollary of asymmetrical arms reductions. Strategic stability incorporates the technical, and narrower, American notion of crisis stability (namely, a structured nuclear balance that reduces the temptation for hair-trigger response in crisis situations) but goes much further. For more than a year, Soviet experts working on the problem have struggled to imagine a more stable nuclear regime at drastically reduced levels of armament, one that takes into account not merely the characteristics of weapons systems, but also the effects of strategic doctrine and even of political context.

Defensive defense embodies the simple idea that in no sphere of military power, conventional or nuclear, should either side be able to launch and maintain a vast frontal offensive. The idea is simple; figuring out how to achieve it is another matter. Gorbachev, however, in summer 1986 did introduce a new, albeit vague, guideline for proceeding, one that has since become a standard Soviet formula: let the side with an edge be the one to sacrifice more in order to create a more stable balance at lower levels.

The knowledgeable reader is no doubt protesting: "But these notions have not been embraced by much of the Soviet professional military-and is that not a complication of some consequence?" Indeed it is, yet not one to be overestimated. First, to say that the military by and large does not use the same concepts is not to say they have consciously chosen against them. Second, where their preferences are clearly in conflict with the new ideas, that is not to say they will fight to have their way. And, third, in those instances where they do choose to fight, this is not to say that they will win, given their current comparative political disadvantage.

Other new policy concepts parallel Gorbachev's reformulated insight into the basic dynamic of contemporary international politics, an insight that exalts interdependence and devalues class struggle. Reduced to their essence, these concepts stress multilateralism in place of great-power unilateralism and substitute responsibility of the many for the arrogated duty of the two superpowers. This in turn means strengthening international institutions, such as the United Nations, to give them a larger role with all manner of tasks, from facilitating communication during crises to providing aid in environmental emergencies, from managing regional violence to policing the fragile settlements by which such violence is ended. However, it also means altering Soviet institutions and practices that make the U.S.S.R. an unfit participant in other international institutions, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the International Monetary Fund.

The Soviet leadership has not been as successful at developing policy concepts to go along with shifts in its thinking about the place of the Third World in international politics. Since late summer 1987 Soviet speakers have begun favoring political over military settlements and suggesting the notion of "national reconciliation" as the way out of the chaos in places like Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia-and this might be taken as a new policy concept. But it may only represent a recoiling from the ardors of these particular entanglements, rather than a more durable new approach to regional instability as such. In the last year or so, however, Soviet academics have urged that the United States, the Soviet Union and other great powers begin designing an explicit code of conduct regulating their intrusions in the Third World. The outlines of such a code remain foggy and, at times, distinctly prejudicial to the far-flung basing of U.S. military power.

Of the transformations in basic concepts, the gravest and most traumatic is the process of rethinking Soviet relations within the socialist world, particularly with Eastern Europe. Not surprisingly, therefore, Soviet leaders are not having an easy time generating concrete concepts to guide policy in this area. Two departures, however, have enormous implications. First, the old notion of "socialist internationalism," for decades a euphemism for Soviet tutelage, has been replaced by something far closer to laissez-faire. East European regimes are to be left essentially alone to solve their own problems and make their own mistakes. Second, the Brezhnev Doctrine, while not actually lifted, no longer sets the same limits to change. Put differently, doubtless there are still circumstances in which the Soviet Union would intervene with force, but they would probably not include those of 1968 and 1981.

In sum, we are witnessing significant changes in basic concepts and operational policy. What makes all of these changes on the two levels still more momentous, however, is the passage occurring on a third level.

To a degree particularly difficult for Americans to understand, fundamental assumptions, on which the entire edifice of Soviet foreign policy beliefs ultimately rests, are at stake. Never, not even in the 1940s or as a result of the Vietnam War, have Americans been forced to reexamine the basic premises of their worldview. In the Soviet Union, today, people are engaging in such a reexamination. No two matters are more fundamental to the Soviet mind than revolution and capitalism, and the view of each has come to a remarkable pass.

Twice before, the Soviet conception of revolution has undergone profound change. The first time was in the years following 1917, when Lenin's rationalization of the Russian Revolution as the "spark" for a European revolution died, and Soviet leaders were left to fend for themselves. The second time was in the 1950s, when the advent of the nuclear era forced them to rethink the relationship between war and revolution, and, therefore, accept the argument for peaceful coexistence.

Now comes a third transformation: the end of revolutionary faith. Its last repository had been the Third World, but nothing any longer convinces most Soviet observers that revolution is the probable fate of most developing countries (not, at least, the kind of revolution that they would wish to see); more likely their fate is either political vagrancy or, for those that escape into the ranks of the newly industrializing countries, something more akin to capitalism.

Capitalism, too, is coming to represent something vastly different for Gorbachev and his supporters. They are more attentive to the durability of capitalism, as the twentieth century draws to a close, than to its predicted doom. More of their sensitivity is concentrated on its dynamism than on its crises, a dynamism that some openly, others by implication, acknowledge has shamed socialism. For capitalism has successfully made the transition from the industrial to the technical-information age, while socialism has yet to prove that it can-an admission that one finds in Soviet journals these days. (Hence, not so incidentally, the "crisis" of communist parties in the West, to put it as Soviet commentators now do.) And the discovery that certain ills, such as militarism, are not in fact intrinsic to capitalism engages more attention now than do the features which the Soviets continue to regard as capitalism's flaws.

When Gorbachev can come to New York and deliver a speech in praise of tolerance and diversity and "the universal human idea," raise the revolution of 1789 to equality with that of 1917 as a source of "a most precious spiritual heritage," identify "freedom of choice" as "a universal principle that should allow for no exceptions," reject force or the threat of its use as an instrument of policy, and call for a more open international order, he may risk being "a little too romantic"-and Gorbachev has acknowledged that some of his own people think he is. But his words should not be regarded as mere bluster. Not when values, assumptions and prescriptions are being recast at every turn, at every level, in every dimension of policy.


Is the revolution in Soviet foreign policy really so radical? What evidence might be offered to the skeptic? The evidence is threefold: first, the nature of the process Gorbachev has set in motion; second, the opposition to it; and, third, the actions accompanying the process.

First, what is the nature of the process? It seems reasonable to suspect that something so comprehensive cannot be easily scripted by one oligarch-or even by a score. When literally every dimension of policy is affected, an invisible, not a human, hand is at work. What is more important, the process has been from the start unsystematic in its essence, far too much so to be simply a clever contrivance. In a less natural process, the progression would be more logical: first, the affectation of a shift in fundamental assumptions, then the supposed adjustment of basic concepts, and from these an appropriately modified array of policy concepts.

But that is not at all what has been happening. On the contrary, change has come piecemeal and out of any logical order. It has tumbled forth on all levels at once. The process has been like some great random sewing machine, stitching back and forth, slowly exposing the pattern. Gorbachev starts by acknowledging, at last, the interconnection of national and mutual security, or maybe simply by coming forward with a new negotiating position in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), or maybe by vaguely suggesting a new standard for defense, which he calls reasonable sufficiency, all of which did happen between October 1985 and February 1986. Others then seize the opening and push the argument forward, taking a notion like reasonable sufficiency and spelling it out, adding as well other logically related new ideas, such as strategic stability or defensive defense. Within months these accumulating notions make their way back into the next Gorbachev or Shevardnadze pronouncement.

Meanwhile, each part of the establishment-the policy leaders in a vague and sweeping fashion, the policy intellectuals in a more elaborate and specific fashion-attacks one issue, only to find itself led to another still more fundamental conclusion. Thus, someone sets out to elaborate an idea, say the notion of "reasonable sufficiency." He then begins to question the role of military power in Soviet policy and finally to admit, as did Americanologist Georgi Arbatov, that "in the past we did not realize, as we realize now, the limited possibilities of the use of military power"; as a result "our national security policy overemphasized military means."4 Such questioning of the place of military power in Soviet foreign policy prompts others to challenge the whole Soviet concept of what threatens the U.S.S.R., a question that began to emerge in academic articles by early 1988 and now threads its way through leadership speeches.

We were wrong, these Soviet policymakers say, to conceive of the threat in thoroughly military terms, to represent the military threat as one of war, and to imagine the war would likely break out in central Europe. In fact, they argue, the real threat has increasingly become the deformation of the Soviet economy produced by a preoccupation with military power, a debilitating order of priorities consciously imposed on the Soviet Union by a richer West. Indeed, they ask, how is it that Soviet military power grew throughout the 1970s, while Soviet national security, when thought of in terms of the country's economic, social and political stability, shrank?

The process continues. It is not enough to stop with a rethinking of the nature of the threat, a growing number of Soviet leaders contend; the need is to grapple with the larger question of where Soviet national interests lie. Shevardnadze referred explicitly to this problem in an important address to a foreign ministry conference last July, and since then a number of writers have offered bold responses.5 Their common theme is that the mindless willingness to make commitments in the past, the reflexive jockeying for international position and the struggle for spheres of influence scarcely corresponded to the nation's real national interests. They urge instead that foreign policy be corralled and made to serve the interests of society, not a disembodied "bureaucratic internationalism," as one of them puts it.

Although paradoxical, a second reason to take the process seriously is the opposition to it, or at least to certain aspects of it. (Of course, opposition is also a reason to fear for the future of the process.) When Yegor Ligachev, thought to be the second-ranking member of the Soviet Politburo until recently, argues on behalf of a class-based view of international politics and defends the notion of class struggle, as he did last summer, it is a reasonable deduction that he regards the new ideas as more than an artifice.

But, if the misgivings of more traditional minds give us further reason to believe something real is afoot, are they not also reason to avoid overrating its chances of success? If there is indeed a struggle under way, who is to say the architects of the new concepts will prevail? In the abstract this is a perfectly prudent concern. In reality, it gravely miscalculates the current state of affairs.

Gorbachev, Yakovlev and the others are not locked in a furious battle with critics of their foreign policy program. Ligachev obviously worries about the potential loss of self-identity and ballast when old and familiar ideological frameworks are abandoned. But to compare the 28 lines in one of his speeches with a virtual avalanche of pent-up new ideas seems less than judicious. Conservative skepticism over what is being said and done by Gorbachev in foreign policy certainly must exist but, to keep matters in proportion, one has to look long and hard to find traces of it in the public record, quite unlike the case with criticism of his domestic reforms. Moreover, with the important exception of the military, when we consider the ranks of those who make or influence Soviet foreign policy-whether the dominant figures in the foreign ministry or the international apparat of the party, the personal advisers to key Politburo members, senior figures in the media or the most powerful personalities within the Academy of Sciences-an overwhelming proportion are part of the revolution, not a threat to it.

Finally, Soviet actions over the last three years, particularly in the last year and a half, suggest that the churning in Soviet minds is genuine. Some of the evidence lies in a wide range of what might be called symptomatic behavior. Releasing Andrei Sakharov from internal exile in Gorky in December 1986 was an early illustration. Paying long-owed obligations for U.N. peacekeeping operations in May 1988 was another. Handling the hijacking of a Soviet cargo aircraft in November 1988 as Washington itself might have was a third. This behavior is symptomatic because, while none of these actions is crucial, taken together they represent something qualitatively different from the Soviet Union's past demeanor.

By now the list is long: the end to the jamming of foreign broadcasting; the bid for observer status in GATT, the Asian Development Bank and the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council; collaboration with British law-enforcement agencies against drug trafficking; cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency investigating the Chernobyl disaster; the vote in favor of keeping Israel and South Africa in that agency; the creation of a commission to examine the so-called blank spots in Polish-Soviet history-and so the list swells. It is already too long and too diverse to be only a nondescript series of random occurrences.

The same can be said of Soviet actions in areas that truly count. For a long time after Gorbachev came to power, skeptics had a point when they reminded audiences that the deeds of the Soviets were less inspiring than their words. But this case is harder and harder to make. The agreement to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF), largely on NATO's terms, could be explained as a hard-headed, albeit courageous, corrective to a politically and materially expensive mistake. So could the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. One realizes, however, that even these decisions carry more profound implications. Leaving an agony like Afghanistan by cutting and running, as others like the French and Americans know too well, sets limits to future interventions. Making a deal with the West on INF involving the destruction of a whole generation of modern weapons (without the destruction of the threat for which they were designed) and allowing the most intrusive forms of verification is an impingement on defense decision-making such as has not been allowed under any Soviet leader since Khrushchev.

From the start, there have also been other actions that broke more clearly with the past. One such action was the decision in October 1985 to offer 50-percent reductions in strategic nuclear forces, including subceilings that could greatly lessen the Soviet threat to U.S. fixed land-based missiles (at one time the essence of the American fear of a "window of vulnerability"). The acceptance of on-site verification in the INF agreement is another. A third is the effort to address China's three "obstacles" to better Sino-Soviet relations by initiative rather than rhetoric, including since late 1987 the active cajoling of Vietnam to pull its troops out of Cambodia.

In December 1988 in New York came a fourth break-one which almost no one was prepared to pass over. A unilateral decision to cut Soviet active military forces by 500,000 troops, or almost 15 percent, and to withdraw more than 40 percent of Soviet tank divisions from Eastern Europe, together with 50 percent of Soviet tanks, is a giant shift in the Soviet approach. Only some very basic adjustment of Soviet thinking can explain it. If, in fact, a less-publicized but more significant pledge in the Gorbachev speech comes about, a very real revolution in behavior will have occurred. "All Soviet divisions remaining, for the time being, on the territory of our allies are being reorganized," he said. "Their structure will be different from what it is now; after a major cutback of their tanks it will become clearly defensive."


What is the West to do? How are we to cope with one of the great foreign policy reorientations of our times?

The answer, in most capitals, is "cautiously." The reason, even for those who take Gorbachev at his word, has ultimately to do with another kind of uncertainty. What if it all ends tomorrow? What if Gorbachev disappears-or, if he survives, what if the pressure of circumstance causes him to retreat? Most counsel: "Take hope from the change, but don't lower your guard, don't overestimate the new, and don't count on the future."

This time, however, caution is the enemy of the sensible. The problem arises from a misreading of the sources of the transformation taking place in Soviet foreign policy. Most take it for granted that what is happening is owed entirely or largely to the Soviet crisis at home or, at a minimum, to the way Gorbachev sees the crisis. It follows that, should the Soviet predicament worsen (or, less likely, ease) or should Gorbachev be replaced by someone who takes a different view of it, the same impulse to change will no longer exist.

Unquestionably the Soviet leadership's domestic preoccupations are a major factor. Gorbachev says so in every foreign policy speech. At the April 1985 Central Committee plenum and often since, he has made it plain that his domestic agenda dictates everything else and that foreign policy will comply with its needs. Those at the forefront of the new thinking freely admit that, but for the domestic drama, the changes they care about would not be coming so rapidly and dramatically. Almost certainly there is another connection: when Gorbachev and the others engage in soaring thoughts about change within the Soviet Union, presumably they find it easier and more natural to entertain great conceptual leaps in the foreign policy realm as well.

Important though the domestic factor is, however, it does not alone, or perhaps even primarily, account for the revolution under way in this other context. The requirements of the international setting also play a role. The truth is that virtually every dimension of the change has antecedents in the period before Gorbachev, because the realities of international politics have for more than a decade been forcing Soviet foreign policy elites to rethink many of their assumptions. Quite apart from the trouble at home, they understand the need to reconsider the problems of managing alliances, of using force, of achieving influence and of making commitments. It is the world outside, not the mess inside, that has led them to think through the character and weaknesses of their power abroad, the hazards of interventionism, the causes of insecurity, the significance of interdependence and the costs of autarky. Whatever happens to Gorbachev or to his effort at perestroika, the same pressures will be there. He has most assuredly accelerated and deepened the process of adjusting, and his passing would slow its momentum-but not end it. The conceptual revolution I have been describing can be undone only by leaders who plan to disregard powerful and unforgiving realities (and the failures of past policy).

No one should conclude from all this that the Soviet Union will soon cease to be a concern of U.S. policy. Talk of what it will do to the United States and the Western alliance to lose the Soviet Union as an enemy is wildly premature. Nothing in what I have laid out implies that the Soviet Union will soon embrace Western ways, forswear great ambitions abroad or cease to be a military superpower. Nothing guarantees that Soviet leaders will never again offend the West by the use of force at home or in Eastern Europe, or worry it by their involvements far from their own borders.

But a historic opportunity now presents itself to the United States and its allies, and neither timidity nor old ways of framing the issue are the right response. It is fashionable these days to say the cold war is over and the West has won. What many people do not realize is that we in the West are in danger of ending it on Soviet terms. For it would end on Soviet terms if Moscow finally established itself in the eyes of the world, including those of our own people, as the leadership with the greater vision and the more compelling foreign policy values, as the leadership more willing to run risks for a safer and less militarized international order, as the leadership more committed to strong and effective international institutions, and as the leadership more ready to free us from the contests of the past.

Thus, when NATO, after a great deal of debate, puts forward a proposal by which the Soviet Union does all the cutting of conventional forces while we only watch, a proposal in which the objective is to relieve Western concerns and defer Eastern concerns, and when the first instinct of prominent Western public figures faced with Gorbachev's pledge of unilateral arms reductions is hand-wringing over the impediments it will put on efforts to modernize NATO's tactical nuclear weapons, then the West is doubly foolish: first, for not understanding the opportunity now open to it; and second, for casting itself in the eyes of the rest of the world as the hidebound.

Not so many years ago many commentators located the root of the Soviet challenge in the Russian quest for absolute security. Maybe it is now the West that is more in danger of calculating excessively the margin of security, not daring to run risks in the uncertain hope of creating far greater stability and safety.

The West makes some of the same mistakes when it underestimates or, worse, dismisses Gorbachev's new emphasis on multilateralism. If by his statement and the accompanying array of proposals he is telling the West of his country's readiness to diminish the role of both superpowers in supervising international politics and to transfer to others many of the rights and duties seized by these two over the last forty years, it is not in the West's interest to turn a blind eye. What gain is there for the United States and other Western powers to be seen as cynical toward the United Nations and other international institutions with a political contribution to make, while the Soviet Union moves in the other direction?

As the new Soviet leadership has begun to stir interest in the West, the closest thing we have had to statesmanship is the urging that we "test" Gorbachev, by which is meant that we take him seriously and probe to see how far he is willing to alter Soviet policy. It seems increasingly irrelevant advice, as Gorbachev meets more and more tests we have not yet collected ourselves to pose. Increasingly the test is for the West: Do we have the imagination, creativity and courage to respond to the very revolution in Soviet foreign policy for which we have waited half a century?

1 From Vremya broadcast, Aug. 12, 1988, as reported in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Aug. 16, p. 52.

2 A. Kislov, in the journal Mirovaya ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, August 1988, p. 39.

4 "Perestroika, Glasnost and Foreign Policy," unpublished paper, 1988.

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  • Robert Legvold is director of the W. Averell Harriman Institute of the Advanced Study of the Soviet Union, and professor of political science at Columbia University.
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