America's Stake in the Soviet Future

Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986.

The day after Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait, Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze jointly condemned the action and announced a cutoff of arms to Iraq. In the weeks that followed the Soviet Union not only voted for each U.N. resolution condemning Iraq and demanding its withdrawal, but also played an important role in persuading others to go along. Had the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations voted no, thus denying the United Nations authority, would President Bush have gone forward? Try to imagine the U.S.-led international offensive against Saddam Hussein absent active Soviet cooperation.

Americans now take for granted the strategic consequences of Soviet "new thinking" and the changes it has produced in Soviet foreign policy. Glasnost, perestroika and democratization have unleashed previously unthinkable changes within the Soviet Union as well. Despite some serious setbacks, these rapidly unfolding reforms constitute a "Second Russian Revolution." When completed, its consequences for politics, economics, ownership and the character of the Soviet government may be no less profound than those of 1917. Voltaire observed that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire. What we have known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics will increasingly be neither a union nor Soviet nor socialist.

Maintaining perspective when confronting revolutionary turbulence is difficult. The fixed point for our compass must be U.S. interests. The Soviet Union cannot be marginalized in international affairs but must continue to maintain a singular claim on American interests and attention. Western achievements in foreign policy in recent years are the result not only of Western strategy and strengths, but also of the Gorbachev government's specific conclusions and choices. Although the Baltic republics are a special case, America has no preeminent interest in the rapid disintegration of the Soviet Union. Higher priority interests are the security of the United States and its allies, peaceful change in Europe, the rights of individuals in the Soviet Union and the peaceful resolution

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