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A New Cold War?

Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986.
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America's Stake in the Soviet Future

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 there of issues of self-determination and borders. The violent disintegration of the Soviet Union would pose first-order threats to vital American interests. The U.S. stake in the Soviet Union's future merits a strategy of engagement as robust and refined as America's Cold War strategy.


Gorbachev's cooperation in the gulf crisis was essential to the U.S.-led multinational defeat of Iraq. But the Soviet leader's policies toward eastern and central Europe in 1989-90 will have the greatest geopolitical impact on American and global interests in the next decade and beyond. It is easy to regard as inevitable the astonishing changes in Soviet policy that occurred between the spring of 1989, when eastern Europe began to bubble, and July 1990, when Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl struck the final deal accepting a united Germany as a full member of NATO.

Some now suggest that Soviet acquiescence in the liberation of eastern Europe was beyond Gorbachev's capacity to resist. But Moscow certainly had the force available to crush those revolutionary stirrings, as it demonstrably had before. Such a classic and bloody Soviet response may well have been the predominant preference of the Soviet military, intelligence services and the Communist Party. Yet Gorbachev chose a peaceful course. Eastern Europe changed. Our world changed. His choices reflected various considerations including the desire to promote Western economic assistance and the Soviet Union's international reputation. But there was nothing inevitable about it. It was instead the direct result of a remarkable Soviet leader's particular and extraordinary change of national policy-a change that ran deeply against the grain of entrenched Soviet bureaucracies.

Gorbachev's acceptance of a unified Germany in NATO was in some ways even more surprising than his willingness to allow noncommunist regimes in eastern Europe or the formal dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. He could have refused. As Shevardnadze has stressed, important voices in Moscow were insisting on just such a confrontational course. Instead, Gorbachev accepted every important element of the West's position concerning Germany. It is difficult to think of another single decision by any foreign leader in the past three decades that has so improved international peace and security.

These are not the only examples of Gorbachev's significant alterations of Soviet national security policy. In the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, Moscow agreed to eliminate the Soviet Union's overwhelming conventional military superiority in Europe-the focus of NATO's fears for four decades. The CFE treaty, if Soviet compliance problems are resolved, will represent the most substantial arms reduction agreement ever reached. In Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, the Soviet Union and the United States are nearing the first agreement to reduce strategic arms in almost 20 years, one that will cut the Soviet arsenal in important categories by about 50 percent. The verification procedures for CFE and START require military openness to outside inspection previously unimaginable for a secretive Soviet society. In its regional policies outside the Middle East, the Soviet Union has withdrawn its military forces from Afghanistan, watched without interference as democratic elections ousted a communist government in Nicaragua, cooperated with Washington to bring independence to Namibia and worked closely with the United States to try to work out a ceasefire in Cambodia. Moreover, today Jews and others are permitted to emigrate from the Soviet Union in greater numbers than the United States and others in the West are willing to welcome.

In sum, the Gorbachev era of foreign and defense policies has been exceedingly good for the United States and the West, and not in a fleeting way. Future generations across Europe and especially in Germany will reap the benefits of Gorbachev's past decisions and actions. As America designs its policies for the coming phase of U.S.-Soviet relations, it should not be forgotten that these historic developments would not have occurred without the active support or acquiescence of Mikhail Gorbachev.


Gorbachev's announced aspiration is to transform the Soviet Union by evolutionary means-"not relying on the methods of the past." The objectives of his reform program are captured in three images. He wants the Soviet Union to be a "great power," a "normal society" and "integrated into the world community."

For Russians status as a great power is as much an element of national identity as it is for Americans. More remarkable therefore is Gorbachev's expression of the Soviet Union's aspiration to become a "normal society." A painfully revealing choice of words, this phrase has struck a responsive chord across Soviet society. By allowing the press relatively free rein, permitting Soviet citizens to travel abroad and encouraging contact with the flood of visitors to the Soviet Union, Gorbachev has given millions of Soviets some direct experience of life in the West. The number of Soviet visas issued for travel in the West has risen from several thousand to several hundreds of thousands in 1990.

Does Gorbachev have a strategy to realize his objectives for the Soviet Union? None is evident in the pattern of his actions. One of Gorbachev's closest, if not most objective, watchers, Boris Yeltsin, has observed that Gorbachev is a congenital compromiser, always choosing half steps rather than decisive strides. Repeatedly, Gorbachev chooses actions the predictable consequences of which he neither intends nor anticipates. But if one focuses on consequences, not stated intentions, subtle patterns emerge. More rapidly than any observer of the Soviet Union predicted, his program of reform has relaxed the fear that was the dominant chord of Soviet society, and has undermined the state's authoritarian institutions including the military, the apparatchik, and indeed, the Communist Party. Supporters and critics alike have noted his visceral aversion to violence. Democratic reformers condemn Gorbachev's use of force but privately acknowledge his restraint as evidence of residual values. Conservatives argue that hesitation to use force now will only necessitate violence on a much larger scale in the near future. And reactionaries take his reserve as decisive evidence of his unfitness to lead.

Gorbachev clearly admires Western achievements and expresses appreciation for Western values of "freedom" and "democracy." Nevertheless, as westerners romanticize this Russian leader, they should recall that Gorbachev grew up under communism, rose to power through the party's ranks and continues to pledge his allegiance to communism. His decision to stick with the party is explicable in terms of sheer calculations of power-weighing the 16 million members of an unpopular, declining but still powerful Communist Party against the disorganized democratic reformers. But in his continuing commitment to communism, one smells more than a whiff of Bolshevism.


Every week brings surprising news of events in the Soviet Union heralded by headlines as major turning points. Exaggerated euphoria about the second coming of democracy and free markets has been overtaken by pronouncements of the death of perestroika. But beneath this surface turmoil it is possible to identify four systemic crises confronting the Soviet leadership: those of authority, union, the economy and political power.

The crisis of authority is evident in the parade of sovereignties, the war of laws and the vanishing arm of enforcement. Republics, autonomous regions, cities and even districts within cities proclaim themselves "sovereign and independent" and pass laws contradicting those of the levels of government above them. Since these laws are not enforced, this "warfare" has no operational effect. Elections select members to "soviets" roughly equivalent to U.S. city councils, and the elected proclaim "all power to the soviet." At Gorbachev's request the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. grants special presidential authority, pursuant to which he issues decrees: for Armenians to turn in their arms, for Georgians to rescind their order disbanding South Ossetia as an autonomous region. The decrees are disregarded and often nothing follows.

During the seventy years of Lenin's experiment in the Soviet Union, most of what is considered legal behavior in Western societies was declared illegal-from free speech to free association to the free exchange of goods. In Western societies whatever is not prohibited is permitted. The Bolsheviks turned this presumption on its head, making what was not permitted prohibited. The Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. in 1988 set this presumption back on its feet. The effects have been dizzying. Supreme Soviets at every level rushed to pass laws to cover broad areas previously blanketed by the general prohibition. Coinciding as it did with major constraints on enforcement, this new situation creates substantial ambiguity about the lines between the legal, the semi-legal and the illegal.

In all societies authority is a function of habit, fear of punishment for violation, and legitimacy. What is beyond dispute in the Soviet Union is the breakdown of habit or routine as an effective way of solving the simplest problems of daily life-from finding aspirin for a sick child to getting a critical component of an industrial production process. Illegality tends to breed illegality. Soviet citizens now find themselves victims of what Americans have come to think of as "normal" levels of real crime. Reported crimes in the Soviet Union in 1989 rose 32 percent over the previous year. The Soviet publication Komsomolskaia pravda sent reporters out with dollars in November 1990 to see what weapons they could purchase on Moscow's black market. The list included automatic rifles, rocket launchers and promise of a tank.

Such circumstances make more understandable the appeal of calls for a return to "law and order." This translates into a desire by most people for an improved, predictable supply of the necessities of life. Thus the response to Gorbachev's presidential decree assigning military personnel to accompany local police on patrols in 400 cities has engendered less opposition than expected. But the agendas of many of those who constitute the instruments of "law and order" go well beyond increases in lawfulness as it is understood in normal society.

Gorbachev and the current leadership inherited the crisis of union. Over the past five centuries their predecessors assembled the 11-time-zone expanse that is now the U.S.S.R. What held this union together was the unquestioned expectation of Moscow's iron fist. In a century marked by the rising tide of nationalism and transcendent claims of national independence, no one should be surprised by the consequences of Moscow's relaxed hand. Behind current complaints are decades, sometimes centuries, of injustices and disputes between the central government and the regions, between Russians and non-Russian ethnic groups. In opposing "Moscow" some provincials object to the unitary totalitarian state, others to the current Gorbachev government seated in that city, and still others to the Russian domination centered there that long preceded the Bolsheviks. Of the republics and autonomous regions demanding independence few are nationally or ethnically homogenous. Rather they are unmelted pots containing various minority groups, each with grievances against the majority and other local minorities.

Over 25 million Russians live outside the Russian republic, many of them (or their ancestors) originally sent there as part of the colonial apparatus. Resentment of Russian military commanders, police officers, party officials, factory directors and others is the norm. So too is the susceptibility of the Russian majority in the Russian republic to believing reports of harm or threat to Russians in other parts of the union.

The industrial economy of the union was designed to emphasize interdependence. Thus the costs of a breakup of the economic union would be larger for each member than in a normal colonial relationship. Moreover, driven by paranoia, the Soviet military has built extensive perimeter defenses around the current borders of the U.S.S.R., from the Baltic to the Pacific. Beyond military facilities, there is the vexing problem of how joint property could be divided among republics, most of which have significant border disputes with their neighbors.

Last fall Gorbachev and his key associates contemplated the likely disintegration of the Soviet Union. They concluded it was unacceptable. In his New Year's Day message to the Soviet Union, Gorbachev declared that the preservation of the union was "our sacred duty." He finds it difficult to conceive of the Soviet Union as a great power under circumstances of disintegration.

The Soviet Union's economic crisis is evident in the deteriorating conditions of life for Soviet citizens. The shops are barer and the lines longer than in the worst of what Soviets call the Brezhnev "era of stagnation." In a modern farce mimicking hunter-gatherer societies, families now spend five hours or more a day foraging for essentials at ever higher prices. After a decade of slowing growth, in 1990 Soviet GNP actually declined. Currently, economic output is collapsing, falling more than 10 percent in the first quarter of 1991, according to government estimates.

The underlying problem is that piecemeal reforms have relaxed the central control system without establishing the signals and discipline essential to a market economy. Moscow has yet to create the infrastructure of a market economy, including ownership, the freeing of prices and competition among enterprises. The center has instead stumbled from error to error with minimal understanding of what it is doing and little sense of the effects of its policies. A budget crunch-caused by republics withholding payments of taxes to the center-has forced the government to print rubles and expand credit. These measures can only produce hyperinflation that will provoke strikes and demands for compensating wage increases, already the case with Soviet miners and others. As the center yields, its deficit will expand. This sad tale has been played out many times in developing countries, where it leads to collapse-a balance of payments crisis, reduced foreign credits, shrunken international trade. The result is a dramatic fall in production that rapidly erodes living standards. In the textbook case, such economic disruption frequently produces a change of regime.

The attempt to escape from the current economic crisis runs headfirst into the fact that, in truth, there exists no known formula for moving from a command economy to a free market. As former Russian Finance Minister Grigory Yavlinsky has observed, moving from a market economy to a command economy is like turning an aquarium into a fish stew: all you have to do is boil it. The question is whether the process can be reversed.

The Soviet political crisis pits the democratic reformers-Gorbachev and those to his left-against the established institutions of authority-Gorbachev and those to his right-whose positions, power and perquisites are threatened. It is a revolutionary struggle about the shape and ownership of society and the character of government. The establishment's reluctance to relinquish its position should come as no surprise. If the leaders of the party, government apparatus, military, defense industries, collective farms, KGB and MVD needed a wake-up call, the object lesson of eastern Europe provided it. Where are their counterparts in eastern Europe today?

Neither the democratic reformers nor their counterrevolutionary opponents exist as effective groups. In the Soviet Union democratic reformers have often been more extreme and unrealistic in their aspirations as conservatives and reactionaries become more focused in their opposition. One is sometimes reminded of the comment of the Russian minister of justice, Ivan Shcheglovitov, in 1915: "The paralytics in the government are struggling feebly, indecisively, as if unwillingly, with the epileptics of the revolution."

On a second axis, the political crisis has pitted Gorbachev against the leaders of the republics. The political imperatives of each decree no comfortable accommodation. The most deadly duel has been that between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, leader of the Russian republic. Outsiders have long observed that objective conditions should lead the two men to cooperate: "They cannot survive without each other." Yeltsin's February call for Gorbachev to resign was read as a declaration of war. Then on April 23 the two rivals and the leaders of eight other republics reached a potentially significant agreement for power sharing. Nonetheless, while Yeltsin remains more popular than Gorbachev and will translate this popularity into increased legitimacy by general election to the Russian presidency, Gorbachev remains more powerful than Yeltsin and could still move to undermine him.

Amidst these four systemic crises, the people persevere. But observers sense a growing disorientation in the general population, expressed well in a television documentary that Gorbachev urged all the members of the Supreme Soviet to watch carefully. Its title: "We Can't Go On Living Like This."


What these crises have in common are no easy answers. They cannot be speedily "resolved," but must rather be endured. Their interplay will shape the Soviet Union's future. But which future? No serious analyst can think clearly about the year or two ahead without reflecting simultaneously on at least four alternatives: Gorbachev's muddling, messy reform and repression; the democratic reformers' agenda; a counterrevolutionary crackdown; and disintegration into chaos or civil wars.

In each of these possible near-term futures there remain certain brute facts. The oft-repeated line that the Soviet Union is no longer a superpower but rather "a Third World nation with nuclear weapons" could not be farther from the truth. The Soviet Union is and will remain a great power. It may enter a period of convulsion for a time; there may be changes in its existing territorial expanse. But even Russia alone would remain a great European power. It possesses about twice the population of Germany or France and many multiples their land mass and military capability. The strategic portion of the 30,000 weapons in the Soviet nuclear arsenal can promptly destroy the United States as a functioning society. Soviet conventional forces-from three to four million soldiers and the largest weapons arsenal in the world-will still be capable of threatening Europe in the absence of an American guarantee. The Soviet Union will remain the world's largest producer of oil and many other essential minerals as well. These facts will persist across alternative Soviet futures. While these futures could be described at great length, brief sketches convey the key features.

The zigs and zags in the Soviet Union over the past year can be extended to project a future image of Gorbachev's muddling, messy reform and repression-all in classic Gorbachev half steps. In this scenario perestroika entered a peredyshka, or breathing space, last fall from what by any historical standards must count as tumultuous, wrenching societal reform. The next few years would thus be a period of halting but slow steps to consolidate reform by retrenchment and intermittent repression.

Under the banner of "preserving the union" Lithuania proves a harbinger of the future, and is followed by other violent but contained uses of force against separatists in Georgia and elsewhere. Internal security police begin to reawaken the lively sense of the fear that heretofore dominated people's lives. The union persists, cobbled together, though in a sullen state. Glasnost is ratcheted back, especially for television. More lies, undoubtedly more sophisticated lies, are told to justify acts like Bloody Sunday in Vilnius, though publication of some critical commentary continues. Gorbachev strengthens his relationship first with the conservative majority in the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., but then accommodates the opposition who persist in expressing dissenting views. A compromise is reached in the Federation Council that permits the republics more autonomy, especially in pursuing local economic reforms. The instruments of law and order reassert some discipline and make some improvements in the supply of necessities. But macroeconomic management stumbles from crisis to crisis. The overall economy continues to deteriorate, as gray and black markets and initiatives by entrepreneurs continue bubbling up.

In foreign affairs Western gains of the last several years stand. But as the role of the military and conservatives grows, Soviet positions in arms control negotiations would continue to harden, for example, in the next phases of CFE and START. Gorbachev maintains lively ties to Western leaders and continues to value their views of him. But Shevardnadze's strong presumption favoring cooperation with the United States fades. The Soviet approach in dealing with regional issues-especially the Middle East but also Europe and East Asia-focuses on differences between U.S. and Soviet interests and seeks to exploit these to Soviet advantage.

How manageable this scenario may prove internally is uncertain. The instruments of control employed to reassert discipline in the economy will meet resistance. Such measures will not create the conditions necessary for a market economy and will discourage international investments and joint ventures. Gorbachev's half steps run the risk of either going too far or falling short. Falling short would mean failing to achieve the stability desired. Going too far would tip the government into dictatorship, of which Shevardnadze so presciently warned.

A second future-the democratic reformers' agenda-is more desirable from the perspective of the West, if less likely. It calls for continuing peaceful evolution to a looser federal structure based on emerging democratic institutions and a market economy increasingly integrated with the world. In effect, it imagines an acceptance of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin deal of last summer, along the lines of the 500-Day Plan, and then projects forward.

In this scenario, after six months of semi-successful repression aimed at holding the union together, Gorbachev senses that the degree of repression he can tolerate will not succeed. He makes yet another turn back to reform, starting with the April 23 agreement. Gorbachev (or a successor) accepts substantial devolution of power to the republics, each of which is encouraged to move to a market economy.

The core of this new program includes substantial sovereignty for the republics and the maintenance of an economic common market. But the center accepts the right of the republics to opt out of the union, and the Baltics, Moldavia, Georgia and perhaps others accelerate divorce proceedings. National economic policy adopts a new and much improved combination of the 500-Day Plan and the report by the international lending institutions. A new central government announces a determined march to the market and takes what essential steps it can, including cutting deficits to achieve fiscal stability, legalizing ownership, freeing most prices and privatizing state enterprises. The demand for more democratization leads to the democratic election of the presidents of a number of the republics, beginning with the Russian federation, and new elections for the Supreme Soviets in the Ukraine and elsewhere without reserved seats for the party establishment. Some republics institute more democracy and glasnost and some less, as their chosen governments oppress local minorities.

Soviet foreign policy is marked by an absence of attention to events abroad, internal preoccupation, sharp reductions of defense spending and an openness to further arms control agreements as well as unilateral cuts. New republican foreign ministers make sporadic forays into the international arena on issues of special interest to a republic, for example, Moldavia in relations with Romania or an Azeri-Iranian friendship treaty.

The viability of this future is uncertain. Would the traditional authoritarian institutions, including the military and party apparatchiks, relinquish control without a fight? The overriding question is how such a future avoids a spiraling disintegration that would collapse the national economy and inflame regional disputes, fueled by conflicting territorial claims.

Thus in a third Soviet future a counterrevolutionary iron hand could seize control of the union. Gorbachev's queasiness about applying the levels of violence required to suppress independence movements could lead him to quit or be replaced as party and government leader. The continuing deterioration of material conditions could provoke a general strike, even a march on the Kremlin, that would lead to large-scale violence and Gorbachev's removal. Whatever the occasion, the strength of the counterrevolution would come from the security establishment-MVD, RGB and military-supported by conservatives and reactionaries. It would most likely be chauvinistically Russian, justifying suppression as the protection of Russians living in other republics and the preservation of Russian culture. It could well have the blessings of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This counterrevolution's rallying cries would be the preservation of the union, the demand for law and order and the necessity for clear responsibility. According to one of the oldest Russian traditions, avoidance of chaos is seen to require the iron hand (Zheleznaia Ruka). Declaring a national state of emergency, MVD forces, supplemented by selected paratrooper units from the military, temporarily suspend republican Soviets and arrest dissident leaders, certainly including Yeltsin and his key associates. Glasnost is repealed and the traditional security apparatus becomes active again, reviving personal fear as a fact of daily life. A restoration of discipline could alleviate shortages of certain necessities, at least in the big cities, though overall the economy would continue to decline. (In the Pinochet or South Korean version of this future, which is being discussed in Moscow, an authoritarian leader in partnership with defense enterprises seeks to march the nation toward a market economy.)

This scenario also includes a revival of enemy images to justify internal repression. The new government would repudiate Gorbachev's "capitulation" to the West. In the military one would see rapid growth of an already nascent "Weimar Syndrome": blaming Gorbachev and Shevardnadze for surrendering in negotiations what the Soviet Union had won on the battlefield and not lost in the Cold War. Many of the Western gains in recent years are likely to prove irreversible. But such a Soviet government would try to regain traditional positions wherever it could: refusing to implement the CFE treaty fairly; renegotiating "concessions" in the current draft agreement of START and reopening agreed issues in START II; making Soviet withdrawal from Germany and Poland an ugly process, and continually raising the price. Regionally, such a government could reinvigorate destabilizing Soviet policies in the Middle East, beginning with large arms transfers, revive relations with anti-Western terrorists and generally oppose U.S. interests elsewhere in the world. Emigration, including of Jews to Israel, would drop precipitously.

The biggest questions about this scenario concern the costs at which independence and freedom could be suppressed. Most acutely, how would such a central government control reformist impulses in the Russian federation government, the Russian military and among Russians in other predominantly conservative institutions?

Unsatisfactory answers to key questions about each of these three futures lead to a fourth alternative: chaos and civil wars. Note the plural: wars. The disintegration of the union into Balkanized republics, autonomous zones and regions, each asserting its own laws and refusing to comply with those of others, could become anarchic. With the breakdown of trade, industries in one region would be denied critical inputs from another and the national economy could collapse. Sixty-five million people in the Soviet Union live in areas dominated by nationalities other than their own. Pockets of such groups would be suppressed by local majorities. Substantial fighting would ensue. As small-scale violence led to larger civil wars, there would be mass migration of refugees to neighboring states to the west and to the south. European studies estimate the number of refugees at perhaps 10 million. Suppressed groups would call for help from outsiders: Russians from the Russian federation, Moldavians from Romanians, Muslims from their brothers to the south. Instability in various Soviet republics could spill over into eastern Europe to the west and Muslim nations to the south.

Under conditions of chaos and civil wars, would central control of nuclear weapons be maintained? In December 1990 the commander of the Soviet Union's most capable divisions, those in East Germany, was dismissed for failing to prevent his company commanders from selling advanced weapons. No student of the civil warfare in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1921 can fail to be chilled by the sheer ruthlessness and senselessness of the violence. Under such circumstances nuclear and chemical weapons could fall into the hands of renegade groups prepared to use them for blackmail or to offer them for sale. Such possibilities stagger the imagination. But one should recall how many other equally inconceivable events have occurred in the past several years.


Whatever Gorbachev's contributions to Western interests during the period 1985-91, U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union cannot be based in an enduring way on Moscow's past actions. Rather, it must ask what important American interests are currently entwined with existing and future Soviet policies.

The preeminent U.S. interest in the Soviet Union continues to be to avoid a nuclear war between the two countries. Although the likelihood of a nuclear exchange has mercifully declined, the consequences of a failure of deterrence are so great that the nuclear issue must continue to top any list of U.S. interests vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

This priority is emphasized by two other facets of the nuclear problem, one familiar, one new. No one need be reminded of the effects in Europe and potentially beyond of another Soviet civil nuclear accident. If the Soviet Union were a fundamentally stable political entity, one would nevertheless worry about the safety of its 50 aging and primitive reactors. With the possibility of widespread Soviet internal disorder, it is easy to imagine a tragic intersection between civil violence and a civil nuclear facility, or an accident resulting from neglect. Moreover, the bloody disintegration of the Soviet Union would also raise a new specter of transcending interest to the United States, the loss of nuclear command and control by the Soviet central authority. And no single event in the postwar period would pose such high and uncontrollable risks of nuclear war as the violent collapse of the Soviet Union into chaos and civil wars.

The size, capabilities and location of Soviet conventional forces will also continue to matter to the United States and its European allies. The prospective total withdrawal of Soviet troops and equipment from eastern Europe and Germany by the end of 1994 will reduce the Soviet conventional threat to Europe beyond Cold War recognition. All the same, and even if the Soviets comply with the 1990 CFE treaty, Soviet armed forces will be the largest and most capable in Europe. These factors are important because of the risks they present, their impact on U.S. defense spending and the size of the American forces that should prudently remain in Europe. With respect to the military aspects of evolving Soviet policy, both nuclear and conventional, the United States has a profound interest in whether the Soviet Union, even with its severe economic problems, eventually begins a new round of force modernization or pursues force reductions, either unilaterally or through arms control agreements. A breakup of the Soviet Union and a fragmenting of its enormous military force into war among its components would pose unprecedented defense policy challenges for Washington.

Even if the most drastic outcomes in the Soviet Union are avoided, many of Moscow's policies in the political and diplomatic arena will affect important U.S. interests. Will Moscow be a partner with the West in trying to help manage the emergence of an independent and peaceful eastern Europe, or will Soviet actions add to the inherent instability in that region? Will Soviet new thinking extend to Asia, and particularly to Soviet-Japanese relations? Will the Soviet government continue its cooperation with Washington to ameliorate internal and regional conflicts, to build a more stable Middle East after the Gulf War? And will Moscow support Western efforts to slow the flow of nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic missile technology to unstable parts of the world, in particular, to the Middle East and South Asia?

The United States thus has notable political-military and diplomatic interests at stake in the future expression of Soviet external policies. But U.S. interests do not end there. The broad U.S. public responded to Gorbachev's reforms not because they promised a slowdown in Soviet T-80 tank production, however welcomed that was. Rather, glasnost and democratization touched the broad public because these reforms reflected American values. The prospect, however distant, of nearly 300 million more human beings enjoying freedom's benefits and the market's prosperity must gladden the spirit of America and must be fundamentally in this nation's enduring interests.

But what of America's interests, in light of the continuing tensions within the Soviet Union between order and reform, between power at the center and its devolution to the republics, and between the preservation of the union and outright independence or self-determination? The immediate consequences of the collapse of empire have generally been much more negative than positive, both for the former colonies of the empire and for the international system. Churchill commented on the fate of the former members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I: "There is not one of the peoples or provinces that constituted the Empire of the Hapsburgs to whom gaining their independence has not brought the tortures which ancient poets and theologians reserved for the damned." Nor should one forget the contribution of these newly independent countries' instabilities to the coming of the Second World War.

Banality offers an almost irresistible temptation. It is easy to say that the U.S. interest is in peaceful evolution based on the democratically expressed views of Soviet citizens. But to give such simple and general advice to Soviet leaders does not seem realistic, given that country's numerous, bitter and often violent ethnic rivalries, its economic decline and lack of democratic and free-market traditions. There is a middle ground between empty, even feckless, lectures from afar and excuses from the same distance for Gorbachev's every undemocratic action. Here are some guidelines.

The violence against the Baltic people must stop and, because of their unique history, Gorbachev must allow these three republics to regain their independence. A fair divorce proceeding between Moscow and the Baltic capitals that produces this result could take several years. But negotiations must have an end point, and that end point must allow independence.

As for the other 12 Soviet republics, any arrangement acceptable to any republic and the Soviet central government should of course be acceptable to the United States. More power to the constituent parts of the Soviet Union in some kind of federal arrangement is a necessary condition for any successful Soviet future. But universal self-determination is not an American constitutional principle, as amply demonstrated by our own civil war. There is no end to boundless self-determination or to the progressively smaller ethnic groups that will demand it. Why should the United States support endless and automatic self-determination based on nationality-and at whatever price-in the Soviet Union, including Russia and the Ukraine, more vigorously than in Croatia, Transylvania, Slovakia or for Quebec? The United States should refuse to be intimidated by invocations of this principle-both as a matter of priorities and because of its destructive effect on the territorial integrity of the Soviet Union and, therefore, on the U.S. interests that would surely be profoundly threatened by the Soviet Union's violent disintegration.

Finally, America's interests clearly require that it support and speak out on behalf of democratic change. This is consistent with both its values and its best traditions. But there is also in this case a compelling geopolitical reason for such an American stance. It is highly unlikely that Soviet new thinking in matters of foreign policy can flourish, or even survive, in the context of internal repression. The best long-term prospect for cooperative Soviet behavior abroad is the sustained development of Soviet democratic institutions at home.


Many believe there is little the United States can do to affect the outcome of the Soviet domestic struggle: there is too much turmoil to be influenced from the outside; Gorbachev's perestroika may be winding down anyway; the United States has no money and little or no influence; America has to tend to its own problems. The West therefore must simply watch events unfold, hoping for the best but expecting far less.

Such passivity is curious, if not dangerous, on a matter that has such profound implications for the future security of the United States. Having spent some five trillion dollars to meet the military challenge of the Soviet Union around the globe, is the United States (and its allies) to opt out now when the Soviet future is being formed? Will the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia later regret this passivity, especially if internal retrenchment in Soviet policies again forces the democracies to spend vast amounts to counter Moscow's international activities?

It is important, as critics stress, to recognize the difficulty of the task of aiding Soviet transition to democratic institutions and a market economy. It may well be that a large and coordinated Western effort would fail because of Soviet bureaucratic resistance or incompetence, opposition of the Soviet people or Gorbachev's (or his successor's) unwillingness to make the necessary reforms. The odds of failure indeed appear higher than those of success. But with so much at stake, Western delay in trying to affect the odds on which Soviet future emerges is myopic.

What, then, should the West do, and do urgently, to try to promote a positive Soviet future, to avoid the return of dangerous and destabilizing Soviet external policies or the violent disintegration of the Soviet state?

First, we should recognize that events in the Soviet Union present a historic window of opportunity. People in the Soviet Union have concluded that their society has failed. They believe that the economic and political democracies of the West have succeeded. They truly aspire to be a "normal society." They know that they do not fully understand what that means, or how it can be achieved. They believe that people in the West do know. They thus stand at a "learning moment," eagerly receptive to the lessons of Western experience in normal societies. The West must not abandon the brave Soviets fighting for reform. If it gives up, many of them will prudently do the same. If the West can pause to recall the central values on which its economic and political institutions were founded, it should make a major effort to distill and communicate these core truths to Soviet citizens whose entire lives have been confined to a prison of distorting mirrors. The conversion of a military-industrial society must occur most importantly in the minds of key people: one by one.

The West should pursue a strategy of building the infrastructure for democracy. The Soviet Union is today open to printing presses, copying machines, personal computers, fax machines and satellite dishes. Specific assistance can make the opening of the Soviet consciousness irreversible. Western support, however, must be differentiated. Help should be given to those whose actions will help bring democracy and a market economy, not to opponents or those who wish to dismember, violently if necessary, the U.S.S.R. Reform, yes. Repression, no. Encourage devolution to a new confederation of sovereign republics. Discourage anarchy surrounding the disintegration of the Soviet state.

Second, the United States should continue active attempts to engage the Soviet Union in the management of what will remain a dangerous international environment.

Third, in an effort to forestall Soviet futures that would most deeply threaten Western interests and global stability, a coalition of Western governments led by the United States should immediately design and offer to the Soviet Union at the Group of Seven Summit in July a bargain of Marshall Plan proportions. The terms: substantial financial assistance to Soviet reforms conditional upon continuing political pluralization and a coherent economic program for moving rapidly to a market economy. The strategy: create incentives for leaders at the center and in the republics to choose a future consistent with our mutual best interest by promising real assistance for real reform. The outline of such a historic bargain can be perceived:

On the Soviet side, a major step toward meeting the terms required by the West was taken on April 23 in the "Nine-plus-One" power-sharing agreement signed by Gorbachev and the leaders of the nine major republics. The terms include:

-Recognition of the depth of the crisis and the real risk of violent disintegration.

-Acceptance of the republics as "sovereign states" each of which has the specific right to decide independently whether to join the new union or to be separate and independent.

-For those who join the union, agreement on a common economic space among them, protection of human rights of all individuals and restoration of constitutional order and strict compliance with current law.

-Immediate preparation of a new Union treaty, followed by a new constitution of the U.S.S.R. and national elections.

The draft of the new Union treaty embodying these principles has recently been completed and is slated to be signed in June by the nine republics and most likely others as well. What more should the West require? Essentially two points. First, consistent with the "Nine-plus-One" accord and commitments by the U.S.S.R. to the CSCE treaty, Soviet authorities at all levels would reaffirm their international commitment to respect human rights of individuals within the Soviet Union whatever their national, ethnic or religious identification.

Second, the states that join the Union would have to make a collective commitment to focus in the next stage of development-the next three years-on a rapid transition to a market economy as the essential foundation for sustaining democracy. Experts designated by the center and the republics would devise in consultation with Western representatives a realistic program for moving rapidly to a free market economy with substantial Western cooperation and assistance. The Marshall Plan offers an instructive precedent. The United States promised financial aid only if the European parties could agree on a joint plan for reconstruction. The major steps in the Soviet program must include: (a) stabilization: sharp reductions in fiscal and monetary deficits by cutting defense spending and subsidies to state enterprises; (b) legalization of enterprise: beginning with ownership, legalizing economic initiative including much of what remains gray or black in the present Soviet economy; (c) liberalization of prices: moving in stages to total decontrol in which prices will reflect scarcity values, first within the Soviet Union and soon thereafter in the world economy; and (d) demonopolization and privatization: transferring productive economic activity to private hands in an environment in which many enterprises compete.

The U.S.-Western side of the grand bargain should entail a well-designed, step-by-step, strictly conditional program of assistance provided both to the center and to the republics to motivate and facilitate rapid transition to a market economy. Core elements of the program of incentives would include:

-A clear signal of the West's commitment to help the Soviet Union in this peaceful transformation in any way Western assistance can impact upon the probability of success.

-Forthrightness that this means major financial assistance only if and as the Soviet Union is committed to a realistic plan for the transition to the market economy, a plan to which Western assistance can make a difference. Unconditional aid, no. Aid contingent upon actions that increase the probability of success, yes.

-Special status in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. As the Soviet government, in conjunction with Western assistance, undertakes the necessary structural changes in its economic and financial institutions and policies, it should become eligible for billions of dollars of aid from these institutions as well.

-Massive technical assistance distilling lessons of international experience and providing those lessons in any array of training programs for essential activities in the transition.

-Financial assistance of $15 billion to $20 billion per year for each of the next three years in grants, not loans, the cost to be shared by the U.S., Europe and Japan. The grants should be allocated appropriately between the center and the republics. Funds would go for general balance of payments support, project support for key items of infrastructure (like transportation and communication), and the maintenance of an adequate safety net as part of a general "conditionally program" that followed basic IMF-World Bank principles.

Would Gorbachev or a successor strike such a bargain? Perhaps not today. But as conditions worsen, the beacon of substantial Western assistance could indeed come to concentrate the minds not only of reformers, but of straddlers as well. Even if the offer and its historic incentives should ultimately be refused, the West could take some comfort in knowing that the Soviet reform effort did not fail for want of something the West could have provided.

In Washington today conventional wisdom declares the Soviet situation a lost cause. We believe it is too early to draw such a fateful conclusion. Recall that it was not until three years after the end of World War II that George Marshall called for a massive coordinated program to assist the reconstruction of Europe. The founding fathers of the transatlantic relationship on this side of the ocean persevered against what many at the time believed were very long odds, knowing that to do otherwise would be to consign generations to come to a world less stable and less safe. A U.S.-led effort to help transform the Soviet Union would certainly be significantly more difficult than the challenge undertaken by the United States through the Marshall Plan. Nevertheless, there are more than enough reasons of self-interest and values to try.

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