The Sources of Soviet Conduct
Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century
Atomic Weapons and American Policy
The Illusion of Disengagement
On Peaceful Coexistence
The Search for Stability
The Challenge of Change in the Soviet Bloc
The Practice of Partnership
The Framework of East-West Reconciliation
The Limits of Détente
After the Cold War
On Power: The Nature of Soviet Power
The Rise, Fall and Future of Détente
What Went Wrong With Arms Control?
Containment: 40 Years Later
Containment Then and Now
Beyond the Cold War
From Cold War Toward Trusting Peace
Toward the Post-Cold War World
America's Stake in the Soviet Future
Beyond Boris Yeltsin
Can Russia Change?
Russia Leaves the West
The Costs of Renewed Confrontation
Mission to Moscow
Why Authoritarian Stability Is a Myth
What Has Moscow Done?
Rebuilding U.S.-Russian Relations
Moscow's Modernization Dilemma
Is Russia Charting a New Foreign Policy?
The Dying Bear
Russia's Demographic Disaster
Managing the New Cold War
What Moscow and Washington Can Learn From the Last One
Russia's Perpetual Geopolitics
Putin Returns to the Historical Pattern
Putin's Foreign Policy
The Quest to Restore Russia’s Rightful Place
The Revival of the Russian Military
How Moscow Reloaded
Why Putin Took Crimea
The Gambler in the Kremlin
Trump and Russia
The Right Way to Manage Relations
Why New Russia Sanctions Won't Change Moscow's Behavior
Washington's Approach Lacks Clear Goals
The Kremlin's Latest Crackdown on Independent Media
Russia's New Foreign Agent Law in Context
Containing Russia, Again
An Adversary Attacked the United States—It’s Time to Respond
Putin's Past Explains Russia's Future
What to Expect After the Election
Has a New Cold War Really Begun?
Why the Term Shouldn't Apply to Today's Great-Power Tensions
Plato identified necessity as the mother of invention. General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s recognition of the failures of the Soviet economy has inspired an inventiveness in Soviet policy, foreign and domestic, not seen since the death of Lenin. Gorbachev represents a rare combination of pragmatic realism on the one hand, and creative policymaking and public relations on the other. Just as economic determinants are finally imposing constraints that should make the Soviet Union a less formidable military adversary, Gorbachev has already made the Soviet Union a more daunting diplomatic competitor.
Across the East-West agenda, from nuclear and conventional arms control to Afghanistan and Cambodia, Gorbachev has seized the initiative. In the process he is winning too much of the credit for results achieved. Even when all he did was belatedly answer da to long-standing Western proposals on intermediate-range nuclear missiles, his skillful presentation of acquiescence persuaded most Europeans that the Soviet Union, not the West, deserved applause for both authorship and execution of this agreement. Today 63 percent of Americans give Gorbachev a "favorable" rating, ahead of any other foreign leader except Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. In the Federal Republic of Germany, Gorbachev’s approval rating tops President Reagan’s by almost two to one.
The American response to Gorbachev’s active diplomacy so far has been to hold fast, persisting in policies and proposals developed to address Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, not Gorbachev’s. Persistence can be a virtue, certainly preferable to reckless accommodation. Moreover, because Gorbachev is essentially dealing from internal weakness, his unilateral adjustments of Soviet policy are producing significant gains for the West. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the elimination of all land-based intermediate-range nuclear forces, acceptance of highly intrusive verification procedures (including mandatory on-site inspection), and encouragement of the projected Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia—these realize important U.S. objectives.
But by yielding the initiative to Gorbachev, the United States is defaulting on profound opportunities. The failure of American policymakers to develop any concept or strategy for dealing with the "new-thinking" Soviet leadership forfeits what may be a historic chance to push actively for specific and major steps by Moscow that advance Western interests. Equally important, the U.S. and other Western governments are failing an important test of public diplomacy: to fashion effective policies and present them in ways that will sustain public support.
I will argue that Washington should take the lead in formulating an aggressive Western diplomatic agenda aimed at testing Gorbachev at his word. His new thinking includes many intriguing concepts and suggestions. We should begin with a working hypothesis that Gorbachev really means what he says, and that, as an intelligent leader, he also understands the logical implications of his statements. The challenge is to formulate equally far-reaching proposals for Soviet actions that advance Western interests through propositions that Gorbachev cannot refuse—if he means what he says.
The primary causes of the emerging window of opportunity for the West are two: the harsh facts of life for the Soviet Union and Gorbachev’s recognition of those facts. Gorbachev openly acknowledges that the current Soviet system is failing: "The economy is in a mess; we’re behind in every area. . . . The closer you look, the worse it is." He also notes: "Society is ripe for a change. If we back off now, society will not agree to a return. We have to make this process irreversible. If we do not do it, who will? If not now, when?"
A system that depends on command and control to direct the economy, the polity and society is not producing the economic products or the technology needed to compete successfully. Not only is the Soviet economy falling further behind the United States, Western Europe and Japan, it is losing ground even to the new industrial countries of Asia. As French President François Mitterrand has observed, Gorbachev is the first Soviet leader to understand the failure of the socialist economic system.
That failure is evident in an economy that achieved five-percent growth in the 1960s, fell to two-percent growth in the first half of the 1970s, and stagnated at virtually zero growth by the early 1980s. Failure is evident in a military that now consumes at least 15-20 percent of the nation’s product but cannot prevent a Cessna 172 from landing in Red Square, and allows Afghan rebels to defeat the mighty Red Army. Failure is evident in a health care system that alone among those of industrial nations has seen reductions in average life expectancy. It is evident in a technological base that still has not produced a personal computer for general consumption, when countries such as Taiwan and South Korea manage to market second-and third-generation personal computers around the world.
Gorbachev states the bottom line bluntly: unless the trend of the last decade is reversed, the Soviet Union will not enter the 21st century as a great power. The core of his response has two elements: common sense and pragmatism.
Nothing is more revolutionary in the Soviet system than common sense. Previously, ideology so distorted common sense and required so many epicycles of rationalization that most Soviet citizens knew more certainly what was not true (namely, the things that were said officially) than what might actually be so. In contrast to the Orwellian quality of official Soviet rhetoric of the past, Gorbachev is clearly committed to a great deal more of "calling things by their real names," as he says.
Gorbachev’s pragmatism is also heretical. It means a willingness to experiment with alternative ways of achieving a goal. Past Soviet planning presumed a central monopoly of wisdom in the analysis of problems and design of a plan, and a monopoly of power in assigning players the roles they should perform according to script. In contrast, pragmatism requires that individuals be engaged and active enough to think for themselves and to adapt as they go.
At its core, Gorbachev’s new thinking is essentially a radical rejection of the Stalinism that ruled the Soviet Union for more than half a century. As had Luther’s denunciation of papal authority, Gorbachev’s acknowledgment that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has no "monopoly of truth" has earthshaking implications. Glasnost is predicated on the incandescently obvious idea that truth emerges from discussion and debate among many people, each of whom lays claim to a piece of reality. Perestroika revises the notion of an economy centrally planned by all-knowing authorities, in favor of greater local autonomy, incentives and, over time, market forces. As the Gorbachev revolution continues, we should expect to see additional repressive features of the Stalinist society subjected to scrutiny, and buried.
The primary implications of these fundamental changes for Soviet national security policies are increased subordination of foreign policy to domestic priorities and the necessity to reduce investments in the defense sector. If the Soviet Union is to address long-term internal problems successfully, an enabling precondition is substantial relaxation of competition with the United States in the international arena. Moreover, substantial restructuring of the Soviet economy will require resources now consumed by the Soviet military. Both Defense Minister Dimitri Yazov and Chief of the General Staff Sergei Akhromeyev acknowledge that even they do not know how much the Soviet Union now spends on its military establishment.
From what Gorbachev and his advisers say with increasing openness, a new Soviet strategy is emerging that calls for arms control agreements to reduce the Western threat and thereby allow Gorbachev to cut Soviet defense expenditures with minimal adverse effect on Soviet military advantages. Gorbachev needs substantial reductions in conventional forces because, as Willie Sutton observed, "that’s where the money is." Gorbachev’s concepts of "reasonable sufficiency" and "defensive defense" are in part military doctrines, but more importantly they are justifications for constraining resource demands—not unlike some previous American military doctrines. Other indications of Gorbachev’s intent to control defense expenditures include his careful decisions regarding key military appointments, his reassertion of the party’s role in formulating broad military doctrine, and the increasingly visible role of civilian experts in discussing a domain previously the exclusive preserve of the Soviet General Staff.
Gorbachev’s new thinking holds the promise of fundamental improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations. But it is evolving. To be fully developed in the Soviet Union and appreciated in the West, it must be put to the test. American diplomacy must be imaginative and aggressive in proposing bold actions that constitute operational tests of the logical consequences of Gorbachev statements. Tests can be devised in at least three dimensions of the U.S.-Soviet relationship: arms control, regional conflicts and human rights.
In arms control, start with what Gorbachev has said. Leaving aside his rhetoric about eliminating all nuclear weapons, his more realistic statements essentially reject Clausewitz’s proposition that war is an extension of political struggle by other means. Instead Gorbachev says:
The fundamental principle of the new political outlook is very simple: nuclear war cannot be a means of achieving political, economic, ideological or any other goals. . . . Security can no longer be assured by military means. . . . Attempts to achieve military superiority are preposterous. . . . The only way to security is through political decisions and disarmament.
This language embodies a significantly different conception of the role of military power than the philosophy that has motivated the relentless buildup of Soviet military forces since the early 1960s. If Gorbachev really believes this, what might the Soviet Union be prepared to do?
In the first instance, it might begin to restrain the continuing growth and modernization of the Soviet military establishment. Over time, in concert with reductions in Western forces, a government in Moscow that believes Gorbachev’s words should be prepared to reduce sharply and restructure Soviet military forces. But note the gap between word and deed. If one judges by observable changes in Soviet military forces to date—increases in defense spending, modernization of both nuclear and conventional forces, deliveries of new equipment to frontline forces and the character of field exercises—Gorbachev’s fine phrases have yet to be translated operationally in the military realm.
Gorbachev, however, has already passed one test that seemed improbable to almost everyone before he came to power. He accepted the U.S. proposal for the elimination of intermediate-range nuclear forces. When that proposition was first put forward by the Reagan Administration in 1981, it was declared a "non-acceptable demand" by the Soviet leadership, and most American experts concurred. (In fact it had been designed within the U.S. government as an offer the Soviets could never accept.)
The concessions that Gorbachev made to achieve this treaty are not insignificant. These include the exclusion from negotiations of equivalent British and French forces, inclusion among the weapons to be destroyed of the shorter-range Soviet SS-23s, and acceptance of Western verification proposals. The most startling of these concessions was the agreement to highly intrusive verification procedures on Soviet territory, a demand that Moscow for decades had maintained was unacceptable. Indeed, many American arms controllers had given up on this demand and had agreed with the Soviet claim that it was "unreasonable" since it violated natural Soviet conservatism and the character of Soviet society. Note the formula for NATO’s success in this case: a reasonable though radical proposal combined with persistence and hard bargaining. This formula should be emulated on other fronts, including strategic arms control.
What do Gorbachev’s words imply for the Soviet Union’s strategic arsenal? In a recent Pravda article, Vadim Zagladin, a deputy head of the International Department of the Central Committee, admitted that "we proceeded for a long time, for too long, from the possibility of winning a nuclear war." If Gorbachev no longer believes in the winnability of a nuclear war or in the utility of the threat of nuclear war, then he should be prepared not just to reduce but to eliminate strategic nuclear forces acquired for that purpose.
In short, Gorbachev should now be prepared to restructure the Soviet nuclear arsenal in ways that reduce the possibility, or threat, of surprise attack, and thus eliminate the first-strike weapons Americans fear most, namely the Soviet heavy land-based missiles (SS-18s). U.S. proposals in the Strategic Arms Reductions Talks, which call for a 50-percent cut in numbers of warheads, are a step in the right direction, though not bold enough. A serious test of Gorbachev’s provocative views would be to propose eliminating all weapons that are best suited for use in a first strike, and thus all heavy land-based MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) that have hard-target kill capability.
Nowhere does the U.S.S.R. pose as great a military threat to American vital interests as in Europe. Thirty forward-deployed divisions of the Soviet army in Eastern Europe, along with dozens more divisions in the Soviet Union’s western military districts, stand equipped, trained and regularly exercised to conduct a surprise attack that moves rapidly west to defeat and occupy Western Europe. To meet this challenge NATO maintains combined conventional and nuclear forces and a doctrine of "flexible response" that includes the possible use of nuclear weapons to meet even a conventional attack. Nowhere would Gorbachev’s rhetoric offer more promise for the West—if words led to equivalent action.
Among Gorbachev’s most beguiling and publicly attractive statements is his reference to Europe as a "common security house" in which tenants can legitimately provide for their own security—but not by filling their apartments with explosives that could destroy the building. In 1986 Gorbachev confounded the experts by accepting the Western concept of an "Atlantic-to-the-Urals" arms reduction zone. In 1987 he began making these ideas more operational by calling for the elimination of the capacity for surprise attack or offensive operations.
That would require, he recognizes, asymmetric reductions where there are "imbalances and asymmetries in some kinds of armaments and armed forces on both sides in Europe, caused by historical, geographical and other factors." He continues: "We stand for eliminating the inequality existing in some areas, but not through a buildup by those who lag behind but through a reduction by those who are ahead." To that end, at the Moscow summit in June, Gorbachev proposed to President Reagan an ambitious scheme to transform the conventional force balance in the Atlantic-to-the-Urals area consisting of four steps: an exchange of data on the conventional forces in the zone, to be verified by on-site inspections; the identification of asymmetries in the forces of the two sides and elimination of those asymmetries; reductions in each alliance’s manpower in the zone by 500,000 men; and the restructuring of conventional forces in Europe to give them a solely "defensive" orientation.
It is an indictment of U.S. leadership in NATO that such a politically promising series of suggestions has been spelled out over the past three years by Gorbachev alone, essentially talking to himself. Listening to proposals that could significantly reduce the threat Western Europe confronts, is it any wonder that allied publics should conclude that Gorbachev seems more interested in peace than President Reagan? NATO should immediately take up Gorbachev’s offer to exchange and verify data about the military forces on both sides. Our positive response should set the terms of reference for an exchange that would include a detailed order of battle, broken down to the level of regiments or battalions and including the location, designation and subordination of units, as well as manning levels and equipment by type and model. This information about NATO forces is publicly available; in the Soviet Union such data has been a top military secret, not only through the 15 years of talks on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions, but since 1917. NATO’s acceptance of Gorbachev’s proposal would offer a low-cost, high-benefit trial of his readiness to do business here.
NATO’s goal should be to craft arms control agreements that reduce the Warsaw Pact’s capabilities for surprise attack and large-scale offensive operations. We must recognize that "nothing is as much anathema to traditional Soviet military thinking as is a defense-dominant theater strategy and force posture." Here Western proposals attack Soviet offensive concepts and practices that have motivated the largest buildup of military power in history. Thus, in designing agreements for reductions in Warsaw Pact operational capabilities, we should be sensitive to Soviet bureaucratic interests: the Soviet Union’s military system, like the West’s, probably would be more ready to sacrifice levels of readiness, ammunition, logistics, some weapons systems and even force modernization programs than force structure or command slots. Among the elements of Soviet forces most essential to a surprise attack, and thus most important to reduce, are tens of thousands of Soviet tanks and artillery in Eastern Europe and the western Soviet Union.
Beyond reductions, another area that invites Western probes of Gorbachev’s intentions are confidence-building measures to increase transparency and constrain military activities. Initially in word, but now in the deed of the INF treaty, Gorbachev has transformed Moscow’s policy of secrecy about Soviet territory, military forces and perhaps even military doctrine. If Gorbachev means what he says, he should permit levels of Western access to Soviet territory, military bases and exercises that were previously unthinkable.
NATO should seize the opportunity to propose measures that create tripwires the Soviet Union would have to trigger in preparing to go to war. These should include positioning permanent international inspectors at militarily important arms depots, airfields, fuel dumps, rail heads and perhaps even command and control centers; specific constraints on forward deployment of tanks, artillery, bridging and mine-clearing equipment; and year-in-advance schedules for force mobilizations.
Few in the West believed Gorbachev’s early indications, at the 27th Party Congress in early 1986, that support for "wars of national liberation" would no longer be a Soviet priority. His rationale had a certain plausibility: the era of decolonization having come to a close, the issue was no longer of prime concern. But according to many Western Sovietologists, external expansion served an essential ideological role in justifying the Soviet regime at home. Thus even less credence was given Gorbachev’s assertions that the use of armed force to promote social revolution had declined in value, that the superpowers should not introduce their troops into Third World conflicts, and that regional conflicts and crises must be resolved by political means.
In 1985 anyone in the West who suggested that these words signaled impending Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan—even after Gorbachev described that land as a "bleeding wound"—would have been rejected summarily by most Western experts. A Soviet withdrawal without victory would blatantly refute the predominant Western geopolitical explanation of Moscow’s intentions in Afghanistan—an explanation that shaped the U.S. government’s view of the ambitions of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Afghanistan shares a border with the Soviet Union. Afghanistan represented the only major use of Soviet military power outside Europe since World War II. Afghanistan was a war that a committed Soviet Union was determined to win and could not afford to lose. Afghanistan was a calculated step in Russia’s centuries-old quest for warm-water ports. Domination of the world’s strategic oil reserves was the unspoken prize. All this quickly became conventional wisdom after 1980.
Yet Gorbachev has accepted defeat, with only the fig leaf of calling it stalemate and without even demanding a decent interval. This realism is the strongest evidence so far that he may genuinely believe some of the more unlikely things he says. The consequences of the withdrawal from Afghanistan are difficult to exaggerate. The effects on the Soviet army and society should prove more profound than the impact of the American defeat in Vietnam on the United States. Perhaps even more significant will be the reverberations in Soviet satellite and client states, since defeat in Afghanistan rolls back for the first time the Brezhnev Doctrine of the irreversibility of communist gains.
Gorbachev’s propositions about declining Soviet stakes, influence and interest in the Third World deserve to be more vigorously tested in other regions. In Angola, movement toward a settlement has begun, and the United States is finally pressing its case with Moscow. But the big disappointment has been American diplomacy in Central America—or more precisely, the lack thereof.
In his book, Perestroika, Gorbachev explicitly supports "the peace-making efforts of the Contadora Group, initiatives by the Central American heads of state, and the Guatemala City accord." He goes on: "We are not going to exploit anti-U.S. attitudes, let alone fuel them, nor do we intend to erode the traditional links between Latin America and the United States." At the 1987 Washington summit, according to a Soviet spokesman, Gorbachev proposed to Reagan "to review possibilities for promoting the process of peaceful settlement in Central America. First, our idea is related to the entire Central American region. . . . Second, it provides for reciprocal Soviet and American pledges to refrain from deliveries of weapons." Though Reagan inexplicably failed to pick up the offer, when Gorbachev was asked at the 1988 Moscow summit about the Soviet position, he said: "We [Reagan and Gorbachev] looked back at the history . . . [and] we have different explanations and different views. But I suggested we take as a starting point today’s reality. The Contadora process is with us, the Guatemalan accords. . . . There is some movement towards a political settlement, and we must base ourselves on that process and lend our support."
Soviet actions fly in the face of every implication of Gorbachev’s words. Specifically, Moscow’s shipment of arms and other military equipment to the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and to guerrillas in El Salvador and Guatemala has continued without pause, and indeed increased in the first quarter of 1988. Soviet-bloc economic and military aid to the Sandinistas is estimated at almost $1 billion annually. Last December, Sandinista Defense Minister Humberto Ortega confirmed a report by a high-level Nicaraguan defector that the Sandinistas plan to double their armed forces to 600,000 troops, with additional supplies coming from the Soviet Union including, Ortega claimed, MiG-21s.
The United States should move immediately with the Central American presidents to propose cessation of all military aid (Soviet, Soviet bloc, Cuban and American) to the Sandinistas and the contras, together with effective guarantees that the Nicaraguan government will cease all material support for insurgency movements. The Central American presidents should also take the Soviet Union to task for the discrepancy between its verbal support for the Arias plan and its continued supply of arms to guerrillas in El Salvador and Guatemala, and demand that such assistance stop immediately.
Gorbachev’s trenchant indictment of the Stalinist totalitarian system and its incompatibility with a successful economy, society and culture exceeds all expectations. Who could have imagined an unstructured debate among participants in a solemn party conference, including denunciations of individuals to their face, on multiple sides of issues—and on television for all to see? Western Sovietologists who in the past offered indictments half as biting as Gorbachev makes today were then regarded, not only by Russians but by Americans interested in better U.S.-Soviet relations, as dogmatically anti-Soviet. The Soviet government’s declaration about increased freedom of conscience for religious believers and its commemoration of the Russian Orthodox Church’s millennium have been impressive.
Progress on emigration for refuseniks, release of political prisoners and the elimination of psychiatric prisons for enemies of the state has been slower than we would like (and should insist upon), but more rapid and deeper than in any equivalent period of Soviet history. While Gorbachev bridles at the West’s persistent demands regarding human rights for Soviet citizens, President Reagan’s firm pursuit of this issue at the Moscow summit did nothing to dampen progress in other areas. The United States should keep pushing Moscow on human rights across the board. Both publicly and privately we should explain why a society that becomes less repressive at home becomes more trustworthy abroad.
Along the economic dimension, if the Soviet Union hopes to engage in international trade and produce goods that are globally competitive, it must reorganize its internal pricing system so that it can join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, as China has been working to do. It only makes good sense to treat the Soviet Union as we do China and some East European countries, including providing incentives to adopt a price system that would make it possible for the Soviets to have observer status in, and eventually even become a member of, international financial institutions. The benefits to the West of Soviet economic decentralization down to heads of industries, firms, farms and collectives should not be underestimated. The decentralization of economic power weakens the monopoly of political authority. A totalitarian political system is not compatible in the longer run with a decentralized market economic system, because people who have economic power have power per se.
The list of possible Western tests of Gorbachev goes on and on. A realistic U.S. strategy would look at many other issues, including terrorism, where Gorbachev has also offered a number of attractive ideas: rejecting terrorism in all its guises; agreeing on the 99 percent on which we can agree; establishing an international tribunal under the auspices of the United Nations that would be a definitive court of justice on these issues; and imposing sanctions on any nations that violate the dictates of this court. Regarding the United Nations, Gorbachev’s decision to pay Soviet arrears and make greater use of the U.N. system—even suggesting the reactivation of the military committee of the Security Council—in resolving regional issues and peacekeeping remains to be addressed in a serious way by Western policy.
Do we want Gorbachev to succeed? Where he is taking actions that advance our interests and move toward a more secure, peaceful world, the answer must be yes. Consider the alternatives. Another Soviet leader might pursue similar internal reforms, just more slowly and with a less active foreign policy dimension. An equally plausible historical analogy, however, would be the Austro-Hungarian government of 1914, which sought to exploit its military advantages of the moment in the hope of reversing what otherwise promised to be decades of relative decline.
In fashioning its own policies, the United States cannot assume that Gorbachev will remain in power, or that the Soviet Union’s long-term objectives have changed. Gorbachev’s main purpose is to guarantee and enhance the Soviet Union’s position as a great power. To that end, he seeks breathing space, peredyshka. His words and deeds attempt to cope with competing challenges: to secure his position in the struggle for power at home; to provide a framework that will allow him to shift resources from defense to more productive investments; and to maintain a posture plausible enough to allow him to constrain Western arms through arms control. At the same time, he is sorting out what he really thinks about a confusing, changing international environment. It would be a mistake to assume that Gorbachev has a long-term plan that maps the future. Rather, as he and his associates say, they see the world as being "in flux" as they venture into uncharted territory.
To the extent that Gorbachev’s analysis is leading him to take steps that serve our interest, good. Restructuring the Soviet economy and society will require a crusade not of years but of decades or even generations. To the extent that the Soviet Union turns inward for a decade or two, and concentrates on rebuilding Soviet economic strength, we should cheer. To the extent that Gorbachev judges a period of international stability, and specifically a reduction of conflict with the United States, to be an essential precondition for Soviet focus on internal affairs (and this leads him to pull back from Afghanistan, Africa and Central America and to moderate Soviet policies in the Middle East), we should wish him Godspeed. To the extent that his reforms provide greater freedom for Soviet citizens, less totalitarian control of the society, and a reduction of ideologically motivated expansionism, this will erode the moral features of the Soviet regime that most offend American values. Where the price of reductions in Soviet threats to us are cuts in Western forces and defense expenditures that threaten them, we should act with a clear view of our net advantage.
A strategy of testing Gorbachev is not without risks, however. As the U.S.S.R. passes such tests, some in the West will proclaim prematurely that peace has broken out. Others may be lulled. We could be tricked. The web of interdependence we spin could entangle the West more deeply than the Soviet Union.
Nonetheless, consider the dangers inherent in simply standing firm with policies designed to meet previous challenges. The attempt to deny that real changes are occurring in the Soviet Union is a losing cause. Moreover, it will miss opportunities to nudge Moscow toward choices that advance our priorities. For example, as the Soviet Union struggled to extricate itself from Afghanistan with minimum embarrassment, an American willingness to be helpful for the price of progress in Central America might have produced a diplomatic settlement there as well.
Thus without illusion about the Soviet Union being or becoming benign, or exaggerated views of the West’s ability to influence internal Soviet developments, the United States and its allies should encourage progress in the West’s direction. Gorbachev’s reforms could conceivably produce a more competitive Soviet economy some decades hence that would make the U.S.S.R. a potentially more formidable adversary. Perhaps, but if so the character of that Soviet Union is likely to be unrecognizable.
A Western strategy of probing Gorbachev’s words for opportunities, pressing for movement in desirable directions, and even consciously seeking to help Gorbachev would stretch well beyond past or current American policy. For four decades the cardinal rule in our policy of containment has been to oppose virtually whatever the Soviet Union was for. But in a period of significant change, such a rule falls into the trap Nietzsche noted when observing that the most common form of human stupidity is forgetting what one is trying to do.
America’s basic national security objective has remained unchanged for four decades: to preserve the United States as a free nation with its fundamental institutions and values intact. As George Kennan observed in his original 1947 formulation of the policy of containment, our primary objectives in dealing with the Soviet Union were to contain the U.S.S.R. both ideologically and militarily by building up the strength and self-confidence of the nations threatened by Soviet expansion, exploiting natural tensions between Moscow and the international communist movement, giving internal contradictions within the Soviet Union time to emerge, and thus moderating the Soviet Union’s conception of international relations so that we could settle outstanding differences. Kennan specified no timetable, although some of his associates anticipated that changes should have occurred sooner.
Nonetheless, the similarities between current events in the Soviet Union and the consequences Kennan foresaw are not coincidental. The combination of time, NATO’s determination not to yield to the Soviet Union any exploitable military advantage, the performance of Western market-oriented economies, and the Reagan Administration’s active opposition to Soviet external adventures has fostered what appears to be an increasingly realistic assessment in Moscow of the fact, and even the causes, of Soviet failure.
The United States and its allies must now reach beyond containment to aggressive engagement of the Soviet Union in ways that encourage Gorbachev’s reformist instincts to restructure Soviet external relations and internal institutions. This will mean paying strict attention to how far Gorbachev’s Soviet Union has come, and how much further it has to travel.