The Gorbachev Challenge

He came, he spoke, he conquered. But his enticing call for a kinder, gentler world provides an opportunity for Bush: to recapture the initiative by offering an American vision for ending the cold war

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-- These troops have also served as the Soviet jackboot on the throat of East European nations, whose subjugation is another cause of the cold war. Gorbachev's cuts will not necessarily raise the Iron Curtain, but his U.N. speech did pledge that "freedom of choice is a universal principle that should allow for no exceptions," and added, "This applies both to the capitalist and to the socialist system."

-- Gorbachev's goal of shifting resources from military to domestic needs goes to the heart of a related source of East-West tensions, the militarization of Soviet society. Since Gorbachev took power, U.S. experts estimate that the money spent on defense has continued to increase, a sign that the cold war has not yet reached an armistice. But in his speech, Gorbachev announced that Moscow would make public its plan for converting a few military plants to civilian use. If it does so, that will be a complement to his arms-control proposals, which are based on the new and vaguely defined doctrine of "reasonable sufficiency." The doctrine holds that Soviet capabilities need not have the potential for a pre-emptive strike but must merely be adequate to respond to an attack on the Soviet Union and its allies.

-- The most profound quarrel many Westerners have with the Soviets is that their totalitarian system represses the individual. But Gorbachev stressed the Soviet goal of creating a "world community of states based on the rule of law." Sounding more like Jefferson than Lenin, he spoke of "ensuring the rights of the individual," guaranteeing "freedom of conscience" and forbidding persecution based on "political or religious beliefs."

-- On the issue of emigration, Gorbachev pledged to remove the whole issue of refuseniks from the agenda by revising the secrecy laws that prevent many Soviet citizens from leaving the U.S.S.R. After a set period of time, he pledged, any person who wants to emigrate or travel will have the legal option to do so. More broadly, he spoke of the futility of maintaining restrictions designed to seal off the Soviet Union from the world. "Today, the preservation of any kind of 'closed' society is hardly possible," he said. Just before his arrival, the jamming of Radio Liberty ended.

-- Another component of the cold war has been distrust, including a Western belief that the Soviets reserved the right to "lie and cheat," as Reagan put it eight years ago, if it served their interests. Gorbachev, who has reversed long-standing Kremlin policy by agreeing to on-site inspections of military installations, attempted in his U.N. speech to remove a major issue of compliance with the Antiballistic Missile Treaty: the Krasnoyarsk radar station. He said Moscow would accept the "dismantling and refitting" of certain components, and place the facility under U.N. control. At his lunch with Reagan and Bush just after the speech, one American asked, "Did we hear that word dismantle right?" Replied Gorbachev: "Yes, that was the word I used."

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