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

  • Share
  • Read Later

(4 of 6)

When Gorbachev's speech ended, Secretary of State George Shultz, who had not twitched his Buddha-like face throughout, walked over to Raisa for a chat. "A very good and important speech," he said. As Shultz knows as well as anyone, that will depend on whether Soviet realities come to match Gorbachev's rhetoric. If they do, the ramifications are enormous. Should Gorbachev succeed in reducing the expansionist threat that Moscow poses to the West, loosening its domination over Eastern Europe and changing its repressive relationship with its citizens, then indeed the fundamental reasons for the great global struggle between East and West -- and the rationale for the containment policy that has shaped America's approach to the world for 40 years -- would evaporate.

Skepticism, of course, is probably warranted and certainly prudent. Gorbachev's vision has a boldness born of necessity: he was able to gift wrap his clamorous need to shift Soviet investment toward consumer needs and present it as a package of breathtaking diplomacy. Like the politician that he is, Gorbachev seeks to protect his power by producing triumphs on the world stage and the payoffs of perestroika at home. Offering a modest troop cut that would trim unnecessary flab from the armed forces neatly serves both goals.

Gorbachev's refrain of glasnost and perestroika also raises the specter of another Russian word, peredyshka, the old Leninist notion of seeking a "breathing space" by making temporary accommodations so that the revolution can eventually roar forward with renewed zeal.

Of greater danger, however, is the possibility that a wary and grudging attitude could cause the U.S. to miss out on a historic turning point in world affairs. Those who sniff at Gorbachev's recent moves were proposing last year that many of these same steps -- on emigration, troop configurations, individual rights, loosening controls in Eastern Europe -- be used as litmus tests of Soviet intentions. With every Gorbachev move, the evidence mounts that he is seeking not just a breathing space but a fundamental change in the Soviet system.

The key question about Gorbachev used to be whether he was sincere. That question no longer seems relevant. As the U.S. learned when it finally decided to take da for an answer on the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, Gorbachev's words have consequences.

Far more relevant is the question of whether he can succeed. The sudden resignation of Marshal Akhromeyev, ostensibly for reasons of health, served as another reminder of the possibility that the military bureaucracy that supported the ouster of Nikita Khrushchev after his efforts to cut the armed forces could someday attempt the same with Gorbachev. It is unclear exactly what happened to Akhromeyev and what his future role might be, but it is well known that like much of the Soviet military bureaucracy, he did not approve of unilateral troop cuts.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6