Walter C. Uhler, a weapons acquisition executive in the Defense Department, writes about Russian and military history for various periodicals. The views expressed in his articles are personal and not intended to
represent the official position of his employer.
Near the end of his threadbare, tendentious and dubious hagiography of
Ronald Reagan, Peter Schweizer recounts the President's first trip to
Moscow, in late spring 1988.
Nike-Zeus, Nike-X, Sentinel, Safeguard, Star Wars, X-ray lasers, spaced-based neutron particle beams, Brilliant Pebbles, Ground-Based Midcourse National Missile Defense, Midcourse Defense Segment of Missile Defense. Over the past fifty years America has poured approximately $100 billion into these various programs or efforts to shield the country against long-range ballistic missiles. Yet not one has worked. Not one. Nevertheless, except for the constraints imposed by his own "voodoo economics," President George W. Bush appears poised to pursue the development and deployment of a layered missile defense--as a hedge against more failures--that would force taxpayers to cough up as much as another $100 billion. In December Bush formally notified Russia that the United States was withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in order to "develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks."
Russian President Vladimir Putin labeled Bush's decision a "mistake," a mild reaction that should not disguise the fact that much of Russia's political elite is seething at the withdrawal. Already smarting from America's broken promise not to expand NATO and the US-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 (which violated the 1997 "Founding Act" between Russia and NATO), the coincidence of America's success in Afghanistan (obviating the need for further Russian assistance) and withdrawal from the ABM treaty is viewed as yet further evidence of American duplicity.
President Clinton diplomatically explained the Republicans' obsession with missile defense when he observed: "One of the problems they've got is, for so many of their supporters, this is a matter of theology, not evidence. Because President Reagan was once for it, they think it must be right, and they've got to do it, and I think it makes it harder for them to see some of the downsides." That's a nice way of saying that the conservative wing of the Republican Party abounds with missile-defense wackos. I've participated personally in two missile-defense conferences and was astounded by their right-wing, faith-based atmospherics.
Which is why Bradley Graham's engaging narrative of politics and technology during the Clinton years, Hit to Kill: The New Battle Over Shielding America From Missile Attack, seems destined for popular success, notwithstanding its serious conceptual limitations. Graham ably recounts the excessive exuberance of Republicans as they schemed to realize their missile-defense dreams. But he is equally critical of the Clinton Administration's attempt to actually build a missile defense: its "three-plus-three" ground-based midcourse program.
Offered in the spring of 1996, in part to undercut the Republicans, "three-plus-three" provided for three (or four) years of development, after which, if then technologically feasible and warranted by a threat, there would be deployment within another three years. In early 1998, however, a sixteen-member panel, led by retired Air Force chief of staff Larry Welch, condemned the plan as a "rush to failure."
But two overdramatized events later that year demanded even greater urgency. In July, the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, led by Donald Rumsfeld, asserted that America's intelligence agencies had woefully underestimated the capability of "rogue" regimes, such as those leading North Korea and Iran, to attack US territory with ballistic missiles within five years. It concluded: "The threat to the United States posed by these emerging capabilities is broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and reports by the intelligence community."
When North Korea subsequently launched a three-stage Taepodong 1 missile past Japan in August 1998, many Americans put aside not only their qualms about the role Representatives Curt Weldon and Newt Gingrich had played in creating the commission, but also their suspicions about the blatantly pro-missile defense bias of most of its members. Although Graham generally portrays the commission's deliberations as unbiased, he does provide evidence that some of its briefers were not.
For example, one intelligence official betrayed visible irritation during his briefing of commission members, prompting General Welch to ask, "You're not happy to be here, are you?" The official replied, "No, I'm not. I'm ticked off that I have to come down and brief a bunch of wacko missile-defense advocates." His outburst infuriated Rumsfeld, who "stalked" out of the room.
Nevertheless, Rumsfeld's report and the launch of North Korea's missile frightened Americans and galvanized Republicans. Graham's investigative reporting gets inside the subsequent political war waged against a Clinton Administration that, itself, was slowly awakening to the possibility of a more imminent ballistic missile threat.
Graham brings an open mind to the hotly disputed technological merits of missile defense. Nevertheless, he cannot avoid the conclusion that George W. Bush's decision to expand missile defense beyond Clinton's ground-based midcourse program constitutes an acknowledgment that, after fifty years, "military contractors had yet to figure out how best to mount a national missile defense."
In theory, a ballistic missile can be intercepted during its comparatively slow, if brief, "boost phase," before its "payload"--warheads, decoys and debris--is released. Speed is of the essence during the boost phase. So is proximity to the target. According to Philip Coyle, former director of the Pentagon's Office of Operational Test and Evaluation, "The process of detection and classification of enemy missiles must begin within seconds, and intercept must occur within only a few minutes. In some scenarios, the reaction time to intercept can be less than 120 seconds."
Compounding concerns about boost-phase intercepts are questions about the ability of an interceptor to distinguish quickly between a missile's flame and the missile itself. Finally, boost-phase missile-defense platforms would invite pre-emptive attacks against those platforms by any state bold (and foolish) enough to launch ballistic missiles.
The "terminal phase" of ballistic missile flight is the final minute or two when the payload re-enters the atmosphere. Detection of the warhead is comparatively simple, but designing a missile fast enough to catch it and hit it--given the problems associated with sensor degradation in intense heat--is extremely difficult. Countermeasures, such as maneuvering capability or precursor explosions, would further complicate defensive efforts. Finally a terminal-phase missile defense can, by definition, protect only a limited area, perhaps one city. Thus, many such systems would be required.
The "midcourse phase" of ballistic missile flight is the period during which the payload is dispersed in space. It remains there more than 80 percent of the missile's total flight time. The Clinton Administration's ground-based midcourse program (continued by the Bush Administration) is designed to strike the warhead in space with a high-speed, maneuverable kill vehicle--thus Graham's title: Hit to Kill.
Easily the most developed of all programs, as recently as December 3, 2001, the midcourse program demonstrated the awesome technological feat of destroying a warhead hurtling through space--hitting a bullet with a bullet. Yet such a feat constitutes but the commencement of an arduous technological journey, not its endpoint.
As a "Working Paper" issued recently under the auspices of the Union of Concerned Scientists noted, America's ground-based midcourse program has not been subjected to real-world tests. Five hit-to-kill tests have resulted in three hits. But each test: (1) used identical test geometrics (the location of launches, trajectories of target and interceptor missiles); (2) released the same objects (payload bus, warhead and decoy); (3) occurred at the same time of day; (4) made the lone decoy obviously and consistently different from the warhead; (5) told the defense system what to look for in advance; (6) attempted intercept at an unrealistically low closing speed; (7) kept the target cluster sufficiently compact to aid the kill vehicle's field of view; and (8) provided the kill vehicle with unduly accurate artificial tracking data.
Any ground-based midcourse missile defense system has to contend with virtually insurmountable countermeasures, especially the decoys that, in space, are quite indistinguishable from the warheads. Yet the three successful hits did not have to contend with even the countermeasures that a missile from a "rogue" regime would probably employ.
A National Intelligence Estimate in 1999 determined that "countermeasures would be available to emerging missile states." In April 2000 a "Countermeasures" study group from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the MIT Security Studies Program concluded: "Even the full [National Missile Defense] system would not be effective against an attacker using countermeasures, and an attacker could deploy such countermeasures before even the first phase of the NMD system was operational." Consequently, "it makes no sense to begin deployment."
Craig Eisendrath, Melvin Goodman and Gerald Marsh (Eisendrath and Goodman are senior fellows with the Center for International Policy in Washington; Marsh is a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory) state the problem even more starkly in their recent book The Phantom Defense: America's Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion: "This is the bottom line: the problem isn't technology, it's physics. Decoys and warheads can always be made to emit almost identical signals in the visible, infrared, and radar bands; their signatures can be made virtually the same."
If such information troubles Defense Department officials responsible for missile defense, they seldom admit it publicly. However, they're not nearly as irresponsible as the political and "scholarly" cheerleaders who remain unmoved by a half-century of failure and the physics of countermeasures. I encountered one of them last June at a missile defense conference in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
Representative Weldon delivered the conference's keynote address to more than 220 participants from the Defense Department, the military industry, think tanks, various universities and the press. Weldon is the author of HR 4, legislation that made it "the policy of the United States to deploy a national missile defense." (Senator Carl Levin was able to add amendments to the Senate bill on missile defense that made the program dependent upon the annual budget process and tied it to retention of the ABM treaty; Weldon referred to the amendments as cowardice. Nevertheless, they remained in the Missile Defense Act that President Clinton signed on July 22, 1999.)
Weldon told the audience that the United States requires a missile-defense system to protect its citizens from an intentional missile attack by a "rogue" regime presumably undeterred by the prospect of an overwhelming American nuclear retaliation. He even displayed an accelerometer and a gyroscope, Russian missile components allegedly bound for a "rogue." He then displayed an enlarged, poster-size photograph of Russia's SS-25 ICBM. Russia possesses more than 400 such missiles, he asserted, and any one of them might be launched accidentally against the United States, given Russia's deteriorating command and control capabilities.
It was a "no-brainer." Both threats demanded that America build a national missile defense system, capable of intercepting such missiles, as soon as possible.
However, when I asked Congressman Weldon to shift from the SS-25 and contemplate whether his modest missile-defense system could prevent the penetration of an accidentally launched TOPOL-M ICBM from Russia, he responded, "I don't know. That's a question you should ask General Kadish during tomorrow's session." Extending the reasoning, I asked Weldon whether his modest missile-defense system could shield America against a missile, launched by a rogue regime, that was capable of TOPOL-M countermeasures. Weldon again answered that he did not know. But rather than let such doubts linger at a conference designed to celebrate missile defense, Kurt Strauss, director of naval and missile defense systems at Raytheon, rose to deny that Russia possessed such countermeasures.
Presumably, Strauss was unaware of the work of Nikolai Sokov, a former Soviet arms control adviser and author of Russian Strategic Modernization: Past and Future. Sokov claims that the TOPOL-M features a booster intended to reduce the duration and altitude of the boost phase, numerous decoys and penetration aids, a hardened warhead and a "side anti-missile maneuver."
Strauss's uninformed denial hints at a much bigger problem, however: the prevalence of advertising over objectivity in a society where the commercialization of war and the cult of technology have reached historic proportions. In The Pursuit of Power historian William McNeill traces the commercialization of war back to mercenary armies in fourteenth-century Italy, pointing out the "remarkable merger of market and military behavior." And Victor Davis Hanson, in Carnage and Culture, sees much the same reason behind the decimation of the Turkish fleet, some two centuries later, by the Christian fleet at Lepanto--"there was nothing in Asia like the European marketplace of ideas devoted to the pursuit of ever more deadly weapons." McNeill concludes that "the arms race that continues to strain world balances...descends directly from the intense interaction in matters military that European states and private entrepreneurs inaugurated during the fourteenth century."
Post-cold war America, virtually alone, luxuriates in this dubious tradition. Yet it was no less than Dwight Eisenhower who warned America in his farewell address: "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence--economic, political, even spiritual--is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the federal government."
Who could have been surprised, then, when Matthew Evangelista conclusively demonstrated, in Innovation and the Arms Race (1988), that commercial opportunities within America's military-industrial complex, much more than any Soviet threat, propelled innovation--and, thus, most of the arms race with the Soviet Union. A year later, the highly respected defense analyst Jacques Gansler identified the uniquely American "technological imperative" of commercialized warfare: "Because we can have it, we must have it." Such impulses caused the United States to run profligate arms races with itself both during and after the cold war. They also explain America's post-cold war adherence to cold war levels of military expenditures and, in part, our missile-defense obsession today.
This technological imperative had its origins in America's "exceptional" historical experience, which it continues to serve. Indeed, so the argument goes, Why should a country on a mission from God sully itself with arms control agreements and other compromises with lesser nations, when its technological prowess will provide its people with the invulnerability necessary for the unimpeded, unilateral fulfillment of their historic destiny?
Such technological utopianism, however, has its costs. In their book The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050, MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray demonstrate the very secondary role that technology has played in past military revolutions. They conclude: "The past thus suggests that pure technological developments without the direction provided by a clear strategic context can easily lead in dangerous directions: either toward ignoring potential enemy responses, or--even more dangerously--into the dead end, graphically illustrated by the floundering of U.S. forces in Vietnam, of a technological sophistication irrelevant to the war actually being fought." (In Hit to Kill, Graham has little to say about military strategy or the commercialization of warfare.)
In hawking a missile defense shield, Representative Weldon traveled in the first dangerous direction when he assured the defense conferees that although Congress was not ignoring the threat posed by terrorists with truck bombs, "when Saddam Hussein chose to destroy American lives, he did not pick a truck bomb. He did not pick a chemical agent. He picked a SCUD missile.... The weapon of choice is the missile."
Unfortunately, on September 11, America learned that it is not.
Potentially worse, however, is the Reaganesque theology propelling the Bush Administration's decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Putting aside the question of whether withdrawal requires formal Congressional approval and other questions of international relations, one must ask why any administration would destroy the cornerstone of strategic stability. The ban on national missile defenses not only prevents a defensive arms race but also obviates the need to build more offensive missiles to overload the enemy's. Why would a country withdraw from the ABM treaty without knowing whether its own missile-defense system will even work, and before conducting all the tests permitted by the treaty that would provide greater confidence in the system's ultimate success?
Readers of Keith Payne's recent book The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and a New Direction, might guess the probable answer. Payne, chosen by the Bush Administration to help shape the Defense Department's recently completed but still classified Nuclear Posture Review, writes about a new, post-cold war "effective deterrence," to which even an imperfect missile-defense system might contribute: "In the Cold War, the West held out the threat of nuclear escalation if the Soviet Union projected force into NATO Europe; in the post-Cold War period it will be regional aggressors threatening Washington with nuclear escalation in the event the United States needs to project force into their regional neighborhoods.... In short, Washington will want effective deterrence in regional crises where the challenger is able to threaten WMD [weapons of mass destruction] escalation and it is more willing to accept risk and cost."
The real concern, then, is less about protecting America from sneak attacks by rogue states ruled by madmen, and more about preserving our unilateral options to intervene throughout much of the world. Thus, President Bush's speech at The Citadel in December was disingenuous. His rhetorical question asking what if the terrorists had been able to strike with a ballistic missile was primarily an attempt to steamroller frightened Americans into supporting missile defense. The speech simply seized upon the wartime danger to compel a military transformation that has been debated for almost a decade and resisted by the services and the military industry since the beginning of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's tenure.
Lest we forget, China hasn't disappeared either. Its muted criticism of America's withdrawal from the ABM treaty was accompanied by a call for talks to achieve "a solution that safeguards the global strategic balance and doesn't harm international efforts at arms control and disarmament." Failing such talks, China may feel compelled to increase its offensive arsenal to insure penetration of an American missile defense, which could provoke India, and consequently Pakistan--perhaps rekindling tensions that have already brought them to the brink of war.
Russia, for its part, believes it has little to fear from America's current missile-defense programs but is awaiting the inevitable: the moment when the technological utopians push America to expand its modest system into a full-blown shield. How will Russia respond then?
To court such reactions by withdrawing from the ABM treaty before even testing against decoys is pure strategic illiteracy--which only a Reaganesque theology (founded on exceptionalism, commercialized militarism, technological utopianism and righteous unilateralism) shrouded by the "fog of war" might explain.
In speeches delivered to the State of the World Forum in September 2000, Mikhail Gorbachev blamed the United States for squandering unique post-cold war opportunities to bring "new thinking" (novoe myshlenie) to the problems of globalization, arms reduction and nuclear disarmament. He's entitled. For, paradoxically, it was Gorbachev--the product of an ostensibly moribund, so-called totalitarian regime--whose idealism and dynamism went farthest in demilitarizing the cold war, assuring its peaceful resolution and ushering in those very opportunities.
Nevertheless, Gorbachev erred when he blamed the United States. In fact, it appears that the United States "won" the cold war (this month marks the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union) without ever recognizing, let alone understanding, the indispensable role played by Soviet ideas. Thus, a corresponding paradox: Vibrant, dynamic, democratic America had no new thinking to squander.
Such conceptual disarmament can be traced to the US political leadership's cold war embrace of the concept of totalitarianism to explain Soviet behavior, and to the post-cold war support it found in the work of the "totalitarian school" thinkers. Apparently it mattered little to them that Richard Pipes and Martin Malia, two of the school's most prominent members, could not even agree on the origins of Soviet totalitarianism: Pipes indicted virtually all of Russia's history by finding fully developed totalitarianism to be the legacy of "patrimonial" rule under the czars, with the addition of Lenin's militarized lust for dominance. Malia simply blamed socialist ideology.
Having learned from Merle Fainsod that "the totalitarian regime does not shed its police-state characteristics; it dies when power is wrenched from its hands," both historians denied the very possibility of systemic change from within and, consequently, credited pressure from the West, best symbolized by the Star Wars program of the Reagan Administration, for precipitating the collapse of Soviet Communism.
If a flawed idée fixe like this could capture such erudite Russia scholars, imagine the blank spots that impoverished the thinking of lesser "totalitarian school" Sovietologists, especially those primarily concerned with national security problems. Suffice it to say that these scholars' intense search for the slightest improvements in Soviet weaponry obscured much bigger developments: the mellowing Soviet leadership identified by George Kennan, the "friends and foes of change" detected by Stephen F. Cohen and the potential implicit in generational change in the Soviet leadership suggested by Jerry Hough and Archie Brown. Imagine how much worse were the unschooled cold war politicians of both major political parties, who further militarized and coarsened the worst of cold war scholarship--which continues to this day, in some cases.
Serious and comprehensive early post-cold war scholarship by Raymond Garthoff and Archie Brown properly credited Gorbachev. Garthoff concluded that, "in bringing the cold war to an end...what happened would not have happened without him; that cannot be said of anyone else." Brown, in addition to proclaiming Gorbachev "the individual who made the most profound impact on world history in the second half of the twentieth century," explicitly rebutted the totalitarian argument by concluding: "From the spring of 1989 [thus, well before its collapse] it is scarcely meaningful to describe the Soviet Union as a Communist system."
The publication of Gorbachev's memoirs should have deflated the Star Wars claims made by Pipes, Malia and others. Rather than compelling the Soviet leaders to undertake the reforms that precipitated the regime's collapse, as they claimed, Star Wars was actually trumped by a comparatively cheap asymmetrical response--the Soviets' development in the mid-1980s (and deployment in the late 1990s) of the Topol-M ICBM. It remains capable today of penetrating any foreseeable missile defense system the United States might deploy. Gorbachev advised Reagan about his countermeasure in late 1985, but neither Reagan nor the totalitarian school paid much attention.
In 1999 Matthew Evangelista, in Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War, dealt another blow to the totalitarian interpretation when he demonstrated the emergence, early in the post-Stalin period, of influential, dissenting Soviet "policy entrepreneurs" whose sources of information were often Western colleagues in transnational organizations. Evangelista's evidence thus demonstrated that Gorbachev's "new thinking" had deeper intellectual roots than is commonly assumed. Now Robert English confirms in his impressively researched new book, Russia and the Idea of the West, that the sources of Gorbachev's novoe myshlenie date back to the early post-Stalin period, when liberal, "Western" thinking began its slow but steady proliferation.
Before turning to those sources, however, English explains the origins and nature of Soviet "old thinking" from which it departed. Beginning with Peter the Great's compulsory Westernization of the Russian nobility, English examines the impact of Western influence in such events as the Decembrist revolt and Great Reforms of Alexander II, during the early and mid-nineteenth centuries, until he reaches the pinnacle of such influence in Russia's intellectual history, at century's end. Western inroads then, of course, brought Marxism, which appealed to many Russian intellectuals who sought absolute answers to life's fundamental questions. (English claims that an "Asiatic" disposition distinguished the Bolsheviks from other Marxists; a dubious assertion, but it scarcely detracts from his most critical conclusions.)
World War I precipitated the Russian Revolution and eventual seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, which in turn virtually guaranteed civil war and foreign intervention. In the wake of that extremely brutal civil war, the ranks of the Bolshevik Party swelled with half-worker, half-peasant "sovietized workers" who were "ill-educated, xenophobic and militant." They viewed the civil war as a heroic struggle against Western invaders and preferred the war's harsh, ad hoc system of requisition and supply (dubbed "War Communism") to the subsequent, if temporary, compromise with capitalism--the New Economic Policy.
Purges of Westernized, non-Marxist scholars and intellectuals only increased their influence, leading English to the critical conclusion that "their 'puerile' views of socialism, 'warfare' ethos, and crude anti-Westernism changed the Bolshevik Party radically."
Stalin exploited these beliefs by manufacturing the War Scare of 1927, decrying "hostile capitalist encirclement," exposing the "wrecking" by domestic and foreign subversives, substituting relentless propaganda for outside sources of information, rooting out ideological nonconformity and orchestrating the great purge trials of the late 1930s. Such measures not only secured Stalin's undisputed political power but also embedded what English labels "hostile isolationism" into Soviet life. Such was the "old thinking," which was not surmounted until Gorbachev came to power.
English correctly identifies the thaw era following Stalin's death in 1953 as "a critical turning point in Soviet history." Highlighted by Nikita Khrushchev's "secret speech" at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, which denounced Stalin's crimes, it "led to freedom and rehabilitation for millions, economic changes to benefit society instead of the militarized state, a cultural rebirth, and considerable truth-telling about Soviet history, politics, and the world."
Less noticed was Anastas Mikoyan's speech at the Twentieth Congress, which led to the creation of new research centers that became "oases of creative thought." A special oasis, however, was the journal Problemy Mira i Sotsializma (Problems of Peace and Socialism), based in Prague. In the early 1960s, its staff variously included talented young liberals, including Georgy Arbatov, Anatoly Chernyaev and Georgy Shakhnazarov, who were to play an important part in articulating and implementing Gorbachev's reforms two decades later.
The creation of new Central Committee consultant groups provided a pipeline for the "Praguers" and other liberal thinkers to move into the party apparatus, thereby enabling a critical mass to develop within the broader rebirth of the Russian intelligentsia. From that time forward, it challenged the legions of "proletarian intelligentsia" molded by Stalin.
According to English, on the literary front, it was not only questions raised about the Stalinist system by Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Vladimir Dudintsev's Not By Bread Alone but the work of the literary avant-garde of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky, Bella Akhmadulina and Vasily Aksenov, who increasingly brought a Western orientation to their work.
In philosophy, for example, a "revolt of the young" questioned limitations in the thought of both Lenin and Marx. In history, Mikhail Gefter was calling for a "'perestroika' of Soviet historiography" and subsequently established a section on methodology at the Institute of History. His seminars, which attracted scholars from many fields, were devoted to reconsidering "fundamental issues of the world-historical process." In economics, we have the word of Otto Latsis, who recalled "that by the early 1960s 'the urgent necessity of market reforms [was agreed on by] all serious economists.'" New and influential institutions like the Novosibirsk Institute of Economics and Industrial Organization and the Central Economic-Mathematical Institute were established in the early 1960s. Both became centers for liberal and reformist research.
Finally, English addresses the evolving views of the mezhdunarodniki, the scholars, analysts, journalists and practitioners particularly concerned with foreign affairs. Compelled to re-evaluate foreign policy as a consequence of Khrushchev's substitution of "peaceful coexistence" for Stalin's "inevitability of war," reformist impulses were abetted by the need to obtain accurate information about the West, especially the United States, in order to successfully manage arms control negotiations.
Borrowing from the work of Evangelista, English also notes how leading Soviet scientists utilized information provided by their Western colleagues to rethink "international confrontation, especially when the Soviet leadership entered serious arms talks."
After Khrushchev's forced retirement in 1964, a mild retreat toward Stalinism was followed by more forceful repression after Soviet tanks crushed the "Prague Spring" in 1968. Yet a Brezhnev "thaw" accompanied the SALT and ABM treaties, the Helsinki Accords and the joint Apollo-Soyuz space flight under détente, resulting in expanded Soviet-Western contacts.
English describes much of the liberal intellectual activity during Brezhnev's rule as one of "public conformism, private reformism." Privately, the intelligentsia pursued a "much more serious study of the outside world...that went well beyond that of the thaw era." Inspired by Andrei Sakharov's 1968 samizdat work Reflections on Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom, they came to embrace "universal human" values and repudiate their class-based worldview--years before détente flourished and more than a decade before Gorbachev made it the foundation of his new thinking.
But implementation required not only Gorbachev's selection as Soviet leader--by no means a sure thing during the period 1980-84, when the new thinkers, armed only with the power of their ideas, waged an uphill battle against the entrenched power of the conservatives, who were aided by the arms buildup and bellicosity of the Reagan Administration. According to English, implementation also required Gorbachev's deeper immersion into such thinking before the Soviet Union could finally escape Stalin's "hostile isolationism" to undercut America's militarized Soviet policy.
Anatoly Chernyaev's diary-memoir, My Six Years With Gorbachev, provides invaluable evidence of that very immersion. Chernyaev served as Gorbachev's top foreign policy aide from February 1986 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. His account of those years pulls no punches.
The reduction of cold war tensions was considered an indispensable condition for undertaking urgent domestic restructuring, or perestroika. By 1986, according to Chernyaev, Gorbachev had "decided to end the arms race no matter what." Consequently, he aimed his January 15 proposal for a nuclear-free world by the year 2000 directly at Reagan's professed desire to render all nuclear weapons "obsolete."
Gorbachev subsequently introduced his new thinking, including "reasonable sufficiency" in military expenditures and "mutual security," based upon universal human values rather than class conflict, to the participants at the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress. Chernyaev, however, had his doubts: "As for guiding reform and guaranteeing its success, this role is still reserved for the Communist Party.... It never occurred to him that changes might bog down because of the system itself, even if people became more active."
Nevertheless, when Gorbachev met President Reagan at Reykjavik in October of 1986, the Soviet delegation was prepared to "sweep Reagan off his feet" by appealing to his antinuclear sentiments. Sure enough, an ill-prepared and overwhelmed Reagan ultimately suggested the elimination of all nuclear weapons--which Gorbachev eagerly embraced. Only a disagreement over Star Wars and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty prevented two antinuclear radicals from formalizing an agreement to eliminate the very weapons that, in many Western minds, deterred a Soviet invasion of Europe. Margaret Thatcher likened Reykjavik to "an earthquake." Senator Sam Nunn observed that, had the negotiations not broken down over Star Wars, "it would have been the most painfully embarrassing example of American ineptitude in this century, certainly since World War II."
Chernyaev correctly placed some blame for Reykjavik's collapse on Gorbachev. Like Reagan, he wouldn't budge on Star Wars. Nevertheless, Reykjavik convinced Gorbachev that Reagan was a fellow nuclear radical who intuitively "felt the challenge of the times."
Gorbachev and Reagan brought starkly different approaches to Reykjavik, though. As Chernyaev's pre-Reykjavik Politburo notes clearly demonstrate, the concept of "mutual security" guided Gorbachev's plans: "We are by no means talking about weakening our security. But at the same time we have to realize that if our proposals imply weakening U.S. security, then there won't be any agreement." For contrast, note the questions that an exasperated US representative, Max Kampelman, asked a fellow member of the Reagan team: "Then why do we do this? Why propose something he'd [Gorbachev] never accept, something even we might not want?" The approaches demonstrate why Gorbachev was so instrumental in bringing the cold war to a peaceful conclusion, and why the United States still embraces the state-centered "realism" and unilateralism that guarantees an adversarial relationship, fifteen years later.
Although this watershed event opened the floodgates for subsequent foreign policy successes, it had little effect at home. Chernyaev still doubted Gorbachev's willingness to undertake economic reforms that would "change the system's essentials." He observed too much talk and too little action. Worse still, the actions taken were disastrous; an anti-alcohol campaign that cost him much popular goodwill and "predetermined much in the tragic course of perestroika," and a law on enterprises in 1987 that "was probably the first step toward the economy's collapse."
Nevertheless, by the middle of 1986, Gorbachev had "begun referring to the ills of 'the system,'" prompting him, at the January 1987 plenum of the Central Committee, to deliver a blistering critique of the party. Gorbachev used that plenum to schedule what would prove to be an extraordinary Nineteenth Party Conference during the summer of 1988.
Soon after that January 1987 plenum, Andrei Sakharov persuaded Gorbachev that Star Wars was a "Maginot line in space--expensive and vulnerable to counter-measures" that should not prevent the Soviet Union from concluding arms reduction agreements with the United States. A late-March meeting with Margaret Thatcher, to which Chernyaev devotes considerable attention, succeeded in persuading Gorbachev that Europe genuinely feared Soviet military power. Consequently, when Mathias Rust's Cessna aircraft landed in Red Square in late May, Gorbachev seized upon the ensuing scandal to replace his defense minister, the head of the air defense forces, and approximately 100 generals and colonels who opposed Gorbachev's mutual security initiatives.
Thus, by the summer of 1987, it was discontent with domestic perestroika (and not Reagan's Star Wars fantasy) that prompted Gorbachev's threat of harsh measures. For example, Chernyaev recounts one Politburo meeting where Gorbachev furiously tossed a "big stack" of letters on the table at which his colleagues were seated, before remarking: "They write many different things, but it all comes down to one and the same. What's this perestroika? How do we, ordinary people, benefit from it? We don't.... Here, in our Soviet state, big bosses enjoy every luxury and remodel their apartments at government expense. They couldn't care less about the people.... I'm warning you--this is our last conversation about such issues. If nothing changes, the next time I'll be talking to different people."
Gorbachev replaced rhetoric with action in the wake of the "Nina Andreyeva affair"--an ill-disguised but more formidable attempt by second-in-command Yegor Ligachev to bring perestroika to a halt in the spring of 1988--by compelling the participants at the Nineteenth Party Conference to schedule both the overhaul of the Central Committee apparatus and elections to a Congress of People's Deputies. Once implemented, both actions would break the party's stranglehold on political life.
Chernyaev's May 1989 diary entry vividly captures the political turmoil wrought by these changes:
All around Gorbachev has unleashed irreversible processes of "disintegration"...
the planned economy is living its last days and the 'image' of socialism is fading. Ideology doesn't exist anymore. The empire-federation is falling apart. The Party is in disarray, having lost its place as a ruling, dominating, and repressive force. Governmental authority has been shaken to the breaking point. And nothing has yet been created to take its place.
The disarray and shaken authority cost Gorbachev much of his domestic influence. Yet, according to Chernyaev, even as late as November 1990, "the disruptions and uncertainty of the domestic situation hadn't yet affected the authority of the Soviet Union as a great power." Gorbachev used it to conclude a treaty with Reagan on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in December 1987. In April 1988, the Soviets signed the Geneva accords for removing Soviet troops from Afghanistan. And in December, Gorbachev stunned the United Nations and the world by denouncing both the threat and use of force in international relations--moral idealism he subsequently and courageously lived up to in 1989, when faced with the revolution his actions sparked in Eastern Europe--and announcing that the Soviet Union would reduce its armed forces by 500,000 men, withdrawing many from Eastern Europe.
During that extraordinary period, America's conservatives vilified Reagan for signing the INF treaty. Later, as Frances FitzGerald has reminded us in Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War, Henry Kissinger, William Safire and George Will seized upon Reagan's subsequent performance at the Moscow summit (May 1988) to accuse him of "creating a false 'euphoria' that would give a breathing space to the unchanging enemy." Finally, who can forget Will's memorable bouquet to the departing President: "Reagan has accelerated the moral disarmament of the West--actual disarmament will follow." Nevertheless, in January 1989 a nonplussed Reagan proclaimed, "The cold war is over."
And so it was--notwithstanding needless obstacles created by the first Bush Administration. For, as Chernyaev notes, "beginning in the summer of 1990...Gorbachev was paying attention only to the major areas of foreign policy and almost entirely from the point of view of their necessity for solving domestic problems." Meetings with foreign dignitaries "were increasingly of a ruminating, 'philosophical' character." Thus, during President Bush's visit to Moscow, in July 1991, Gorbachev not only suggested a new strategic paradigm to replace nuclear parity but also engaged Bush in discussions about the best approaches for advancing the interests and solving the problems of other countries. In a word, "mutual security."
The meetings with Bush marked the culmination of Gorbachev's efforts, but only because a failed putsch against him in August facilitated the countercoup by Boris Yeltsin, in December, that ended his political career. Few should dispute Chernyaev's conclusion that Gorbachev's "epoch stands out as one of the most remarkable of the centuries." Nevertheless, prior to September 11, 2001, America's post-cold war triumphalism--distorted by the totalitarian school's refusal to countenance the very possibility of meaningful change from within the USSR--prevented the cold war "victor" from embracing Gorbachev's revolutionary lead.
But triumphalism collapsed momentarily with the World Trade Center, thereby creating yet another opportunity for new thinking. And who, better than Gorbachev, to both suggest and remind us? "It is now the responsibility of the world community to transform the coalition against terrorism into a coalition for a peaceful world order. Let us not, as we did in the 1990s, miss the chance to build such an order," he wrote recently.