President's Corner

Moscow, Feb. 14-16: Political Agenda Or Propaganda?

I have been asked whether Mikhail Gorbachev’s spectacular conference, “For a Non-Nuclear World”, which brought together hundreds of scholars and famous people from the West and the Soviet Union, was primarily intended for propaganda and designed to disarm gullible Westerners or represented a real change in Soviet attitudes and policies. In answer to this question it is necessary to keep in mind that in the activities of every government there are two distinct realities. The first is the reality in its primary sense: the reality of nuclear weapons, armies, terrorism and the use of force by the state in all its various forms. The other reality is what people are thinking of at any given moment. It is the reality of public opinion and this, of course, is politically fundamental. None realizes this more than the Soviet government, but in this respect it is not all that different from other governments, including that in Washington.

What differentiates Moscow from Washington at the moment and is of concern to Canadians is that, while the American administration is in evident disarray from domestic reasons as well as in consequence of the evident differences within the administration on foreign policy issues, the new Soviet leadership has embarked on a policy of domestic reform and an attitude of liberalization. These developments in the USSR could have far-reaching effects if they are allowed to proceed by their domestic as well as foreign opponents.

When I was in Moscow last September I gained the impression that domestic reform was to be given priority over militarism by the new leadership. If this is to succeed, however, resources would need to be diverted from military competition with the West. Since nuclear weapons cannot be used except for intimidation which escalates international tensions and fuels the arms race, the Soviet aim is to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. In other words, domestic reform and the measures to reduce international tensions are essentially interlinked.

Soviet leaders who wish to change course radically face obstacles within the Soviet Union as well as from abroad. There are some Pentagon strategists who apparently believe that the Soviets can be “forced into submission” by a continued acceleration of the arms race,and there is opposition to reform from conservatives in the Soviet Union. Obviously certain powerful members of the ruling elite who value their positions and perquisites more than they value the good of the Soviet people,may try to thwart the reforms. The Soviet press is full of denunciations of this opposition. The other less obvious danger is the innate conservatism and suspicion of authority of the Soviet people who developed a certain disillusionment about raised expectations which have not been fulfilled in the past.

It seems only reasonable from the Canadian standpoint that the bold initiatives of the new Soviet leadership should be given a chance; they may not recur again. There is logic in Mr. Gorbachev’s arguments that in order to achieve “constructive endeavors to improve our country” the USSR will not need war and the arms race, but “lasting peace, predictability and constructiveness in international relations”.

As a former Ambassador to NATO, I am concerned also about the impact of divergent public and political perceptions of present opportunities in East-West relations on the solidarity of the alliance. It is allied solidarity, after all, that represents the real deterrent to war-the reliance on any one type of weapon.

At a time when relations between Washington and the European members of the alliance are under strain over the interpretation of the ABM Treaty, amid problems as to how to cope with terrorism and the Middle East crisis, facing the danger of a trans-Atlantic trade war, it is noteworthy that Foreign Minister Genscher has openly advocated that the West take Mr. Gorbachev and his “new policy” literally with all this Implies. Speaking in Switzerland earlier this month the German minister said:

If there should be a chance today that after 40 years of East-West confrontation, there should be a turning point in East-West relations, it would be a mistake of historical dimensions for the West to let this chance flip just because it cannot escape a way of thinking that invariably expects the worst (NY TIMES, Feb. 18)

It would be even more inexcusable if the opportunity were missed by Canadians, situated as we are on the shortest route of the nuclear-tipped missiles that the Soviets now propose to eliminate, simply because of the temporary disarray in the Reagan administration. Science for Peace members have been active opening up the contacts between scientists in the Soviet Union and the West, and have found the discussion freer and less manipulated than in the past. We intend to follow up and test the ground for more solid cooperation as opportunities offer.

— George Ignatieff

NEXT MEETING OF THE BOARD: Tuesday,Mar.31, supper at 6:30 at the Rapoports’, 38 Wychwood Park in Toronto. Call (416)656-5496 or the national SfP office.

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ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)