When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev resigned on Christmas Day 1991, the country he led had only a few more days left to survive. By New Year's Day 1992 the monolithic superpower Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) that had dominated Eurasia for more than seventy years had been replaced by a shrunken Russia, reduced to borders that had in some cases not been seen on the map since the seventeenth century, and fourteen other nations, some of which had known independence in the distant past and others that were completely new. All of these lands shared the absence of their main governing principle for seven decades: Soviet communism.
The enormous ideological and geopolitical ramifications of the Soviet Union's collapse have left enduring questions about the inevitability of that event. Indeed, before 1991 the Soviets themselves and most Western observers believed unflinchingly that the U.S.S.R. would remain a major factor in world politics long into the future. Confident scholarly studies predicted its economic growth to the year 2000, and military planners accustomed to decades of bipolarity planned the next phase in the arms race. Indeed, few cartographers imagined that they would have to redraw their maps of Europe a dozen times between 1990 and 1995.
As some scholars maintain, the fall of Soviet communism was unavoidable. The Soviet state's dependence on terror, reliance on uncompetitive economics, and devotion to a political philosophy that brought it into conflict with most of the rest of the world ultimately doomed it to destruction. The U.S.S.R. was caught between an angry and stagnant society at home and a hostile community of nations abroad, and its eventual demise was a foregone conclusion. Others argue that the pre-1991 status quo could have continued. Had it not been for the bullish anticommunism of U.S. president Ronald Reagan's administration in the 1980s, existing challenges to Soviet social and economic problems could have become manageable. Western goodwill, financial assistance, and favorable trade relations, all advocated by proponents of détente in the 1970s, might have enabled the Soviet state to reform successfully and survive intact into the twenty-first century.
Viewpoint: Yes. The Soviet system had inherent political and economic flaws that made it unsustainable.
When the Soviet Union expired on the last day of 1991, a variety of trends and forces arrived at their logical outcome. Seventy-four years of communist rule proved that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) was doomed in every sense important to the survival of a nation. Politically and economically, the dictatorship established by the Bolshevik coup d'état (November 1917) was unsustainable over the long term and, despite its own boasting and the sober predictions of most Western observers, could never have survived into the twenty-first century.
Terror lay at the center of the Soviet system. The establishment of communist rule in Russia depended on nothing less for its survival. Within days of the Bolsheviks' seizure of power, they subjected their real and potential political opponents to intense coercion and intimidation and quickly applied terrorist methods to cow into submission the independent media, religious life, cultural sphere, and all other aspects of civil society. Measures that began as arbitrary and improvised, and that the Bolsheviks claimed would be "temporary," soon grew into a vast system of repression presided over by revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin and his successor Josef Stalin. With a powerful and unchecked secret police, a gigantic network of concentration camps, and far-reaching government control over the lives and minds of its citizens, the Soviet Union sank into a totalitarian abyss that destroyed millions of lives.
The scope of this terror betrayed an important fact. The U.S.S.R.'s revolutionary leadership believed from its first days in power that terrorist methods were their only reliable means of control. And they were right. Despite determined attempts to evangelize communist ideology to the Soviet people, capture minds and hearts through programs of education and modernization, and inculcate a Soviet patriotism, arbitrary repression was their only real means of remaining in power. Yet, over time the iron will and malevolent sense of purpose required to maintain this system faltered. On the eve of World War II (1939-1945), even Stalin acknowledged that terror was counterproductive to effective government and announced at a 1939 Communist Party Congress that its use would be curtailed. This admission did not stop him from continuing to employ terror during and after the war, but his statement reflected a growing body of elite opinion. After Stalin's death in 1953, his successors swiftly eliminated the dangerous secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, and renounced the use of terror. Nikita Khrushchev, who won the power struggle after Stalin's death, followed this policy and partially exposed some of the state's crimes in a February 1956 speech to the party elite. Under Khrushchev's leadership the prison camps emptied, the state's arbitrary powers were somewhat curtailed, and a new law code introduced at least the pretense, if not the actual fact, of civil rights and due legal process.
While Lenin and Stalin had the tremendous power and will to crush any actual or imagined resistance, their successors, beginning with Khrushchev, lost both and became vulnerable to dissent. The Soviet government's abandonment of mass terror allowed dissenters to grow in number. Direct criticism of the regime remained a crime, but the corresponding punishments declined in severity as well as in deterrent value. Dissident activity that would have resulted in one's disappearance and secret murder in earlier decades instead brought on official harassment, shorter prison terms, subjection to psychological quackery, and exile in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. These punishments were still terrible violations of human rights and were certainly characteristic of an ugly authoritarian regime, yet their relative leniency and reactive nature ensured that the Soviet government would never be able to keep a lid on dissent. Official harassment and shorter prison sentences left dissidents to function more freely in society, and allowed them to interact with each other and with a growing numbers of foreign visitors who could relate their stories and political statements to the West. The Soviet government's use of psychology to repress dissidents who were held to be "morally sick" or "social misfits" exposed Moscow to tremendous international criticism, not only by other nations but also by the international scientific community. Exile removed dissidents from Soviet society only to deliver them to free countries where they could spread word of conditions in the U.S.S.R. and continue their activities and criticism unhindered. Technicalities of the Khrushchev law code, furthermore, gave defendants the right to trials that widely publicized the regime's treatment of dissidents. Consequently, more and more Soviet citizens were emboldened to speak out, knowing that reprisals against them would become national and international news. Indeed, as the Cold War reached its apogee, Moscow's treatment of dissidents became a major issue in its international relations, a factor linked explicitly to trade and arms- control negotiations with the West. When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev increased political democracy and freedom of expression in the late 1980s, the dissident community used the concessions not, as Gorbachev had hoped, to help reform the Soviet system and rejuvenate communist ideology, but instead to attack communism per se and undermine the existence of the Soviet state. Lacking the will and desire to crack down on the emerging anticommunist consensus within his country, Gorbachev's reforms spiraled out of control. By the time some of his hard-liner opponents in the leadership attempted to remove him in an August 1991 coup, communists had lost any pretense to govern by popular mandate, exposure of their crimes had become total and unrestrained, and their seventy-year-old rule of the U.S.S.R.'s minority nationalities had all but ended. Devoid of legitimacy, and rightly seen by the majority of the Soviet people as morally bankrupt, the linchpin provided by the Communist Party disintegrated and the country collapsed.
Dissent alone did not bring about the Soviet collapse. Lenin seized power with the conviction that state ownership of the economy would lead to material abundance and social harmony. Yet, as he and his successors tried to translate theory into practice, their economic policies merely contributed to the U.S.S.R.'s decline. Criminalizing commerce, collectivizing farmland, and placing all economic decisions in government hands deprived the Soviets of the very initiative, experience, creativity, and incentive that the capitalist world employed to compete with and ultimately defeat them. In contrast to tsarist Russia's burgeoning economic development in the decades before the 1917 Revolution, Soviet economic history was a long, sad story of squandered resources, wasted talents, embarrassing shortages, and slow decline. Industrial management rested with Communist Party hacks whose only asset was their ideological orthodoxy and whose only concerns were keeping the Party's good favor and jealously guarding their privileges. The forced nationalization and collectivization of agriculture physically eliminated the country's best farmers and reduced the rest to day laborers with no compelling motivation or incentive. Private enterprise remained illegal in virtually any form, and most Soviet citizens had to rely on their own wits and vast black markets to meet even basic needs. Indeed, many of the Soviet Union's greatest economic "achievements," including its ambitious industrialization campaign in the 1930s, its impressive World War II military production, and its successful atomic energy and space flight programs, depended on the acquisition, borrowing, or theft of capitalist industrial products, technical know-how, and managerial experience.
By the 1980s these factors began to take their toll. The Soviet Union's failure to compete with capitalist skill and innovation caused its entire economy to lag far behind that of the West, and the gap only grew with time. Dramatic new developments in information technology, consumer industry, health care, transportation, infrastructure, popular culture, and other areas impacting daily life largely passed the U.S.S.R. by. Widespread environmental damage--which, in an oppressive police state, could not be checked by civic action or independent "watchdogs"--harmed public health, polluted landscapes, and jeopardized future well-being. As impoverished Soviet citizens became more and more aware of the West's superior material quality of life--a process that was itself largely a product of the information age--domestic unrest grew. Convinced that their government and its ideology had failed and deceived them, many coveted the West's prosperity and associated their ability to achieve it with fundamental political and economic change.
The Soviet government also became deeply preoccupied with the implications of the West's economic superiority. It worried about the discontent generated by the increasingly obvious economic disparity and took measures to curtail popular dissatisfaction. Propaganda campaigns tried to persuade the Soviet people that they were better off than Westerners, or promised them that despite their woes, they would live better in the future. Western radio transmissions were jammed. Western popular culture was censored and disparaged. Travel abroad, even to other communist countries, was virtually forbidden. Contact with foreigners outside official circumstances remained a risky undertaking. Yet, no matter what Moscow did, its people still craved Marlboro cigarettes, McDonald's fast food, rock music, and Playboy and only resented their government the more for trying to forbid them. Soviet leaders began to look like desperate old men who would do anything to keep themselves in power and the people they ruled in poverty and ignorance.
The strategic ramifications of the economic chasm were even more serious. By the 1980s a new generation of high-tech weaponry created an insurmountable gap in military technology. Several proxy conflicts, in which exported U.S. and Soviet hardware squared off on Third World battlefields, demonstrated the marked inferiority of Soviet weaponry. American advances in computer, satellite, laser, missile, and other technologies translated into huge combat advantages, and U.S. president Ronald Reagan's 1983 announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a prospective space-based missile defense system, threatened to neutralize the effectiveness of the U.S.S.R.'s nuclear arsenal, its only remaining strategic asset. As Gorbachev and many other Soviet leaders realized then and admitted later, economic weakness left them with no hope of competing or even standing their ground in the arms race. Reducing Cold War tension to cut the U.S.S.R.'s crushing military budget and promote economic development became a centerpiece of Gorbachev's strategy. Yet, by pursuing this goal, Gorbachev was forced to abandon strategic positions that the U.S.S.R. had long held, in some cases for decades. In 1989-1991 Soviet troops, advisers, supplies, and subsidies were withdrawn not only from the recent Cold War battlefields in Afghanistan and southern Africa, but also from the U.S.S.R.'s oldest client regimes in Eastern Europe, North Korea, and Cuba. As the contraction of Soviet power continued, the military made no effort to defend the unity of the U.S.S.R. itself and failed to support the anti-Gorbachev hard-liners who wanted to keep it together. These momentous changes were direct consequences of the Soviet Union's inability to modernize its economy; their result was its complete collapse.
The importance of confrontation in the collapse of the Soviet Union was yet another long-term process. Although the West's most bullish anticommunism and greatest military superiority emerged in the 1980s, both were the end result of decades of justified suspicion of and resistance to Moscow. In their doctrinaire adherence to revolutionary Marxism, the Bolsheviks arrived in power determined not only to transform Russia but also to fulfill what they viewed as their historic mission to export communism to the rest of the world. Of course this strategy set them at odds with the entire international community. Contrary to later claims that the Bolsheviks were the misunderstood victims of narrow-minded and aggressive anticommunists, their messianic fervor informed all other governments that they were enemies and threatened them with subversion, war, and overthrow, all planned in Moscow. Indeed, as soon as 1919 Soviet-supported communists briefly established revolutionary governments in Germany and Hungary. Foreign communist parties were coordinated under Moscow's control through the Communist International, established in 1919, and until 1991 communists in Europe and elsewhere executed political intrigues, labor unrest, assassinations, and terrorist activities with Moscow's blessing. Just what were foreign powers supposed to think? International communism openly proclaimed its goals of destroying the diplomatic order that they had fashioned and of overturning the social and economic principles that guided their societies. It only followed that many in the West would advocate intervention against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War, refuse to acknowledge the Soviet government's legitimacy, and, even if most Western governments eventually established diplomatic relations with Moscow, isolate and ostracize the Soviets in the international arena.
The rise of Adolf Hitler's Germany and the danger it posed in World War II produced a tentative cooperation between the U.S.S.R. and the West, but the end of that conflict only renewed tensions. As the Soviets attempted to expand their military presence throughout the world, installed loyal communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe, and lent assistance to emerging communist movements elsewhere, Western leaders by consensus viewed their actions as a renewal of their ambition to impose communism upon the entire world. By 1947 the United States formally committed itself to resisting Soviet expansion on a global scale, a strategy that came to be known as "containment." Two years later the United States formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an anti-Soviet defensive alliance, which eventually included almost every country in Europe outside the Soviet bloc, as well as Canada and Turkey. Washington made similar anticommunist defensive arrangements with Japan, most other nations of the Pacific Rim, and its Latin American neighbors. When the U.S.S.R. attempted to project power into the emerging "third" (in other words, nonaligned) world, the United States and its allies responded to the challenge directly and with great effort. Indeed, Soviet advances and pretensions were so great that even other communist powers, including China, the most populous country, and Yugoslavia, openly broke with Moscow and looked toward favorable relations with the United States and its allies. Although the Soviets in some cases successfully sponsored the emergence of communist regimes in the Third World in the 1960s and 1970s, these successes convinced Western leaders and peoples that Moscow had to be dealt with not merely through vigilant containment but with an aggressive "rolling back" of Soviet gains. Heightened support for anticommunist resistance movements, renewed military intervention in the Third World, determined economic warfare, and engagement in a formidable arms race left the Soviets with the unenviable choice between fighting and losing or retreating and accepting quiet death. They chose the latter.
-- Paul Du Quenoy, Georgetown University
Viewpoint: No. The Soviet Union had the potential to remain stable; it was brought down by foreign pressures and bad leadership decisions.
An overwhelming consensus among historians suggests that the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) in 1991 was the most significant geopolitical transformation the world witnessed since World War II (1939-1945). Yet, it is one of the most controversial developments of contemporary history. A nuclear superpower with a global presence, massive manpower and economic potential, an enormous military and vast arsenal of armaments, disappeared without firing a shot. As former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger noted, "No world power had ever disintegrated so totally and so rapidly without losing a war."
Although some historians argue that the Soviet collapse occurred mainly because of the systemic flaws in the communist system, there is also a view that credits U.S.-led external pressures with undermining the Soviet Union's international posture, weakening the Soviet economy, and destabilizing the communist regime. Adherents of this approach credit the Reagan administration's stern military and economic pressure on the U.S.S.R. as well as harsh ideological attacks as key elements in forcing the Soviets into decline and subsequent collapse, a condition that would not otherwise have developed.
The Reagan administration outlined basic elements and goals of its anti-Soviet strategy in 1982-1983 based on an understanding of the growing disparity between overextended global and military ambitions of the Kremlin on the one hand and mounting Soviet internal economic and resource problems on the other. The new strategy in many ways presented a radical break with the policies of previous U.S. administrations. It emphasized the political, economic, and moral weaknesses of the Soviet system and its inevitable breakdown if the U.S.S.R. were seriously challenged. The strategy also reflected the fact that while the economic sphere was a major weakness of the Soviets, it, at the same time, was a huge advantage for America. As Caspar Weinberger, U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time, recalled, "we adopted a comprehensive strategy that included economic warfare to attack the Soviet weakness."
Negotiations with the Soviet Union would be considered only after restoring U.S. military strength with American technological and economic advantages, reversing the West's posture of the détente-era retreat, and mounting political and ideological pressure on the Communist bloc. Another innovative element was the readiness of the United States to engage the Soviets and their clients in costly military conflicts in the Third World, as well as to challenge the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and assist anticommunist forces around the world. The primary goal of the strategy was rather simple--to force the Soviets to choose from among three options: abandoning their global ambitions, withdrawing from the confrontation with the West, or facing increasingly devastating pressures with the possibility of complete collapse. In sum, it was a strategic offensive based on the coordinated use of economic, military, technological, and diplomatic factors against the Soviets. The strategy was designed to shift the focus of the superpower struggle to the Soviet bloc and even the Soviet Union itself.
The defensive buildup was a major element in the unfolding confrontation with the Soviets. Between 1980 and 1985 U.S. military expenditures doubled and as a result exceeded those of the U.S.S.R. for the first time since the late 1960s. Of much importance were the reinforcement of the strategic arsenal and, particularly, the rapid rise of research and development programs. The aim was to invest in a new generation of expensive high-tech weapon systems that would render Soviet military equipment obsolete. This strategy presented an enormous problem for Moscow. Between 1981 and 1985 the Soviets raised their defense budget by 45 percent, but their expenditures were insufficient to match the American challenge.
In 1982 the U.S. Army adopted the AirLand Battle doctrine--which capitalized on the use of American improvements in electronics and communications equipment--aimed to surprise, outmaneuver, disorient, and defeat an enemy. The United States strengthened its military posture across the world, particularly in Western Europe, the Persian Gulf, and the Far East. Thanks to the endorsement of U.S. allies and despite the pacifist protests, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) managed to deploy U.S. Pershing and Tomahawk intermediate-range missiles in Europe in 1983. The new American missiles, far superior to their Soviet counterparts, changed the military balance in Europe and placed a wide range of Soviet command, control, and communications targets under effective threat.
The United States also actively capitalized on the huge technological gap between the superpowers. According to U.S. Department of Defense assessments, the U.S.S.R. was ten years behind America in computers and trailed in many of the most important technologies: electro-optic sensors, robotics, stealth, and so on. In high-tech weaponry, the Soviet Union was in 1983 a generation behind the United States and its allies, according to the former Chief of the Soviet General Staff Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov. Anatoly Cherniaev, an aide to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, estimated the Soviet technological gap with the West was ten to thirty years.
Also in 1983 U.S. president Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which was intended to protect U.S. territory from Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by destroying them in space. The far-reaching goal of SDI was twofold. On the one hand, an effective antimissile defense would make the ICBMs--the bulk of the Soviet nuclear forces--irrelevant and powerless, decisively changing the overall strategic balance to favor the United States. On the other hand, SDI presumed the full-scale use of U.S. technological advances in the arms race with the Soviet Union. While the possibility of creating an effective antimissile shield was a matter of a great controversy at the time, SDI contributed to the U.S.S.R.'s collapse, conjuring up for an already declining Soviet economy the prospect of an enormous burden by forcing it to participate in the new round of the high-tech rivalry. In this way SDI virtually threatened to bankrupt the Soviet military- industrial complex and was, as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher put it, "one vital factor in the ending of the Cold War."
On the geopolitical front of the U.S. offensive against the Soviet Union there were two situations of critical importance for the Soviets: the crisis in Poland (1980-1981) and the war in Afghanistan, which the Soviets began in 1979. Since 1980 Poland--the largest Soviet satellite in Eastern Europe--was an arena of open mass struggle, led by an independent trade union, Solidarity, against the ruling communist regime. In December 1981 martial law was declared and the regime, decisively supported by the Soviets, banned the opposition. As Edwin Meese III, Reagan's policy adviser from 1981 to 1985, mentioned in his memoirs, Poland was "one of the earliest test cases for the president's anti-Soviet strategy." The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in concert with the Vatican, and cooperating with French Intelligence, organized covert logistic, intelligence, and financial support to Solidarity (AFL-CIO efforts, as well as help from Sweden, were instrumental in this area) that ensured its survival underground. The operation was a part of a wide range of American activities aiming to undermine Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. At the same time U.S. sanctions against Poland, declared in response to the introduction of martial law, prompted the Soviets to provide the military regime in Poland with emergency financial aid of $1 billion to $2 billion per year. Polish authorities and their Soviet patrons, however, proved unable to suppress political opposition. By 1989 the communists were forced to enter into negotiations with the opposition, which led to the election of the first noncommunist government in Eastern Europe since 1945.
Covert CIA operations played a decisive role in supporting Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation and the pro-Soviet regime in the country. The CIA--in concert with Britain, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and China--provided training for the Afghan mujahideen (holy warriors) and gave them financial, military, and logistic support. The United States also used CIA spy satellites to make guerrilla operations more effective and help them target strategically important areas of the country. The United States sponsored the largest paramilitary operation in CIA history, with total estimated costs at $3 billion. All these measures, particularly supplies of high-tech weaponry, allowed the United States to shift the focus of the Afghan war from harassing the Soviets to turning them back. By the spring of 1984 Afghan resistance took the war into neighboring Soviet Central Asia. By 1986 the cost of the war for the Soviets reached $4 billion per year. By 1989, when Soviet troops withdrew from the country, the U.S.S.R. had lost some 13,000 men killed. The defeat in Afghanistan had far-reaching revolutionary effects, discrediting the Soviet military and undermining the stability of the communist regime.
The U.S. economic "assault" on the U.S.S.R. unfolded from several directions. The first was the U.S.-initiated efforts to reduce dramatically hard-currency earnings by limiting Soviet energy exports to the West and by manipulating oil prices. By 1983 oil and gas exports made up between 60 and 80 percent of Soviet hard-currency earnings. At the same time, the main vulnerability of the Soviet energy industry was its almost total dependence on Western technology. The Americans instituted a comprehensive global campaign to reduce Soviet access to Western technology and promoted a technological disinformation campaign designed to undermine the Soviet economy.
The main tool of the U.S. strategy to coordinate Western efforts to curtail this flow of technology was the Coordinating Committee for Mutual Export Controls (COCOM), which included the NATO countries (except Iceland) and Japan. In 1982 COCOM banned the export of critically important technologies to the U.S.S.R., including advanced computers and electronics, and limited technical and other contacts with the Soviets. The United States also pressured neutral countries--particularly Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland--to tighten control of high-tech exports to the U.S.S.R. by threatening to leave them without access to U.S.-licensed technology.
The technological shutoff had a dramatic effect on the Soviet oil and gas industry, particularly on one of the most ambitious Soviet projects--the Siberian pipeline to Western Europe. In 1982, in response to Soviet involvement in the Polish crisis and despite protests from its European allies, the United States imposed an embargo on technology for the pipeline. Historians note that this act was a real declaration of economic war on the Soviet Union, one with devastating consequences. Instead of earning $8 billion to $10 billion per year from oil exports by 1985 and $15 billion to $30 billion by 1990, as the Soviets expected, Moscow lost $15 billion to $20 billion in revenue because of the resulting delays. The Soviets tried to complete the pipeline without U.S. technology and failed, at an additional cost of $1 billion.
The third direction of the U.S. economic war dealt with one more crucial factor for Soviet hard-currency earnings--oil prices on world markets. To lower prices the United States needed cooperation from Saudi Arabia--one of the world's main oil producers. The United States intensified diplomatic contacts with the Saudis, increased military assistance, gave Saudi Arabia security guarantees, and coordinated its policies in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan with Saudi Arabia. In return, in late 1985 the Saudis rapidly increased production, and oil prices dropped from $30 per barrel in November 1985 to $12 per barrel in May 1986, with devastating costs to the Soviet energy sector. The Soviets lost more than $10 billion a year--almost half of their previous earnings from oil exports. Thus by 1985-1986 expected technology supplies, credits, and hard currency from the West were drying up or being cut back. The Soviet economic crisis was aggravated tremendously.
On the diplomatic front, the United States successfully exploited several of Moscow's blunders--such as the deployment of SS-20 missiles targeting Western Europe (late 1970s), the occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989), and the shooting down of a South Korean passenger plane (1983)--to unite all major centers of power in the world, including Western Europe, the oil-rich Arab countries, China, and Japan, into a de facto anti-Soviet coalition. The United States intentionally used an aggressive rhetoric, unprecedented since the early 1950s. This strategy of psychological and ideological warfare as well as aforementioned U.S. pressures fueled indecision and fear inside the Kremlin, paralyzed the will of the Soviet leadership, and forced it to concede. Additionally, U.S. propaganda efforts ("public diplomacy") actively used Western examples of prosperity and freedom to undermine the Soviet regime.
Personally, President Reagan played an important role in the anti-Soviet crusade, particularly in its psychological warfare. Reagan's assertive anticommunist declarations, motivated by his instinct and strong belief in the fatal inevitability of a Soviet crash, presented Moscow with a surprise. Reagan's self-confidence and optimism were a striking contrast to the pre-Gorbachev gerontocrats in the Kremlin, who were more concerned with their own physical survival than with reacting to the American challenge. When Reagan was asked why he failed to meet with Gorbachev's predecessors, his answer was, "they kept dying on me."
As historian Paul M. Kennedy noted, "historically, none of the overextended, multinational empires ever retreated to its own ethnic base until they had been defeated in a great power war." Theoretically speaking, the Soviet leadership, facing enormous external pressures, could have used its immense military abroad and security apparatus domestically to hold power, regardless of the cost. Yet, as Princeton historian Stephen Kotkin mentioned, the Soviets "did not even attempt to stage a cynical foreign war to rally support for the regime." Many historians credited Gorbachev and his perestroika (in other words, domestic Soviet developments) for the relatively peaceful collapse of the Soviet monster. For sure, many ills of the communist regime, which Gorbachev tried to reform, had a domestic nature; they were inherent in the system itself. However, the United States masterfully and decisively exploited Soviet vulnerabilities and exacerbated the U.S.S.R.'s crisis. Moreover, the United States forced the Soviets to face growing international isolation. As Eduard Shevardnadze, former Soviet foreign minister, admitted, the race for absolute parity with almost the rest of the world and the maintenance of a global military presence had brought the Soviet Union to the brink of economic catastrophe.
The U.S. anti-Soviet strategy had many forms: secret diplomacy, covert actions, an intense arms race, economic pressure, demoralizing psychological warfare, and propaganda. Moscow found itself under the enormously destructive effects of a high-tech arms race, geopolitical setbacks in crucially important areas of the world, hard-currency shortages, a Western technological embargo, and growing international isolation. Thus, one could say that Gorbachev's ill-fated reforms were, to a large extent, late attempts to respond to external pressures.
The U.S. anti-Soviet assault was a nontraditional kind of war. It was waged on many fronts: economic, geostrategic, and ideological, as well as in an intense arms race. To their misfortune, Soviet leaders, including Gorbachev, failed to comprehend the multifaceted nature of this war and the comprehensive character of U.S. strategy, in which all elements mutually reinforced each other. In the absence of massive U.S. pressure, the Soviet Union may well have survived into the twenty-first century. Had the United States continued its 1970s policies of détente, the U.S.S.R. and its communist system may have grown stronger and more entrenched. The pundits who predicted the continued existence of the Soviet Union, however, were wrong.
-- Peter Rainow, San Mateo, California
Below is the resignation speech given by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 25 December 1991:
Dear fellow countrymen, compatriots. Due to the situation which has evolved as a result of the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
I am making this decision out of considerations based on principle. I have firmly stood for independence, self-rule of nations, for the sovereignty of the republics, but at the same time for preservation of the union state, the unity of the country.
Events went a different way. The policy prevailed of dismembering this country and disuniting the state, with which I cannot agree. And after the Alma-Ata meeting and the decisions taken there, my position on this matter has not changed. Besides, it is my conviction that decisions of this caliber should have been made on the basis of popular will.
However, I will do all I can to insure that the agreements that were signed there lead toward real concord in society and facilitate the exit out of this crisis and the process of reform. Shackled by Bureaucracy--Addressing you for the last time in the capacity of President of the U.S.S.R., I consider it necessary to express my evaluation of the road we have traveled since 1985, especially as there are a lot of contradictory, superficial and subjective judgments on that matter.
Fate had it that when I found myself at the head of the state, it was already clear that all was not well in the country. We had a lot of everything--land, oil and gas, other natural resources--and there was intellect and talent in abundance. Yet we lived much worse than developed countries and keep falling behind them more and more. The reason was obvious even then. This country was suffocating in the shackles of the bureaucratic-command system, doomed to serve ideology and bear the terrible burden of the arms race. It had reached the limit of its possibilities. All attempts at partial reform--and there had been many--had suffered defeat, one after another. We could not go on living like that.
Everything had to be changed radically.
That is why not once--not once--have I regretted that I did not take advantage of the post of [Communist Party] general secretary to rule as czar for several years. I considered it irresponsible and amoral. I realized that to start reforms of such a scale in a society such as ours was a most difficult and even a risky thing. But even now, I am convinced that the democratic reform that we launched in the spring of 1985 was historically correct. Society Liberated Itself--The process of renovating this country and radical changes in the world community turned out to be far more complicated than could be expected.
However, what has been done ought to be given its due.
This society acquired freedom, liberated itself politically and spiritually, and this is the foremost achievement--which we have not yet understood completely, because we have not learned to use freedom. However, work of historic significance has been accomplished.
The totalitarian system that deprived the country of an opportunity to become successful and prosperous long ago has been eliminated. A breakthrough has been achieved on the way to democratic changes. Free elections, freedom of the press, religious freedoms, representative organs of power, a multiparty [system] became a reality. Human rights are recognized as the supreme principle.
Movement has been started toward a multi-tier economy, and the equality of all forms of ownership is being established. Within the framework of land reform, peasantry began to reemerge as a class. Farmers have appeared, billions of hectares of land are being given to urbanites and rural residents alike. Economic freedom of the producer has been legalized, and entrepreneurship, shareholding, privatization are gaining momentum. In turning the economy toward a market, it is important to remember that all this is done for the sake of the individual. At this difficult time, all should be done for his social protection, especially for senior citizens and children.
We live in a new world. The Cold War has ended, the arms race has stopped, as has the insane militarization that mutilated our economy, public psyche and morals. The threat of world war has been removed. Once again I want to stress that on my part everything was done during the transition period to preserve reliable control of the nuclear weapons.
We opened ourselves to the rest of the world, abandoned the practices of interfering in others' internal affairs and using troops outside this country, and we were reciprocated with trust, solidarity and respect. We have become one of the main foundations for the transformation of modern civilization on peaceful democratic grounds.
Opposed by Obsolete Forces--The nations and the peoples (of this country) gained real freedom of self-determination. The search for a democratic reformation of the multinational state brought us to the threshold of concluding a new union treaty. All these changes demanded immense strain. They were carried out with sharp struggle, with growing resistance from the old, the obsolete forces: the former party-state structures, the economic elite, as well as our habits, ideological superstitions, the psychology of sponging and leveling everyone out.
They stumbled on our intolerance, low level of political culture, fear of change. That is why we lost so much time. The old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working, and the crisis in the society became even more acute. I am aware of the dissatisfaction with the present hard situation, of the sharp criticism of authorities at all levels including my personal activities.
But once again I'd like to stress: Radical changes in such a vast country, and a country with such a heritage, cannot pass painlessly without difficulties and shake-up.
The August coup brought the overall crisis to its ultimate limit. The most dangerous thing about the crisis is the collapse of statehood. And today I am worried by our people's loss of the citizenship of a great country. The consequences may turn out to be very hard for everyone.
Heirs of a Great Civilization--I think it is vitally important to preserve the democratic achievements of the last years. They have been paid for by the suffering of our whole history, our tragic experience. They must not be given up under any circumstances or any pretext, otherwise all our hopes for the better will be buried. I am telling you all this honestly and straightforwardly because this is my moral duty.
Today I'd like to express my gratitude to all citizens who supported the policy of renovating the country, got involved in the implementation of the democratic reforms. I am grateful to statesmen, public and political figures, millions of people abroad, those who understood our intentions, gave their support and met us halfway. I thank them for their sincere cooperation with us.
I am leaving my post with apprehension, but also with hope, with faith in you, your wisdom and force of spirit. We are the heirs of a great civilization, and its rebirth into a new, modern and dignified life now depends on one and all. I wish to thank with all my heart all those who have stood together with me all these years for the fair and good cause. Some mistakes could surely have been avoided. Many things could have been done better. But I am convinced that sooner or later our common efforts will bear fruit, our nations will live in a prosperous and democratic society. I wish everyone all the best.
Source: "The Resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev, Russia," Freeserve http://freeserve.i-resign.com/uk/halloffame/viewHOF_22.asp.
John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the End of the Cold War: Implications, Reconsiderations, Provocations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York: Random House, 1987).
Stephen Kotkin, Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
David M. Kotz and Fred Weir, Revolution from Above: The Demise of the Soviet System (London & New York : Routledge, 1997).
Edwin Meese III, With Reagan: The Inside Story (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1992).
Don Oberdorfer, The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1983-1990 (New York: Poseidon Press, 1991).
Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994).
Paul A. Winters, ed., The Collapse of the Soviet Union (San Diego, Cal.: Greenhaven Press, 1999).
Опубликовано 20 сентября 2007 года
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