February 1, 1991 | Lecture on Europe
Aleksandr Bessmertnykh, at the time of this lecture, was the Soviet Union's Ambassador to the United States. He currently is the Soviet Foreign Minister.
He spoke at The Heritage Foundation on November 21,1990.
ISSN 0272-1155 0 1991 by The Heritage Foundation.speech, and in two days he was recalled. I express hope that there was no connection be- tween the two events. The only way to be on the safe side may be to make a very long speech. I will probably be testing some of your patience and tolerance with my remarks on the subject which I chose, and that is the Soviet-U.S. relations at the dawn of the post-con- frontation era. I wi l l not be very harmonious in putting the whole picture together. I will probably em- phasize some of the things which I believe are of more importance to the present day situa- tion. Maybe we can deal with other matters at the next meeting. So please be pa t ient. I'm not going to be too long with my remarks. So we are now going through a very important stage of changes. And the emerging rap- prochement between the two countries is occurring, however, against the backdrop of the deepening crisis of state and s ociety in the U.S.S.R. And the paradox of today's situation is in the fact that perestroika, which made this unprecedented U.S.-Soviet accomplishment possible, may now confront the United States with a new choice born out of mounting dif- ficulties in the U.S.S.R. We are entering the dawn of the post-confrontational era burdened by the long experience of global confrontation, distrust, negative emotions, and the Cold War stereotypes. The past period in the Soviet-American relations has definitely had certa i n elements of intellectual comfort because analysis was very simple. Hostility itself was a source of intel- lectual assumptions, for what was bad for the U.S.S.R. was good automatically for the United States, and vice versa. Characteristic Scenarios. New sources for conceptual ideas seem, however, uncertain as yet, and fluid now. So one can foresee a spectrum of possibilities for carrying out U.S. policies in these changed conditions. The two most characteristic scenarios, as I can see them, are the follo w ing: 1) to weaken and to pin down the U.S.S.R., as a former potential adversary, after its eventual complete disintegration; 2) to strengthen cooperation on the basis of the already achieved rapprochement - to achieve partnership relations as the basis fo r creating a new world order in the post-confrontational Europe. The arguments for and against the first approach are basically well known. Setting them up, one can see the demand for war here in the fact that its realization substantially broadens this fe a r of uncertainty in the world because nobody can see now what it would mean if such a major state as the Soviet Union were to disappear from the political map of the world. It is clear enough that in the event of the Soviet Union's disintegration, the exi s t- ing balance would break down, and the whole world situation would go through a tremen- dous change. The entity which is known today as the Soviet Union was formed over the span of not 75 years, as many people believe, but within its main borders about 1 ,000 years, all this time playing a major role in the world's history. If the Soviet Union falls apart, this region will no doubt become the main source of world instability and conflicts, an area of bitter confronta- tion of nations, most of them of the T hird World category, but equipped with nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors. As to the second approach, strengthening the cooperation, we are only beginning to un- derstand its potentials and limitations. It is clear to us that the new guarantees in the p ost-
2confrontational era can only be based on the replacement of confrontation with coopera- tion. But if the period of confrontation was born out of the existing conflict of interests be- tween the great powers with ensuing deterrence, the linkage of interests of the new era of cooperation is only a necessity born out of the disappearance of the elements deterring con- flicting sides in various regions. The Persian Gulf crisis has simply demonstrated to us the absence of those deterring elements. Expe r ience teaches us that we cannot divide the world into permanent friends or adver- saries. The former may fail you, while the latter can show great potential for compromise. What are the prospects for cooperation between our two countries in a world where t he balance of forces rests on the bipolar pattern that has been slowly drifting in the direction of a multipolar structure? Summing Up Experience. Let us attempt to consider several major problems in our agen- da in order to sum up the experience we have g ained in the recent years of cooperative relationship. I would like here to make some remarks on the perestroika and the internal situation in the U.S.S.R. within the framework of our relationship. At present, our country is going through a difficult peri o d in its history. In our view perestroika was brought to life in OUT country primarily by internal causes involving the inef- ficiency of the administrative economy that prevailed for decades. Ile colossal squandering of resources because of the inefficie n cy of economic management and the absence of a market has resulted in a situation where one of the resource-richest countries in the world now has a shortage of almost everything. This paradoxical situation is obtaining at a time when the real wealth in o u r country is still quite significant. We have 2.1 hectares of arable lands per capita - and of course, a hectare is 2.5 acres - which is quite enough to provide the country with agricultural products. The forest reserves are enormous - 814.3 million hecta r es, of which 326 million hectares are exploitable. The Soviet Union leads the world in known reserves of gold, natural gas, iron and manganese ore, copper, nickel, zinc, tungsten, potassium salts, asbestos, and a num- ber of other minerals. The intellectu a l potential of the country is also impressive. There are more than 30 mil- lion people in the U.S.S.R. with higher and secondary education, including 1.8 million scien- tists and scholars. On the other hand, manual labor in industry, construction, agricul t ure, and transportation accounts for 60 to 70 percent of all activity. More people wash dishes now than are employed in transportation. Twenty-seven percent of all the trucks in the country do not get on the road. Those that get on the road on the average stay idle for three hours a day. Forty percent of the trucks and other vehicles ride empty while the others are loaded to no more than 70 percent. Fifteen percent of those that are on the road carry the wrong stock to the wrong place. Or take the use of m a chinery. Seventeen percent of all machines are idle during the first shift in plants and factories. Seventy percent of them do not work during the second shift. Twenty million tons of metal are lost annually of which eight million tons are wasted as shavi ngs. One-third of glass plants and one-fourth of brick factories produce breakage.
3I am citing all these figures in order to illustrate how the existing cost-ineffective, wasteful economy in our country is, in fact, working for itself, leaving very little for human consump- tion. DiMcult Reforms. I wish to stress the conclusion which is self-evident: an effective use of existing resources in our country in conditions of a contemporary market economy would guarantee prosperity and high living standards. This is the background of the developments which are presently underway in our country. You know that the economic reform in the U.S.S.R. is proceeding with difficulty, and that economic and political debate in our country has reached its peak. The compr o mise reform plan presented by Gorbachev and adopted by the national parliament has involved consider- able criticism inside the country, primarily on the part of the President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin. The deteriorating economic situation h as prompted an increasing number of cities, republics, and regions to adopt isolationist measures, including attempts to create their own separate monetary systems, like the introduction of special coupons in Ukraine. The adoption by the national and repu b lican parliaments of conflicting legislation has brought into dramatic focus the issue of republic sovereignty. Perestroika has entered the stage which is sometimes referred to as the war of the laws, or the constitutional crisis. This has brought about a s the most pressing issue the problem of split in the top echelons of power in the U.S.S.R. between President Gorbachev and President Yeltsin. Coeidstence Among Nations. It appears that one of the most important issues can be that of assessing the limits o f republican sovereignty from the standpoint of creating a stable and safe world. At present, we see that the head-on rush to sovereignty produces conflicts which isolate or escalate into armed clashes. In fact, almost everywhere the radical forms of intro - duction of sovereignty have provoked counterreaction in constituent republics. You know what happened in Moldavia. The Georgian independence is strongly opposed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are the parts of Georgia which have already seen armed c l ashes. The question of Karabakh sovereignty has in fact grown into an intermittent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Very many people in the Soviet Union are now beginning to understand that the problem of republic sovereignty is not the issue of U.S.S. R . decolonization or liberation from com- munism and so forth, but that of finding some civilized form of coexistence among nations. One should not forget that nations in the Soviet Union are very much dispersed. On the other hand, the iron heel of totalit a rianism has greatly distorted and sometimes even dis- figured the conditions of nations' existence in our country. Thus, the dominant nation in a republic often ignores the interest of ethnic minorities. This feature of a totalitarian state, the impositio n of centrally adopted decisions by force, cannot disappear overnight. Democratization sometimes produces a kind of totalitarianism of the majority, which is very dangerous in terms of its potential for fueling inter-ethnic contradictions. Peoples in the U . S.S.R. are in fact in the very beginning of the process of mutual adjust- ment of sovereignties, which Europe completed at the time when its national states were es- tablished. Unfortunately, this experience is not cost free, for the inter-ethnic peace an d the present-day borders in Europe are the fruits of centuries of bloody wars, including two world wars.
4So, I would think that the beginning of the process of establishing completely sovereign nations within the U.S.S.R. on the European pattern would result in destabilization of not only the situation in our country but in the adjacent regions. The Soviet U n ion, just like the United States, has got to find the answers to very difficult issues of survival of the interna- tional community. But there are no ready answers to the questions that arise. If one is to proceed on the basis of the situation as it now e x ists, there are grounds for believing that there is no way the great powers can be relieved of their burden of responsibility, and simp- ly retire. As a matter of fact, Soviet-U.S. cooperation over the post-war years has shown that only their joint positi o n can lead to a relaxation of world tensions, and to localize and, in the fu- ture, remove the hotbeds of the existing conflicts. This is the first point. The second point is that only through global cooperation between our countries can the groundwork be laid for shaping the world community as an effective force capable of stop- ping aggression, legitimizing the use of harsh measures and even military force in response to the threat to peace. I would like to stress that no state - however powerful - can a l one lend legitimacy to the use of its forces even for the noblest objectives. Watershed in Relations. I think we have a chance which should not be lost. Global cooperation between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. may at least give mankind what in the past was th o ught to be impossible, that is, a synthesis of the moral force of world public opinion, which is the ultimate source of any right, with the strength of individual states. We believe that only the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. can be the guarantors of this process , as well as the resulting system of world stability in the framework of the United Nations structures which would thus gain new and vital substance. This is not to say that Soviet-U.S. interaction is equal to domination of the two powers. Cooperation betw e en the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. is first of all a guarantee of the effective- ness of the international community which has moved from confrontation to the real work for the benefit of a world in which each has the right to vote. So, it is our view that Sovi et- U.S. relations are now passing a certain watershed. We must assess our relations without a tinge of false sentimentality, but with the understanding of the new challenges, new respon- sibilities, and nascent common interests.