Conflict And Common Interests
A discussion between Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Giorgi Arbatov
In the following discussion, former California GovernoEdmund G. Brown Jr. and Giorgi Arbatov; General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's top adviser on US relations, assess the history, evolution and future of US-Soviet relations.
The dialogue began in September, 1984, when a delegation from the Institute for National Strategy visited Moscow. It was continued during a recent visit by Arbatov to the United States.
Brown introduces the discussion with his own thoughts about the nuclear arms race.
The Reagan Doctrine holds that the Soviets are best handled by an unrelenting economic and military competition. In this view, a hungry and dispirited Russia will be pressured and exhausted by our commitment to high arms spending and the Strategic Defense Initiative.
But following this path has not led to more security, even though military budgets have grown so fast that citizen support for them is now diminishing. Just observe what has happened. Each round of the arms race has reinforced the underlying competition and ratcheted the whole process upwards to a higher level of weaponry. At each stage we ask: are we behind or are they behind? But the pattern of nuclear deployments in Russia and America are sufficiently different - the experts say asymmetrical - that we each perceive that the other is ahead or on the verge of getting ahead, with the result that the nuclear race accelerates.
The late Gregory Bateson described this aspect of the arms race as a form of biological addiction:
"As is commonly the case in biological systems, the short-time deterrent effect is achieved at the expense of longtime cumulative change. The actions which today postpone disaster result in an increase in strength on both sides of the competitive system to ensure a greater instability and greater destruction if and when the explosion occurs. It is this fact of cumulative change from one act of threat to the next that gives the system the quality of addiction. The addict may think that each 'fix' is like the previous fix, and indeed each is alike in staving off the feelings of deprivation. But, in truth, each fix difers from the previous fix in that the thresholds and magnitudes of all relevant variables have shifted."
Without question, "the thresholds and the magnitudes of all relevant variables" in the arms race have shifted in a negative direction: more warheads, more delivery systems, less verifiability, less warning time, more proliferation, more insecurity.
The fundamental task before both Russia and the United States is to brake the self-reinforcing quality of the addictive process within which both are embedded. As in any neurotic relationship, what is needed is insight, not repetitive patterns. The present administration continues to think in terms of building expensive "trump cards" - e.g., the MX Missile - and warns of "major military imbalances." Yet, the history of the last twenty years is one of trump cards never played for reductions in the arms race. Instead one new weapons system after another is added to the arsenal - matched, of course, by the other side. As for "imbalances," the United States in the last five years has doubled its military spending and possesses approximately the same number of nuclear warheads as the Soviet Union: 30,000, which is more than 500,000 times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima!
Any fair examination indicates that we ourselves are not totally free from responsibility for the arms face, we too have been caught up in the process in ways that reinforce it and keep it proceeding on its escalating course. To put it plainly, the United States cannot escape its own contribution to the competition and to the insecurity it creates. Without diminishing the Soviet's role, we should, with some humility, look deeper into our own actions to determine if there is not more we could do to change the relationship.
In this respect the words of Giorgi Arbatov in the interview below are instructive: "It [the arms race) can only be solved in a political way by moving away from security concepts based on military power. Security can now only be common security. You have security only together with your adversary, not against him. You survive or perish only together."
Do we really believe that? If so, why are we refusing to negotiate a verifiable ban on underground nuclear testing? Why are we hesitant to pledge to never use nuclear weapons first?
The logic of the nuclear arms race is exhausted except in the minds of current leaders who seem unable to honestly confront what has long become a dangerous stalemate. More than clever bargaining or the Pentagon's nuclear wish list, we need wisdom about the actual state of affairs and the courage to embark on a joint path with the Soviet Union for the first time since World War Two. The other challenges - economic competition, abject poverty in the world and deterioration in the global ecology - will soon overwhelm us unless the two big powers wake up to their predicament and create a basis other than fear for their mutual bond.
EGB - What was the purpose of detente? What did the Soviet Union hope to accomplish?
GA - To put your question in perspective, we must ask ourselves, what do we regard as normal Soviet-American relations, Cold War or detente? This is a tremendously important question, for which we do not yet have a final, absolute answer. And I answer with some wishful thinking that the Cold War is not normal, and detente is normal. If I were to say the Cold War is normal, then we are really heading some bad times.
Beginning in 1946, we regarded our difficult relations with the United States as an aberration. During the Second World War, both sides had hoped we would have normal relations when the war ended. When that did not happen, when the situation became tremendously dangerous and tensions increased and the arms race was unleashed and the danger of war was rising, there was a feeling in the Soviet Union that we were heading toward a nuclear holocaust. So, we saw detente as a process of breaking out of the crises of the Cold War and getting onto a new relationship.
The first attempt to form a new relationship was made in the 1950s during the Khrushchev and Eisenhower years. They didn't coin a name, but some called it the spirit of Camp David; and those first changes in our relationship were met rather enthusiastically on both sides. But we could not make them work for long because of chance incidents like the U2; or maybe failure was inevitable since the Cold War situation created its own infrastructure and a lot of vested interests and a lot of distrust.
The next attempt was made during Kennedy's administration after the Cuban missile crisis. Once both sides had looked over the brink, a certain process of understanding began. So, in 1963, we were very successful in making the first significant arms control treaty in a very short time. The partial test-ban treaty took about twelve days to negotiate.
We saw that treaty as only the beginning. Even now in the Soviet Union there is a feeling that if President Kennedy hadn't been assassinated, we might have achieved more. But then there was the Vietnam War, then Watergate, and, in part the Middle East, and maybe some other developments which stalled things again.
Then in the 1970s came the process called "detente" - not by us, but by you. We called it a "relaxation of tensions," which was not too much, which was very accurate. We considered it a new start, and there were strong hopes that it would last for a long time.
What did we expect from detente? We expected guarantees there would be no nuclear war, that the arms race would stop and that we would pull back from very sharp military competition. We expected there would be increased cooperation in all fields, including science, technology and trade. Contrary to what many Americans think, we desired trade mainly for its political importance - as a foundation for normal and stabilized political relations - although we welcomed the economic fallout.
These were our hopes. We hoped we could create normal relations which would be very beneficial to our internal development and make a safer world. Detente was not exclusively a policy toward the United States. It started with France, with DeGaulle. Then with Willy Brandt and his Ostpolitik. Pierre Trudeau was also one of the first leaders with whom we developed this new policy. Then the United States.
EGB - What went wrong? What was the breakdown point?
GA - If it were possible to replay history, there would be a number of things the Soviet Union could do a little bit differently. Sometimes we made a wrong assessment. We thought we had more time. We didn't think Watergate and your internal developments would make time so short.
If there had been more time, SALT II would have been in place, and SALT III would have begun. The whole fabric of cooperation would have gone much further. Brezhnev proclaimed that his major goal was to make detente - the relaxation of tensions - irreversible because we understood it was advantageous. But there was no time.
In our view, the major obstacle to the continuation of detente was that the situation in the United States was tremendously complex. Detente was welcomed by the majority, but from the first days in 1972, a relaxation of tensions had very strong opposition. This opposition became stronger than one could have foreseen. Nixon was weakened by Watergate, and, although Watergate was not a favorite issue for those people who opposed detente, they used it and other issues very cleverly.
EGB - Do you consider the Jackson-Vanick amendment, linking trade to emigration from the Soviet Union, a key factor in the breakdown of detente?
GA - In the early years of detente, I visited the United States twice a year, sometimes more, and each time I arrived there was another widely published argument against detente - that we bought too much grain and this increased prices, on emigration from the Soviet Union, on the SS 9 missiles. There was a well organized campaign going on. I remember it very well.
EGB - Was the issue of emigration a critical factor?
GA - This played a bad role.
EGB - How so?
GA - What people like Senator Jackson and Mr. Perle and others wanted was to ruin detente. So, they grasped the issue of emigration from the Soviet Union, and pressed it farther and farther, determined to go so far that we couldn't satisfy their demands.
EGB - But you said before that trade was only important to build a stronger political relationship?
GA - I said our political relations were more important than trade itself. We were determined, like part of your business community, to work on a new form of trade and economic cooperation. But we understood it would take a very long time before we would become significant partners. We had our traditional partners; you had your traditional partners. Neither of us could abandon them. So, there were quite a number of obstacles.
EGB - So, in the short term you were not expecting dramatically increased trade? This was something that you expected to take place over a longer period?
GA - Yes, but there were some symbolic things we expected like the "most favored nation" status, which is a misleading term because it doesn't mean a nation is "favored"; it only means we would not be treated as an outcast. Ending trade discrimination against us had some symbolic and political value. We also expected to receive money from the ExportImport Bank to finance trade between the US and the Soviet Union.
EGB - Why did Jewish emigration hit a high of 50,000 and then suddenly drop off?
GA - I told many Americans it would never hold at such high levels. There were massive groups of Soviet Jews who wanted to leave, and who did leave at the first possible opportunity. They were very religious people, people who had relatives, and groups of Oriental Jews who were simply misled and who never found happiness. In addition, the Jewish population from the Baltic states, west of the Ukraine, west of Byelorussia, understood how they would fit into traditional capitalist societies because they often had relatives outside of the Soviet Union.
-' After those groups, only individual cases remain. They will leave in the hundreds, sometimes thousands, but never in the tens of thousands.
EGB - You're saying this was just a natural progression rather than a conscious policy choice to limit emigration, although most Americans think the decline in Jewish emigration was part of the larger deterioration of detente?
GA - It has been promoted that way, and I don't think it should be. My own personal opinion is that Soviet Jews must have the same treatment as all other peoples of the Soviet Union; and the overwhelming majority of Soviet Jews feel the same way. To treat them otherwise creates ambiguities in their status as citizens, which they don't welcome.
EGB - What about Third World competition in Angola, Ethiopia and other places? Was that an important factor in the breakdown of detente?
GA - Those who have written about that competition put the cart before the horse. Situations which came to fife in the mid-70s, and late 70s, were more a result of the deterioration of detente than a cause of it.
In Angola today, if detente were flourishing, maybe there could be a political solution - a coalition government which would be satisfactory to different factions in the liberation movement.
Actually, things in Angola were started by Americans and the CIA. In 1975, Kissinger was angrier at the Congress of the United States than with us when the Congress wouldn't allow him to be more active in Angola.
Many people think Angola was a milestone in the return to a second Cold War. But what happened there? The Cuban troops are actually guarding Gulf Oil installations and computers from attack by South Africans and their mercenaries.
Ethiopia is another typical example. Here the situation came from developments that had nothing to do with the Cold War. Somalia would never have invaded the Ogaden region unless the Somalis thought they would have the support of the United States and some other countries. Somebody in the United States told them they would have support. Therefore, Somalia started the war, which brought the Cubans there.
Why did the United States do it? Because their major obsession was that the Soviets would have a naval base at Berbera, a port in Somalia on the Gulf of Aden. Things like this should have been worked out in the US-Soviet talks on the Indian Ocean.
EGB - In America, the success of Marxist revolutions in Ethiopia, Yemen and Angola, and the invasion of Afghanistan put a real chill on the East-West detente.
GA - I don't see it this way. I think it is more of a rationalization. It was not a question of a Marxist or non-Marxist government in Angola. I don't think one can call Angola a Marxist government. In Ethiopia, there was in absolutely natural revolution, which we had nothing to do with. We didn't have any relations with Ethiopia. The Cuban military came in when Somalia attacked the Ogaden.
In South Yemen - well, some things happened there. But, you know some things have also happened the other way. There was an almost Marxist government in Chile. Due to the CIA and American pressures, Allende was overthrown and Pinochet - that bloody government - came to power. This also happened during detente. We have the same right to say, "What did you do there?". But you always forget about what you did.
EGB - SALT I took place even while the Vietnam war was going on. Are you saying that there can be struggles between East and West around the world, particularly in the Third World, while at the same time the Soviet Union and the US increase their cooperation and improve their relationship?
GA - The poor state of Soviet-American relations brought about SALT I. The whole driving force to have a summit meeting, to have a breakthrough, to have an agreement - not one but several - came from the dangerous state of our relations. However, it is not true that we can have arms control agreements no matter what the situation.
The Vietnam war was winding down during SALT I. We learned another lesson in the late 70 S when we tried, on both sides, to push through a SALT II agreement and get it ratified. When political relations became bad, we tried to insulate it from other issues, but we did not succeed. Therefore, we could not ratify SALT II.
Issues have a certain mutual influence. For an arms control agreement, which is very difficult in itself, we need a good, normal political atmosphere to induce as much mutual confidence as possible.
EGB - So, you would agree that the overall political climate is the most important factor, and arms control has to take place inside that climate?
GA - It's very important. What is most important depends on a given situation, so I wouldn't say it's a rule for all times, but it is very important.
EGB - But doesn't the political climate break down if the rules of competition in the Third World are unclear?
GA - What happened in the Third World came more as a spin-off of the tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. But, we must remember the Third World is the majority of mankind. It is a very unstable part of out world with a lot of problems. By the nature of things, there will be many upheavals.
We cannot make a treaty with you in which we guarantee the status quo. It is impossible. But regional upheavals shouldn't become part of the Soviet-American confrontation, nor should they be used by one country against the other. This is part of detente.
We also have to cooperate in the crisis regions in order to achieve a political settlement, like in the Middle East or the Persian Gulf or other places. We were moving in that direction in the 70s.
EGB - What would be the basis for once again working together?
GA - Political will. Everything is open. The United States must have learned in the Middle East, for instance, that it cannot ignore the Soviet Union, that it cannot have a comprehensive political settlement without the Soviet Union. We know it as well.
Everything attempted at Camp David has been destroyed. It didn't work. We have an alternative in the Geneva mechanism.
EGB - Do we have to be involved in Middle East issues in order to make detente work again?
GA - No. But real detente has to include common efforts to prevent or at least to manage crisis situations and their growth, of at a minimum, to not let them grow into major confrontations between our countries. This need has always been there. Normal development of relations would be in the best interests of both sides.
EGB - Did this understanding exist at the time that SALT I was being negotiated in the early 1970s?
GA - Yes. And also during the first and second and third summit meetings. In October 1977, we even signed a memorandum with President Carter. It was a basic principle of our relations that our interests were to keep regional crises and conflicts from boiling into major confrontations which would involve our two countries.
EGB - Given the political and ideological differences between the US system and the Soviet system, how do we create the common interest that would permit us to work together?
GA - It depends on wisdom and understanding one's interests. Let's consider some examples. During the Cultural Revolution in China, there were deep differences between the United States and China. Yet, this did not prevent the improvement of relations. So, differences can be more of a pretext than a reason. If you create an atmosphere of distrust and hatred against the Soviet Union, then our differences become a stumbling block.
Some Americans think destroying the Sandinistas in Nicaragua will be in the best interests of the United States. I have grave suspicions that what Americans are doing there is really against American interests. It will spoil the image of the United States in Central America. It will also spoil - and already has spoiled - relations with all Latin America. These relations have never been so bad.
Instead, there is the Contadora group, which is for a peaceful solution, and which has the support of Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Brazil. We, of course, shouldn't build military bases in Nicaragua or tell them what to do or not to do. We must understand the importance of this region to legitimate American interests.
The Middle East is another area where interests have to be understood. America suffered terrible losses in Lebanon and won nothing. If, in 1977, a comprehensive settlement had been pursued through the Geneva mechanism, maybe we could have precluded what happened in Lebanon. Of course, we Soviets must understand we cannot have military bases there or change the government. But Americans must understand that as well.
If our interests clash too much, detente is impossible. Detente is really a practical concept. If we have a realistic perception of out own interests, we will see that detente is in the interests of both countries.
In Gorbachev's interview with TIME magazine, he answered the false logic that what is bad for Russians is good for Americans. He pointed out that "Star Wars" is bad for both countries, just like war, the arms race and many international crises. There will not be clashes of vital interests if we don't set impossible goals like destroying the Soviet Union or destroying the United States.
EGB - Let's test that with some examples of the vital interests of the Soviet Union. Is the preservation of the Sandinista government of vital interest to the Soviet Union?
GA - The vital interest of the Soviet Union is that neither of us behaves like a pirate, a gangster in the street. There is international law. We think that if the United States pursues policies as it did in Grenada or Nicaragua, it will be bad for everyone, including America.
EGB - Does the Soviet Union define its interests as including all the Socialist revolutions wherever they are all over the world?
GA - Let me define our interests. Our sympathies are with liberation movements and, of course, with Socialist revolution. Our commitments are made in our treaties, but our interests are much broader than our treaties.
EGB - Broader in what way.?
GA - They include, first, that there be no war. This is in the overwhelming interest of everybody.
It is also in our interest that the international situation be favorable to the needs of our internal economic and social development, which are among our highest priorities.
Then, of course, we want a normal political climate that includes cooperation in the world. We have our commitments to our allies. We don't claim any regions because we need oil, ore or bananas. We do have some special interests.
EGB - You are trying to protect what you claim are your interests in Afghanistan in a very aggressive way.
GA - In Afghanistan, we are helping the existing government which is recognized even by the United States. You have an embassy there at the same time you are supporting armed bands who are fighting against this government. You also keep an embassy in Nicaragua. A very interesting mode of behavior.
EGB - Our view in the US is that the Soviets have crossed a line in Afghanistan.
GA - We were asked in by the Afghanistan government. We are ready to have a political settlement. Talks are under way, and American assistance to end hostilities there would be welcomed so we could bring our troops back home.
EGB - What is the basis for a political settlement?
GA - It depends on what the United States considers its interests in light of its relation with Pakistan. If the US wants the war prolonged, then there is no political basis. Sometimes I have the suspicion that the United States wants this war to last as long as possible. But, if the United States is ready to accept an end to the war, then there will be a political settlement. We can solve all problems.
EGB - Is there anything today, as distinguished from 1975 or 1980, which encourages you to believe detente is possible again?
GA - Human beings are able to learn lessons. What we must have learned during these years of a second Cold War is that nothing good happened. Even those who were for the second Cold War can hardly claim any great achievements - if we don't count the glorious victory over Grenada.
You are not in a better position than you were before. Your relations with your allies have become more strained than they were. You haven't won superiority over the Soviet Union. You haven't put the Soviets on their knees.
Despite your support of bloody dictatorships all over the world, one after another falls! Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Haiti.
Not only has nothing been won, a lot was lost. You have a fantastic national debt that will burden you for years to come. What for? Do you feel more secure than you felt ten years ago? We don't feel more secure. I don't think you feel more secure.
EGB - Do you feel that the Soviet Union is more secure after you built and put in place 320 SS 20 missiles?
GA - No. Not at all. We have understood for a very long time that one can build more weapons and have less security. But the fact is, if you built weapons and we did not, we would be even less secure and would have to share the fate of Grenada.
EGB - There doesn't seem much likelihood of that given the firepower of the Soviet Union.
GA - You underestimate your country. One can argue that we should have built just as much as we did, or ten pieces less, but what we did was not just done as a whim. It didn't change the overall balance, the parity between us.
But, I don't want to speak about how legitimate our buildup was. The major thing we have to learn is not what is legitimate, but that we now have more weapons and less security. This has become a trend. Maybe before it is too late, we will finally recognize the eternal truth that security is not a technical problem. It cannot be bought with a technical fix. Security is a political problem that can only be solved politically
EGB - But, by improving the ICBMs (Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles) in the Soviet Union, you're able to threaten our ICBMs and our bomber force. Therefore, that raises the spectre of intimidation through the accuracy of your landbased missiles, which then creates the response on the part of the Reagan Administration.
GA - We are absolutely necessary for you to wage the arms race. If we didn't exist, you would have to invent something. Certain groups tried to scare Americans even when we were very weak. It was the bomber gap, then the missile gap. It was all sorts of gaps, and it is even so today.
What has actually happened? For centuries, the US enjoyed an exceptional position, living between two oceans with a feeling of absolute security. Now, that position has ended and ended forever. Now you live just as we poor Europeans lived for millennia, without exceptional security. Now we can threaten you. This is a change, and you face a new political and psychological situation.
The first American reaction has been to try to solve this problem in the traditional way with dollars and technical fixes. But now it's time to come to the realistic conclusion that this is, by its nature, a political problem. It can only be solved by moving away from security concepts based only on military power. Security can now only be common security. You have security only together with your adversary, not against him. You only survive or perish together. If we can come to this essential conclusion, it will be possible to change a lot of things.
EGB - What do you identify as the main impediment to moving toward the notion of common security?
GA - First of all, to start to change.
EGB - Beyond that?
GA - I think there are still people who hope that, despite its previous failure, this time the United States will be able to find a technical fix with the help of "Star Wars." Some people think this. Not many, but one of them is the President of the United States, and this makes a difference.
Some people think the US will be able to ruin the Soviet Union economically by throwing us into a "Star Wars" competition. But this will not happen because one does not have to answer one's adversary in a mirror image way. The opinion of specialists is that the means to penetrate this antiballistic missile system cost a few orders less than the shield itself. Perhaps 2 to 10 percent of the cost of the shield.
So, even though "Star Wars" does not create much danger, it still creates tremendous danger because it will mean an even more intense military competition in all fields offensive and defensive, nuclear and conventional. This is what makes things dangerous. It is also what Gorbachev meant when he said we are approaching a moment in history in which it is difficult for Russians to talk to Americans.
There are so many reasons not to have confidence, to form suspicions, not to have trust. There is a huge accumulation of problems, of different grudges against each other from the past. But now we are approaching a period in which new weapons systems can make relations even more difficult, and everything will become so shaky that we will -simply lose any ability for dialogue, and lose it for many years. This is how Gorbachev sees the situation, and I would agree there are serious reasons for such a conclusion. Even some Americans think that we are approaching a non-negotiable world.
EGB - Why? Because of the nature of technology?
GA - Yes.
EGB - That it cannot be verified?
GA - It cannot be verified, but in addition, this tremendously complicated mix of weapons will make it practically impossible to work out what is a real balance. And then there's the danger of proliferation.
EGB - But given the asymmetry in the forces, is it possible to define what a balance is? There appears to be a difference of opinion as to who is ahead.
GA - In general, this difference of opinion exists only in very wishful thinking. There is an overall parity in strategic weapons if we take it broadly - the United States with its allies and the Soviet Union with its allies.