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Should the West Bail Out Gorbachev?

Op-Ed, New York Times

July 5, 1990

Author: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School

 

When the heads of the leading industrial democracies meet in Houston next Monday, President Bush will face a question he has been trying to avoid: what can the West do to help Mikhail Gorbachev?

Frustrated by the Bush Administration's recalcitrance on aid, Bonn unilaterally extended $3 billion of credits at discount rates. The European Community is discussing a $15 billion aid package. Washington risks not just being left behind but left out.

Are there initiatives the West could take now that would raise the probability of perestroika's success? Credits are one thing and not to be scoffed at. But there is a more important agenda of actions to assist the Soviet Union's transformation to democracy and a market economy.

The strategy is this. By giving concrete assistance to specific steps toward free markets and democracy, the West can facilitate such actions, create incentives for further steps and offer hope for the longer run. Consider five particulars.

Demonstration projects. These might include model family farms, like the ones now being established in a Dutch-sponsored project to produce vegetables; McDonald's in Moscow, whose imported cattle and seeds for lettuce and tomatoes are several times as productive as Soviet equivalents and whose methods for delivering services mesmerize Muscovites, or American prefabricated housing.

Advanced communications. The Soviet Union is open to the transfer of the technological infrastructure of pluralism: printing presses, xeroxes, personal computers, dishes that receive satellite signals and a high-tech telephone system.

In Moscow, Leningrad, Sverdlovsk and 50 other cities, non-Communist Democratic Coalition candidates won majorities in recent elections. Helping these groups to communicate, learn from each other and publicize their views serves our values and interests. An initiative that would give one million such devices to democratic forces this year could be mounted today.

Managerial and technical training. The best argument in most Soviet policy circles today is 'that's the way Americans do it.' Flying carpets bearing wise men for a weekend is not the solution. Soviet leaders and policy makers need informed, sustained collaboration with their Western counterparts if they are to tackle issues like the transition to a market economy, privatization of state enterprises, reform of industrial ministries and decolonization.

Joint business ventures. High-visibility national joint ventures would provide substantial financial benefits and capture imaginations. Joint development of underdeveloped Soviet oil and gas reserves could earn an additional $5 billion annually for the Soviet Union within three years and $15 billion annually within a decade. In addition to profits for Western firms, this would also enhance Western energy security, since guaranteed long-term contracts would expand world energy supplies.

Joint environmental ventures. Radiation from Chernobyl fell on the East and West alike. The West can align itself with the march of history by leading a collaborative donation of Western technology to reduce the ongoing destruction of the Soviet - and our common - environment. The essence of such an agenda is to demonstrate in deeds the West's commitment to helping Mr. Gorbachev transform the Soviet Union. Such initiatives could cost $10 billion to $15 billion a year. Split three ways, that would mean $5 billion each for the U.S., Europe and Japan. If that seems large, recall that U.S. taxpayers spent $150 billion last year to defend American security interests in Western Europe. Our Western European allies spent an equivalent amount.

Suppose that President Gorbachev had offered to free Eastern Europe, eliminate the Warsaw Pact military threat, pull Soviet troops back to the Soviet Union and permit German unification - all for a price. What would the West have been willing to pay?

The West has an historic opportunity to invest in developments that advance the slow but real transition of the Soviet Union to economic and political democracy.

 

For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center at 617-495-1400.

For Academic Citation:

Allison, Graham. "Should the West Bail Out Gorbachev?." New York Times, July 5, 1990.

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