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Success Is Within Reach

Op-Ed, New York Times

February 19, 1989

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

 

With the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the unilateral reductions in tanks and troop divisions in Eastern Europe, Mikhail S. Gorbachev will have sharply reduced the major military threat to American vital interests. If he continues pursuing his current agenda for the next several years, he will pose for the West for the first time since the late 1940's a conceptual challenge: What do we want beyond victory in the cold war?

The situation is reminiscent of 1944, when the Allies sensed victory and began to consider the terms of surrender and the postwar settlement: What did the United States want beyond the defeat of Germany and Japan?

What sort of world should the victors try to create? A design as bizarre as Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr.'s proposal to transform Germany into a pastoral dairyland won official approval from Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill for six months.

What if Mr. Gorbachev should successfully carry through on his threat to 'deny the West an enemy?' More precisely, what if he were to deny the West the perception of a clear and present danger? In the absence of a vivid threat, attempts to sustain the structures of NATO, the American-Japanese treaty and other security arrangements will prove more challenging than in any previous decade.

Perhaps most difficult of all, we will have to think again, to stretch our minds beyond the familiar concepts and policies of containment. For four decades, a cardinal rule of that policy has been to oppose virtually anything the Soviet Union favored. But in a period of significant change, such a rule falls prey to the trap Nietzsche termed the most common form of human stupidity: forgetting what one is trying to do.

What has Washington sought to achieve in the cold war with the Soviet Union? The operational charter of America's cold war strategy was National Security Council directive 68, a top secret document approved by President Harry S. Truman in 1950 and funded by a tripling of the defense budget after North Korea's attack on South Korea. The directive is explicit about American objectives.

First, to 'frustrate the Kremlin's design,' namely 'domination of the Eurasian land mass,' through a combination of military, economic and political initiatives to build the strength and self-confidence of nations threatened by Soviet expansion.

Second, 'to develop the moral and material strength of the free world so that the Soviet regime will become convinced of the falsity of its assumptions' about gains from the use or threat of force.

Third, to allow time for internal contradictions within the Soviet Union to emerge, making it possible to exploit natural tensions between Moscow and the international Communist movement.

Together these objectives would 'create a situation which will induce the Soviet Union to accommodate itself, with or without conscious abandonment of its design, to co-existence on tolerable terms with the non-Soviet world. Such a development would be a triumph for the idea of freedom and democracy.'

The directive was equally explicit on the objectives it rejects. It asserted that 'we should limit our requirements of the Soviet Union to its participation with other nations on the basis of equality and respect for the right of others.' Moreover, 'there is no reason, even in the event of war, for us to alter our overall objectives. They do not include unconditional surrender, the subjugation of the Russian people, or a Russia shorn of its economic potential.'

In the light of these objectives, should we now declare victory? Not quite. Mr. Gorbachev's program has not yet been fully implemented. Nonetheless, the agenda he has outlined, if carried out, would essentially accomplish the objectives set forth in the 1950 directive.

But what should American objectives be for the next phase? A joint study of American and Soviet scholars, in which I have participated, has proposed the concept of sustainable peaceful competition. All three words are important.

Competition recognizes real and continuing differences in values and interests. The modifier emphasizes the exclusion of the use or the threat of force against each other or each other's vital interests. The objective basis for such a relationship has emerged over the past four decades but must now be institutionalized to make it sustainable.

Current circumstances present the best opportunity in the postwar era to realize these objectives through a combination of unilateral and bilateral initiatives to demilitarize the relationship, reduce arms and military expenditures and regularize the competition. The challenge for the Bush Administration is to seize these opportunities to conclude the cold war on terms that advance our interests in the cause of peace.

 

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

For Academic Citation:

Allison, Graham. "Success Is Within Reach." New York Times, February 19, 1989.

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