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On the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

(The following is the introductory statement presented by Mr. Kennan in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 17.)

The situation in the Soviet Union is, at this moment, unstable in high degree. The extensive failure, to date, of perestroika to meet even the normal demands of consumers in the large cities; the disorders in the Transcaucasus (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) and in Moldavia; and the demands of people and Communist parties in the Baltic countries for virtual secession from the Soviet Union: these, coming at a time when the political institutions of the Soviet state are in process of basic change, have created a situation of great difficulty and danger for Gorbachev, who is viewed as personally responsible for all these crises and difficulties. So great are the political burdens he has now come to bear that it is doubtful in my opinion that he could have remained in office as long as he has were it not for his high international prestige, constituting as it does an important asset for the Soviet state, and for the fact that none of his senior colleagues has any program to offer as an alternative to the one he has created and carried forward. Such, indeed, is the burden of troubles he is now carrying on his shoulders that it is questionable whether there is anyone among his potential rivals who would like, at the present time, to assume this burden in his place.

While it is clear, in the light of the above, that Gorbachev’s position is in some respects a precarious one and could change unexpectedly at any point, it would be wrong to expect that the policies he has pursued would be likely to be totally and drastically altered by his successors. Actually, his foreign policies have been the least controversial of any of the efforts he has put forward; and there is no evidence of the existence of any competing faction calling for their abandonment. Beyond which, much of what he has initiated has already been locked into position by circumstances to such an extent that any complete reversal would scarcely be possible.

Regardless of the possibilities for Gorbachev’s political survival, the fact remains that he has taken a view of Russia’s place in the world more enlightened by far than that of any other Russian statesman of this century, and has made an outstanding contribution to the overcoming of the cold war and to the laying of the foundations for a more stable and peaceful Europe. This being so, it remains in our interests and in those of world stability that he should carry on with his ideas and initiatives as long as his energies and the patience of his colleagues permit him to do so. It is not, of course, our business to help him in the solution of his internal political problems; nor could we do so if we wanted to. Even in the economic field our possibilities are limited. He has not asked for our economic or financial help; and there is no reason why we should press anything of that sort upon him. What we could conceivably offer would be in any case, in the light of our own situation and many other demands on our resources, of negligible importance compared with the dimensions of the problem.

What we could do, on the other hand, that would be in Gorbachev’s interests as well as our own, would be the following:

First, we could remove, or at the very least suspend, those wholly unnecessary and undesirable impediments to the development of Soviet-American trade that exist in the form of the Jackson-Vanik and Stevenson Amendments.

Secondly, and of even greater importance, we could take a much more forthcoming attitude in the negotiations for mutual reductions of conventional armaments in Europe. The relief that a drastic reduction of the Soviet forces in this region would bring to the Soviet government (and, incidentally, to ourselves as well) would be of greater significance, financially and otherwise, than any direct help we could conceivably extend.

Finally, we should keep in close touch with the Soviet government in connection with the questions now arising from the momentous changes in Eastern Europe, bearing in mind that a number of these questions have serious implications from the standpoint of both Soviet and American security interests, and cannot be favorably addressed without the concurrent understanding and agreement of both parties.

In East Central Europe (by which term I mean to include all the non-Soviet members of the Soviet bloc as well as Yugoslavia) we also have a situation which, while decidedly to be welcomed in its general outlines, is unstable, and not without dangerous aspects. The new regimes that have emerged from the recent dramatic events in a number of these countries are only interim arrangements, headed in large part by reform Communists, and intended to be overtaken later in coming months by elections of one sort or another. The bureaucracies set up by previous hard-line Communist regimes remain, for lack of anything else, largely in place. Their complete replacement may not even be necessary; and such changes as are called for can, and probably must, come gradually. The forthcoming elections, on the other hand, are generally expected to result in the success of non-Communist elements and the establishment of regimes in which the real Communist participation, if there is any, will be minimal.

In almost all these countries, except in Poland, the democratic elements are still poorly prepared to face the task that lies before them of reordering political life. While the prospects for successful adjustment to the new situation vary from country to country, we must expect that it will be, for the most part, at least a year or two before the emerging democratic establishments can be smoothly functioning.

Meanwhile, all the new regimes will confront severe problems of economic adjustment—problems that will require for their solution heavy sacrifices by their own people in addition to considerable foreign assistance. This will unquestionably add to the political strains with which the new regimes will have to cope.

A dangerous feature of the coming period in that part of the world will almost certainly be the release of strong, previously repressed ethnic and nationalist impulses in several countries. These can heighten internal tensions as well as straining international relations within the region, particularly between Hungary and Romania. But it is the extreme instability of the situation in East Germany, and the ensuing discussion of the possibilities of German unification, that present the greatest potential dangers. No movement in the direction of German unification, or even public discussion of such a possibility, could fail to come up at an early stage against the security problems which such a development would be bound to present.

The security arrangements existing today in much of Europe—the two alliances (NATO and the Warsaw Pact); the presence of foreign military forces on the territories of both parts of Germany; the existence of powerful indigenous German forces in both the Germanies; and the situation of Berlin, Germany’s greatest city, under theoretical fourpower control—are totally incompatible with an immediate unification of Germany. They would have to be fundamentally altered before any such unification could be seriously considered. To attempt to move toward unification on the political level before all these questions have been replaced by comprehensive alternative arrangements acceptable to all of Germany’s neighbors and to the Soviet Union and ourselves would be to invite complications of the most serious nature.

So much, in brief, for the situation in the region under discussion. What does this spell for American policy?

The problems of designing a new political and economic relationship of the Eastern European countries to the remainder of Europe is primarily one for the Europeans themselves to confront; and I see no reason why we should take any prominent part in it. Let the other Europeans draw up their own plan, and implement it with such of their own resources as they can spare for it. If we can help in minor subsidiary ways, so much the better; but the initiative, the responsibility, and the main burden of implementation must be theirs.

In the designing of a new European security framework, on the other hand, we—for many and obvious reasons—must be actively and intimately involved. By what principles should we be guided in this involvement?

First, and for the short term, I suggest that we should press for an internationally accepted and binding moratorium of at least three years’ duration on basic changes in the two alliance structures and on any alternations in the composition of the community of European sovereign states; this—to give all of us time to prepare, in a careful and deliberate manner and by wide international discussion and agreement, a new European security structure to replace the present one, which has been deprived, by recent events in Russia and Eastern Europe, of its basic rationale. This would not bar extensive reductions in the force structures now being maintained in Europe within the framework of the two alliances; it would serve only to preserve, for at least this limited period of time, the continued validity of the two alliances and the basic obligations of their respective member nations.

As for the participation of this country in the creation of a new security structure for Europe, I see this as proceeding in three stages:

First, a careful study of the problem itself on the part of our government, drawing on both governmental and non-governmental expertise.

Secondly, preliminary discussions with our allies as well as with the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact.

And, thirdly, a general and final conference of all immediately interested parties, possibly within the framework of the Helsinki agreements, looking to an arrangement that would cover all military forces of any sort, indigenous or foreign, based on European soil.

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