If a few years ago a Soviet strategist had been asked to describe his worst night-mare it would have contained the following elements: internal political and economic chaos; nationalities in uproar and some republics on the verge of secession; armed forces whose competence is questioned, whose status and political power is diminished, and who are in retreat from virtually all their forward positions; the loss of the buffer states of Eastern Europe; and, to make it all truly dreadful, Germany uniting under a NATO that remained essentially intact.
As the nightmare unfolds the screams in Moscow have thus far been suppressed. This is largely because, early on in his government, Mikhail Gorbachev was persuaded that there was not really a serious military threat from NATO and that acting as if this were the case imposed an unacceptable burden in both material and human resources while at the same time ruining relations with the West. Both effects made it more difficult to achieve the basic objective of domestic political and economic reform.
Mr. Gorbachev has held to this judgment even as the process that he set in motion inexorably removes every prop of the security system established by his predecessors since 1945. At each stage he has looked hard at the alternatives and concluded that if change cannot be resisted then it is best to stay ahead of it. Every time the old threshold of tolerance has been reached, the threshold has been raised.
German unification was assumed to be the sticking point to end all sticking points. Mr. Gorbachev clearly is anxious about it. He has his conservative colleagues muttering darkly about revanchism and invoking the sacrifices of the Great Patriotic War. Yet only a few days after Mrs. Thatcher urged a slowing of the pace of unification, because to go faster would be unfair to Mr. Gorbachev, he stated that unification was “inevitable.” Now he is preparing to enter into negotiations to settle matters in the “two plus four” talks, which will include his country’s old wartime allies and the two current German states.
The overriding impression is that having recognized that sustaining a separate East German state is beyond Soviet means, and with his domestic position weakening daily, Mr. Gorbachev has all but given up attempting to bargain. These days if a Western position is stated with any degree of firmness it soon becomes the Soviet position. This impression was confirmed when, early in February, President Bush proposed that the United States and the Soviet Union bring their troop levels in Central Europe down to 195,000 each, but then introduced an apparent inequality by insisting that 30,000 extra American troops would remain in the European rim, including Britain. Mr. Gorbachev accepted the proposal except for this inequality. When Secretary of State James Baker was in Moscow on February 9 his team was still wondering what sort of deal might be offered when Mr. Gorbachev conceded the 30,000 difference.
As we now enter a period …