'Post-Cold War' Era 1988-1991
Many of the conciliatory themes of "new thinking" related to military topics because it was essential to the Soviet Union to severely curtail the military competition with the West if they could not win it, in order to deny the West an advantage in this area.
The first was the call for a non-nuclear world. This was made on January 15, 1986, when Gorbachev unveiled a plan for the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide by the year 2000. The Soviets emphasized at the time that they meant this goal seriously and not as a mere propaganda ploy. Subsequent events have given added weight to these statements. As Zagladin explained in his 1989 book To Restructure and Humanize International Relations:
In addition to playing to the universal human desire for a world safe from the threat of nuclear weapons, the Soviets also embraced the appealing concepts of "reasonable sufficiency" and "non-offensive defense" as principles that could be used to achieve their purpose of eliminating military power as a key determinant in the systemic contest between the USSR and the West. These concepts provided a seemingly rational, objective yardstick which appeared to take the interests of all nations into account in establishing criteria for worldwide military levels. A 1989 Novosti booklet, Politics and Power put forth the following criteria for setting military force levels, demonstrating the Soviet penchant for establishing principles that apply not only to their country but also to others:
The Soviets sought to use the appealing slogans of "non-offensive defense" and the call for a new military doctrine as ways to try to influence decision-making on military affairs in the West. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev admitted this during his press conference with President Bush at the conclusion of the U.S.-Soviet summit in Malta in December 1989. At that time, Gorbachev stated, "...when we move toward defensive doctrines - that is, we, the Soviet Union - we are interested in having new elements in the military doctrines of the NATO countries." (Washington Post, 12/4/89)
The Soviets made the push for CSCE (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) seminars on military doctrine an important factor in their foreign policy, hoping to use these forums to influence decision making in Western countries. Interestingly, at the second Vienna conference on military doctrines in October 1991, Colonel General Omelichev suggested "a consolidation of military might under U.N. auspices," in line with another key precept of "new thinking." As noted at more length in the appendix, an alleged KGB agent in Denmark, Jorgen Dragsdahl, paid special attention to thinking by Western intellectuals on the issue of "non-offensive defense," and, according to the April 17, 1989 issue of The Nation, the former Soviet ambassador in Denmark "took a keen interest in the theories and channeled them back to Moscow."
One of the main themes of "new political thinking" was that the United States should "eliminate the image of the Soviet Union as the enemy" and, as Gorbachev stated in June 1989, "mov[e] from the notion of enemy to the notion of partner." (Washington Post, June 22, 1989) This theme encouraged the thought that the rivalry between the U.S. and the USSR was not an inevitable clash between competing and irreconcilable visions of freedom and totalitarianism, but rather the result of mistaken images which had arisen from hostile propaganda, and could therefore easily be "eliminated."
The Soviet purpose in propagating this theme was made clear in late 1987 by Georgi Arbatov, the head of the Soviet Academy of Science's Institute on the United States and Canada, who wrote in a letter to the editor published in the December 8, 1987 issue of the New York Times that:
While the Soviets were urging the West to discard its image of the Soviets as an "enemy," they were duplicitously providing support to anti-Western terrorist organizations. on June 5, 1992, Russian Information Minister Mikhail Poltoranin told a news conference, according to the Washington Post (June 6, 1992), that:
The Post article noted:
The "de-ideologization of state-to-state relations" was one of the main conciliatory slogans of "new political thinking." To Western minds, it conjured up the image of relations between the Soviet Union and other countries becoming more pragmatic, less driven by doctrinaire, ideological concerns. For the "new thinkers," there were additional subtleties.
Two Soviet placements in the Nigerian press in 1989 illustrate how this concept was understood by the Soviets. One, entitled "Respecting rules of international behavior," appeared in the March 29, 1989 issue of the Tide, authored anonymously by "A correspondent." It made it clear that, in the Soviet mind, the "de-ideologization of state-to-state relations" affected only one sphere of international affairs and did not mean the end of Soviet support for "national liberation movements." It stated:
In the April 26, 1989 issue of the Tide, the article "Ideology and World Peace" by Georgi Mirsky made explicit the critical difference in Soviet ideology between "inter-state" and "international" relations. The former are to be "de-ideologized;" the latter cannot be. The article stated:
Thus, the "de-ideologization of state-to-state relations" involved only a limited easing of tensions, in the Soviet mind. Relations between states were to be purged of ideological considerations, but not the other aspects of international relations: those involving parties, mass and professional organizations, public groups, etc.: precisely the arenas in which active measures operations were conducted.
The Soviet leaders were careful not to communicate their full understanding of the principle of the "de-ideologization of state-to-state relations" to Westerners. In dealing with Western audiences, the conciliatory slogan was put forward without explanation. Soviet leaders could be confident that virtually all in the West, not being skilled in the intricacies of Marxist dialectics, would misinterpret it. This suited Soviet purposes. But in the Third World, the Soviets needed to explain to longtime allies that this conciliatory slogan did not mean that they were being abandoned.
The slogan of the "Common European Home" was actually put forward as early as November 23, 1981 by CPSU General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev in a speech in Bonn, West Germany. Mikhail Gorbachev made it a key principle of Soviet foreign policy in a major speech in Prague in April 1986. As with many of the slogans of "new thinking," the details of what the Soviets understood the "Common European Home" to mean were not explicitly stated. Nevertheless, it was an appealing, catchy slogan that quickly became an integral part of international discourse during the "post-Cold War" era.
In an article in the August 27, 1988 issue of Austria's Volksstimme newspaper, senior Gorbachev advisor Vadim Zagladin explained how the Soviets envisioned the "Common European Home" evolving. He stated:
The Soviets sought to make the multilateral CSCE forum the concrete foundation of the "Common European Home," in the process downgrading the importance of institutions such as NATO (which, after all, operated on the premise of the maligned "enemy image"), the European Community (which did not allow equal access for all "European countries," i.e., the then-Soviet bloc), and CoCom, the Coordinating Committee of industrial countries in charge of limiting the export of militarily significant Western technology to the Soviet bloc, which violated the principle of equal cooperation for all European countries. An article in issue number 9 of New Times in 1990 declared that CoCom "interferes with the laying of a good foundation for the Common European Home."
The "Common European Home" slogan, by its very nature, implicitly excluded the United States and Canada. On the "state-to-state" level, the Soviets denied this, and stressed that the U.S. and Canada would be welcome to join all-European organizations. But in the non-state-to-state sphere of mass communications and perceptions, Soviet propagandists were well aware that championing the concept of the "Common European Home" would naturally tend to encourage feeling of European separateness from the United States and Canada. In this way, the traditional Soviet goal of splitting the NATO alliance was pursued by conciliatory, political means, rather than the confrontational, military methods of the Cold War.
In the June 4, 1990 issue of Time magazine, Gorbachev sketched out a bold new vision of a world without military alliances, such as NATO. He stated:
By this time, of course, the Warsaw Pact had ceased to exist as an instrument of Soviet policy, so Gorbachev had little to lose by proposing its dissolution. In contrast, he had much to gain by suggesting that NATO be scrapped.
As a substitute for NATO, one Soviet front group publication that the CSCE become the embryo of a new security system for Europe, rather than existing Western structures such as NATO or the West European Union. An article in the June 1990 issue of Peace Courier, the publication of the Soviet-controlled World Peace Council, stated, "The CSCE is the body which should develop the new security structure in Europe, while the existing military alliances should be allowed to wither away." In another variant, two Soviet generals suggested, in the October 1990 issue of Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, "a re-forming of NATO and the Warsaw Pact (while it still legally exists) from military-political blocs into a single Common European Security Alliance."
Soviet leaders also sought to use the conciliatory techniques of "new political thinking" to gain access to Western technology, especially militarily-relevant technology. In October 1991, just before he was reappointed Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze suggested in the Soviet weekly New Times (issue number 40, 1991) that the United States share with the USSR the technology it had developed for the Strategic Defense Initiative, ostensibly for the purpose of improving "early warning of natural calamities" and other benign, "all-human" purposes. Shevardnadze wrote: