Gorbachev's Russia: a time of change

YOU have arrived in the Soviet Union at a time when essentially revolutionary changes are under way here. They are of immense significance for our society, for socialism as a whole, and for the entire world. It is only by understanding their content, meaning, and aims that one can form a correct opinion about our international policy. Before my people, before you and before the whole world, I state with full responsibility that our international policy is more than ever determined by domestic policy, by our interest in concentrating on constructive endeavors to improve our country. This is why we need lasting peace, predictability, and constructiveness in international relations. It is often said - we still hear it - that there is some threat stemming from the USSR, a Soviet threat to peace and freedom.

I must say that the reorganization which we have launched on such a scale and which is irreversible shows to everyone: This is where we want to direct our resources, this is where our thoughts are going, these are our actual programs and intentions, on this we intend to spend the intellectual energy of our society.

Our main idea is to bring out the potential of socialism through activating all the people's strength. To do so we need the full and free functioning of all public and state agencies, of all production collectives and creative unions, new forms of civic activity and restoration of those which were unfairly forgotten. In brief, we want a broad democratization of all society. Further democratization is also the main guarantee of the irreversible nature of the ongoing processes. We want more socialism and hence more democracy.

To preclude any idle talk and speculation, I wish to emphasize that we are going about our reforms in accordance with our own socialist choice, on the basis of our notions about social values, and are guided by criteria of the Soviet way of life.

But we want to be understood, and we hope that the world community will at last acknowledge that our desire to make our country better will hurt no one, with the world only gaining from this.

It took time for our society and the Soviet leadership to develop an interest in the new mode of thinking. We pondered a good deal. We criticized ourselves and others and asked ourselves difficult and challenging questions before we saw things as they are and became convinced that new approaches and methods are required for resolving international problems in today's complex and contradictory world, a world at a crossroads.

We made ourselves face that fact that the stockpiling and sophistication of nuclear armaments means the human race has lost its immortality. It can be regained only by destroying nuclear weapons.

NATURALLY enough, it takes confidence for a new edifice of international security to be erected and cemented. We understand: The road to it is not simple, and it's not only we who are to cover it, although we, if you recall our history, have more cause for mistrust. I will not delve into that. Let me just state that along with a deficit of new attitudes everyone feels a shortfall of confidence. I am not going to look into the reasons for this situation on a wider plane, although a lot might be said. We must now look forward and not be captives of the past.

Confidence needs to be built up through experience in cooperation, through knowing each other better, through solving common problems. It is wrong in principle to say that first comes confidence and then all the rest: disarmament, cooperation, and joint projects. Confidence, its creation, consolidation, and development, comes from common endeavor. This is the rational way.

One of the chief results of the reconstructive drive in the Soviet Union is a general and universal confidence boost for our society. This bolsters our conviction that it is possible to establish trust in the sphere of international relations, too.

I would like to say a few words here about the Reykjavik meeting. It was not a failure. It was a breakthrough. That was not just another round of negotiations but a moment of truth when a momentous opportunity was glimpsed to embark upon the path leading to a nuclear-weapon-free world.

THE Reykjavik meeting made such a great impression everywhere in the world because we approached the issue of reducing nuclear arsenals in an entirely new conceptual key, as a political and psychological problem rather than just military and technical. And we almost found a solution. But what are we to do with that ``almost'' which stopped us from reaching the finish in Reykjavik?

I shall not discuss here why that happened. What I want to say is that when both sides agreed at Reykjavik to make deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals and then eliminate them entirely, they virtually recognized that nuclear weapons can no longer effectively guarantee security.

What happened in Reykjavik irreversibly changed the nature and essence of the debate about a future world. However, some people were scared by the new opportunities and they are now pulling back hard, though however the past may tug, there is no returning to it. I am sure mankind can and will quite soon throw off the chains of nuclear weapons. But this will require a fight.

Now allow me to deal with another major reality of our time. It also requires a new way of thinking. I mean the unprecedented diversity and increasing interconnection and integrity of the world. Our world is united not only by internationalization of economic life and powerful information and communication media, but faces the common danger of nuclear death, ecological catastrophe and the global explosion of the poverty-wealth contradictions of its different regions.

The world today is a multitude of states, each having its unique history, traditions, customs, and ways of life. Each people and country has its own truth, its own national interests and its aspirations. At the same time, this world is full of deep contradictions which bear the ultimate danger. This is objectively a result of social progress, bringing about an entirely new situation.

This process has been faster than the ability of politicians to grasp the meaning of irreversible change.

The way out is also in bridging the gap between the fast pace of events and the realization of what is going on and what consequences it may have. And this must be done before it is too late.

At our meeting in Geneva, the US President said that if the earth faced an invasion by extraterrestrials, the US and the Soviet Union would join forces to repel such an invasion. I shall not dispute the hypothesis, though I think it's early yet to worry about such an intrusion. It is more important to think about the troubles which have entered our common home. It is more important to realize the need to eliminate the nuclear threat and accept that there is no roof on earth or in space to save us if a nuclear storm broke out.

Our idea of creating a comprehensive system of international security and our other initiatives clearly show that the Soviet Union is willing and ready to renounce its nuclear power status and reduce all other armaments to a bare essential. Look at all our proposals. They don't mean leaving any of our weapons outside negotiations. Our principle is simple: All weapons must be limited and reduced, and those of wholesale annihilation eventually scrapped. Should we have any balance to redress, we must redress it, not by letting the one short of some elements build them up, but by having the one with more of them scale them down. The historic goal before us, that of a demilitarized world, will have to be achieved stage by stage, of course. In each phase, there must definitely be respect for mutual interests and a balance of reasonable sufficiency constantly declining. Everybody must realize and agree: Parity in the potential to destroy one another several times over is madness and absurdity. Humanity must get stronger and enter the postnuclear age.

Is that possible? Some believe it is, others think not. No use arguing about it now. I think life will have its way. By and large, the peoples are coming to realize that. They already realize that a nuclear war must never be fought. So let us take the first big step: Cut the nuclear arsenals and keep space weapon-free. Let us start from the vantage point of Reykjavik, and then move on and see how that will affect the international atmosphere. My own feeling is that each such step will make for greater confidence and open fresh vistas for cooperation. And more democratic thinking at the international level, equality, and the independent and active participation of all nations - large, medium, and small - in the affairs of the world community must help the process.

Mikhail Gorbachev is general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. His remarks were excerpted from an address to participants in the recent forum ``For a Nuclear-Free World, For the Survival of Humanity.''

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