Gorbachev Gets to Yes

WHITE House concerns about inviting Mikhail Gorbachev to the July 15 Group of Seven (G-7) economic summit in London have been overtaken by the desires of the French, Italian, and German heads of state to include Mr. Gorbachev. President Bush may privately grumble about Gorbachev inviting himself to the G-7 party. But he can't block the Soviet leader without looking like a spoiler. Regardless, the White House has been asking the right questions about Gorbachev and his latest economic reform plan. By most counts, this is the fifth major economic restructuring plan submitted by Gorbachev since 1989. Have any worked so far? Or rather, have any even been attempted? Not discernibly.

What Gorbachev and his advisers have accomplished to date is a de-structuring, not a restructuring, of the old Soviet central-command system. That system is now in chaos. Word has it that next winter the real food shortages will hit Russia. This past year the Soviets butchered most of their reserve livestock.

The colossal economic and political mess in the Soviet Union is a significant reason for the rise of republics like Russia and Georgia. Hard-liners in the Kremlin have failed to come up with any economic plan of their own, a failure that has given Gorbachev the wiggle room to fly his old liberal economic advisers off to places like Harvard, where they recently cribbed long enough to create a reform plan that promises enough to get a G-7 invitation.

Of course it is important to aid the Soviets, for both strategic and humane reasons. But White House reservations aren't trivial: Do Gorbachev and his advisers realize how grave their situation is - how radical needed reforms will have to be? Will the Soviet system and people change? Who administers such changes at a time of decreased central Kremlin authority? Recent White House offers tying aid to Soviet market reforms and an easing-up in the Baltics are the bare beginnings of cooperation.

Then there's money. Given the current chaos, how much Western cash ought to be sprinkled into the Soviet caldron? Gorbachev says he wants $250 billion from the West over five years. But he'll be fortunate to get $3 billion from the G-7. Where's this money supposed to come from? Not Germany in the midst of reunification. Not the US.

The White House should propose a special meeting inside the G-7. Relief aid for the Soviets in coming months should be discussed, along with a proposal to start a low-cost Marshall Plan of technical assistance to identify and address Soviet structural problems.

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