317. Editorial Note

Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead discussed U.S. policy regarding Eastern Europe in a January 19, 1988, address before the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs. Whitehead recalled that, beginning in the summer of 1986, Secretary of State George Shultz had asked him “to take a special interest in U.S. relations with the countries of Eastern Europe.” Since then, Whitehead had made several trips to Eastern Europe (see footnote 2, Document 311). He then commented on the observations he had made as a result of these visits, underscoring “the astonishing diversity in countries often considered to be a single faceless bloc.” Continuing, he remarked: “The U.S. policy toward Eastern Europe has always been based on a recognition of this diversity. Americans of every political stripe, in and out of government, want the nations of Eastern Europe to be proud, free, and prosperous. We want them to be nations in their own right and refuse to consider them as part of a faceless bloc. We believe that Europe and the world will be more stable when the peoples of the area become more free to assert and develop their own personalities and become more modern.

“For the past three decades, and formally for the past dozen or so years, the United States has pursued a policy of seeking to improve [Page 1455] official ties and to develop unofficial ties with each individual country at whatever pace it can stand. During my trips to Eastern Europe, I have laid out an agenda of areas where the United States would like to make progress as a condition for better relations and invited these nations’ leaders to make step-by-step progress.

“High on our list of priorities in every country is human rights and the extent to which a country is moving toward greater pluralism and democracy. During my recent trip to East Berlin, for example, I told Erich Honecker that it was impossible for the United States to understand a country that shoots its own citizens for trying to escape across the Berlin Wall, and I received indication that these shoot-to-kill orders at the wall had been rescinded. I have quizzed Zhivkov of Bulgaria on the way he treats the Turkish minority. Romania’s whole approach to human rights and fundamental freedoms—not only its treatment of its Hungarian minority but its treatment of its entire population—will be on my agenda during my upcoming trip there. I have urged Polish authorities to begin a real dialogue with Solidarity. Only through a dialogue with the church and with the Polish people can the cycle of cynicism, unrest, and repression be broken.

“Also on our list of objectives is improved trade. Our trade with Eastern Europe is small, both as a percentage of our trade and as a percentage of Eastern Europe’s trade with the West. But our exports to some of these countries have grown significantly in the last year. Our 1987 sales to both Poland and Hungary, for example, were up more than 30% over 1986. There are reasonable opportunities for further growth: aircraft, food processing, and nonstrategic computer equipment are areas for true opportunity worth exploring. The Hungarians have even set up a graduate management institute to teach Western business practices to their executives.

“These kinds of contacts with the West help move these countries incrementally onto their own paths of development. To the extent they can show independence in business dealings, they may also come to show independence on other matters of interest to the United States, from votes in the United Nations to the fight against international terrorism.

“Of course, since every relationship between governments is a two-way street based on a balance of benefits, it is just as important to consider what the countries of Eastern Europe want from us. In general terms, what these countries want most is to rejoin the modern world. There was, perhaps, a time when the Stalinist approach to domestic arrangements and foreign policy seemed modern and efficient, but that belief is dying where it is not already dead. Important elements among both those who govern and those who are governed in these countries are now seeking to minimize or eliminate the constraints which [Page 1456] keep the country backward. These constraints include rigid structures, excessive centralization, and the lack of a two-way street in relations between the state/party apparatus and the people.

“Because of these constraints, Eastern Europe is playing catch-up ball in a game where the rules are changing. We in the West have a hard enough time adjusting to the pace of social and political change driven by technological and scientific development. Such adjustment is a disaster in Eastern Europe. The transition to an information age means increased economic marginalization for many of these countries, since neither the raw materials nor the heavy industrial goods they produce are now as important as they need to be, and the Stalinist system is inefficient when it comes to knowledge-based production.

“As a result, what the countries of Eastern Europe want most from us is economic support. Since the United States is and will continue to be an important decisionmaker in international financial institutions and remains critically innovative when it comes to new forms of economic activity and organization, we have the leverage to integrate all aspects of policy—political, economic, cultural—in our developing relationships. East European countries know that they will have to take into account America’s most basic objectives, involving values rather than goods, if they are to move ahead in the economic field.

“Judging by my three, soon to be four, trips to Eastern Europe, I believe our approach is working. We have new consular conventions with Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and a science and technology agreement with Poland. We have achieved better cooperation on fighting international terrorism with a number of the countries. We have won important concessions on human rights in East Germany and Romania. These would be important at any time in our relations.

“But, as I said at the beginning, our activist approach to Eastern Europe is even more critical now, when the past barriers to change erected and maintained by the Soviet Union and by the Stalinist model for 40 years have been partially lowered. We have had a tendency in the United States to focus on Eastern Europe only at times of crisis. Now we have an opportunity to help effect real change in a direction favorable to our interests without upheavals that would endanger all our accomplishments to date. We should not squander that opportunity.” (Department of State Bulletin, April 1988, pages 66–68)