242. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

9885. Subject: Gorbachev’s Foreign Policy Views: How Much Change?

1. Confidential—Entire text.

Summary: We are reading and hearing these days about a new Gorbachevian approach to foreign policy that moves away from Khrushchev-Brezhnev stereotypes of international affairs toward a more realistic assessment of global interdependence and global problems. We saw some evidence of this in the materials of the 27th Party Congress and in subsequent media commentary about the Congress. We have heard from various Soviet sources that Gorbachev’s May 23 speech at the Foreign Ministry featured this theme.2 Dobrynin’s May 27 speech, judging from Pravda’s account of it, highlighted “new thinking” [Page 992] about foreign affairs and omitted much of the pre-27th Congress dogma.3 An April article in Pravda was particularly insistent about fundamental changes in Soviet foreign policy doctrine; we recently met with the author, who argued that such changes were indeed underway and indicated they were controversial. We think there is something to these developments, although as yet their practical significance is unclear. End summary.

The 27th Congress and Media Commentary

3. As previously reported, there was an intriguing difference between the revised Party program ratified at the 27th Party Congress and Gorbachev’s report to the Congress.4 The new version of the program characterized international affairs in standard terms, emphasizing the “contradiction” between “imperialism” and “socialism.” Gorbachev’s report added to this a new formulation regarding international affairs: “a growing tendency toward interdependence” leading toward a largely “integral world.” Gorbachev’s formulation—that contemporary foreign affairs are determined by interdependence as well as by the struggle between imperialism and socialism—was repeated in the official resolution of the Congress and in the authoritative Pravda editorial on the Congress.

4. Major media commentaries on the 27th Congress approvingly elaborated upon Gorbachev’s approach. For example:

—First Deputy Chief of the Central Committee’s International Department Vadim Zagladin published a lead article on “Global Contradictions” in the February 1986 issue of philosophical journal Voprosy Filosofii. Zagladin later told us we would be hearing a lot more on the subject.

—An editorial in the Central Committee journal Kommunist of March 1986 called for a “new system of coordinates” for analyzing international affairs and spoke of an “innovative conception of world interdependence.”

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—A major Kommunist editorial in April spoke of new thinking and action, new psychology and a new overall orientation in foreign policy. The editorial noted that one should not be bound by “yesterday’s formulas,” that the relationship between theory and practice should be reexamined in the light of the innovative ideas of the Congress.

—A lead article in the May issue of Voprosy Filosofii spoke of “the essential unity of contemporary mankind,” in addition to the struggle of the two world systems, and quoted at length that part of Gorbachev’s report to the 27th Congress which dealt with interdependence and global unity.

Speeches by Gorbachev and Dobrynin

5. We have heard from various Soviet sources that Gorbachev’s May 23 address at the Foreign Ministry featured the interdependence theme. The concept has also been emphasized by numerous party and government interlocutors with whom private U.S. foreign policy specialists have spoken in Moscow since the May 23–24 MFA meeting.

The foreign policy part of CC International Department Chief Dobrynin’s May 27 speech (see Moscow 9483) probably echoed Gorbachev’s May 23 MFA speech.5 As reported, Dobrynin emphasized interdependence, which in turn (he said) required “a qualitatively new approach to the problems of national security.” He spoke of “new political thinking that involved a new, qualitatively higher level of flexibility in foreign policy.”

Views of Mshvenieradze

7. The most dramatic article on these themes that has come to our attention appeared in Pravda April 11, 1986, under the title “New Political Thinking.” Written by Deputy Director of the Institute of Philosophy Vladimir Mshvenieradze, the article asserts that:

—Old political thinking has become “extremely dangerous.” For example, the Roman slogan “if you want peace, prepare for war” has become a direct threat to mankind.

—“There is no political, economic, social, ideological or any other problem that can be positively resolved by the application or threat of force.” Emphasis on military force is a sign of political impotence.

—“In this context, international contacts of all sorts, including the perfecting of a mechanism for negotiations at various levels . . . are extremely important.”

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—It is necessary today to reject stereotypes and see new political realities, to renounce the competitive approach to political thinking about international affairs.

8. It is possible, of course, that Mshvenieradze and others have in mind a change primarily in U.S. political thinking, not Soviet. When we finally succeeded in meeting with Mshvenieradze June 3, he left no doubt that in his view Soviet as well as American foreign policy doctrine required revision. The formulas of Khrushchev (and Brezhnev) were no longer valid, he said. When we pointed out that the orthodox view of international relations formulated during the Khrushchev years could still be found in Soviet writings, Mshvenieradze said that “we” (i.e., he and unspecified colleagues) would have to be more active, “we have to be clearer about the new approach.”

9. In discussing the “contradictions” that shape contemporary international relations, Mshvenieradze said that the contradiction between “imperialism” and “socialism” had faded in significance because of the emergence of global contradictions that threatened both imperialism and socialism. This, he indicated, was what Gorbachev had in mind when at the 27th Congress he said international relations were determined primarily by the competition and confrontation of the two systems, plus a growing tendency toward global interdependence.

10. When we pointed out that this formulation did not appear in the revised party program, Mshvenieradze smiled and said it was no secret that various people were involved in drafting the program and the General Secretary’s report. One should focus on the report, not the program, he added. The essential thing was that present-day realities required assessing old thinking about foreign affairs in a new, larger, more realistic context.

What Does it Mean?

11. The way that this issue has unfolded before, during and after the 27th Congress leads us to doubt that Soviet statements about interdependence and a new approach to foreign affairs amount to a massive disinformation effort. We recall, for instance, Gorbachev’s evidently impromptu speech on interdependence when he arrived at the Soviet Mission in Geneva last November. We also recall the British Embassy’s telling us that Gorbachev delivered a lengthy monologue on interdependence to the British parliamentary delegation that recently visited Moscow (although we understand the parliamentarians could not make much sense out of what Gorbachev said).

12. We also gather that this new approach to thinking about international relations is controversial, although we cannot assess the degree [Page 995] of controversy it has engendered. Dobrynin and Zagladin seem to be on board. Shevardnadze would be an unlikely opponent. Perhaps Gromyko and other warhorses like Boris Ponomarev are uncomfortable with this revision of longstanding foreign policy orthodoxy. Some in the military establishment may be particularly uneasy about the new approach’s deemphasis of militarism.

13. At this point, however, we have more questions than answers. Is Gorbachev’s conception of international relations still taking shape, as seems to be the case with his foreign policy apparatus? Do the many changes in the foreign policy apparatus reflect Gorbachev’s desire to shake things up and clear the way for a new substantive approach? Did Gorbachev and colleagues arrange the unprecedented meeting at the Foreign Ministry last month to promote his new conception of foreign policy? Is the new emphasis on interdependence a tactical change, calculated to maintain the status quo while the Gorbachev regime turns inward to recover its domestic strength? Or does the new line represent a more fundamental change in Soviet political doctrine? What are the operational implications of this development for Soviet foreign policy behavior, and when will they emerge (few, if any, seem to have appeared to date)? Finally, what are the implications of this overall development for our approach to U.S.-Soviet relations? We will be looking for answers here, and hope our colleagues in Eastern Europe and other suitable venues will give us a hand.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860451–0230. Confidential. Sent for information to USIA, the Moscow Political Collective, CDE Stockholm, and USCD Geneva.
  2. Gorbachev’s May 23 Foreign Ministry speech was not made public. A few weeks later, the CIA received reporting on the speech. On July 18, Ermarth sent Casey a memorandum summarizing the main points, with the report attached; see Document 253.
  3. The Embassy reported on Dobrynin’s May 27 speech in telegram 9483 from Moscow, June 4, listing the main topics: “—‘new thinking’ in the nuclear age; —international cooperation to solve global problems; —flexibility and compromise in foreign policy; —the mutual nature of Soviet and American security.” The Embassy commented that Dobrynin used this speech to “accentuate the positive, modern side of Gorbachev’s rhetoric. At least in theory, the concepts for dealing with the West which Dobrynin outlined provide an alternative to the now passé notions of peaceful coexistence and détente.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860433–0420)
  4. See footnote 2, Document 207.
  5. See footnote 3, above.