422. Telegram From the Embassy in Czechoslovakia to the Department of State1



  • “Invitation to the Dance.”


  • (A) 87 State 3981862
  • (B) Budapest 11243
  • (C) EmbBerlin 21884
  • (D) Oslo 90595
  • (E) Prague 3015.6
Confidential—Entire text.


Wallflowers that we are, we have decided to interrupt our flirtations with our many visitors long enough to get out on the floor before the orchestra goes home. In what follows, we provide our perspective on this era, the role of rising expectations in Eastern Europe, and what the USG can hope to achieve. We have profited enormously by reading others’ contributions to this exercise, and the Ambassador offers some commentary on these stellar performances at the end of our submission. [Facsimile Page 3] In an attempt to restrict ourselves to matters of general interest to our readership, we have confined our thoughts on this country alone to a preceding cable (Ref E), which may be read in conjunction with this piece.

A New Mechanism

We all find ourselves, after three years of Gorbachev, comparing new rhetoric to new deeds. While the balance between the two will be different everywhere in the region, it will in most cases be somewhat disappointing. Even in the Soviet Union, there has been more exciting talk than actual systemic reform—whether of the nuts and bolts of economics and management or of culture and the human dimension. In Poland and Hungary, moreover, the engines of change have been to a great extent indigenous, and it is less the case in those countries than elsewhere that “reforms” have been inspired by the Soviets’ new political lexicon.
All over Eastern Europe, though—even where resistance to new Soviet models is overt—the rhetoric is important. In fact, it is so important that party congresses, plena, and Warsaw Pact gatherings spend an extraordinary amount of time cramming reality into new rhetorical packages. Czechoslovak “acceleration” of early 1985 grew into “prestavba” by the time of the March, 1986 XVIIth Congress and the concept came to include “democratization” and “informovanost” (viz: glasnost) along the way. Bulgarian “preustroystvo” and “new thinking” in Pact and individual foreign policies repeat the echoes.
For Western purposes, the rhetoric is crucially important because it molds expectations, and these, in turn, create opportunities. National cultures and histories as well as the still-important dividing line between official and unofficial life modify the workings of this mechanism. In general, however, it has operated to embolden those with an interest in change—to give both the people of Eastern Europe and us increased opportunities to take regimes at their word.

Advancing the Frontiers

Human-rights activists and independent cultural figures have used these circumstances to good effect already in numerous instances. Sakharov’s acceptability as an interlocutor for the CPSU and the profound changes that have occurred on the Soviet cultural scene under the rubric of glasnost have had much to do both with Charter 77’s increasing boldness and with the Czechoslovak party’s lighter hand in dealing with that initiative. We daresay East German protestants and demonstrators, to cite only the example of the Chartists’ colleagues to the northwest, have also derived the lesson from the Soviet political dialectic that East Berlin can be expected, in the end, to tolerate more than it has in the past. The coordinated actions of dissidents around the map reveal the pervasiveness of this newly-heartened stance.
Harder to assess are the expectations of those within the system. We get the strong impression from our dealings with Czechoslovak academicians, managers, and economists, though, that an important process is underway. In a country that remembers well the traumatic purge of hundreds of thousands, some are nevertheless getting their plans and ideas—if not out onto the table—at least into the top right-hand drawer. We gather from the reporting we see that, each according to his own frustrations and opportunities, apparatchiky elsewhere in Eastern Europe have been led by talk of self-financing and of changes in foreign-trade and investment to become more specific in their recommendations. Few reach the heady heights of actual accomplishment of Hungarian bankers and bourse-operators, but the phenomenon is widespread just the same.
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What Is To Be Done?

Of the many responses to an era of increased expectations the USG could devise, we would advocate one that involved the following elements:
expanded (but judicious) engagement;
careful management of resources;
careful management of leverage; and
the use of dialogue for feedback.

The instruments we employ in addressing each relationship will be different.

The USG in each Eastern European country must be in a position to react to new opportunities. This, not to put too fine a point on it, probably will mean that we must be a player in the EE’s’ internal games. We must not only know more party leaders, bankers, businessmen, ordinary citizens, artists, “dissidents,” academicians, etc., than we have before. We must also be more judicious than we have heretofore been in dealing with our contacts and their expectations. What to encourage or discourage (even by implication); what public positions to assume in Washington, Vienna and elsewhere; how closely identified to become with independent initiatives—these and other tactical deliberations will more than ever before beset American diplomats as they set about engaging an ever less monochromatic Eastern Europe.
Our own actions and words will themselves generate expectations. For that reason, and because we must be able to react as events require, we must become better and more careful managers of strained resources. Reporting, public diplomacy, and exchanges are crucial functions at this juncture, as are all forms of contact work. Embassies and the Department alike will have to do a better job of identifying and sticking to priorities and saying no to competing tasks. For example, the Department may wish, for Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, to tailor a new “strip-down” model for official visitation that significantly reduces the workload this activity imposes on posts already hard-pressed to function in strained environments.
The more we involve ourselves in even tacitly encouraging expectations and changes, the more we must look carefully to sticks and carrots. U.S. influence in this region has historically been circumscribed, but, as regimes and groups grasp for freedom of action, it may grow. We need not adopt a strait-jacketed, academic view of what response a given situation demands, but we must not lose sight of our purpose. We are not after engagement for engagement’s sake alone but engagement in pursuit of specific goals and objectives. This will at the least require a certain salutary consistency in our use of positive reinforcement and sanctions. Gaining access at a new level should not, in most circumstances, lead us to forego forceful pursuit of U.S. objectives.
Finally, expanded dialogue must involve feedback useful to host governments as they seek to define for themselves the U.S. role in this region and era. Political dialogue should continue to involve read-outs, in both directions if feasible, on an increasing number of sensitive subjects, to include human rights, security, regional issues, terrorism, and narcotics.

The Role of Trade

Each bilateral relationship brings with it its own historical context, and the instruments to which we have recourse will perforce be different in each case. We much appreciated the careful analysis of the role of economics in the evolution of East-East and East-West relations offered by DAS Simons. The strength of this view is apparent, particularly in consideration of the entire region’s current hunger for technology and investment.
In some instances, however, economic and trade levers may prove less manipulable than in others. We must confess a certain reluctance to ascribe to international financial institutions a potential for engendering change where, as is the case here, there is no great interest in working with these bodies. Moreover, while it proved domestically feasible in the cases of Poland and Hungary to deal with MFN and IMF, we are less sanguine about the prospects of Congress moving on such issues on behalf of Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, or the GDR. In any case, the Czechoslovak track record at least is not a good one when it comes to convincing and helpful progress in the human-rights and commercial fields that might enliven eventual MFN prospects.
For the situation to be otherwise, we would need to make clearer our priorities and our responses to developments that address them. If, for instance, what we are seeking in this region is political and cultural pluralism concurrently with security-enhancing stability, then the role of trade becomes more specific. Increased trade will be the objective whose attainment Eastern European advocates of change offer to their “conservative” colleagues as a reason for making concessions in the political and human spheres. Bringing reluctant cadres along is, in turn, essential to the preservation of stability, although Gorbachev’s own relative strength at home will doubtless play a more decisive role in this regard than we and U.S. business can ever hope to play. For trade to function effectively as a lever, though, we must be relatively clear-cut and consistent in telling a regime what concessions we expect (free trade unions, dialogue with activists or believers, freeing of political prisoners, liberalized travel, etc.), and we have to be able to deliver in return. This would mean, for MFN purposes, joint management with key congressional leaders of a “wish-list” for each country lacking that tariff status. From what we are able to divine, we think this will probably remain difficult if not infeasible. At the same time, we [Page 1390] must recognize that increased non-strategic trade is an important U.S. objective in its own right and that, although MFN in some relationships will remain an overwhelmingly political phenomenon, its absence does deter trade expansion.
In some instances at least, then, we will find ourselves dealing with relationships with little more than basic political tools at hand. Often enough this may mean the consultative process itself and the legitimacy a regime considers that it gains from it. While we will want to keep our options free to consult at frequencies and at levels we ourselves deem appropriate, we should not lose sight of this, particularly in instances (such as Czechoslovakia’s) where a country’s foreign policy has consisted in the main of hosting and spawning visits.

Avoiding Shoals

The Secretary, in his winter, 1985 article in “Foreign Affairs”7 (and again more recently in his February address to the Henry Jackson School of International Studies in Seattle),8 outlined the need to place U.S.-Soviet relations on a footing that could survive outrageous Soviet behavior. Our relations with East European regimes and societies in the present era will require similar shock absorbers. Even with expanded freedom of action, most of these regimes simply cannot be counted upon to “act in their own best interests”—as we would be inclined to define those interests—and reciprocate our advances. This is so, if for no other reason, because of the internal dynamics and balances of the individual leaderships. In an age of leadership transition, moreover, the tensions between “pragmatists” and “hardliners” will in many instances increase, with the result that “foot shooting” on the part of now more closely-engaged Eastern interlocutors may well become more and not less of a risk.
It will be important to consider what kind of new approaches can survive human-rights and diplomatic derailments. Otherwise put, we will need to consider what new kinds of dialogue a relationship can be expected to sustain and how. We may decide that, in an era of new opportunity, the risk of coming up temporarily short-handed is worth taking. Certainly, expanded engagement of the people and the intellectuals in changing Eastern European countries can do much to help us survive the contretemps in official relations that are sure to come at intervals. Public diplomacy, cultural, and human-rights agendas become, in that sense, a sustaining, symbiotic counterpart to now more ambitious bilateral agendas.
[Page 1391]


The new expectations and aspirations with which regimes and the West alike are confronted in Eastern Europe are unprecedented in their breadth and importance. If Gorbachev survives in power and sticks to a reform agenda, real and irreversible change may well come to this region. Even if he ultimately does not, the rhetoric to which the Soviets and their allies have become wedded will have lasting significance. We already enjoy new opportunities born of the expectations Gorbachev-era language has engendered—opportunities for the realization of human-rights goals, for trade expansion, and for increased cultural and human contact. It will require on our own part, however, discipline rather than euphoria lest, in a stereotype of ourselves, we fritter away chances while choking ourselves on initiatives.
In “The End of the Road,” John Barth’s protagonist is enjoined by his mentor to teach proscriptive rather than prescriptive grammar. The Soviet Union these days finds itself in the unenviable position of being less than fully able to do either. Not wishing clearly to approve or to disapprove of the various paths on which its allies are travelling, it leaves the Eastern European field more open than ever before for others to perform that function. The USG must do all that it can to take an active part in the competition.

Ambassadorial Comment

I have been impressed by the creativity our sister posts have shown in analyzing and charting a course for our relations with this crucially-important region. We all face the problem of what to encourage and how, and Budapest and Berlin in particular have shed important and specific light on how to solve it. If positive change in Eastern Europe can be achieved by a greater range and variety of high-level U.S. visits—including Presidential or Vice Presidential ones—then I think we should assess these and other strategems Budapest proposes in that light. I also favor increasing private-sector exchanges, including home-stays, as a means of strengthening our presence in this region.
An alternative is to look at everything in terms of leverage and of what a regime has “earned.” In an era wherein rising expectations (popular and Soviet) may come to impel Eastern leaders to take actions as much if not more than do Western stances, this viewpoint would be tragically limiting. We are seeking to encourage such developments as the recent visit here of NGO doctors who performed unprecedented monitoring and consultative tasks (the Wonka autopsy and the visit with prisoner Jiri Wolf) and an incipient upturn in travel. At the same time, we must be clear about what we dislike and, somehow, get more of U.S. business in what ought to be a promising market. No simplistic or strait-jacketing prescription for U.S. behavior can possibly do all of this.
It is the trade relationship that often seems to me to be the poor sister in all of this. I recall with interest Under Secretary Wallis’ remarks at the Oslo Chiefs of Mission Conference concerning the crucial U.S. need for new markets, and I have reflected on the Deputy Secretary’s comments on trade with Eastern Europe in the autumn, 1986 issue of State Magazine in this connection.9 It will, I think, be a great shame if we do not extract from this era of flux in Eastern Europe a greater presence here for American business, even if this effort still requires some years of concerted pushing. The Europeans, the Japanese, and the newly industrialized countries will hasten to fill the openings we otherwise will leave, and we will be left with a far more marginal position from whence to pursue political and human-rights objectives as a result.
Moscow minimize considered.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D880418–0595. Confidential. Sent for information to Eastern European posts, Moscow, Paris, and Vienna.
  2. See Document 52.
  3. See Document 343.
  4. See Document 306.
  5. The text of telegram 9059 from Oslo, December 18, 1987, was repeated in telegram 396379 to multiple posts, December 23, 1987. See Document 51.
  6. Telegram 3015 from Prague, May 6, outlined Jakes’s plan for Czechoslovakia moving forward and suggested ways the United States might respond. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D880396–0366)
  7. Reference is to Shultz’s article, “Shaping American Foreign Policy: New Realities and New Ways of Thinking,” in the March 1, 1985, issue of Foreign Affairs.
  8. For the text, see Department of State Bulletin, April 1988, pp. 38–43. The address is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy.
  9. See the interview with Whitehead in the State Magazine, August–September 1986, pp. 2–6.