News / Europe

Gorbachev's Foreign Policy Changed Map of Europe

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, February 21, 2011
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, February 21, 2011

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, just celebrated his 80th birthday. In the second part of the series our correspondent looks at the fundamental changes he made in the foreign policy arena.

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1985.  At 54, he was the youngest member of the ruling Politburo, which voted him into power.  For the next six years, he instituted policies that would alter the course of history and ultimately lead to the demise of the Soviet Union.

On the domestic front, those policies were known as “glasnost” - or openness - and “perestroika” - or restructuring.  In foreign affairs, Mr. Gorbachev’s reforms were known as “new thinking.”

Robert Legvold, with Columbia University, says it was not simply that Mr. Gorbachev changed Moscow’s behavior.

“It was this new political thinking as the representation of a fundamental, new conceptual notion of what the Soviet Union was or could be in international politics, how it should play its role, what the fundamental mistakes had been in the past," said Levgold.

Legvold says Mr. Gorbachev understood that the Soviet Union could no longer increase its influence in the outside world by using its military force.  And he says in order to create a new foreign policy that could be sustained economically, Mr. Gorbachev realized that Moscow would have to - in some areas - retrench.

One of those areas was Afghanistan, where Soviet troops had been fighting mujahedeen guerrilla forces since December 1979.

Archie Brown, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oxford (Britain), says Mr. Gorbachev had strong views about the Soviet presence in Afghanistan.

“At the time the invasion took place [December 24, 1979], Gorbachev met with [Eduard] Shevardnadze [Georgian Communist Party leader, future Soviet Foreign Minister under Gorbachev]," said Brown. "They were both members of the Politburo, but this decision was taken without their participation.  It was taken by a very narrow group in the top leadership of the party, and they both thought it would be a disaster.  And so from very early in his general secretaryship, Gorbachev wanted to get Soviet troops out of Afghanistan.  But he had the same problems that other leaders have when troops are there and a lot of people have been killed - it’s very difficult to say all these lives were wasted, the Afghan lives and the lives of Soviet soldiers.  You want to get out with some dignity and some kind of agreement.”

Brown says the process took longer than Mr. Gorbachev expected.  The last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan on February 15, 1989.

But as Marshal Goldman from Harvard University says, not everyone welcomed that decision.

“There were others who said that this is Russia backing down - once you start backing down, you are just going to back up all the way and show that you’re just a paper tiger," said Goldman. "But I think this was essential and Gorbachev understood that fighting this war was a drain for which there was really no end in sight.  But it also led to statements in the sense that Russia really had lost it and lost its ability to intimidate - they suddenly fell from being a superpower to being no power whatsoever.”

Mr. Gorbachev’s “new thinking” on foreign policy spread to Eastern Europe, where people were clamoring for an end to Communist Party rule.

In July 1989, the so-called “Brezhnev Doctrine” was replaced by what one Gorbachev adviser described as the “Sinatra Doctrine”, based on the singer’s popular song “My Way.”  In other words, the adviser said East European countries were now able to go their own way - politically and economically - without fear of invasion by Soviet troops.

Once again, Archie Brown:

“Once it became clear that there would be no Soviet military intervention to put a stop to demands for national independence, then I think one could simply assume - I certainly assumed at the time - that this would follow quickly, because these countries would have become non-communist years earlier, even decades earlier, but for their perfectly realistic expectation that if they got rid of their own local communist leaders, this would lead to a Soviet intervention, as it did in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968," he said.

Columbia University's Robert Legvold says historians will argue about why the Cold War ended or why the Soviet Union collapsed.

“My own view is that when you look at the story, especially when you try to explain the timing, that is why it occurred from 1985 to 1989 as opposed to 10 years later, 15 years later, when you try and explain the timing, I think it is very difficult to do that without giving a lot of credit to Gorbachev and what he did during that period," he said.

In October 1990, Mr. Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his many and decisive contributions to peace.  Fourteen months later, he resigned as Soviet president, experts say a victim of forces he unleashed but ultimately could not control.

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More