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

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora