Future of U.S.-Soviet Relations*

George Kennan**



APRIL 4, 1989, TUESDAY

SECTION: NEWS MAKERS & POLICY MAKERS

LENGTH: 10368 words

HEADLINE: CB HEARING OF THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRED BY: SENATOR CLAIBORNE PELL (D-RI) TESTIMONY OF PROFESSOR GEORGE KENNAN

PROF. KENNAN: Well, in much of what Senator Helms has said, I think there is a great deal of truth, especially what he said first about the general economy of the Soviet Union. I wouldn't agree entirely, I have a different impression of some of the details of his statement. And I simply cannot comment on the data that he has given us about the build-up of the Soviet strategic nuclear forces -- I'm not enough of an expert on that to comment on those data that he brought forward.

I do think, however, that the burden of armaments on the Soviet economy and on the whole Soviet political system which Senator Helms mentioned is a very great one, and that Gorbachev has good reason to want to see it reduced. And I believe that if the negotiations for the 50 percent reduction of the strategic forces go forward successfully, that that will take care of much of what has concerned not only Senator Helms but many other people in this country.

Thank you.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Well, now, I believe you have a statement for us.

 

PROF. KENNAN: Would you like me to read the statement?

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: We would, I think.

 

PROF. KENNAN: Thank you.

The following comments are addressed to the question of the future of Soviet-American relations.

What we are witnessing today in Russia is the breakup of much, if not all, of the system of power by which that country has been held together and governed since 1917. Fortunately, that breakup has been most pronounced in precisely those aspects of Soviet power that have been most troublesome from the standpoint of Soviet-American relations, namely: the world revolutionary ideology, rhetoric, and political efforts of the early Soviet leadership -- by that I meant the leadership that existed, let us say, in the first 10 or 15 years of Soviet power. Fortunately, these elements are no longer a significant factor in Soviet behavior.

Secondly, the morbid extremism of Stalinist political oppression -- I don't know how else to describe it -- anything that you say about it is an understatement. This factor began to be greatly moderated soon after Stalin's death in 1953. Further, very extensive modifications of it have been proceeding under Gorbachev, and the remnants of it are now being dismantled at a pace that renders it no longer a serious impediment to a normal Soviet-American relationship.

There do remain, however, three factors that trouble the relationship and have to be considered when one confronts the questions of its future. These are: what many in the West consider to be the inordinate size of the peacetime conventional armed force establishment of the Soviet Union; secondly, what remains of the Soviet political and military hegemony in Eastern and parts of Central Europe; thirdly, the rivalry between the two powers -- that is, ourselves and the Soviet Union -- in the cultivation and development of nuclear and conventional weaponry. And, finally, to these factors, as ones presenting problems in the Soviet-American relationship, might be added the unstable and, in some respects, dangerous internal political situation that now prevails in the Soviet Union.

I would like to comment briefly on each of those factors.

The maintenance of what appear to be numerically excessive ground forces in peacetime has been a constant feature of Russian-Soviet policy for most of the last 200 years. The reasons for this, which I won't go into now, have been partly domestic and partly defensive. It is significant that never in all this time have these great forces been employed to initiate hostilities against a major military power. Under Gorbachev's leadership, the size of that establishment is now being somewhat reduced. All together, this should not be a serious complication of the Soviet-American relationship.

As for the -- the Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe, since roughly the time of the increased troop movements into Czechoslovakia in 1958, the Soviet political hegemony over the other Warsaw Pact countries has been slackening. And now, since Gorbachev's advent to power, there has been a marked advance in the effective independence of these satellite governments in the shaping of their economies and of their relations with the Western countries. Those regimes now have essentially a free hand provided only, first, that they do not challenge their obligations of membership under the Warsaw Pact, and secondly, that they do not depart from the use of the term "socialist" as the official designation of their economies.

But, of course, this -- a great deal can happen under that particular umbrella. So tenuous is today the Soviet hold over these countries, that I personally doubt that military intervention into any of them, along the lines of the action in Hungary in 1956, would now be a realistic option of Soviet policy. Not only would it be in crass [gross(?)] conflict with Gorbachev's public commitments, but the consequences in the remainder of the satellite area, and among the non-Russian nationalities of the Soviet Union, would be unpredictable.

Now, as for the third point, that is, the rivalry in the cultivation of nuclear and conventional weaponry, I do not consider that our government has made the efforts it could and should have made in recent years to reach acceptable agreements with the Soviet side for the reduction of either nuclear or conventional weapons.

While this question is too complex for detailed treatment in this statement, I would like to offer these general comments.

There have been, in recent months and years, several interesting and encouraging initiatives and suggestions from the Soviet side to which we have been essentially unresponsive. Obviously, these initiatives and suggestions could not be taken at face value. They all called for explorations and discussions with the Soviet side of their reality and their practical significance.

But this exploration has not been seriously undertaken. I think it should have been. The problems of reductions and conventional armaments has -- this problem has been needlessly complicated and distorted, in my opinion, by the grievous exaggeration of the existing Soviet superiority in such weapons -- that exaggeration that has marked the public statements and apparently the official assumptions of our government. This obviously should be corrected.

The arsenals of nuclear weapons now in the possession of the Soviet Union and the United States are plainly vastly redundant in relation to the purpose they are supposed to serve. Owing to their over-destructiveness, and their suicidal implications, these weapons are essentially useless from the standpoint of actual commitment to military combat. And whatever deterrent function they might usefully serve, could be effectively served by far smaller forces.

The statements and policies of our government appear to reflect an assumption that the maintenance of these excessive arsenals presents no serious problem, and that there is no urgency about the need for their reduction. I cannot share this complacency.

Not only is there the danger that these weapons might come into use by accident, misunderstanding or other inadvertence, but there seems to be a real and immediate danger that there will be further proliferation in the immediate future. This danger calls for -- calls urgently for a vigorous attack on the whole problem of proliferation and the prerequisite for such an attack would be, as I see it, extensive reductions in the holdings of the two superpowers. It is unrealistic to suppose that the United States and the Soviet Union can continue indefinitely to cultivate these weapons in such excessive numbers, and yet successfully to deny to most of the world's governments the right -- the right to cultivate them at all.

Finally, the domestic political personal situation of Mr. Gorbachev is, indeed, in certain respects, precarious, particularly in view of the meager results to date of his program of perestroika. But his position also has had important elements of strength as does his program, and both have now been strengthened by the results of the recent election.

His initiatives in foreign policy have not met with serious internal political resistance. There is, therefore, no reason to suppose that agreements entered into with his government, under his leadership, would not, if properly negotiated and formalized, be respected by his successors.

In summary, it appears to me that whatever reasons may once have -- there may once have been for regarding the Soviet Union primarily as a possible, if not probable, military opponent, the time for that sort of thing has clearly passed. That country should now be regarded essentially as another great power like other great powers, one, that is, whose aspirations and policies are conditioned outstandingly by its own geographic situation, history and tradition and are, therefore, not identical with our own; but are also not so seriously in conflict with ours as to justify any assumption that the outstanding differences could not be adjusted by the normal means of compromise and accommodation.

It ought now to be our purpose, I consider, while not neglecting the needs of our general security, to eliminate as soon as possible, by amicable negotiation, the elements of abnormal military tension that have recently dominated Soviet-American relations and to turn our attention instead to the development of the positive possibilities of this relationship which are far from insignificant.

Thank you.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Thank you very much, Ambassador Kennan, for your statement -- particularly interesting to us, in your capacity as the author of the original rather strong and tough containment policy, which we followed for so many years. As you can see, there's great interest here in your statement. And we will be under the 10 minute rule where each of us will have 10 minutes to ask you questions, replies. I just had one opening question. And that is, about eight years ago, you called for a 50 percent reduction in the nuclear arsenals of the superpowers, a proposal which, at that time, was scoffed at by many but which, a few years later, the two sides formally adopted as their stated goal in the START talks. And then more recently, in the New York Times article -- magazine article, he wrote that the United States' hesitant, unenthusiastic responses to many of Gorbachev's foreign policy initiatives have caused many people elsewhere in the world to wonder whether we really have any serious interest in arms control at all. And I must say I share that same thought; that it seems to me that the Soviets have had -- taken more unilateral actions of this sort -- than we in the past few years. I would be very grateful if you could elaborate your concern on this. And do you think it is necessary for us to have a response each time Gorbachev makes a proposal, or are you thinking more in broader terms?

 

PROF. KENNAN: Certainly not -- we should certainly not think it incumbent on us to respond positively, immediately to every one of these initiates. They -- as I said in my statement -- each of them ought to be explored in discussions with the -- with our Soviet counterparts to find out exactly what they have in mind and to measure that against our own requirements and our own interests. But I do think that those explorations should be undertaken. We should not allow these initiatives from the Soviet side when they are of an encouraging nature to go unrecognized by us, even where they seem sometimes to be extreme or ones to which we could not respond without putting up a number of conditions. I think we still should insist on communicating with them about such matters.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: For example, do you think we ought to respond specifically to the Soviet offer to withdraw -- reduce their conventional forces in Europe by half a million people -- 500,000 people?

 

PROF. KENNAN: Yes, but of course again, not by accepting that in a blanket way right at the beginning. I think we should take cognizance of the various stages which Gorbachev has suggested as a way of approaching this, and should examine each of them, and should see whether -- and whether there is anything we can do to promote agreement on those stages. But it is -- but by all means, remain in contact with them informally, if not formally, throughout the entire process.

I think that Mr. Gorbachev's aim of the reduction of the confrontation in the center of Europe by a million men is a very understandable and a very worthy one and it is high time that we should see what could be done to achieve it.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Both -- you and I have both lived under communism, behind the Curtain. And I think all of us who have lived behind the Curtain are struck by the incompetence, inefficiency and anti-natural tendencies or anti-natural effects of the communist regime; that communism contains the seeds of its own destruction within itself, it's not capitalism that does. And I was just curious if you felt that this movement now in the Soviet Union is pretty irreversible, or do you feel that another Stalin can come down the pike a little later on? What's your own view?

 

PROF. KENNAN: That I am --? The last few words, Senator, of your question --

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Yes. Do you think the progress that's being made -- the perestroika that Gorbachev is shooting for -- do you think this is an irreversible trend, or can it be changed again and go backwards, as it happened once under the czars?

 

PROF. KENNAN: I think that it is, in this sense, irreversible, that it would be quite impossible today to return even to the conditions of the -- of the period of Mr. Brezhnev, and even more impossible to return to the conditions under Mr. Stalin.

Of course, this is a highly confused and flexible situation that prevails in that country today. And I have no doubt that some of the things that Mr. Gorbachev has been trying to achieve will probably not be achieved in his time, and there may be reverses. But by and large, he has set in motion a process which had to be set in motion sooner or later. It should have come much earlier. I think it is a very important process. I think it may correctly be described as the removal of the last vestiges of Stalinism, but also as really the end of the Russian Revolution as we have known it and thought of it for the last 70 years in Russia.

I think a new Russia is going to emerge from all of this confusion which will not much resemble the communist one that we have known all these seven decades. Some of that may last; perhaps there are small features of it which deserve to last -- I can't say that. But by and large, this whole great structure of power, which was, I think, founded on erroneous ideological principles, has now worn itself out, and Russia is going to have to find something new, something better.

He has set that process in motion. It -- it was a very dangerous thing to do. In doing this, he has unleashed tremendous forces, perhaps greater than he himself realized, in Russian society and in the society of the Soviet Union as a great multinational empire. And it's very difficult to predict what is now going to happen. But by and large, I view this as a very positive undertaking that he's gone into -- one that required great courage, I must say, and great strength of character on his part. And like all the rest of us, I think he will not achieve everything that he has tried to achieve, but that the residue of all his effort, whatever it is, will be one that benefits us and benefits the world.

Thank you.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Were you as struck as I was in his book, "Perestroika," how he "leapt-frog" backwards and omitted practically all references to Stalinism and Stalin's days, going back to the NEP, the New Economic Policy, of Lenin. And it would seem to me that what he's doing here is still being a socialist but going back to the NEP, and that we're going to get lessons on Lenin in the future. What would be your thought there?

 

PROF. KENNAN: Well, I suppose he felt he had to do this. Mr. Gorbachev had no way to do what he has been trying to do, except through the existing apparatus of power that he had before him when he entered into this position several years ago. And I think he tried to fall back on Lenin as a positive force, as he saw it, in Russian affairs. I personally would not agree with that. I think Lenin -- there was a great deal that was wrong with Lenin's ideology and with his methods, too.

And I think that Mr. Gorbachev has discovered, particularly in connection with the problem of Russian agriculture, that, in trying to do what he is trying to do, he has combat not only all the mistakes of the communist period, but many of the faults of Russian agriculture way back into the czarist period. In other words, he has nothing to build on, out of either the czarist tradition or the communist tradition, and he's going to be forced to innovate here and to create something which is entirely identical to neither of these models.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: When you compare his regime with Castro's regime, you see certain differences. Castro built his communist state on a rural proletariat, which was made -- which gave him the fertile soil for communism. Whereas in the Soviet Union, you had the kulak class, the bourgeois class, which had to be eliminated first. Do you see -- what do you see coming out of the present discussions between Gorbachev and Castro in Cuba?

 

PROF. KENNAN: I think they must be rather painful discussions behind the scenes. I do think that they will probably be useful. They are a stage that had to be passed in the winding up, which I hope will come, of the Soviet government's abnormal interest and involvement in Central America. I think that he must want to see those burdens modified, if not eliminated. As you know, Cuba has been a stone around the Soviet neck financially for a long time, and that cannot be welcome in Moscow in the period which we're now living through.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Thank you very much indeed. And Senator Helms?

 

SEN. JESSE HELMS (R-NC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Ambassador, I've got to commend you on your stamina. It's good to see you here this morning --

 

PROF. KENNAN: Yes, sir.

 

SEN. HELMS: -- and we will not discuss how old I am or you are, but I've been reading about you and following you for years and years. And it's good to see you, and I thank you for coming.

 

PROF. KENNAN: Thank you. I appreciate that.

 

SEN. HELMS: I guess what we are saying, in one way or another, all of us, is that it's going to depend on how much of a taste of freedom the Russian people get, how much freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom to select their leaders and so forth. And it may be, and this is my heart talking instead of my head maybe, it may be that for those who would continue to oppress the Russian people, have opened Pandora's box. I hope they have. And that the tidal wave will continue and in that case there is hope but there is also, at the same time, I think, a reason to engage in healthy skepticism and to watch it and be sure that we're not giving away the store and not making a mistake.

And I say that because from the beginning of the Soviet regime, there's been a hope in the West that commercial relations, for example, would somehow be an inducement for restrained behavior on the part of the Kremlin. Time and time again I've seen various commercial deals conducted and the result up to now has been the same, and I was looking the other night, and I think it was 1922 there was an international conference at Genoa, by the European powers as well as the United States -- a conference to discuss commercial relations with a Soviet delegation.

Now, I was pretty young at that time, like one year old, so I don't remember it, but what I read was, that European and American banking and industrial interests fell all over themselves to develop lucrative trade relations with the Soviets. And for the past seven decades, in one way or another, European and American businessmen have been trading with the Soviets.

Now, laying aside our hopes and aspirations for the future, do you believe that the historical record demonstrates that commercial relations somehow mellow Soviet behavior?

 

PROF. KENNAN: No, not in any very significant degree. I think they may be a minor involvement with other countries that has to take its place in the considerations that the Soviet leaders entertain when they think about foreign policy problems, but particularly with respect to our own country I think this has been a minor factor and I think there are other reasons, perhaps, why normal trade should be permitted to go forward, in so far as American businessmen want to conduct it and find it profitable to conduct it. But I don't think we should place any inordinate political hopes on the effects of trade in -- on the major political problems. In this, I can only answer your question, really, in the manner in which I think you were placing it. I don't think it is a major factor.

 

SEN. HELMS: But at the same time, I think we have to acknowledge and consider that it is self-evident that these commercial relations with the Soviet Union have, in the past, and we hope not in the future -- have in the past served to build this war machine that the Kremlin has put together. And that has been used in turn, of course, for Soviet global expansion and influence. In any case, in 1922, there was another important conference, and that was at Rapallo, Italy. At this conference, the two pariah states of Europe, Germany and the Soviet Union, agreed to establish diplomatic relations and commercial cooperation, and the German bankers and industrialists saw Soviet Russia as a vast economic space for commercial exploitation. The German military saw an opportunity for using Soviet Russia as a part of a secret plan to re-develop German military power.

Now, the reason I ask that question and go into it is, what is your assessment of the West German intentions today with respect to the Soviet Union?

 

PROF. KENNAN: I think the leading consideration in the minds of the West German authorities today, when they think about Soviet-American relations, would be their great desire to see a diminution of the military conflict in the center of Europe, because Germany bears the main burden of that. They have the forces, I believe, of six or seven different countries on their soil, and they -- this is burdensome to them and annoying in a great many ways. So the first thing I think they would like to do is to see the whole intensity of the military standoff in the middle of Europe to diminish.

They would also, of course, like to develop their economic ties with the Soviet Union. They have always, in the last century, had much more extensive business dealings with Russia than we have. They have sometimes been profitable, sometimes I suppose not. But the Germans continue to hope that they -- this is a -- if I may start that sentence over again -- this is a natural field for German economy. They are close to it. They have a long tradition of interest in the Soviet economy. They see a great country there highly underdeveloped, which has really great need of all that Germany, as the leading European industrial country, might have to offer. And they would like to make as good use of that situation as they can. They are aware of the limitations, too, on such a policy, but they go into it, as they always have, much more enthusiastically than we have. I don't think they have any dreams of associating themselves, again, politically or militarily, with the Soviet Union, in any manner that could be a threat to the West. I really have spent many years of my life in Germany, before Hitler, and again during the Hitler time.

I see a good deal of that country now, in this post-Hitlerian period, and I really think that that aspect of German policy, which worried many people in the West so much in earlier decades has now really just about disappeared. I would have no anxieties about that. I think they know perfectly well where their greatest interests lie, and they lie toward the West, and toward the continuation of a close and -- relationships of confidence and intimacy with the Western community. I don't think there are any significant dreams among them, either of adopting a neutralized position and mediating between the two sides, or of associating themselves in any way with -- politically and militarily with the Soviet Union.

I'm happy to say that, but I think that I say that in the light of the experience of four decades now that we have had with the West German government. I think it's been quite remarkable how successful a moderate democratic system Western Germany has been able to develop over these years. It has been headed by absolutely excellent men. We couldn't have asked for better ones. The German -- the succession of German Presidents in Western Germany have been really a succession of a number of very fine men. I think they should be given credit for this, credit for their loyalty to NATO, which hasn't always been easy for them. And that we should give them at least our general confidence. We may not agree with them about every aspect of that policy, but we need have no inordinate anxieties on this score.

 

SEN. HELMS: But I suspect that that will be of some comfort to the other members of NATO, because I've talked with some of them, and they're living on a diet of fingernails about this possibility. They're nervous, because they see that the West Germans are looking for expanded influence in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, at the expense of NATO. And you don't think they have any need to worry about that?

 

PROF. KENNAN: Not at the expense of NATO. I think this is being thrust upon them, to some extent, because the Soviet satellite countries, certain of them, are now in a position to expand their relationships with the West. And they tend to look, in the first instance, to Germany for a response to that. But I think the best way out of that lies through the European Community. I have always thought that the best future of Germany, from our standpoint, from the standpoint of world peace, was a very close association of Germany with a general European community of countries. I would've liked to have seen Germany a part of a real European federation.

I would not trust the future, if it was a question of setting up Germany again as the greatest single military and political power in Europe without any bonds to anybody else. I think that would be unhealthy. It would cause great anxieties among the others. It would present temptations perhaps for the Germans, which would be undesirable.

 

SEN. HELMS: Well, you have stated precisely the concerns of some NATO people, and --

 

PROF. KENNAN: Yes, sir.

 

SEN. HELMS: -- it's going to be interesting to see how it goes and whether the Soviets play the German card and vice versa.

Well, thank you very much. My time is up.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Thank you very much indeed. Senator Biden.

 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): Thank you. Thank you.

Welcome, Ambassador. It's an honor and a pleasure to have you here. In your diaries which are about to be published, an excerpt of which was in this month's Atlantic, you described an encounter you had with Mr. Gorbachev at the signing of the INF agreement where you said, "He looked me seriously in the eye and said, 'Mr. Kennan, we in our country believe that a man may be the friend of another country and remain at the same time a loyal and devoted citizen of his own, and that is the way we view you.'"

And you go on to say you reflected on Gorbachev's words, and I thought it was really interesting, your comment. You said, "The whole 60 years of my involvement with Soviet affairs, which included at one point being banned from Russia as an enemy of the Soviet people revolved before my eyes; I reflected that, if I cannot have this sort of recognition -- if you cannot have this sort of recognition from your own government to mark the end of your involvement in such a relationship, it is nice to have it at least from one's adversary." Well, Mr. Ambassador, I cannot speak for the whole Senate. I cannot speak even for this Committee. I can only speak for one senator who I'm confident at least represents many, many senators with whom I served in the past and presently serve when I express a deep appreciation and admiration for your life-long efforts to bring reason and strength that comes from reason, which is so often missing in this government and all governments, to bring reason to American foreign policy.

You've not always had your views heeded over the last 60 years, as you would be the first to recognize, and I think you've made oblique reference to a moment ago, but you have voiced your views clearly and eloquently with a sweeping view of history and a clarity that few have ever been able to express, and clearly few in this century. And you've done it without regard for the prevailing fashion, the prevailing political fashion. I think in doing so, you've made an enormous contribution to your nation, and I applaud you for that, and for the standard of devoted public service that you have had and continue to express and now, assuming that such praise has not put you off your stride, I'd like to proceed with one question and come back to others, because I am supposed to be down at the White House, and as much as I respect you, I do not want to keep the President waiting. Matter of fact, I'm sure he won't wait.

I'd like to ask one quick question, and then if I have time in the second round come back. The Helsinki -- The Helsinki Conference in Moscow, which is so sorely desired by Mr. Gorbachev, is viewed by some as a yearning and overwhelming desire upon the part of Gorbachev to have an unearned stamp of legitimacy put on the human rights policy.

Let me raise with you the following proposition. Gorbachev can't fail to understand that with this conference will come probably thousands of Western journalists and thousands of observers, thousands of people who will be wandering, roaming, probing and looking into Soviet life, as best they can, not only in Moscow, but in the environs. And what -- how would you respond to the assertion that he quite possibly might want the human -- the Helsinki Conference in Moscow to put pressure internally rather than receive external stamp of approval?

 

PROF. KENNAN: I think, Senator Biden, that that is absolutely correct. I think that he sees in holding this conference in Moscow a means of furthering his own efforts on behalf of human rights in Russia. He has gone farther to date than I would have ever have thought possible that anybody could do in four years. This is a country with scarcely any tradition of democracy whatsoever. There has been, in the late czarist period, there was fairly, fairly good system of jurisprudence in czarist Russia, and certain of the human rights that we're talking about began to be recognized around the turn of the century in that country. But beyond that, there's been very little at all. And, of course, this generation of the population in the Soviet Union doesn't remember anything, really, beyond -- back of World War Two. And they don't have any memories of that time so that this is something really new for them. And I think that he has pushed it as far and as fast as he can push it by his own efforts within Russia. And I hope and think it likely that he views this conference as a lever by which he can induce his own people, not only to push it further, but also by which he can render those reforms which he has already put in motion irreversible.

 

SEN. BIDEN: I thank you very much.

 

PROF. KENNAN: Thank you.

 

SEN. BIDEN: I will -- if time permits, I'd like to ask you some questions about Eastern Europe if my colleagues do not cover that, and I'm sure they will, at least in part. I thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Thank you. Senator Lugar.

 

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I join my distinguished colleague, Senator Biden, in his eloquent tribute to you, sir. I think your contribution has been enormous, and it's a real privilege to have you before the Committee this morning.

Let me just ask, from your studies over the years and your understanding of the Soviet people, to what extent should we anticipate that the tradition of long-suffering populations, enduring any amount of egregious political economic misuse is likely to continue? To what extent, even though there have been some openings, some opportunities, through these elections, for example, through some minimal amount of market economics, could we anticipate that, in the event that perestroika did not work or that another regime came to power -- one not of the Stalinist variety, but still a very authoritarian regime -- that the Soviet people would continue to suffer through this with the certain fatalism that this is likely to be their lot and that one can not anticipate too much difference in this life?

 

PROF. KENNAN: Yes. I don't think we can build too much at present on the understanding of the mass of the Soviet people for democratic principles. I think they resent ill treatment at the hands of a government. They would like the government to treat them better. And I think they do have a feeling for human rights -- within limits. That is, they have a feeling that the citizen ought to have certain protection against arbitrary treatment, arbitrary arrest and punishment -- that sort of thing. But when it comes to the operation of a real democratic system, with all the checks and balances, all the compromises that have to be made, those things which you gentlemen understand so well, I think it'll be a long time before the Russian people will come to anything like that. And there is a certain danger here. It is not, as you correctly said, the danger of a return to Stalinism, but there might be setbacks in the degree of authority exercised by the central government. I quite agree to that. There are, of course, important differences, highly significant ones today between the reactions of the Russians as a national ethnic group and the reactions of some of the non-Russian nationalities in the Soviet Union. Some of those non-Russian nationalities are better schooled in the devices of democracy than are the Russians.

Others are probably even less well schooled than the Russians. There's no uniformity among them but there are great differences here between those non-Russian nationalities and the Russians themselves.

I think that the question you put is a very -- one that we should all put to ourselves. It's a very reasonable question and we must be on the alert to see how things go. This present situation is highly unstable and even unstable to the point of dangerousness in the Soviet Union. It could go in all sorts of ways and we have to watch it very carefully. I hope that it won't go in the way that you fear might be possible, but you can't be absolutely sure.

 

SEN. LUGAR: Let me ask another question about that instability. Clearly, during the elections in the Baltic states, there were some contests that were vigorously contested, and it may be in Latvia and Estonia, one finds examples of persons who have had more interest in democratic systems and really want to pursue that.

Perhaps in the southern regions of the Soviet Union, there are states that have not had that kind of experience or tradition but simply resent Russians, and are, at some point, unstable from the standpoint of their resentment of the Russian people as a majority, and one which is becoming, at least according to demographers, as you pointed out, a potential minority.

What are the likely courses of action for these two types of situations? Granted, there are a myriad of others along the spectrum, but what options are there for the Estonians and the Latvians? Is it one of simply pursuing the current situation to see what the limits of tolerance are, how much one can work out of the current system, as opposed to going into absolute revolt and could you express what could be the possible reactions of the Muslim-related southern Soviet states?

PROF. KENNAN: There is -- of course there's a total difference between those two groups of people. The three Baltic countries, I lived in them for two years when they were enjoying their independence and they were all with bumps and troubles and so forth, but they were all beginning to make a success of governing themselves. It was new to them in 1919 when they became independent countries but they were doing not badly, particularly the Estonians, were developing along what I would call Scandinavian lines, they're first cousins to the Finns. They do face a choice. They will want to go as far as they can in recovering their independence. There are dangers if they push it too far and too fast, and I think they are becoming aware of those dangers, particularly in Lithuania, and that even the new national movements which have grown up in those countries, which are separate from the communist party, even those movements are beginning to realize that their best chances lie in a certain gradualness, keeping a certain amount of pressure on, but not too much, not enough to -- really to frighten the Russians into doing drastic things. I hope that they will go on in that prudent way and will not push things to crisis rule, but if they follow that policy, they will succeed in achieving a very large measure of autonomy and eventually, of getting a relationship with the Soviet Union which will satisfy both parties.

Now as for the Moslems, they are in an entirely different situation. They, I think, are very often divided themselves in their feelings about the countries that lie to the south of the border, and I just don't know what they are going to want. There are elements involved there which surpass my expertise in the feelings of those people. I don't think that today any of them really want complete independence, because I think they realize that they're not prepared for it. Even the Armenians do not, because the alternative for the Armenians to be part of the Soviet Union would be to find themselves alone again in confrontation with the Turks. And they have bitter memories of that, so that that's a very complicated situation. I don't anticipate as much trouble down there, as I do with those western nationalities which Stalin unwisely and improperly and in a shocking manner, took into the Soviet Union in the early period of the Second World War.

 

SEN. LUGAR: To what extent, Ambassador Kennan, do you believe that General Secretary Gorbachev and the leadership of the Soviet Union realize the extent to which Soviet growth, not only an absolute to economic terms but technologically in various competitions, has fallen behind Western Europe, the Japanese and ourselves. Obviously, they understand that quite a gap has occurred, but their perestroika solution and its emphasis, continued emphasis, on socialism and on very great restraints as to how rapidly one can move toward property ownership, individual property ownership, would indicate that even though they see a large gap, they are constrained by the philosophy of the regime and, therefore, destined to come up short in terms of closing that gap.

Less a question of their being a basket case, but of minimal growth or no growth or something very disappointing with regard to either competition or consumer expectations, would they understand that contradiction and simply feel entrapped by it or how would you describe the dilemma as you find it?

PROF. KENNAN: Well, that varies very greatly with the people you are talking about in Moscow. They do fall into -- some of them fall into one of these views, some of them into the other. They are well aware -- the leaders are -- of the alarming degree of failure of their system to measure up to the international competition of this day and age. It is my own impression that, if given time, and that may be another five to ten years, Gorbachev will make out of the Soviet economy something better than it has been in the past. But whether this will ever be enough to permit them to catch up to the other advanced countries of the world is a very serious question. It may be that their socialist principles simply will not permit that.

But there are various forms of socialism. I mean, officially the Scandinavian countries have been in the hands of what are -- began as social democratic parties, essentially socialist parties. Yet they have evolved in such a way that they could now meet the terms of international competition. Perhaps the same thing can happen in Russia.

I don't think we can quite predict how all this will come out. I don't think they have to become exactly like ourselves, that they have to have the same kind of a free enterprise system that we have. But they certainly are going to have to loosen up a great deal more ideologically than they have to date if they're going to try to become a competitive power. I think it is very important for us to recognize this, because, if what I've said is correct, it means that for a long time into the future we do not have to fear the Soviet economy or whatever might be done to strengthen it.

 

SEN. LUGAR: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Thank you very much. Senator Sarbanes.

 

SEN. PAUL SARBANES (D-MD): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I want to join with you and my colleagues in welcoming Ambassador Kennan this morning. As a diplomat, a scholar, and really an educator of extraordinary accomplishment, I think Ambassador Kennan is uniquely qualified to open these hearings of the Committee on the future of US-Soviet relations.

Ambassador Kennan, you've made a major contribution to our understanding of the complexities of the US-Soviet relationship and have avoided the sharp swings from one extreme to the other that I think have too often unfortunately characterized our policy. I think you've been a source of inspiration to young diplomats and scholars, and I'm struck, in fact, by the number of young people that are attending this hearing this morning and that are standing in line out in the hallway waiting to get in. The Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Smithsonian Woodrow Wilson Center named in your honor, I think, is a lasting tribute to your work. So we're very honored and pleased to have you with us this morning.

I'd like to ask what, in a sense, is a follow-up to some of the questions that have been put to you, and that is whether the pace of change, either in Eastern Europe or within the Soviet Union itself, particularly as it relates to the nationalities, will be so rapid and so far-reaching that it will provoke some sort of counterreaction that will bring all of these developments to a halt and, in fact, turn things in a negative direction? How much apprehension do you have of that occurring?

 

PROF. KENNAN: Well, I have considerable apprehension about that, I must say, because the multinational, multilingual quality of the Soviet state, what used to be the Russian state, that was already being put to severe tests at the -- in the czarist period -- in the end of the czarist period. It is significant that the forces of modern nationalism tended to break up the great multilingual empires -- the Turkish one, the Austro-Hungarian one, the German one -- and these same strains have made themselves felt on what was the traditional Russian empire.

We -- if you would have asked me ten years ago, I would've said that this question of how -- whether they could hold together a great multinational empire of this nature was an urgent one, I would've said, no, that I thought it was a long-term problem and a very serious one of -- for the Soviet state, but not a short-term one. Now, what Gorbachev has done, and I think inadvertently, is suddenly to put -- to make out of this a short-term problem, and it is a very explosive one. It's going to be the hardest problem, in my opinion, he has to face -- even harder than that of the resurrection of the economy. And we will have to watch it very closely.

It is my -- the best we can hope for, I think, is that the Baltic countries and portions of the countries further south -- there was a portion of Poland and a portion of Romania which the Russians took -- that these will be able to find a new relationship both to the West and to the Russian center, which will permit them to have greater satisfaction of their own national ambitions without provoking the Russians into violent and unwise actions. But that will take statesmanship of a certain sort on the part of those -- particularly of the Baltic governments, if that's going to happen.

And all I can say is that, well, I -- this is a general principle that I've come to late in life. I've come to believe that the abrupt things in international life don't work very well, that the best forces in international life are the gradual ones. I don't believe in revolutions and great, sudden changes in the lives of people anymore. And if the Baltic governments can accept that principle and say, "Yes, we want our independence, we want our autonomy anyway, we want to play an independent role in the world," they can have it, but not all at once, not too fast, not in a way that humiliates anybody else or raises questions of prestige, which are insoluble. This would be my advice to them today. I hope that things will move along that line.

 

SEN. SARBANES: I'd like to take advantage of your presence here as a former ambassador to Yugoslavia, to ask you to take a moment or two to comment on the rising tensions there in Yugoslavia, and their potential significance for East-West relationships.

 

PROF. KENNAN: Well, I'm very glad you asked that question. I think that this is a situation as serious in its implications as is the -- are the centrifugal tendencies within the Soviet Union.

The Yugoslav state, as it was set up in 1919, was an artificially created state. I'm not sure that it was the wisest decision there in 1919. But it is also a multinational state, and one which is now being subjected to the most dangerous of strains. Yugoslavia has about eight different neighbors, almost all of which have -- have irredentist claims, that is, they would like to recover parts of the Yugoslav territory, if they could. And this creates a very dangerous situation. It was not by accident that the First World War originated in that part of Europe. And I think that it's -- very, very dangerous could happen there again today if this goes further.

Obviously, it's hard for the Yugoslav nationalities to continue to live together. Perhaps they should never have been united in the way that they were. But after all, this state has existed now for 60 or 70 years, and to break it up would be even more dangerous than trying to keep it together.

Again, one must hope. All of us, I think, who've lived and served in that country -- we learned to -- came to have great sympathy and understanding for the various Yugoslav peoples. They are wonderful peoples in many ways. So, I can only hold my breath for them. They don't have the sort of leadership that they had. The one thing that could be said about Tito, was what was often said about him in Yugoslavia, that he was the only real Yugoslav. He did hold this country together, as nobody else has been able to do. So, let us hope.

SEN. SARBANES: My final question has to do with the ideological content of Soviet foreign policy. And your view is that that has now pretty well been abandoned, I take it. And how confident are you that it will remain in an abandoned status, because obviously, as long as there's a highly ideological content of the nature that marked Soviet policy -- and I was interested in your responses about Gorbachev going back to Lenin, because it marked Lenin, certainly, as an essential element of Lenin's (sic/may mean "Gorbachev's") international perceptions. But how confident are you that that will remain absent from Soviet policy?

 

PROF. KENNAN: I'm quite confident that Marxism of the Leninist type, or the course of the Stalinist type -- Marxism as it was -- as people have endeavored to realize it in Russia since 1917, that this is a force which is on the way out, not only in Russia but across the globe. It had profound deficiencies as an ideology. It was not fully responsive to human requirements. It was something that took account, if you will, only of the tragedies of class differences in the early period of the industrial revolution, but which took no account of the fact that men's tragedies lie largely within themselves, within the individual.

I remember my friend, Chip Bolden (?), saying to me when we were living in Russia together in 1937 that this system will not last because it has no answer to the phenomenon of death. And this was a very profound observation that he made. So, I think that is on its way out. I think it is a dying force. It has been evident all through this century that nationalism really was a stronger force anyway than class interest -- this was one of Marx's great mistakes to believe otherwise. I don't think we have to fear that.

I think we have more to fear, the extremisms of nationalism in parts of the world that -- where it is rather new. We don't have to fear it anymore, thank goodness, in Western Europe. It -- it was the bane of Western Europe. It produced two great world wars which tore Europe to pieces, from which Europe has never fully recovered. But I think the Western Europeans have now realized this, and when you see the relations between France and Germany and others, I think this is a great hump that they have gotten over. I'm not sure that that is true about Southeastern Europe or about the nationalities that might be liberated from their inclusion in the Soviet Union. But Marxism is not what I am afraid of coming to --

 

SEN. SARBANES: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Thank you very much. Senator Kassebaum.

 

SEN. NANCY KASSEBAUM (R-KS): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I join, too, with my colleagues, Ambassador Kennan, in saying it's an honor to have you sharing your observations with the Foreign Relations Committee this morning and to express my appreciation and gratitude for your distinguished and dedicated service to this nation and the Western world, I would say.

 

PROF. KENNAN: Thank you.

 

SEN. KASSEBAUM: It's -- generations to come will be studying your words as they've guided us and our predecessors on this Committee. There will be certainly those who will follow us here.

I'd like to explore a little bit about your thoughts on Mr. Gorbachev's relationship with the military -- his military.

 

PROF. KENNAN: That's a very good question, I must say, because that is to date an unexplored area of Gorbachev's concerns. I don't think we know what's been happening there. He has, himself, said -- or rather, Shevardnadze did the -- recently in an internal speech that he gave in Russia, that, "We have not yet been able to get complete understanding among our military for the things that we are trying to do." And I'm sure that is true. I think it's very difficult to take a great military machine like that and to turn their views around as suddenly as Gorbachev has tried to turn the political views of his leadership around.

I think they've come some distance in that direction, but not entirely. There has been no tradition in Russia of military takeovers of the government -- even in the czarist time or in the Soviet time. The military have -- there's never been what is called "Caesarism" -- that phenomenon -- in the Soviet Union. And in general the military people are -- have accommodated themselves to the political will, whatever it is. I don't doubt that the unilateral cuts that Mr. Gorbachev has announced have caused very considerable concern and discomfort and perhaps some indignation even in the military establishment.

But I think they have to recognize ultimately that the maintenance of so great an establishment -- and Senator Helms was not wrong in calling attention to this -- is an abnormality for a country in the economic situation in which Russia finds itself today. They simply cannot afford to maintain so vast a military establishment as they have been maintaining. And the people in the military arm will have to accommodate themselves to that sooner or later. If it isn't Gorbachev, it'll have to be somebody else who will someday have to say to them, "Look here, a country with this economy cannot afford this sort of a military establishment." They can't do it indefinitely. I don't know whether it is 19 percent, or what it is that they take of the national income. I don't think anybody knows that exactly, but it is inordinate, in any case. And today, it is a luxury that cannot be maintained. This will be part of the task of political leadership to persuade the military people of that painful recognition.

 

SEN. KASSEBAUM: Would there be any temptation, say, on the part of Mr. Gorbachev to use the military or the military themselves believing that they should exert a more forceful role in dealing with, say, the turmoil in any of the non-Russian, nationalist areas? Say, between the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians and so forth? Might there -- might there be some friction there between what the military would see as an effort to bring the non-Russian nationalities under control, or is that not a factor at all?

 

PROF. KENNAN: Well, there may be -- there may be reluctance on the part of the Russian military to be used for that purpose, although not as much as there would be, I think, in other countries, because I think they -- the cultivation of these great armed forces -- one of the reasons for it has always been the sense of insecurity of the central government in Russia or the -- in their relationship to so vast an empire and they have regarded this great, big armed force establishment as one of their -- their safeties, in that respect. I don't know how the military, themselves, look on this. They have a great -- a very large component, I believe, of Moslem men in the Soviet, whole armed force establishment today.

On the other hand, I gather that they -- in the end -- they proved quite reliable in Afghanistan. At first, the government was frightened -- was -- feared to use them there, for fear that they would sympathize too much with the opponents. But I gather that in the end, they -- most of them proved to be all right.

Now, these are some of the great problems that they are going to face, both with the nationalities and with their handling of their own military people.

 

SEN. KASSEBAUM: I thought you had a very interesting exchange in the MacNeil/Lehrer show before Christmas I believe it was that you did that was such a thoughtful opportunity to hear some of your views. And I wondered if you could elaborate on some comments that you had there regarding whether this country, and in many ways, too, the Soviet Union perhaps, could adjust psychologically to the absence of an enemy.

 

PROF. KENNAN: (Chuckles.) It is a great question. It's not an absurd one.

 

SEN. KASSEBAUM: No. I find it very interesting.

 

PROF. KENNAN: As you know, we have cultivated a tremendous military establishment which plays a corresponding role in our whole economy. And I have often felt and said that I thought that the habit of spending [$]150 billion or whatever it is annually on military matters, on the military establishment, has become an addiction of American society. And the withdrawal symptoms might be extremely painful ones. So this is not an absurd thing. I think we should begin to think about conversion to peaceful purposes of a great deal of our military industry. I think it's not too early to -- at least to begin to think about that. We'd never -- we cannot tell when we might be confronted with that problem.

But I do -- one of the reasons why I feel so strongly about arms control and about really exploring all the possibilities for negotiation with the Russians for a negotiated reduction is that I think we couldn't -- it couldn't come too soon for the health of this country -- that is, a diminution of our entire military establishment. I think we have an interest in seeing this brought down.

 

SEN. KASSEBAUM: Hasn't -- Ambassador Kennan, hasn't the Soviet Union, as well, been able to galvanize the population because of a fear of the outside world? I mean, isn't it also perhaps psychologically a problem for them as well as these changes are taking place?

 

PROF. KENNAN: Well, it was -- this was something that Stalin tried very hard to do, and successfully to do. But I must say that Gorbachev has shown great courage in taking the opposite line and saying, "No, we do not need to fear the outside world to this extent today." And he has not used that as a lever for trying to get support for his policies. I give him full commendation for that.

But it is, of course -- what you say, it is a danger with all of us. We have geared our thoughts and our plans, our calculations, for 40 years on the assumption that we had here a great and dangerous enemy which, if not deterred, would do something horrible to us. And it is that assumption which is now disintegrating under the impact of the changes that have been happening in Russia and in the rest of the world in the last four or five years. And it does present a challenge to us. I think that we must begin to think about how we respond to it.

 

SEN. KASSEBAUM: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador.

 

CHAIRMAN PELL: Thank you.

Senator Sanford.

 

SEN. TERRY SANFORD (D-NC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Mr. Chairman and Mr. Ambassador, I apologize for not being here to hear your testimony. I got so absorbed in reading about you and your excellent new book this morning, I've been a half hour late all day. (Laughter.)

Let me ask you -- I don't think you've commented on it but it is relative to questions of security -- our policy of trade and our care and maybe too much care to protect technology. What should be our trade policy now with the Soviet Union?

 

PROF. KENNAN: In my opinion, we should permit trade to proceed normally wherever American businessmen want to conduct it. I do not favor any special efforts on the part of our government to bring financial aid to the Soviet government. I don't -- they haven't asked for it and I would not favor it if they did. I do think that we should remove the abnormal restrictions to trade that exist in the form of the amendments that were put into force -- the amendments to the trade agreement way back in the 1970s. I think they served no very useful purpose at any time and certainly not today and they should be removed.

But beyond that, I don't think we have too much to hope. From -- I don't think American-Soviet trade is going to assume major dimensions. They don't have the wherewithal with which to buy a great deal from this country, and we are not a major exporter to the Soviet Union.

I am not sure I've answered all your question, Senator.

 

SEN. SANFORD: Well, I think you have, except maybe what some people have thought, recently, at least, was a paranoia as to technology, however that might be defined.

 

PROF. KENNAN: Yes, that's right. I have the impression that we have been much too restrictive. As far -- so far as I can see, there are very few technological innovations at this time which can be kept secret in any great, modern country, and we have had a tendency to deny to the Russians for our own reasons things which they can perfectly, easily buy in other countries. That, I think, is unwarranted and unwise. I would like to see us stop doing that. We simply punish ourselves.

SEN. SANFORD: Well, I thank you very much and I apologize again, for having to leave, but I've got to straighten out the savings and loan situation before noon. (Laughter.) 

 

**  The Congressional Record, April 4, 1989. 

* George F. Kennan (Princeton '25) is most noted as the author of the "Long Telegram." After World War II, as the Soviet Union expanded its influence in Europe, Kennan, an experienced diplomat and Soviet expert, wrote his telegram to advocate a new course in U.S.-Soviet relations, later publishing its tenets within Foreign Affairs as the "X" article. Dubbed simply "containment," for much of the Cold War it would be the foundation of American foreign policy toward the U.S.S.R., though there were significant departures from Kennan's original understanding of the term..

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