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Understanding the Soviet Union

December 10, 1985

Davies notes that recent media reports said that President Reagan was about to meet the "President of Russia." As Davies points out, Gorbachev is not president but party secretary; former Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko is now president of the U.S.S.R. Davies goes on to argue, among other things, that "most Americans seem to look at the Soviet world through the prism of U.S. domestic politics."

As a student of government currently visiting the United States from Australia--another country that separates the office of head of state from that of head of government--may I suggest that Americans often make similar errors about their friends and allies?

For example, after the Geneva summit, President Reagan was reported on TV as going to meet other Western "heads of state and foreign ministers." But the heads he met with were heads of government (prime ministers), not heads of state (kings, queens, or presidents in parliamentary systems). In the same week, it was also reported that the British and Irish "heads of state came in by helicopter" to sign their historic agreement about Northern Ireland; however, it was not Queen Elizabeth and the Irish president (heads of state) who came, but the prime ministers of those countries (heads of government).

This separation between the offices of head of state and head of government is common in many parts of the world. Perhaps U.S. understanding of governmental processes elsewhere would be helped if the correct terms were issued.

ROGER WETTENHALL

Los Angeles

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