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The 'Habit to Command' Has to Be Dropped From Soviet-U.S. Relations

'NEW THINKING FOR OUR COUNTRY AND THE WORLD': First in a series .

November 29, 1987|MIKHAIL S. GORBACHEV

MOSCOW — The interval between the time I became Soviet general secretary and today saw a great many events, including some directly connected with the development of Soviet-American relations. Now we keep up a dialogue with the United States. The U.S. President and I periodically write to each other. Our negotiators discuss important problems.

But has the ice been broken, and is our relationship entering a more constructive phase? One would like this to continue, but to claim that some notable headway has been made would be to sin against the truth. The change for the better, if any, has been extremely slow. Now and again the former inconsistent modes of approach prevail over the imperative need to revitalize Soviet-American relations.

The progress of high technology has brought people closer together. This process can be used to promote greater mutual understanding. It can also be used to divide people. There have been immense losses on that account already. But now the world has reached a point where we--I mean both the United States and the Soviet Union--have to think of how we are going to continue. If we change nothing, it is difficult to foresee where we shall be 10, 15, 20 years from now. It seems to me that concern for our countries and for the future of all civilization is increasing. It is growing within the Soviet Union as well as within the American nation.

I will never accept the claim--whatever anyone might tell me--that the American people are aggressive toward the Soviet Union. I cannot believe that. There are, perhaps, some individuals who are pleased that there is tension, confrontation or intense rivalry between our countries. Perhaps some people do gain something from it. But such a state of things does not meet the larger interests of our peoples.

We are thinking, after all, of what must be done for our relations to improve. And they do need to. For not only have we failed to advance in this sense since the mid-1970s, but much of what was then created and done has been destroyed. We have not been moving forward, rather the other way around.

We say the Americans are to blame. The Americans say the Soviet Union is to blame. Perhaps we should seek out the reasons behind what happened, because we must draw lessons from the past, including the past record of our relations. That is a science, a serious and responsible science, if one sticks to the truth, of course. And yet today what we must think of most is how we are going to live together in this world and how we are going to cooperate.

I have met with a lot of American politicians and public figures. Sometimes it creates quite a crowded schedule for me, but on each occasion I try to find the time for such meetings. My mission is, as I see it, not only to get across an understanding of our policy and our vision of the world, but also to understand and appreciate more fully the American frame of mind, to learn better what the American problems are, and, in particular, the specific political processes in the United States. One cannot do otherwise. A scientific policy must be built on a strict assessment of reality. It is impossible to move toward more harmonious relations between the United States and the Soviet Union while being mesmerized by ideological myths.

We don't communicate enough with one another, we don't understand one another well enough, and we don't even respect one another enough. Certain forces have done a great deal to bring about such a state of affairs. Many misconceptions have built up to hamper cooperation and stand in the way of its development.

What do we expect from the United States?

We must learn to live in a real world, a world that takes into account the interests of the Soviet Union and the United States, of Britain and France and West Germany. But there are also the interests of China and India, Australia and Pakistan, Tanzania and Angola, Argentina and other nations; the interests of Poland, Vietnam, Cuba and other socialist countries. Not to recognize them would be to deny those people the freedom of choice and the right to a social set-up that suits them. Even if they err in their choice, they must themselves find a way out. That is their right.

I have spoken about this with many Americans, including Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who was in Moscow last spring. We had a wide-ranging conversation, but I kept bringing him around to the same idea: Let us try and live in a real world, let us take the interests of both nations into account. And that is impossible without taking into account the interests of other members of the world community. We shall not have proper international relations if we proceed from the interests of the Soviet Union and the United States alone. There has to be a balance.

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