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Finish Off the Cold War: Stop Covert Actions

June 04, 1989|Arthur Macy Cox | Arthur Macy Cox is secretary of the American Committee on U.S.-Soviet Relations, a bipartisan, public -policy organization. He was formerly a diplomat and a CIA official

WASHINGTON — President George Bush triumphed at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit last week because he jettisoned a sterile Cold War ideology that marked the first four months of his Administration and adopted new thinking that can lead to genuine disarmament.

The President has moved "beyond containment" in response to evidence that Mikhail S. Gorbachev has repudiated Soviet policies of expansionism and is moving to demilitarize U.S.-Soviet competition. But partial military disarmament will not be enough to end the Cold War. While it has been fueled by an arms race, it has also been waged by clandestine paramilitary and political operations and espionage. Bush should maintain his initiative by proposing negotiations to terminate the clandestine war.

After 45 years of profound distrust on both sides, continuing secret operations will be a barrier to stable coexistence. Throughout the Cold War, both Washington and Moscow used each other's clandestine operations to measure true intentions. No matter how much peaceful rhetoric was contained in the speeches of superpower leaders, evidence of covert action and espionage was proof of continuing aggression. These operations manifestly increase tension.

Two recent news stories are instructive. Over the weekend of May 20, the British government expelled 11 Soviets--eight diplomats and three journalists--as spies. In a typical tit-for-tat response, the Soviets expelled an equal number of British diplomats and journalists from Moscow. Gorbachev's "new thinking" has not yet changed the habits of the KGB. This event soured British-Soviet relations. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, an early supporter of Gorbachev's programs, said the continuing espionage revealed "that many things remain the same. I'm disappointed . . . they have revealed their true colors."

The other concerns John Le Carre, the former British secret agent, who has written some of the best Cold War spy novels. His latest book, "The Russia House," will be published in the Soviet Union. The book focuses on how intelligence services, both East and West, block attempts, on both sides, to end the Cold War. Le Carre says that spies will find new ways to keep anyone from doing them out of their jobs by launching new espionage plots. All of this resonates with the spy ousters in London and Moscow.

The 40-year record of clandestine operations, on both sides, is not impressive. In fact, those operations have often caused serious setbacks to the security of both superpowers. The Soviets were thrown out of Yugoslavia, Egypt, Ghana and Guinea--in large measure because KGB operations attempting to overthrow the indigenous regimes were publicly exposed. With Egypt, the Soviets lost a strategic Middle East base when the head of Egyptian intelligence was revealed to be a KGB agent planning a coup to replace Anwar Sadat. The United States, too, has sponsored numerous failed secret operations with disastrous consequences, including the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the Iran-Contra fiasco.

Even the so-called covert successes have, in time, often produced horrendous negative repercussions. For example, in the period from 1969 to 1971, the most important Soviet foreign-policy negotiation was with Chancellor Willy Brandt of West Germany. It resulted in the recognition of East Germany. This agreement did more to reduce the risk of war than any diplomacy since the end of World War II. Shortly after, however, the West Germans discovered that an East German spy, directed by the KGB, had long been employed in Brandt's offices. Brandt was compromised and he resigned--much to the embarrassment of the Soviet government.

In 1969, when Chinese and Soviet forces engaged in border clashes, the Soviets demanded that the Chinese negotiate. They refused. So the KGB launched a covert operation, spreading rumors that the Soviets were about to launch a preemptive strike to eliminate Chinese nuclear capability. The Chinese were intimidated, and agreed to talk, but also began "Ping-Pong" diplomacy. In 1971, Henry A. Kissinger made his secret trip to Beijing and soon President Richard M. Nixon arrived to sign the agreement re-establishing relations between the United States and China. Thus, a successful Soviet covert operation paved the way to U.S.-Chinese rapprochement.

A covert operation claimed as one of CIA's greatest successes was the overthrow of President Mohammed Mossadeq of Iran and restoration of the shah in 1953. Mossadeq had been popular; the shah was not. His power came from secret police, the military and U.S. assistance. The ensuing revolution brought with it Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's religious fundamentalism. This unfortunate turn of events for the United States was rooted in a so-called successful CIA operation.

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