By Дэвид Суонсон (David Swanson)
On Friday in Moscow I and a group from the United States met with former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. He said the current relationship between Washington and Moscow alarmed him. But, he said, it is possible to rebuild trust. “We had a situation that was worse, but we were able to rebuild trust. And people-to-people contacts helped to rebuild trust.”
When Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan first met, presidents of the two countries had not met for six years. Members of Reagan’s cabinet opposed the meeting. Gorbachev came out of the meeting saying of Reagan “He’s not a hawk, he’s a dinosaur.” Reagan came out denouncing Gorbachev as “a die-hard communist.”
But they kept meeting. Eventually and inevitably Reagan asked what the Soviets would do if the U.S. were attacked by a meteor or aliens. Both men said their countries would help each other. However, Reagan was a fan of Star Wars, both the weapons boondoggle and the movie — which he may have kept distinct from each other in his mind. Gorbachev and Reagan accomplished a great deal of disarmament, not to mention Gorbachev’s accomplishing the nonviolent dissolution of an empire. But they could not get rid of all the nuclear weapons, and they could not take other serious steps in that direction, because Reagan was not willing, and the U.S. government was not willing.
Just as the climate of the culture of the day, as created by activists, journalists, citizen diplomats, and hundreds of other forces, may have mattered more to the disarmament efforts’ successes than the precise words or personalities in the negotiating room, the established war interests in Washington may have determined the failures more than anything else.
“When the Soviet Union broke up,” Gorbachev said on Friday, “many in the West were rubbing their hands together. That was immoral. Our country was in a severe crisis, and it was treated as an enemy.”
On Friday, Gorbachev faulted the same forces on both sides. “We both have the military industrial complex,” he said. “They want war, but we want peace.” He then quoted U.S. President John F. Kennedy saying that the peace we need is not a “Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” Gorbachev recounted telling Reagan the very same thing that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is reported as having said this week: “the era of a master-pupil relationship is long over.” Russians want peace, but they want peace among equals, not peace under somebody’s boot heel.
Gorbachev tried for peace, and had the United States fully reciprocated, it is conceivable that today weapons of war would be banned from the earth. For that effort, Gorbachev is not honored in his home country as much as around the world. And the U.S. refusal to accept peace and friendship is recognized and regretted least in the United States — greatly to our shame.