Our Responsibility for the Fate of the Soviet People

IRA L. STRAUS

July 14, 1991|By IRA L. STRAUS

NEW YORK. — New York -- KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, in a closed-door speech to the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet June 18, accused Western intelligence services planning for ''pacification and even occupation'' of the Soviet Union, on the ''pretext'' of keeping Soviet nuclear forces under control. The West was imposing demands of drastic economic changes; perestroika was being done as a favor to the West, in the ''illusion'' that the West would give tens of billions of dollars to make it work. A ''catastrophe'' was brewing, like the Nazi invasion.

Westerners might wonder how the head of the KGB could misread them so badly. The key is that he was not describing Western plans at all. Rather, he was projecting his own way of thinking onto the West.

Ironically, this enabled him to raise an important issue.

The U.S.S.R. is on the brink of catastrophe. Tens of billions of dollars are needed to reduce the risk of civil war. The West is unlikely to give money on that scale. Mikhail Gorbachev himself says that Soviet nuclear forces might fly out of control. A Western peacekeeping force might be the only safe way out. And military occupation of the Soviet Union by the West is dreamed about -- but in the U.S.S.R., not in the West.

For some Russians, occupation may look like the shortest path ** to peace and prosperity. In the 19th century, Russians debated whether it wouldn't have been better if Napoleon had conquered them. Today they dream of suffering the fate that Germany and Japan suffered after 1945. A member of the Leningrad Soviet has called for a peacekeeping force in Armenia and Azerbaijan, under the auspices of the United Nations or the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. ''The Mouse that Roared'' is alive and well in Moscow.

The dream of military occupation is no joking matter; there is a tragic realism behind it. The West does not do much to rebuild the U.S.S.R. because it lacks a sense of responsibility for the U.S.S.R., and in any case it fears that it might be an enemy that is being rebuilt. Military occupation would change all that; the West would want to see the occupied lands through to a healthy situation.

Unfortunately for the mice that would like to roar, a national army is unlikely to let foreigners come in and occupy the country. This might change if the Soviet Union were to fall into civil war. But there are no plans in the West for occupying the U.S.S.R. in any case.

It is natural for General Kryuchkov to think that the West would want to occupy the U.S.S.R. That's what he would want in the same situation. But it is not what the West wants to do. For poor, power-based societies, conquest is a plus. For wealthy Western ones, it seems like a mere drain on resources.

Yet the West is not entirely right about this. It is in the interest of the West to take responsibility for the fate of the Soviet people and even go to great expense to see them through to a stable, prosperous, democratic situation. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine an interest more vital to the West. The Financial Times of London has appraised the present value of this to the West at $4 trillion in defense savings alone.

How, General Kryuchkov wonders, can the West fail to have plans to secure this vital interest? It makes no sense. It does not allay his fears when there is no visible Western plan to help; it only arouses his suspicion that there must be a hidden plan to do harm.

The West should have a plan. Since military occupation is impossible and undesirable, the West should be forming an alternative plan for achieving the same positive results.

Such a plan can only be based on the institutions which integrated Germany into the West: NATO, the European Community and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The new and emerging democracies should be brought into these institutions in rapid overlapping phases. The Marshall Plan commitment to finance recovery in all of Europe should finally be fulfilled. We might also take up General Kryuchkov's idea and form a NATO-CSCE peacekeeping force, so that if the Soviet government asks, we will be ready to interpose between feuding nationalities and secure nuclear facilities -- and protect Mr. Gorbachev from General Kryuchkov.

Strong international institutions can win the benefits of occupation without the humiliation. In fact, it was only by building such institutions that these benefits were finally won in Germany, after war and occupation. We will have to build still stronger institutions -- an Atlantic community ''from Vancouver to Vladivostok,'' in the words of James Baker -- if we are to achieve the same results in the U.S.S.R.

Ira L. Straus is executive director of the Association to Unite the Democracies.

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