WASHINGTON APB — WASHINGTON -- The United States and the Soviet Union grew so much closer during Mikhail Gorbachev's tenure that a resumption of the frigid attitudes of the past would damage both nations, many experts say.
Political, economic and cultural ties now unite the two former enemies in ways that seemed unimaginable before the Soviet leader came to power in 1985.
In the past six years, the American and Soviet governments signed arms-control agreements, became diplomatic partners in the volatile Middle East and, as the Cold War ended, retooled their foreign and defense policies in anticipation of what President Bush called a "new world order."
All the while, the American and Soviet peoples became friendlier, as symbolized by the admiring throngs that greeted Gorbachev during his visits to the United States and the Muscovites' new-found love of McDonald's hamburgers and Baskin-Robbins ice cream.
The number of Americans visiting the Soviet Union to study, travel or make a buck swelled from 35,000 in 1984 to 158,000 last year, reports the Institute for Soviet-American Relations. Soviet travel to the United States shot up from 6,000 to 102,000 in the same period.
Each nation's stake in the other is much higher than it was six years ago, which is why so many people are worried about the coup that toppled Gorbachev Sunday night.
"We have really become very, very closely tied and there's a question whether the conflict is going to rip this asunder," said Robert O. Freedman, dean of graduate studies at Baltimore Hebrew University.
"We are helping to develop their stock market and their futures commodities market. We have their cadets at our Coast Guard Academy. We are involved in, I guess, well over 100 joint ventures. . . . We, together with our European allies, have been working on a system of economic assistance for the Soviet Union. There's a huge amount of academic and tourist exchanges between the two countries."
In fact, the number of joint business ventures has risen to 360, more than double the figure in December 1989, reports FYI Information Resources, a company that provides information about the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, U.S. exports to the Soviet Union have increased from $1.2 billion in 1986 to $3.1 billion in 1990. Imports of Soviet goods have nearly doubled, from $555 million to $1 billion, in the same period.
Although no one can be sure what will happen next in the Soviet Union, U.S. officials already are wondering whether American foreign and defense policy will have to be changed to reflect what might be a more hostile Soviet leadership.
Maryland Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin fears lost opportunities for world peace and wonders whether as a nation we will "need to spend a lot more energy protecting ourselves with regard to the Soviet Union."
"We were very optimistic of the Soviet Union playing a very considerable role in the peace process" in the Middle East, said Cardin, D-3rd. "I think we're going to have to reassess our goal in the Middle East as well as other parts of the world."
Cardin said he's also worried about the Soviets' stance on human-rights issues, including Jewish emigration.
Gorbachev opened the gates, allowing 184,000 Jews to emigrate last year alone. In 1986, only 202 were allowed to leave. There are about 3,000 former Soviets living in the Baltimore area.
Gorbachev also liberalized Soviet exchange policies, creating new opportunities for students and teachers to trade information and views. Most of the academic traffic has been channeled by the American Council of Teachers of Russian.
Last year, the council placed 1,700 Americans in the Soviet Union, including students, teachers, administrators and researchers, and arranged visits here for 1,300 Soviets, said executive director Dan E. Davidson. In 1985-86, a mere 20 Soviet undergraduate students studied in the United States, he said.
"We're still a long way from a true organic movement of scholars, and teachers and students," said Davidson, who is worried about the coup's impact on future exchanges. "Americans need to feel safe about going to the Soviet Union. They're not going to a place where there may be some physical danger, civil war, shooting or unrest."
As much as the Soviet Union needs the U.S., the U.S. needs the Soviet Union, Davidson suggested.
The Soviet Union "embraces some of the most powerful schools of theoretical science, physics, chemistry, psychology, artificial intelligence . . . not to mention very important areas of humanities, like music, art, dance," Davidson said.
"This is the other big empire in the world besides our own. And we cannot be indifferent about which way it goes, which model of government or society it embraces in the next century, because it is quite one thing to have an American-style participatory democracy and it is quite another thing if it goes the way of China."