Best of both worlds

August 26, 1991

What kind of new Soviet Union will emerge from the travail of seven days that shook the world? No one knows the answer to that question, but we could envision the following scenario:

The first order of business is the signing of the new union treaty, which was the precipitating factor in the last desperate attempt of the old central bureaucracy to hold onto privilege and power. In fact, the treaty should be amended to bestow even greater power on the republics which have entered the treaty, placing them roughly in the same position as the American states.

Once that treaty is in place, Soviet citizens across the vast land would no longer look to Mikhail Gorbachev for conversion to a market economy. Each republic would decide its own course and set its own timetable for achieving that goal. Law enforcement would be in the hands of the republic authorities, and the infamous KGB disbanded as a national police force.

As president of the whole union, Mikhail Gorbachev would still be in charge of functions which by nature are of a national character -- currency, telecommunications, highways and the like. Above all, he would retain control of the Soviet Union's arsenal of 30,000 nuclear weapons. Gorbachev would then be free of the domestic burdens that have imperiled his presidency and could devote time to what he does best -- representing the Soviet Union before the world. He could even seek the financial support needed to get the Soviet Union through the grim winter that lies ahead, but the request would take a different form: Do not give the aid to the central government; give it to the republics.

Under this arrangement, the republics which seek independence might be persuaded to rethink their position and join the new Soviet Union under the terms of the union treaty instead of striking out on a perilous course of their own.

Such an arrangement would spread the responsibility that is demonstrably too large a burden for one individual to bear. In fact, it would be the best of both worlds.

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