Perestroika as a Challenge to the West
By Jan Oberg
Written April 1990
Published in Bulletin of Peace Proposals 3-1990, pp 287-298 and on TFF’s homepage at the same time
1. Four hypotheses
The West has lost a close enemy, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Which reactions can be discerned and what psycho-political emotions are they indicative of? How did the West cope with the first years of this new post-Cold War situation? Can we mourn the death of an enemy, can we heal ourselves after the loss? How does one learn to live a new life without a close enemy? Has the West done what it ought to do for itself and for the former enemy?
“The West” of course is a term hanging loose. We employ it in this article as meaning interchangeably “NATO, the Western hemisphere, the United States and Western Europe and a few cases, Western or Occidental culture”.
The first hypothesis of this essay is that the West, i.e. the Western part of the Occidental civilization, is traumatized by the loss of its Eastern brother.
The second is that we have discussed far too little what it means for the West and projected all our attention on the Soviet Union, i.e. acted as spectators in a certain sense.
The third hypothesis, therefore, is that the West is increasingly stuck in a self-congratulatory “we have won the cold war and socialism is dead” attitude which only increases the likelihood that it will be taken even more by surprise in the future.
And the fourth hypothesis is that the changes in the Eastern Occidental brother occur simultaneously with a number of challenges within the Western Occidental system and is bound, ultimately, to pose an overwhelming challenge to our own system. There is now an historical opportunity, a new political space and time to be filled by cooperation and exciting visions of a common future. We believe that the West has something to learn from the idea, not the content, of perestroika, i.e. experimenting with deep non-violent change in one’s own system the outcome of which cannot be known with any precision.
Czech playwright and president, Václav Havel, when in January 1990 adressing the Polish sejmen, argued that Eastern Europe should not be seen as a poor dissident or a bewildered prisoner set free but “as someone who has something to offer, namely spiritual and moral inspiration, daring peace initiatives, an unexploited creative potential, an ethos of new freedom and impulses toward bold and quick-moving solutions.” And he rounded off this speech with the following words (author’s translation again): “The most dangerous enemy today is not the dark forces of totalitarianism, intriguers or leagues of gangsters – it is our own dark sides. My program as president is therefore based on the principle of infusing spirituality, moral responsibility, humanity and humility into politics and, thus, insist on there being something higher than we humans, that our deeds shall not disappear into the dark holes of our time but be preserved, somewhere, investigated, evaluated – that we have neither a right nor a reason to maintain that we understand everything or can do everything.”
One may wonder with whom in the West Havel can have a dialogue at this level? Who in the West would respond in these existential and visionary terms? Why is the response of the West first of all economic, secondly cautiously political, showing almost no military response and, finally, not at all existential? And why is it so easy to discern a sentiment of reconcilitation in the East but not in the West?
2. The stages of crises, the essentials of mourning
When we lose someone close to us we go through a crisis defined by various stages. Johan Cullberg outlines the following stages: first, we go through a shock, second we react, third, we begin to adapt and fourth, we orient ourselves towards recovery and a new life.
The first two stages belong to the acute crisis. The bereaved is unable to understand what has happened,. There may be denial, there may be screams or cries; perhaps he or she seems calm but under the surface there is utter chaos. Later, the first attempts to find some meaning in what has happened occur, perhaps accompanied by guilt feelings and various “repairing” reactions such as hearing the lost person’s voice through which the bereaved seeks to bring back the person lost.
The acute crisis also contains a number of typical defence mechanisms such as regression, demanding to be taken care of, denial or what Robert Jay Lifton calls “business-as-usual” and “psychic numbing”. Projection of guilt feeling upon the lost person or the surroundings, rationalization of all emotions, self-isolation, and suppression are examples of such reactions. Sometimes the deep sense of loss manifests itself in extremely aggressive or otherwise careless, desparate behaviour, anger, self reproach or self-destructive acts.
In the third and fourth stages, life slowly begins to return to normal. The bereaved can orient him or herself towards a new future and begin to learn to live with the facts. The new life situation is accepted, healthy mourning has taken place, the dramatic event becomes part of the person’s life experience, not neglected or forgotten nor secluded, but internalized. Some even live a richer, more mature, more humble and grateful life afterwards.
The constant reduction or avoidance of painful experiences is part and parcel of modern industrial civilization. Nils Christie maintains in his thought-provoking book “Limits to Pain” that there is nothing inherently wrong with the “moral imperialist” position that it is right to strive for a reduction in man-inflicted pain on earth. But when it comes to other types of pain, there is a difference: “Sorrow is inevitable, but not hell created by man” as Christie expresses it.
So pain is something we should not necessarily escape. However, modern Western culture has set up a whole range of mechanisms, procedures and social norms which deprive us the attachment, the empathy, the opportunities for mourning when something tragic happens. We shield ourselves from the facts by the words we use, the undertakers, pills and what have you. The social rituals serving the collective and personal purpose of saying farewell to the loved ones have virtually disappeared as part of modernisation.Therefore, we are inclined to take as our point of departure that there is a fair chance that the loss of someone close will not be acknowledged fully and the bereaved is likely to miss quite a lot of the important (but painful) process of reaction, adaptation, acceptance and re-orientation that is mourning.
James Bowlby, basing himself upon and at the same time distancing himself from Freud, deals with the differences between healthy and pathological mourning and mentions three criteria of pathological mourning, namely a) hatred for the lost (perhaps expressed as self reproach), b) identification with the lost object and, finally, that c) in pathological mourning the libido (or love) that is withdrawn from the lost object is not transferred to a new one but is withdrawn into the ego and gives rise to secondary narcissism (melancholia).
He summarizes processes of healing and of mourning in the following manner:
“The process of mourning can thus be likened to the processes of healing that follow a severe wound or burn. Such healing processes, we know, may take a course which in time leads to full, or nearly full, function being restored; or they may, on the contrary, take one of many courses each of which has as its outcome an impairment of function of greater or less degree. In the same way processes of mourning may take a course that leads in time to more or less complete restoration of function, namely, to a renewal of the capacity to make and maintain love relationships; or they make a course that leaves this function impaired in greater or less degree”.
3. Attachment and identification through love or hate
Is the West mourning the loss of the East? Can one mourn a lost enemy? Is there a certain similarity between losing a loved and a hated object? If so, can it be “transferred” from the individual sphere to that of international politics? Is it plausible – or at least an idea worth exploring – that there is only a minor difference between love and hate in these matters?
Our answer would be “yes-and-no”. The more important the lost object is/was for the identity and worldview of the bereaved, the smaller the difference we should expect. On the other hand, there is a rather important distinction to be made depending on whether the lost object was an enemy or a friend.
The things, circumstances or persons who are close to us and contribute, in a essential manner, to our identity are such we hold as objects of attachment. Objects through which we define and see ourselves (for instance as different from them) are needed for the development and maintenance of identity. We can be positively attached, like we are to our objects of love; or negatively attached, like we are to an opponent. But attachment there is, nonetheless.
The threat of disruption or the actual disruption of such affectional bonds which imply identificatory processes is likely to elicit more or less strong anxiety, problems with one’s self-understanding, and depair. We may only really mourn a loved one, but we can certainly go through much the same stages if an enemy/hated object with which we have had an almost symbiotic relationship suddenly disappears. Certainly, bewilderment and loss of orientation is experienced.
In this particular sense, there is little difference between losing a loved object and a hated one. What may make a difference is whether or not the lost object was also posing a constant threat to our very existence. Then, of course, the loss implies that we can also breathe a sigh of relief.
4. The Soviet Union as a close enemy
There is already a considerable literature discussing whether or not the Cold War is over. The way it ended may tell us something, not only about the Soviet Union, but about the East-West conflict itself and its real content. We ask ourselves – what was it really all about and how could it disappear so rapidly, so surprisingly? This is not the place to engage in these speculations.
Rather, we will take for granted without further argument that the East and West within the Occident have been absolutely essential for each other in terms of identification processes and attachment, that the two sides have needed each other both as “the other” (external) and as a part of their respective identities (internal). Much, if not most, of what they did derived its legitimation through im- or explicit reference to “the other”.
That is, the post-1945 United States has needed an adversary, someone from which to be different, someone to compare and compete with, someone to secure itself against, someone in relation to whom it could assert that it was “second to none.” You may say that this need was ideological rather than structural or existential (provided the distinction can be made at all). Obviously, the military-industrial-bureaucraticl complexes on both sides needed each other. But it would hardly be wise to exclude the posibility that the entire collective consciousness, the leading myth or the “social cosmology” would have functioned much less friction-free within the society had it not had this reference point of an adversay outside. The need for an enemy – as part of one’s own identity – is structural or existential, but the choice of a particular enemy to satisfy this need during a particular period may be ideological.
Be this as it may, the only country that could credibly play the role as this someone, “the other” in the identity formation of the West Europeans and North Americans and their political culture was the Soviet Union. Thus, much of the same can be said about the need for the Soviet Union to have an “other” as part of its identity.
However, the vital difference is that in the case of the Soviet Union the enemy was also someone to look up to, positively identify with and imitate, simply because the Soviet Union was constantly inferior in almost all important aspects – economically, politically, technologically, culturally and, therefore, (with a few exceptions) militarily. The only true super power on all dimensions was the United States, the only other who could and did try to compete with that position in contemporary history was the Soviet Union. They were, as Robert Oppenheimer once said, “scorpions in a bottle” or as Richard Barnet wrote in the introduction to his classical book “The Giants” in 1977:
“They are more like chess players in the dark, absorbed in a game they can barely see. Each player depends upon the other not to upset the table. Since neither quite knows what is happening on the board, each imputes to the other a master plan that tends to be a mirror image of his own. It is dangerous game, but each uses it to define who he is”.
We deem this to be beyond dispute. While the modern political term is interdependence, the psychological phrase is attachment. They co-exist and they would die together in a nuclear war – physically, politically and psychologically. The Soviet Union has been threatening, at least in official statements although hardly any officer or political leader in the West would want to change place with his Soviet counterpart. But it has also been a colleague, or partner, in international politics, someone to cooperate with about the management of the international order and the role of the East-West conflict formation in it.
It is a classical mistake to believe that conflicting parties disagree about everything and are adversaries in every matter. This is far from always the truth. On the contrary, “we” and “they” often share characteristics and resemble each other in a number of respects, for instance in that we engage in the same conflict because the values or goals which make up the substance of the conflict are essential to both.
In civilisational terms East and West have always shared a number of systemic features. Thus, both operate on Western philosophies – socialism (Marx) and liberalism (Smith), they believe in monocausal explanations of the operation of their respective systems – the invisible hand in the market and the class struggle. They consider it “natural” that man is domineering and seek to control and subdue nature by means of ever more sophisticated technologies; their social structure are male-dominated and vertical with elites leading the masses – the revolutionary elite (or ageing polit bureau) in the East and the entrepreneur who brings new products on the market in the West. They share the idea of mission, i.e. that others shall ultimatelyclimb the same development ladder and become like them, a feature which give them the natural right to intervene and project their powers globally. Implicitly they believe in the division of the world into First, Second, Third and Fourth.
Their message is material growth beyond everything else, short time perspective and – when needed – co-operation about managing the distant friends and foes – for instance by proxies. Their civilizational code precludes modesty, humility or softness. Strength and power is the name of the game.
In the field of security, finally, they believe strongly in deterrence, military power, “balance”, pact systems, offensiveness, high technology and in the virtues of massdestructive weapons. Thus, when coming to the end of an era of folly, they are equally trapped by the absurdity of gigantic nuclear arsenals which contributed to an ever more insecure world for themselves as well as everyone else.
To have and act out a conflict means to be similar in a number of respects. We have emphasized this aspect here rather than the – well-known – differences between the two that have been in focus ever since 1945.
What is worth pondering is this: How come that the Soviets some time in the 1980s could free themselves from the need of having the United States as the closely attached enemy? And how will we in the West be able to cope in the 1990s and beyond with the fact that they could? What changes will the West go through in order to mourn and heal itself?
5. Possible reactions when a close enemy disappears
Let us for a moment leave out of account the actual reactions and scan the spectrum of possible reactions when confronted with loss of someone dear to us. Here are some:
1. Denial, it has not really happened.
2. Business-as-usual, it may have happenened but it does not mean much to us.
3. Substitution, let’s immediately find another to love/hate.
4. Regression, we are longing or dreaming back to the good old days, “everything was easier and better before, they were there, we were here, it was much more predictable and stable…”).
5. Redefinition, they will represent a new type of threat. For instance, they take all the initiatives and get all world attention, reform themselves without importing our mistakes, grab our technology, become green or self-reliant, or more democratic than we…
6. Projection of one’s own negative sides; something like saying: “Sure we have a lot of economic and environmental problems in the West but they are minor compared with the catastrophic situation in the Soviet Union.”
7. Aggression, how illoyal of them to drop out of our game! Hopefully everything goes wrong for them, we should support the tendencies towards system breakdown and deny them the technology we have and they need. Let’s give them a helping hand on the way to total chaos for all the troubles they have caused us since the Second World War…”.
8. Selfcongratulation, good they are gone, now everyone can see for themselves that Western stength made them yield and that we won the Cold War. Capitalism, markets, democracy and freedom, that’s the only way…
9. Rethinking, what has suddenly made it possible for them to live without the image of the West as their enemy and how come that they have managed to convert deep crisis into something of an advantage leaving us a role on the sidelines? How will we have to revise the image of the nature of our dear enemy in the light of his demise as enemy?
10. Self criticism, were we good enough at anticipating what might come, what was wrong with our threat analyses and war scenarios? How come that we were virtually armed to the teeth ready to fight a world war but seem disarmed when “peace breaks out”?
11. Acceptance, no matter what caused the loss of our enemy, we have to accept the fact and orient ourselves to a new life based on co-operation rather than confrontation – some kind of repentance combined with relief that the great threat has gone and energies now can be directed into constructive new directions including peaceful coexistence in a new key.
6. The loss and some actual reactions
Few would dispute that perestroika, its boldness, width, depth and pace, has taken the West with surprise. What was thought to be a stagnating, monolithic social system set out to lift itself by the hair and instituted change as a way of life. Old norms, rules and frameworks tumbled, the mental maps of yesterday are trown out. Developments become unpredictable and the structure of the world floats. It seems as if it is one gigantic experiment with history, the rules of which are unwritten.
The West became a bewildered spectator. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is at the centre stage, it is an excitement to grasp the morning newspapers to study what happened, not in the West, but in the Soviet Union.
Reactions throughout the West has spanned a wide horizon. The United States and Scandinavia have been surprisingly slow, Central Europe and the Federal Republic in particular somewhat quicker. Southeast Asia has welcomed Gorbachev’s initiatives and so has the United Nations and other international organizations. However, adaptation, acceptance of the fact that we may finally have closed the Cold War chapter and begin living a new life? That remains for the future.
Some typical reactions with clusters of psycho-political reaction patterns can be discerned:
“Gorbachev is nothing new. All leaders have been welcomed as reformers, but they are not going to be like us in the future. Soon they will be enmeshed in so many and difficult problems that you will see repression on a mass scale. The Cold War is never going to fade, it is only more or less intensive”. This reaction, typical for the first years after Gorbachev’s take-over, has become increasingly impossible; everyone can see that something fundamentally new is happening.
“Well, these changes are interesting, but we have to see more to trust it; Nothing in this demands any fundamentally new policies or perceptions in the West. It is internal with them and doesn’t affect us. Better be on our guard, disarmament in the West would be foolish”.
“Perestroika and all this talk about peace and disarmament is just a smart way of making the country much stronger in the future (if perestroika survives) and Gorbachev is very clever already in undermining the cohesion of the West and NATO. Deep down they are what they always have been, babaric, godless, irrational, erratic. They will soon break down, the union will fall apart, civil wars break-out and the eco-system break down. Then the Russians are coming – not as soliders but as refugees, terrorists, polluters and thiefs encroaching upon the riches of the West…”.
(d) Self-congratulation or narcissism
“Finally, the Russians have come to their senses and realize that socialism (not to speak of communism) – is not only rotten and immoral, but also grossly ineffective. They will have to introduce market mechanisms, political liberty, multiparty system etc. before they can hope to succeed. They will have to become much more like us before we can co-operate. Capitalism, the market, Western freedom, commodities in the shops, free media – all proves that the West have won the Cold War, doesn’t it?”
(e) Projection of one’s own problems
“It is hopeless to reform this society. Look at all the queues, the misery, the pollution, the enormous bureaucracy, the lousy technology. You may be right in saying that the West also has a lot of problems, but with them it is the entire system that is down the drain. Our system is basically good and it can be repaired”.
(f) Redefining the threat
“They have enormous resources and are quite self-reliant. If they concentrate on their civilian development and learn from the mistakes of the West, they may challenge our position in a couple of decades. It is threatening that they have already cashed in so much goodwill from all corners of the world and made friends with former enemies”.
(g) Cautious acceptance
“This is good, a historical moment; it is credible because the new political thinking attacks both internal and external issues and the Soviet Union takes unilateral initiatives. We have to respond in some ways, let’s send a delegation and understand this better”.
There may be other typical reactions, and there may be combinations of the above-mentioned. The reader is invited to ponder which of them she or he finds most typical. In none of them, however, is there any recognition of the sheer possibility that the events in the Eastern bloc pose a whole set of new problems, challenges to – and opportunities in – the West.
Not only does the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe signal that they do not want to play the role of our enemies anymore, they also take unilateral steps which make it, by and large, impossible for them to threaten the West militarily. And not only that, they signal that they want to co-operate, the suggest numerous fields in which East and West share interests and ought to co-operate, such as exploitation of resource in the Arctic, transfer of technology, equal participation in international economic organisations, reforms of the United Nations and the development of a “European house” to mention some.
With certain exceptions such as the Federal Republic, there is a marked “wait-and-see” attitude in the West. The West welcomes Soviet and East European disarmament steps, but there is, so to speak, no response in kind. In Sweden, certainly a country which one would have expected to react more energetically because of its neutrality position, international disarmament policy and solidarity profile, leading security policy-makers argue that it would be ill-advised to disarm or take initiatives in response to Gorbachev’s suggestions about co-operation because, sooner or later, it could all prove to be a momentary “change of fashion”.
Likewise, the North American leadership seems to react in a restained, sometimes pathetic manner. President George Bush in March 1990, in a speech to the U.S. nuclear forces, maintained that it was because of their presence and the formidable threat they represented that the Eastern bloc had embarked on the reform path. Apart from marginal cuts in what was already an all time high military budget, and mainly for domestic investment reasons, there is little, if any, change in the security policy of the United States and NATO and no unilateral matching in quality or quantity of those undertaken by the former enemy.
And there is a conspicuous decline in peace movement activity. It could be argued that with perestroika and glasnost throughout the Eastern bloc there is, logically and in principle, a widening political space for peace movements, a unique opportunity to push through new security arrangements such as demilitarization, nuclear weapons-free zones, common security restructuring, defensive postures, introduction of non-violent components in national defence policies etc.
However, for a number of reasons, popular pressure to realize these and related objectives no longer exist in Western Europe and the United States. The movements began to lose their socio-political energies and, thus, their momentum in the early 1980s. And in several respects, the real events overtook their programs. A more introspective analysis would probably also lead to the conclusion that the peace movements, as so often before, thrived more on fear than hope and derived their social legitimation from the protest rather than from constructive political, cultural and ethical visions.
In other words, with the changes set in motion in the Eastern bloc they had outlived their chosen role. In principle, of course, one might imagine various sorts of “alternative” movements which would thrive on the contemporary, dynamic, more floating situation. Instead, we find an upsurge in environmental concern throughout the globe.
Thus, none of the security political actors have interpreted the changes in the Eastern bloc as an historical opportunity to be seized. Little has been done to contemplate what it would mean for the relations between East and West in the future, and less has been done to bring answers to questions such as: How can the West act in a dynamic, helpful manner now it has been relieved of the burden to guard itself and spend tremendous human, social, technological and economic resources on Cold War security measures? How could it act to install a new more peaceful scheme of reforms both in its relations with the East and within the Western bloc itself?
In summary, it seems like there is no “grand mission” coming forth in the West, there is no comprehensive vision of the new political space opening after forty years of Cold War, no leadership or upcoming value system which can mobilize people, their aspirations and hopes for a better global future and bring enthusiasm and new social energies. It is a if Western decisionmaking elites think that only the East has been a problem, a cause of the East-West conflict and that the demise of this conflict and its threatening manifestations would not affect the West; it is almost as though we had for forgotten that it takes at least two to have a conflict.
Why? Because the United States in particular and the West (with the notable exception of e.g. the FRG which has special reasons for seizing the opportunity) in general is traumatized, paralysed. Without the Soviets playing the role of adversary, with its “alter-Ego” getting all the attention, the West no longer really recognizes itself as the West. Its response, therefore is anything but bold and visionary or experimenting. It is that of the spectator which does not say: Let’s open a new chapter. Instead, overwhelmed and fatigued, the spectator receives some applause from poor and unfree peoples who want, at least for a period, to plunge themselves into Western materialism.
But what about capital and business? Sure, it sees the opportunities much more head-on than politics. But it is not a new conceptualization of economics or co-operation. By and large old formulas for economic expansion, supranationalization and concentration are brought forward, precisely because the market economies need new consumers and low-wage producers (the limits of which is about to be reached in the peripheries of the global economic system and in the biosphere).
The West seems content that the Soviets and East Europeans will join our status quo and behave as good workers and consumers. Consequently, the West has no new vision to offer, not even a policy in gestation for a common future. The message, Václav Havel gets in return for his offer of spirituality and ethics and humility is precisely this: Become like us – and be saved! (It is almost like a monologue by deafs à la Samuel Beckett who, by the way, has meant so much to Havel.
Why, again, we may ask? Probably because the loss of the “good enemy” occurred on top of everything else going astray since the 1970s in a confluence of crises in and of the West. The West was already bereaved – from a healthy economy and world economy leadership. The Japanese and NICs form the centres of an ongoing economic Cold War. The EEC with the Federal Republic and France will in all likelihood be much too small for that competition and with the integration of the GDR and the FRG, the FRG will be weakened in it s global economic locomotive role. Further, the West was bereaved from a healthy natural environment and from a healthy cultural vision of its own future role in world affairs.
You may say that it reached its limits not only to growth but also to Westernness and the dream of eternal expansion in a limited world but has allowed itself for decades to ignore this fact.
Thus, what we do not find in the reaction pattern of the West are healing mechanisms such as rethinking, self criticism, preparation for living a new life with the facts as a maturing experience on the way to a new identity. While the Soviets and East European are going through a healing process internally and with their former enemies in the West, while they surely work with their own identity as a society and international actor, the West does not even experience a need for such healing, not to speak of mourning or repentance.
Believing, for instance, that nothing really new has occurred or that this is just a smarter way to Stalinism, is a kind of regression to the past, an expression of hope that sooner or later the Soviets will return to their old role as enemy, that they will again take care of that part of Western identity.
To accept that a dramatic change has taken place before our eyes would pose an existential challenge to ourselves.
7. What questions should we ask?
This shift from an adversay/enemy role to a partner/friend role logically give rise to the following six, I think inescapable, questions for honest intellectual, political and personal-ethical analyses:
1) What are the Soviets trying to achieve in their own sphere?
2) How do they look upon their present and future role in the relations with the West?
3) How does it affect our role in the relations with them?
4) How can it challenge our perception of ourselves?
5) How can we in the West act effectively to become better partners, help the Soviets achieve their goals and help ourselves in this new situation?¨
6) Has it become more or less easy solve the global problems challenging all of humankind? If easier, what has to be done? How can we in the West reform ourselves so as to prepare ourselves for the future?
Noteworthy is that reactions a-f) above respond only to the first two questions. We find very few responses and attitudes in the West which aims at an analysis of questions 3-6. Almost all Western statements and actions during the last five years base themselves on the tacit, but hardly realistic assumption, that the West does not have to change its role in the relations with them and that it has nothing to reconsider about itself in the light of these events, even less that there could be something to learn from the Soviets.
One may argue that the West could hardly start a system change immediately after the new regime in the Soviet Union had been installed. True, enough. But if the West had dared explore, without prejudice, various scenarios for the post-Stalin era already in the 1970s and early 1980s one of them would have been along the lines of the system change we are witnessing. (By the way, it poses the challenge which was raised in the much quoted “Report from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace” from 1967). Somehow, the West has been far too content with the stereotyped image of the Soviet Union.
In order not to focus only at policymakers, let’s raise the issue of how these events could challenge some of the cherished theories and conceptualizations of peace researchers and other security experts?
There have been theories arguing that the military-industrial complex (MIC) was a major, if not the decisive, factor in the arms race, i.e. a kind of autistic “state in the state” about which it was maintained that should one of the super powers disappear today the other would immediately find a new one to legitimate its arms race with tomorrow. Some even stated that the Soviet Union did not have a MIC, it was a MIC. But the Soviet Union has the unilateral capacity, it seems, to live without a MIC and without an enemy.
One of the most cherished security concepts is that of balance, used in balance of terror (deterrence), balance of power, balance of military strength. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the entire Warsaw Pact, seem now able to live without any such balance thinking – or have redefined it completely. Its leadership invites co-operation instead of confrontation, substitutes offensive postures with defensiveness in intentions as well as capabilities; and it practises common security policies instead of military strength and interventionism. A series of unilateral disarmament moves is another indication of the realpolitik character of this new thinking.
The ignorance in establishment security as well as in the majority of peace (research) circles of civil resistance and non-violent social change has been contrasted with a major historical evidence; with the exception of Romania, the transformation of the Eastern bloc has taken place by means of non-violence. One might say that what bloc policies, polarization, military postures and policies of power, strength and deterrence were not able to achieve during forty-five years – the solution of the conflict and the de-building of such symbols as the Berlin Wall and the whole Iron Curtain – has been obtained by unarmed peoples and enlightened leadership. Imagine where Europe could have been had Solidarnosc deemed it necessary to start a civil war ten years ago?
Arms controllers, statemen and hundreds of UN resolutions have told us time and again that disarmament must be the outcome of negotiations; they must be agreed, mutual, stepwise, balanced, reviewable, verifiable etc. However, the last years clearly indicate that deep cuts are possible without this whole machinery. A wave of “self-disarmament” has taken place, calmly, orderly and in good faith. No “vacuum” has been occupied. The Soviets, not the flexible West with its market-orientation and alleged responsiveness to demand, show the way in the art of economic, technological and organizational conversion from military to civilian production.
A popular theory is the one that states that war is a an outcome of inner problems; leaders need to direct citizens’ attention from domestic crisis. Certainly, this has been true in several cases. However, the Soviet empire turned to inner restructuring instead of expansion and warfare, it withdrew its empire tentacles from Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Central America, Africa and signalled convincingly in words and deeds that old conflicts e.g. with China and Japan ought to be solved in a civilized manner.
And scholars of the Marxist breed have had to admit that the superstructure can live a fairly independent, creative life – new political thinking – detached from its crisis-ridden base, the socio-economic formation of society. Changes in the ways people think is a precondition of overall societal restructuring.
Furthermore, think of the generalized Western image of the Soviet Union as the enemy, think of the threat analyses, the war scenarios, the values with which everything “Soviet” or “Russian” was infused. They were developed by a hard-core security priesthood, in the United States influenced mainly by immigrants – Teller, Kissinger, Brzezinski, Pipes, Luttwak, Bialer to mention a few – some of whom originated in Eastern Europe and who had the ear of the princes. During forty-five years they were imported and adapted for local consumption among NATO allies and even into a country such as neutral Sweden.
When glancing through some of the main books of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s on e.g. East-West relations, strategy, national defence in the West and analyses of the Soviet Union as a society and foreign policy actor, one is tempted now in the 1990s to ask: How could so many be so wrong and so many be so misled for so many years? And how come that a fundamental re-definition not only of this particular “Sovietology” but of what security is and will be about in the future – broad knowledge on civilian matters, e.g. ecology, co-operation, conflict-resolution and civilian restructuring of the world order – has not even begun in the West?
8. Healing: The need for perestroika in the West
With the Cold War gone and the Soviets embarking on a world regime of co-operation instead of confrontation a new political time and space emerges. The yoke of militarism, tension, nuclear winter risks can be thrown off. The Soviets have shown that they can live without the as an enemy. It remains to be seen whether the West can do the same.
I can think of no better way than setting in motion a parallel process of nonviolent transformation in the centres and periheries of the Western Occident. The “agenda” is easy to set up, but extremely difficult to realize. The Western Occident could reorient, accept, take the first steps towards the new life of the post-Cold War world by:
(A) Immediately responding in kind and remove all military forces, strategies and plans the purpose of which are to be able to attack the Eastern bloc, i.e. remove everything offensive, conventional and nuclear, in largely the same proportion as the Warsaw Pact has done.
(B) Employing the freed human, economic and technological resources to re-structure itself towards higher levels of self-reliance in order to permit the successive closing of the gap between rich and poor throughout the world.
(C) Fundamentally reshaping Western civilization to live in peace with Gaia, respecting that even non-humans, such as living matter and species, can have rights in some sense of the word and that humans do not only have right but also duties and obligations which must be acted up to if the permanence of humankind is to be secured.
The first goal is fairly self-evident. For decades ahead the Soviets will be preoccupied with internal problems; the West will have to find some new enemy or enemies to uphold present armament levels. Likely candidates would be terrorism worldwide, the Japanese, Islam, the Chinese, the Third World in general (“ugly poverty”) and NICS in particular, the green movements everywhere, Khadaffi – and combinations of all these. Such images of new enemies belong clearly in the category of pathological mourning. Finding a new friend when an old friend has died can be a sign of healthy mourning, finding new enemies when an old enemy is gone is not!).
The Soviets never presented a cultural, political or economic threat to the West and it can be discussed in which sense they threatened the West militarily. Now even this military threat aspect has disappeared. Therefore, if the West continues its armament levels it is because of a “pathological mourning”, i.e. it being unable to recognize what has happened and wanting (unconsciously?) the Soviets to come back as a the Enemy.
What about internal breakdown and violence within the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe? Even so there is no plausible scenario for the possession or use of offensive weapons by the West. An intelligent Western policy would seek to avert it now, to assist the Soviets wherever possible (in gratitude for their freeing us from the yoke of permanent fear and war planning), in their struggle for a better future, not taking advantage of it. Should the worst happen, any weapons use is a safe recipe for catastrophe.
Thus, the healthy way to maintain our own identity is to stop treating them as enemies and begin relating to them as friends. And friends as such you help with what they need, not with what you think they need. Taking for granted that all they need is to import our model of society is counterproductive.
The second task is to recognize that Western civilization with its constant expansion and exploitation has come to an end. Our world system is as malfunctioning globally as that of the Soviets internally. The evidence can be put together from the last thirty years of future and world order studies. It deserves pointing out that the West, not Soviet economic policies or corporations, have shaped the global economy with all its ever worsening indicators and incomprehensible human suffering every day. And although Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union certainly have tremendous ecological problems, but they are more regional while those caused by Western capitalism are global. It is the First much more than the Second and the Third World which contribute to the greenhouse effect, desertification, reduction of bio-diversity and the destuction of rainforests.
Having closed the Cold War chapter with the Second World, the First now has all opportunities to close the structural violence chapter with the Third and the Fourth Worlds and find a new identity in partnership. So, while the Soviets abolish the ideology of communism, the West could take inspiration and rid itself, other cultures and Gaia of the ideology of consumerism, the tyranny of ever increasing material expectations and start concentrating on needs rather than wants. In other words, a perestroika in what “economics” is about.This is the main reason why the consumer society ought not be exported to the Eastern bloc.
Such system changes would help us meet the ultimate challenge, to create peace and harmony with Gaia in a deep sense, that is, going beyond the fashionable environmentalism of the day. The anthropocentric view of man, reducing everything created to an instrument of self-assertion in all directions, the systematic negligence of humility – all this will have to be substituted with an ethics of care for existence.
Would it be too drastic to conclude that the most important task in decades to come is to rethink our own Western worldview, theories and behaviour and come up with something radically different based upon this much humility: That the future of the West is determined by the degree to which it operates with an image of the future as a common future, of itself as a partner not a master, a partner with Gaia and with the Second, the Third, and the Fourth Worlds – and the growing Fifth World of political, economic, ecological and cultural refugees and displaced fellow human beings?
In the midst of global crisis, there are still ways out via healthy mourning to healing, acceptance and a more mature, caring life. With the Cold War gone, time is ripe for a Western perestroika – non-violent change throughout society and in the ways we think about ourselves and our role in the world.