06 June 1986 - 08 June 1986

East-West Relations with the New Men in Moscow

Chair: The Rt Hon James Callaghan, MP

At the beginning of March 1985 the Foundation had a conference on "The next four years in east-west relations". The four years were meant to be the four years of President Reagan's second term. Mr Chernenko died ten days later. Mr Gorbachev's ascent had already begun. This made the four-year term chosen for review seem too short, even at the time. On the weekend 6-8 June 1986, the Foundation reverted to the east/west question, this time starting by looking a little backwards and reviewing events since Mr Gorbachev's accession to power. The title was "East-west relations with the new men in Moscow".

The conference in March 1985 was the biggest held at Ditchley up to that date. The conference on 6-8 June this year was bigger again and reached the physical limits of Ditchley's capacity - so strong was the demand for participation. At the peak there were fifty-one participants and a dozen or so observers. All the plenaries had to be held in the lecture theatre. Happily the household staff are now well experienced in coping with the increased domestic pressures of these big occasions.

The chair was taken by the Rt Hon James Callaghan MP. With several decades of Parliamentary and Cabinet experience behind him, he had no difficulty in handling an event which was extraordinary in Ditchley terms. The participants included a wide range of leading experts on Soviet affairs from both sides of the Atlantic, and the quality of the discussions under Mr Callaghan's leadership was outstanding. There were 17 US participants, 23 British, 3 Canadian, 4 French, 1 Australian, 1 German, 1 Italian and 1 from the office of the Secretary General of NATO.

Just as the four years of President Reagan's second term proved not to be wholly appropriate as a time-frame in March 1985, so on this occasion the generalisation about "new men in Moscow" proved not to be wholly reliable as a starting point for thought about the present state of the Soviet Union. While the men in question were undoubtedly new in the generational sense and in energy and purposefulness, there was a good deal of doubt whether there was anything really new in their cast of thought and mental habits. There was also doubt whether Mr Gorbachev could yet be regarded as securely settled in the leadership. In the economy, in domestic policy and in foreign policy there were all sorts of new initiatives, but most of these had not reached much beyond the stage of rhetoric. It was far from certain that Mr Gorbachev had it in him or would be allowed by the Communist Party establishment to push through the drastic changes to old party lines which, on objective western readings, the Soviet Union urgently needed.

There was no disagreement about the critical nature of the difficulties facing the Soviet economy. Productivity was declining: the vast resources of Siberia could be exploited only at great (in western terms, uneconomic) cost: increases in the population were occurring in the less developed south and not in the more developed north and west: Soviet foreign exchange earnings from oil exports had been drastically cut. In theory, elimination of massive waste could provide the economy with a massive boost; but tighter discipline and a rejuvenated party control were unlikely to achieve what was needed - they were too closely related to the causes of the Soviet Union's predicament to be able to furnish the remedies for it. The open question was what would happen when current efforts to galvanise the economy failed to produce results. Would Mr Gorbachev try to redouble discipline, or would he have the strength to try U-turns, or would conservative forces, or for that matter more radical forces, push him aside? No-one suggested that the Soviet economy was on the verge of collapse; but conversely no-one thought it was on the verge of real improvement.

On internal affairs there was much learned analysis of movements of cadres, of the position of the armed forces, of attitudes to ideology and culture, and of the significance of the Chernobyl disaster. The upshot seemed to be that Mr Gorbachev has made rapid progress but still had a long way to go before his authority could be regarded as consolidated. The maintenance of party control was paramount in all fields of public life; but there was no institutionalised system for managing change in the Party, whether at the top or at lower levels. This was the weakness underlying the massive inertia which bedevilled the Soviet system and which Mr Gorbachev needed to change if he wanted to succeed.

Foreign affairs and, within foreign affairs, the super-power relationship and arms control negotiations were of course the subjects on which the conference finally concentrated. Some leading figures from the US Administration's arms control/national security team were present, which added considerable weight to the deliberations. There was much debate about the sincerity of Mr Gorbachev's many arms control proposals. Was the Soviet Union trying to control its environment by locking the western powers into a complex of indefinite arms control negotiations while pushing on freely with its own side of the arms race? Or was the United States pushing the Soviet Union too hard by threatening to break out of the unratified SALT II limits, on top of pursuing SDI? It was obvious that there could be no clear answer to these and related questions. It was up to the Soviet Union to make its proposals more convincing and up to the United States to continue to act with the greatest possible restraint. But there was no objective way of defining when the limits had been reached.

This caused several participants to question in the final conference debate whether the world's problems could ever be eased by concentrating so heavily on arms control negotiations. Perhaps a strategic rethink was needed on both sides, leading to more economical concepts of the amount of strength needed to be secure and of the patterns of deterrence which might provide adequate security without threatening destabilisation. It also seemed desirable that there should be more contact with the Soviet Union and not less. The margins within which agreement was possible with the Soviet Union on almost any subject were very narrow, and there was much to be said for seeking agreement in small things in order to try to improve the way for eventual modest progress on larger issues. It was also the case that cohesion in the Atlantic Alliance was not simply a matter of inter-governmental consultation (which the participants from the US Administration said was excellent): public opinion had to be carried along. Public opinion, at any rate in Europe, tended to be reassured by even small pieces of evidence of a sincere, on-going dialogue and alienated by sweeping pronouncements and measures on either side which seemed to eliminate the chances of keeping tension under control and making small steps towards understanding.

The end of the conference was notable for its lack of sharp disagreement, although none of the participants had shifted position or conducted what Russians would call an autocriticism. The reason was that there was general agreement about the great problems facing the Soviet Union, the unlikelihood in the near term of decisive changes of course in Moscow, the difficulties of extracting even the smallest imaginable confidence-building measures out of the Soviet Union, and the consequent impossibility of being dogmatic about the exact way in which the Soviet Union should be handled. The participants probably departed with a nostalgia for policy-making more compatible with Soviet realities as assessed at Ditchley and less dependent on the ups and downs of day-to-day popular politics as pursued in western countries.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: The Rt Hon James Callaghan, MP
(Labour), Cardiff South and Penarth; a Governor, the Ditchley Foundation


Dr T H Rigby

Professorial Fellow in Political Science, Research School of Social Sciences, Institute of Advanced Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra (on attachment to School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London Apr-Dec 1986)

Dr Caroline Anstey

Political Assistant to the Rt Hon James Callaghan MP
Mr Archie Brown
Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and Lecturer in Soviet Institutions at Oxford University
Mr Oswald Burstin
Managing Director, M Golodetz (Overseas) Ltd, London; Member, East European Trade Council
Mr Robin Cook MP
(Labour), Livingston; Member, Tribune Group
Admiral Sir James Eberle GCB
Director, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House; a Governor and Member of the Council of Management of the Ditchley Foundation
Mr Peter Frank
Senior Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Essex
Air Vice Marshal B Higgs
Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Overseas), Ministry of Defence
Mr Alistair Hunter CMG
Under-Secretary, Overseas Trade, Department of Trade and Industry (on loan from Foreign and Commonwealth Office)
Mr Michael Kaser
Professorial Fellow, St Antony’s College, and Reader in Economics, University of Oxford; Specialist Adviser, Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons
Mr Ralph Land OBE
General Manager, Eastern Export Operations, Rank Xerox Ltd, London; Member, East European Trade Council
Mr Ivan Lawrence QC MP
(Conservative), Burton; Member, House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs; Barrister-at-law and Assistant Recorder; Member, Conservative Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee, Joint Parliamentary Committee on Consolidation of Statutes
Mr Malcolm Mackintosh CMG
Assistant Secretary, Cabinet Office
Sir Fitzroy Maclean CBE
Writer on Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, retired politician, diplomat and soldier
Dr Edwina Moreton
Soviet Specialist, The Economist;
Professor Alec Nove FRSE FBA
Emeritus Professor, of Economics, and Hon Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow
Mr John O' Sullivan
Associate Editor, The Times
Miss Hella Pick
Diplomatic Correspondent, The Guardian
Mr David Ratford CMG CVO
Assistant Under-Secretary of State, FCO
Sir Philip Shelbourne
Chairman, Britoil pic
Sir Iain Sutherland KCMG
Retired as Ambassador to USSR (1982-85)
Dr Norman Wooding CBE
Deputy Chairman, Courtaulds pic; Deputy Chairman, East European Trade Council
Mr Peregrine Worsthorne
Editor, Sunday Telegraph

Mr Geoffrey Pearson

Executive Director, Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security
Mr James H Taylor
Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, Department of External Affairs, Ottawa
Mr Peter Walker
Director General, USSR and Eastern Europe Bureau, Department of External Affairs, Ottawa

Dr Immo Stabreit

Ministerialdirigent, Bundeskanzleramt, Bonn

HE Monsieur Claude Arnaud

Special Adviser to the Minister of External Relations
Madame Marie Mendras
Researcher, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS); Adviser to Planning Staff, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Professeur Georges Sokoloff
Professor of the Economy of USSR and Eastern Bloc Countries, INALCO (University of Paris III); Conseiller Scientifique, Centre d’Etudes Prospectives et d’Informations Internationales (CEPII)
Monsieur Michel Tatu
Principal Correspondent on East-West relations, Le Monde

Dr Paolo Garimberti

Deputy Editor, Internal Affairs, La Repubblica

Dr Murray Feshbach

Sovietologist-in-Residence, NATO Secretariat, Brussels

Dr Stephen Bryen

Deputy Under Secretary for Trade and Security Policy and Director of Defense Technology Security Administration, the Pentagon, Washington, DC
Mr Michael Forrestal  
Partner, Shearman & Sterling (Attorneys), New York
The Hon Richard Gardner
Professor of Law and International Organisations, School of Law, Columbia University in the City of New York; Member, Board of Directors, the American Ditchley Foundation
Professor William Griffith
Ford Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)(presently on secondment to United States Embassy, Bonn); Adjunct Professor of Diplomatic History, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Mr J W Kaempfer Jr
President and Chief Executive Officer, The Kaempfer Company (Investment Builders), Washington DC
The Hon Philip Kaiser
Senior Consultant, SRI International; Member, Board of Directors, the American Ditchley Foundation
Mr Robert Kaiser
Assistant Managing Editor/National News, The Washington Post
The Hon Max Kampelman
Ambassador and Head of US Delegation to Nuclear and Space Arms Negotiations in Geneva; Member, Board of Directors, United States Institute of Peace; Member of the Advisory Council, the American Ditchley Foundation
Mr John Kiser II
Kiser Research Inc, Washington DC, has undertaken several studies on technology transfer for US Department of State and US Chamber of Commerce
Dr F Stephen Larrabee
Vice President and Director of Studies, Institute of East-West Security Studies, New York
Mr Michael Mobbs
Assistant Director for Strategic Programmes, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; Chairman, Interagency Group on Defense and Space
Professor Richard Pipes
Frank B Baird Professor of History, Harvard University; Senior Consultant, Stanford Research Institute
Mr William Root
Consultant on export control issues
The Hon Edward Rowny
Ambassador and Special Adviser to the President and Secretary of State for Arms Control
Professor Marshall Shulman
Director, W Averell Harriman Institute for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union, and Adlai E Stevenson Professor of International Relations, Columbia University
Dr Dimitri Simes
Senior Associate, Soviet Foreign Policy, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC
Dr Charles Wolf Jr
Dean, Rand Graduate Institute, and Director, Rand Corporation’s research program in International Economic Policy

Mr Tony Gardner
Captain William Hunt
Mr Larry Wolber