14 April 1989 - 16 April 1989

Western Policies in the Light of Reform and Innovation in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

Chair: Sir Julian Bullard GCMG

A joint conference of The Ditchley Foundations and The Southern Center For International Studies, Atlanta at Ditchley

This conference was designed to concentrate on Western policy. Nevertheless consideration of developments in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe constitute a necessary basis for any such discussion. Ditchley was glad to welcome to this occasion, the third in our joint series, a party from the Southern Center for International Studies, in Atlanta.

It was noteworthy that the approach to-day to the Soviet reform programme has changed markedly from a year ago, when the subject was last discussed at Ditchley. Last year’s scepticism has given way to detailed assessment of the changes in hand, the obstacles to be overcome, the problems raised, the long-term chances of success, the risks of reaction and, above all, to consideration of the appropriate Western response.

It was agreed that the objective of re-structuring (perestroika) must be to maintain the Soviet Union as a genuine great power, not dependent exclusively on armed force or assertive ideology to maintain that status; and that, viewed from another angle, without perestroika in whatever form it might emerge, the Soviet Union could not survive as a major world power. Whether the reform programme could succeed in those terms or would itself engender such institutional and philosophical contradictions as ultimately to undermine the stability of the state, was nevertheless still an open question.

Meanwhile, whether to gain a breathing space for domestic reform to take effect or because of a new approach to “de-ideologised” inter-state (as distinct from international) relations, Soviet foreign policy reflected much new thinking. In many cases this meant adopting previously rejected Western propositions so that, as one participant put it, the West was like a tug-of-war team which had fallen on its back as a result of the collapse of its opponents. Soviet foreign policy initiatives could be divided, it was suggested, into the long-term and irreversible (e.g. withdrawal from Afghanistan or emigration) the short-term and reversible (e.g. the unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing) and the intermediate but also reversible (e.g. verification). Moreover despite this new thinking and the unilateral reductions in force levels, the Soviet military machine remained formidable, outnumbering by a large margin NATO’s forces. Military production also remained high. Nevertheless the conference welcomed the new directions in Soviet policy, especially, though the evidence was mixed, as manifested in its relations with China and Japan (the possibility of an imaginative offer over the Kuriles was discussed inconclusively, although participants saw advantage to the Soviet Union in such an offer) and in its more flexible approach to regional problems in Southern Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere. The new Soviet attitude to the UN was also welcomed.

Domestically Gorbachev faced the dilemma that without price reform, which, it seemed, he considered too difficult as yet, the introduction of elements of a market economy would be impossible. Moreover progress in the economy was likely, in the first instance, to be measured more in bankruptcies and unemployment, than in rising GNP. Agriculture, where benefits might most easily and quickly be realised, was the key; and even here, with the tradition of individual farming dead and no established price of land, there were serious difficulties. Politically, perhaps the most serious difficulty facing Mr Gorbachev was nationalism. Probably it was a problem which could not be solved, only managed. Nationalism was a principal reason for rejecting a multi-party system, since parties would inevitably assume nationalist garb. If, however, pluralism of ideas was to be encouraged, the result must be factionalism within the Party, and the creation of a possible political opposition. The example of Yugoslavia in both the economic and political fields was both instructive and dispiriting.

The conference considered the possibility of a backlash, e.g. from the military, the KGB, or from within the Party. If a backlash occurred, which was unlikely unless really serious problems arose, the mass of the people would not rally to support reform unless they had benefited from it

Two new factors of uncertainty were identified: the new parliament which was likely to contain strong reformist elements, and the religious institutions. In general it was felt that if existing ideology was discredited on the basis of past errors, any alternative might include elements of nationalism or religious identity, which could in turn undermine further the Party’s authority.

Turning to Western policy, the consensus was that, for the success or failure of perestroika, Western activities were marginal. Thus more grandiose schemes, such as major capital contributions, seemed out of place. A number of specific measures could be considered however: exchanges in the commercial, scientific, academic and cultural fields, commercially prudent (i.e. not subsidised) expansion of trade, cooperation in the field of energy, training in management and marketing, political support for and exchanges with the new parliament, steps calculated to ease Soviet integration into the global economic system and support for Soviet and East European studies. However, the West’s principal contribution was to be unprovocatively true to its own ideals - human rights, pluralism, self-determination, etc. Self-determination, in particular, embodied Western values and must have a central place in the agenda, although the concept had its difficulties and could be de-stabilising (and not only in the Soviet Union).

In the field of foreign affairs the West needed to combine vision with prudence, a theme which kept recurring but which is easier to state than to elaborate. While arms control was important and the field in which most progress might be possible, it was not necessarily central and was seen now more as the consequence of trust than the cause. Other areas, for example economic cooperation linked to reform and to movement towards convertibility, or global issues might prove more important and fruitful. Soviet flexibility towards regional issues should be explored and the opportunity of cooperation in the UN should be seized (as it has been in some areas). Nevertheless Soviet arms control initiatives had caught public imagination in the West and, while support for NATO remained strong, public opinion would look for imaginative new thinking on the Western side too. Whether this should take the form of a revised Harmel declaration, postponement (for two or three years) of a decision on Lance replacement, or a review of NATO’s defensive strategy with a view to offering really large reductions in conventional forces, was debated inconclusively, those nearer to the danger proving the most cautious. As one group put it, there was much room for further thought and discussion. While domestic concerns might compel US defence retrenchment, we were assured that there would be no decoupling. The conference was nevertheless remarkable for concern expressed for the state of American society and economy (drugs, AIDS, illiteracy etc, and the budget and trade deficits) all of which, it was suggested, would cause Americans to turn in upon themselves and the US to draw back from its leading role abroad, thus creating an opportunity, or, in the view of some, a necessity for West European leadership.

Turning to Eastern Europe, the conference noted its variety, (ranging from countries where political reform was far advanced, but the economies were in most trouble, to those where it had not started or was rejected) and recalled its historic cultural links to the West - perhaps it was in those links that the phrase “common European house” had most meaning. Again it was agreed that there was little that the West could do directly to help reform, but example and encouragement were important, especially in the fields of self-determination (with all due caution), market economies and human rights. While Gorbachev had publicly rejected the imposition of any particular system on other states, the practical limits to Soviet toleration were not clear, a distinction being drawn between countries where strategic reasons might dictate policy and those (which might overlap) where politics or ideology would determine action. Breakdown of Party control or defection from the Warsaw Pact might force his hand. In general East Europeans themselves were the best judges of how far they could go. They should not be over-persuaded.

A major problem in East Europe, bar Romania, was debt. Remission was not the answer though re-scheduling and perhaps “securitisation” might be helpful. A concerted Western policy was required. Trade, though marginal for the West, was important to the East, though the latter still depended on the Soviet Union for oil and raw materials. Suppressed inflation, as in the Soviet Union, was a serious problem.

In sum, apart from certain modest specific measures, tailored to individual circumstances, the greatest contribution the West could make in East Europe, as in the Soviet Union, was by its example. For that to be effective, some argued, we must look to our own societies. Prudence and vision should be the watchwords, the vision being drawn from an examination of ourselves and what we stood for.

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: Sir Julian Bullard GCMG
Pro-Chancellor designate and Chairman of Council, Birmingham University


Dr Amin Saikal 

Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science, the Australian National University (ANU)

Mr J R Banks

Regional Director, East European Section, Research Department, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Mr Archie Brown
Fellow of StAntony’s College, Oxford, and Lecturer in Soviet Institutions at Oxford University (1971-89); from October 1989,Professor of Politics, Oxford University
Sir Bryan Cartledge KCMG
Principal, Linacre College, Oxford
Mr Richard Davy
Associate Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs; Consulting Editor, Oxford Analytica
Mr R A Fletcher
Regional Co-ordinator, Eastern Europe, The British Petroleum Co pic
Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Professor of Russian History, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London; Member, East-West Advisory Committee, British Broadcasting Corporation
Mr Michael Kaser
Director, Institute of Russian, Soviet and East European Studies, University of Oxford and Reader in Economics; Professorial Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford
Sir John Killick GCMG
President, British Atlantic Committee
Dr Edwina Moreton
Soviet Specialist, The Economist
Mr Martin O’Neill MP
Member of Parliament (Labour) Clackmannan; Opposition Spokesman on Defence (Chief Opposition Spokesman on Defence; member, Select Committee, Scottish Affairs  
Dr Alex Pravda

Director of Soviet Foreign Policy Programmes, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House; from October 1989, Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford and Lecturer in Soviet and East European Politics, Oxford University
Mr David Ratford
Assistant Under-Secretary of State (Europe), and Deputy Political Director, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO); UK Representative, Permanent Council of Western European Union
Mr Philip Windsor
Reader in International Relations, London School of Economics

Lt Gen R G Evraire

Permanent Canadian Representative to the Military Committee, NATO HQ, Brussels         

M Alexandre Adler         

Special Correspondent on Soviet Affairs, Liberation, Paris

Dr J
örg Kastl
German Ambassador in Moscow (1980-83) & (1984-87)
Baron Hermann von Richthofen
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Court of St James’s; a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation
Dr Hans Georg Wieck    
President, Federal German Intelligence Service

Professor Hiroshi Kimura

Professor of Political Science, The Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University, Japan; writer on Soviet politics and Soviet-Japanese relations

Professor Ferdinand Feldbrugge

Sovietologist-in-Residence, Office of the Secretary General, NATO

Mr H Brandt Ayers

Editor and Publisher, The Anniston Star, Alabama; Co-owner, The Star, the (Talladega) Daily News, the Jacksonville News, Oxford Midweek and Piedmont Journal Independent: writer and journalist; Member of the Board, The Twentieth Century Fund, Talladega College and the Center for Excellence in Government; Trustee, Southern Center for International Studies
Mrs Josephine L Ayers
Theatre producer; President, Partnerships Inc; Founder, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Anniston; CO-Founder and Associate Producer, Lime Kiln Arts, Lexington Virginia
Mr R Don Comstock Jr
President, Comstock Properties; President, the Center for Rehabilitation Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology; Trustee, The Southern Center for International Studies
Ambassador Martin Hillenbrand
First Dean Rusk Professor of International Relations, University of Georgia; Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Southern Center for International Studies
Professor William Jackson Jr
Senior Fellow and Associate Professor, Fulbright Institute of International
Dr Robert J Lager
Director, Center for International Trade and Commerce; Executive Director, Alabama Foreign Trade Relations Commission; Trustee, Southern Center for International Studies
Mr Dennis P Lockhart
President, Heller International Group
Dr A Wayne Lord
Executive Vice President, Southco Commodities Inc; Senior Business Fellow, Southern Center for International Studies
Mr William Mader
London Bureau Chief, Time magazine
Dr Daniel S Papp
Director and Professor of International Affairs, School of Social Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology; writer on Soviet Foreign and Defense Policy; Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs, Southern Center for International Studies
Ambassador Jack Perry
Director, the Dean Rusk Programme of International Relations and Professor of Political Science, Davidson College; Senior Academic Fellow for Soviet and East European Studies, for the Southern Center for International Studies
Ambassador Edward L Rowny
Special Advisor tothe President and the Secretary of Statefor Arms Control Matters
Brigadier General Stephen Silvasy
Deputy Commandant, US Army War College, Pennsylvania
Dr Cedric L Suzman
Vice President and Educational Program Director, The Southern Center for International Studies; Associate Professor, College of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology; writer on foreign investment in the SE United States and export management
Mrs Julia Johnson White
Vice President, co-founder and Trustee, Southern Center for International Studies; Legal Counsel and Director, Public Programming, Southern Center, JD and MBA, Emory University
Mr Peter C White
President, Founder and Trustee, The Southern Center for International Studies; member, Council on Foreign Relations