10 September 1992 - 12 September 1992

The states of the former Soviet Union: Consideration of the present situation, future developments and appropriate policies

Chair: The Hon Jack Matlock

Ditchley does not normally revisit a topic after an interval as short as twelve months, but the complexity, speed and historic magnitude of events in what was the Soviet Union seemed to warrant this. The conference bore this out, as participants from September 1991 agreed. Outcomes in many directions remained hugely uncertain, but issues, trends, opportunities and risks were visible in new ways.

Discussions found initial focus on a simplifying question: now that the euphoric excitement of the defeat of the August 1991 coup was well behind us, were we mostly optimistic or pessimistic about the CIS future? Optimism could point to much since the coup that had gone better than might have been expected: a remarkable absence of lethal violence across so vast a canvas of dramatic change; no winter famine; no authoritarian or anti-democratic backlash; solid continuance of constructive and cooperative behaviour on the international stage, with a calm stepping-back from US-rivalling global aspiration; on the whole, reassuring if incomplete performance in the matter of nuclear-weapon control and deployment; nothing of a “Bosnian” kind or scale on the ethnic-minority front, save in relatively very small areas.

But pessimism too could have a long recital. On the economic front, hyper-inflation was an imminent threat (though the economists among us disagreed with cheerful vigour, as on much else, about whether it was any longer avoidable at all). President Yeltsin might well be past the peak of his popular power, with waning authority against reversionist or reform-obstructing pressures yet with key economic nettles still ungrasped, like the military- industrial complex. Pain in such areas had largely been deferred by unsustainable cross-subsidy to enterprises, or non-enterprises, which could not expect a viable future. The problems of minorities, for the most part, simply had not yet had time to play out to dénouement. Scarcely any of the profound difficulties which analysis noted a year ago could be claimed to have been in any secure sense resolved. Was “so far, so good” merely falling past the fifth floor?

One of the toughest nuts, we noted, was the enormous military-industrial complex, including massive R & D capability. It no doubt embodied huge resources of potential individual talent, but nothing in Western experience encouraged high hopes of successful wholesale conversion to effective civilian production. That experience suggested “close down and start afresh" as not only the best but sooner or later the inescapable route; yet the social and therefore political cost of taking it seemed almost impossible for CIS leaders to contemplate (and one of the few apparent safety valves, large-scale arms sales abroad, was scarcely appealing to the West). Though the complex already had some experience of producing civilian goods, we could not see any good general way forward; the issue seemed to exemplify in particularly sharp degree the general problem of how political patience could be won for the time needed to carry out economic transformation. We were not sure whether the possible rise to economic authority of spokesmen for the military-industrial interest was something to be gravely deplored or to be accepted as at least engaging them in sharing responsibility for facing reality.

One or two voices expressed scepticism about whether so huge a construct as Russia could long survive unfragmented in its present boundaries. We glimpsed the spectre of Pandora’s Box sliding down a slippery slope if boundary change found open season; and we recognised a crucial interaction between boundary maintenance and the treatment of minorities, notably but of course not only of the twenty-five million Russians living outside Russia. This seemed a key area in which collective Western concern and expectation, geared to explicit CSCE standards, needed to be made clear and, if necessary, backed by available pressures - not leaving it to the ex-imperial power (even if Russians were the main sufferers in a particular instance) to sort out the problems alone.

We had the benefit - in addition to a welcome first participant from independent Ukraine - of special expertise in Central Asia, able to help us grasp more fully the diversity of the five artificial republics and the fact that though Islam there had been a widespread badge of opposition to the old structures it was mostly far from the fundamentalist-conviction model of Western apprehensions, and weaker in its political driving power than old clan identities. Conditions were less chaotic than might have been feared, but wide uncertainties remained, with growing outside influences (Turkey, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia) adding complication.

We talked about the interface with Japan, sometimes facilely classed as either a culpable under-contributor or else the natural economic saviour of the Russian Far East. The awkward late cancellation of the Yeltsin visit to Tokyo vividly illustrated how uncomfortably the relationship was impaled upon the high-profile political issue of the four northern islands; but we noted factors, both in longstanding historical attitude and in cold economic interest, which would make it imprudent to count upon any great surge of aid even if that stone were removed from the shoe.

When we sought to focus upon opportunities and options for Western policies generally, we agreed readily that the West ought in its own many-sided interest to do whatever it could to improve the odds for favourable outcomes, whether with the optimists from good to very good or with the pessimists merely from bad to poor. No-one however came near to expressing satisfaction with the scale and imagination of Western efforts in the round. There was scope, we suspected, for a more vigorous presentation to Western publics of the gains for the West from good outcomes in the CIS and the penalties (like massive migration) from bad ones; but we seemed widely albeit sadly to judge that in present circumstances, with most if not all major Western governments marked by severe internal socio-economic problems and beleaguered political leaderships, order-of-magnitude change in the scale of resources for aid to CIS members lay well beyond the bounds of reality. Given that, the leverage the West could exert for its preferred outcomes - even where exertion might be desired or tolerated within the CIS - was limited; and the range of inter-dependent reform needed was so huge that agreed over-arching Western priorities were almost impossible to establish. All this was however not reason to give up. Well-targeted help - especially in the provision, if welcome, of know-how advice in economic and indeed some aspects of political business - still had good scope; and the West need not be afraid, within reasonable sensitivity, of firm conditionality, especially in matters where direct Western interest could be clearly and credibly signalled. It was commented that serious effort in the “know-how” field mostly needed the engagement of permanent presence rather than visiting-fireman incursions. There was wide agreement that, alongside a clamant need for proper monetary order, rapid and large-scale privatisation was both a central component of economic reform and a key indicator of political seriousness in its pursuit; and also that well-directed aid could be very fruitful at the micro-level of specific industries and even enterprises, especially if (despite evident difficulties like political risk and defective structures of ownership) private-sector capital and its disciplining motivations could be brought to bear. We said little - too little? - about the need, even if uncomfortable to particular Western interests in the short run, for improvement in access to Western markets to partner and indeed to stimulate the reform and redirection of CIS industry.

There was much talk of institutions, from assorted angles. The IMF was plainly important, though discussion had to defend it variously against accusations of over-slow reaction (arguably ignoring its ultimate dependence on the wishes of its 170-odd owners and on the observance of prudent procedure) and against a tendency for Governments to use IMF activity - inevitably constrained - as an excuse for shortcomings in their own. More broadly, we acknowledged the need to enmesh CIS members constructively in as wide as possible a network of international relationships, institutional and other, as full and natural members of the global community and acceptors of global norms; and also to beware of risks that the development of groupings to which they - or particularly Russia - could not realistically belong, like the EC or NATO, might develop in ways which heightened a sense of exclusion or threat. Some participants expressed hopes of the CIS framework itself as potentially a powerful positive instrument of order; but we also heard vigorously-expressed caution and even scepticism about the realism of this.

It was noteworthy, and telling, that among the main subdivisions of the conference’s debates the calmest - even perhaps the dullest, I venture uncomplainingly - was the security field, at least in its classical politico-military aspects. How striking a reversal of the likely pattern of any Ditchley conference on the region in the past! Let us hope that the optimists are right enough for that still to be so when Ditchley next visits it.

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

Chairman: The Hon Jack Matlock
Affiliated with The W Averell Harriman Institute for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union, Columbia University, New York


Dr Shirin Akiner
Director, Central Asia Research Forum, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Professor Ronald Amann
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Director of Centre for Russian and East European Studies/CREES 1983-89, Dean, Faculty of Commerce and Social Science 1989-91), University of Birmingham

Sir Rodric Braithwaite KCMG
Foreign Affairs Adviser to Prime Minister

Mr Samuel Brittan
Assistant Editor, Financial Times

Sir Brian Fall KCMG
HM Ambassador, Moscow

Mr Andrew Gowers
Foreign Editor, Financial Times.

Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Professor of Russian History, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London

The Rt Hon David Howell MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative) Guildford

Mr Michael Kaser KSG
Director, Institute of Russian, Soviet and Eastern European Studies, and Reader in Economics, University of Oxford

Mr Ralph Land OBE
Director of Eastern European Affairs, Rolls-Royce plc, London

Mr David Logan CMG
Assistant Under Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Dr Alastair McAuley
Reader, Department of Economics, University of Essex

Ms Kate Mortimer
Member, Joint Assistance Unit, Eastern European Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Financial Adviser to Government’s Know How Fund)

Professor Richard Portes
Director, Centre for Economic Policy Research, London

Professor Adam Roberts
Montague Burton Professor of International Relations and Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford

Mr George Robertson MP
Member of Parliament (Labour), Hamilton

Ms Jill Bodkin
Partner and Director of Financial Services, Ernst & Young, Vancouver

Mr Jeremy K B Kinsman
Assistant Deputy Minister, Political and International Security Affairs, Department of External Affairs, Ottawa

Rear Admiral Larry Murray OMM CD
Associate Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy and Communications), National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa

Mr Michael Emerson
Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Communities to Russia

Mme Ewa Kulesza-Mietkowski
Specialist on the states of the former Soviet Union, Institut Français des Relations Internationales.

Ambassador Frank Elbe
Head of Planning Staff, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bonn

Dr Klaus Segbers
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Ebenhausen

Mr John Odling-Smee
Director, European II Department, IMF

Mr Toshihiko Ueno
Research Fellow, Centre for Russian Studies, The Japan Institute of International Affairs, Tokyo

Ambassador Gebhardt von Moltke
Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, NATO Headquarters, Brussels

Mr Adnan Agaev
Adviser to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation

Dr Vladimir Bukovsky
Russian writer and scientist; Stanford University, California

Professor Dr Georgiy Mirsky
Professor, Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), and Professor, Institute of International Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MGEMO), Moscow

Mr Anton Bouteiko
Adviser to the President of Ukraine and Chief of the President’s Office for International Affairs

Dr Marshall I Goldman
Associate Director, Russian Research Center, Harvard University

Professor Jerry F Hough
Professor of Political Science, Duke University

Professor Mark Kramer
Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Foreign Policy Development, Deputy Director, European Security Studies, and Assistant Professor of International Relations, Brown University

Professor Robert Legvold
Professor, Department of Political Science, Columbia University

Mr George Melloan
Deputy Editor (International), The Wall Street Journal, Brussels

Mr Henry Muller
Managing Editor, Time magazine

Professor Joseph S Nye Jr
Director, Center for Science and International Affairs, John F Kennedy School of Government, and Ford Foundation Professor of International Security, Harvard University

Professor Richard Rosecrance
Professor of Political Science, and Director, Center for International Relations, University of California, Los Angeles

Professor Jeffrey D Sachs
Galen L Stone Professor of International Trade, Department of Economics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA