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Georgi Arbatov is a maneuverer. In a sense such a observation seems self-evident; anyone who, like Arbatov, has reached the height of power in the Soviet Union must have great political acumen and a highly developed some of cunning. A brief look at Arbatov's career only serves to reinforce this impression, for our man clearly knew how to pick--and stick with--the right people. In the early 1960s, for example, Arbatov was a confident of the late Soviet leader Leonid I Brezhnev. And all the way buck in 1964, he became an advisor to Yuni V. Andropov, then one of several secretaries of the Communist party's Central Committee. Today Andropov is Secretary General of the Central Committee and Arbator director of the prestigious Institute for United States and Canadian Studies.
Subilety and craftiness prevail throughout most of Arbatov's discussion of U.S. Soviet relations in The Soviet Viewpoint. Using the question answer format to its greatest advantage....Viewpoint provides an ideal forum for Arbatov to demonstrate--often convincingly--that the recent cooling off in relations between the superpowers is largely the fault of the United States.
The questions are posed by Dutch journalist and author William Oltmans, Clearly sympathetic to much of what Arbatov has to say. Oltmans rarely presses his interjector: indeed, some of his queries seem designed to dicit a response uncomplimentary to the United States. Still, this bits does little to diminish the importance of the book. Arbatov's statements are not extemparacoure the U.S. specialist was given written questions to which he formulated answers over several months. It would be a good bet to assume that Arbatov consulted with his friends on the Central Committee and that his opinions reflect those of the top Soviet leadership.
Arbatov and Oltmans discuss a wide variety of issues, including the history of U.S. Soviet relations since the Revolution in 1917, popular Soviet perceptions of America and dealings with other nations. But the focus of their talks is the deterioration of détente what emerges is more than a little disturbing for the American reader because the Soviet viewpoint is often strikingly logical.
Most international relations experts in the West attribute the collapse of defense to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in early 1980 Arbatov though sees a significant shirt in the U.S. attitude towards the USSR as early as 1978. He points to the NATO decision to increase military budget annually for 15 years. Carter's "five-year plan" for arms spending, and the NATO move to build and deploy new medium-range American missiles in Europe as actions detrimental to détente All pre-dated Afghanistan.
What makes Arbatov's point all the more interesting is his analysis of why the United States began to return to a hard line. Arbatov believes that a feeling of impotence overtook American policy makers when the USSR reached military parity with the U.S. This feeling was exacerbated when the U.S. economy started to sour and events in Iran proved American night had become less effective in resolving conflicts. With the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Americans showed that they longed for the past, that "the mood of nostalgia for the 'American Century' was quite strong."
Here and elsewhere, Arbatov's arguments about Soviet perceptions carry as much legitimacy as the anti-Soviet views put forth in the West. A few examples are worth citing. The arms race, Arbatov claims, has been fueled by the United States from the start, with the Soviets simply playing catch-up He writes.
The United States had nuclear weapons, we had to acquire them. They had the means to deliver nuclear weapons. We did not possess such means we had to develop them. The same is true of practically all major strategic weapons systems SLBMs, MIRVs, cruise missiles etc... The Americans were the first to introduce them for the us to follow suit.
In a similar vein Arbatov argues that the Soviet SS 20 threat is pure propaganda, whereas the Soviet have reason to be concerned in reality about the deployment later this year of Cruse and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe. The SS 20, Arbatov believes are not in essence different from the weapons they replaced (the SS-4 and SS-5) because they do not have the capability of reaching the United States--SS-20 remains a theater weapon usably, only in Europe. The Pershings and Cruise missiles though are clearly superior to their prerectly From the Soviet viewpoint, this is clearcut escalation.
The point is not so much that Arbatov is right and American views wrong Rather. Arbatov shows us that his views are realistic from his perspective. It is a valuable lesson in the importance of what political scientists call "partisan perceptions."
But...Viewpoint ultimately suffers from Arbatov's allure to respect the partisan perceptions of the United States Arbatov's constant--albeit diplomatic--denunciations of U.S. policy are so grating that they reduce the effectiveness of the Soveit's arguments. The U.S. it seems, is always in the wrong, the USSR always in the right. As long as the discussion centers around the arms race and international affairs. Arbatov's line of argument is at least plausible. But when the authors turn to comparative human rights and the drawbacks of the Soviet social system, the Soviet balloon pops.
Most of Arbatov's discussion of human rights is pure rhetoric. When he states, for example, that the USSR has "a deep and long standing commitment to human rights" and adds that "it's for human rights that we made our revolution," the reader is tempted above all else to Laugh Rarely is there a defense of the utter lack of freedom of speech, movement and religious practice in the USSR. When such questions do arise. Arbatov either shifts the discussion to human rights "abuses" in the West or sidesteps the issue altogether. As for Oltmans he never sees fit, as any good journalist would to press Arbatov on his evasions.
Arbatov's attempt to wash over the human rights issue is distressing but predictable because respect for the individual is the one area in which the West remain-clearly superior to the Last Certainly excesses on our side exist the persecution of Indians and Blacks come immediately to mind. And more recently U.S. policies in Central America have been far from exemplary. But some basis comparisons are worth drawing. An American could never publish a book critical of Soviet foreign
When the authors turn to comparative human rights, the Soviet balloon pops. policy in the USSR And a disproportionately large number of people attempt to leave the Soviet Union each year to live in the West How many people can you think of who have given up the United States or Western Europe to live in Moscow.'
Of course, such debates are in the long run futile and irrelevant. As Arbatoy rightly points out, the United States and the Soviet Union have one essential common denominator: the fear of nuclear annihilation. He argues that we must concentrate all our efforts in the quest for arms control and disarmament even if it means ignoring or putting to the side the numerous differences between the two nations.
The problem with this view--legitimate as it is--is the vicious circle it necessitates. Certainly all efforts must be made to control nuclear weapons. But few positive steps can be taken in this direction until detente once again characterizes U.S. Soviet relations. Yet a return to detente seems to hinge in part on a mutual reduction in each side's feat--a fear which is caused to a large extent by nuclear weapons. To his credit. Arbatov recognizes this difficulty. And he understands how much more appealing a cold war environment ("where everything moves on the level of a cheap western") can be that the philosophy of detente, "in which one has to be broad-minded and tolerant enough to understand the possibility and desirability of coexistence between nations that are vastly different in their social systems political institutions, values, sympathies and antipathies."
The book's drawbacks are attributable mostly to ideological posturing; in spite of them The Soviet Viewpoint is without question a valuable addition to the literature on U.S. Soviet relations. For detente to be successful. Americans and Russians must come to a better understanding of each other's positions. Even a peek at what Soviet leaders are thinking increases our comprehension of the USSR. And in some small but useful way, the cause of detente is thereby furthered
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