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US should support Soviet reforms

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George Bush has proclaimed that the survival of Mikhail Gorbachev is in the best interest of the United States. In a Wall Street Journal interview and other public forums Bush spoke of his admiration for Gorbachev's accomplishments and openly hoped for his success. The visible part of this attitude shows in the Administration's support for arms control agreements and opening trade. The Soviet Union is not an "evil empire" in today's White House.

Some prominent voices oppose the favors being granted to the Soviets. Conservatives point out that the USSR has more nuclear capability than when Gorbachev took power, and that hard-line Communists might displace him the leadership. There is significant evidence that they have tried.

The arguments against cutting US defenses and cooperating with the Soviet Union concentrate on the need to protect ourselves against the traditional Communist threat. True, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is not a reform club, nor is eternal friendship with the Americans part of its revised platform. The Soviet Union, under Communist leadership, still poses a threat to the US, but to a lesser degree than before Gorbachev.

However, Americans should be aware of the possibilities that are worse than going back to the old Cold War. The current situation is highly unstable. The Baltic states are mediating the fighting between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians. Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia are politely expelling the Soviet garrisons in their countries. Ethnic Russians, the most reliable base of the Soviet government, are mumbling about canonizing the last Czar and refusing to let their sons be called up by Army reserve units. These are the problems that Gorbachev is facing.

Seventy-five years ago America refused to support a government in Russia out of dislike for its internal behavior. Woodrow Wilson delayed our entry into World War I partly to avoid being allied with Russia. The old regime was primitive, repressive, brutal, and poor. Very few Americans thought a worse government could take its place. Many welcomed the Bolshevik takeover as a tremendous stride forward.

Stalin crushed that idealistic vision. He starved millions of people to death to get the capital for his industrialization schemes. More millions went to slave labor camps for political offenses. Soviet society was warped by his "cult of personality." In some ways it has not yet recovered. Stalin need not have come to power, but once he did the Soviet people had no checks or balances to stop him. The army, the church, all had been broken to the Party's will.

After Stalin died, the Communists have been more careful in who they let rise to the top, but the people still have no protection against a failure by the Party. Stalin will always be one of the most infamous figures in Russian or Soviet history (depending on which one will have a history in the years to come) but as a monster he is overshadowed.

Adolph Hitler took the recovery of Germany from WWI and created a conflagration that shattered nations and shaped the world to this day. Another great genocide of this century came from Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia. His campaign to eliminate urbanization and intellectualism emptied the cities and killed a percentage of the nation's population probably greater than that of any other of history's atrocities.

So perhaps the Czar that Woodrow Wilson despised wasn't so bad after all, at least relative to some other famous men of this century. If Americans had aided the Romanovs and the Kerensky government that took over from them, would they have held against the Bolsheviks? Would Russia have become a constitutional monarchy or a democratic republic in the 1920s? We can never know. We can consider that possibility when thinking about how to treat Gorbachev's Soviet Union.

American conservatives want us to keep our guard up against the return of Stalinism to the Soviet Union, ending glasnost and crushing the new democracies of Eastern Europe. What else might happen? The fighting in the Caucasus illustrates one possibility. Every nation within the Soviet sphere of influence has had its borders repeatedly redrawn in centuries past. They all have grounds for wars over territory. Perhaps the United States could avoid getting entangled in such wars, but our NATO allies probably couldn't.

The Moslem republics of the Soviet Union all have some separatist tendencies. Only Azerbaijan has taken any active steps but they could all follow in its path. If Moscow completely mishandles the region the world could witness the emergence of a 50 million strong, nuclear-armed Islamic fundamentalist republic. This would not be an improvement over Brezhnev.

At the moment the USSR's nuclear arsenal is firmly in the hands of the central government, largely manned by ethnic Russians. Separatists are extremely unlikely to get hold of any of the over 10,000 warheads. However, an open civil war could very likely divide the Strategic Rocket Forces and their KGB counterparts into factions. If a civil war went nuclear it would be devastating. We're all downwind of the USSR. Hopefully no one would become that desperate or deranged, but a collapse of the central government would leave the warheads uncontrolled. I would not want to see them in the hands of China or newly formed successor states.

The best thing to hope for is the success of glasnost and perestroika. The Soviets would gradually evolve into a market-oriented democracy more concerned with consuming than watching out for foreign threats. This can only happen if the current slide stops and the Soviet people's living standards improve. If they keep getting worse the people will be eager to support new proposals, whether for secession or maniacs screaming "kill the Jews!"

The United States government can't just concentrate on "winning the Cold War." We have to think about what will take the place of the current situation, and try to avoid the worst possibilities while aiming for the best. Right now reducing the load on the Soviet economy through arms agreements and trade does not increase the USSR's ability to attack America. It increases the chances of its people becoming so fat and lazy that they'll have no reason to attack us. Our best defense is to make the Soviets more peaceful, and that means making them richer.

President Bush seems to have the basic idea down right.

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Karl Dishaw, a recent graduate in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is a columnist for

The Tech.