The River of Time and the Imperative of Action

"The River of Time and the Imperative of Action"
— Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union



Here we stand, before a sculpture in which the sculptor's imagination and fantasy, with remarkable expressiveness and laconism, convey the drama of the "Cold War," the irrepressible human striving to penetrate the barriers of alienation and confrontation. It is symbolic that this artist was the granddaughter of Winston Churchill and that this sculpture should be in Fulton.

More than 46 years ago Winston Churchill spoke in Fulton and in my country this speech was interpreted as the formal declaration of the "Cold War." This was indeed the first time the words, "Iron Curtain," were pronounced, and the whole Western world was challenged to close ranks against the threat of tyranny in the form of the Soviet Union and Communist expansion. Everything else in this speech, including Churchill's analysis of the postwar situation in the world, his thoughts about the possibility of preventing a third world war, the prospects for progress, and methods of reconstructing the postwar world, remained unknown to the Soviet people.

Today, in paying tribute to this eminent statesman, we can evaluate more quietly and objectively both the merits of his speech and the limitations of the analysis which it included, his ideas and predictions, and his strategic principles.

Since that time the world in which we live has undergone tremendous changes. Even so, however paradoxical it may sound, there is a certain similarity between the situation then and today. Then, the prewar structure of international relations had virtually collapsed, a new pattern of forces had emerged along with a new set of interests and claims.

Different trends in world development could be discerned, but their prospects were not clearly outlined. New possibilities for progress had appeared. Answers had to be found to the challenges posed by new subjects of international law. The atmosphere was heavy — not only with hope, but also with suspicion, lack of understanding, unpredictability.

In other words, a situation had emerged in which a decision with universal implications had to be taken. Churchill's greatness is seen in the fact that he was the first among prominent political figures to understand that.

Indeed, the world community which had at that time already established the United Nations, was faced with a unique opportunity to change the course of world development, fundamentally altering the role in it of force and of war. And, of course, this depended to a decisive degree on the Soviet Union and the United States — here I hardly need to explain why.

So I would like to commence my remarks by noting that the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. missed that chance — the chance to establish their relationship on a new basis of principle and thereby to initiate a world order different from that which existed before the war. I think it is clear that I am not suggesting that they should have established a sort of condominium over the rest of the world. The opportunity was on a different plane altogether.

If the United States and the Soviet Union had been capable of understanding their responsibility and sensibly correlating their national interests and strivings with the rights and interests of other states and peoples, the planet today would be a much more suitable and favorable place for human life I have more than once criticized the foreign policy of the Stalinist leadership in those years. Not only was it incapable of reevaluating the historical logic of the interwar period, taking into account the experience and results of the war, and following a course which corresponded to the changed reality, it committed a major error in equating the victory of democracy over fascism with the victory of socialism and aiming to spread socialism throughout the world.

But the West, and the United States in particular, also committed an error. Its conclusion about the probability of open Soviet military aggression was unrealistic and dangerous. This could never have happened, not only because Stalin, as in 1939-1941, was afraid of war, did not want war, and never would have engaged in a major war. But primarily because the country was exhausted and destroyed; it had lost tens of millions of people, and the public hated war. Having won a victory, the army and the soldiers were dying to get home and get back to a normal life.

By including the "nuclear component" in world politics, and on this basis unleashing a monstrous arms race — and here the initiator was the United States, the West — "sufficient defense was exceeded," as the lawyers would say. This was a fateful error.

So I would be so bold as to affirm that the governing circles of the victorious powers lacked an adequate strategic vision of the possibilities for world development as they emerged after the war — and, consequently, a true understanding of their own countries' national interests. Hiding behind slogans of "striving for peace" and defense of their people's interests on both sides, decisions were taken which split asunder the world which had just succeeded in overcoming fascism because it was united.

And on both sides this was justified ideologically. The conflict was presented as the inevitable opposition between good and evil — all the evil, of course, being attributed to the opponent. This continued for decades until it became evident that we were approaching the abyss. I am stating this because the world community has paid dearly for the errors committed at this turning-point in world history.

In the major centers of world politics the choice, it would seem, has today been made in favor of peace, cooperation, interaction, and common security. And in pushing forward to a new civilization we should under no circumstances again make the intellectual, and consequently political, error of interpreting victory in the "Cold War" narrowly as a victory for oneself, one's own way of life, for one's own values and merits. This was a victory over a scheme for the development of humanity which was becoming slowly congealed and leading us to destruction. It was a shattering of the vicious circle into which we had driven ourselves. This was altogether a victory for common sense, reason, democracy, and common human values.

II. Churchill urged us to think "superstrategically," meaning by this the capacity to rise above the petty problems and particularities of current realities, focusing on the major trends and being guided by them.

What are the characteristics of the world situation today? In thinking over the processes which we ourselves have witnessed, we are forced to conclude that humanity is at a major turning-point. Not only the peoples of the former USSR, but the whole world is living through this watershed situation. This is not just some ordinary stage of development, like many others in world history. This is a turning-point on a historic and worldwide scale and signifies the incipient substitution of one paradigm of civilization by another.

Since antiquity the progress of humanity has occurred within the framework of regional civilizations and relatively autonomous societies — autonomous in the sense that the interaction among them was not the determining factor in the development of a given state or a given people and did not turn into an all-encompassing interdependence. Before our eyes this pattern of relations is receding into the past. It is being overtaken by powerful global integrating trends caused by far-reaching scientific and technical revolution, the internationalization of economic processes, and the profound transformation of the conditions of human life.

This all leads to the conclusion that there has been a radical change in the very forms of social development which existed in the past — a change in the organization of social life and in virtually every area of human existence. What is more, there has been a change in people's inner world, in how they visualize moral values and social ideals.

These changes, of course, did not start today or yesterday. But it is today, before our eyes and with our participation, that they enter their decisive, watershed phase, when all spheres of human activity — production, economics, finance, the market, politics, science, culture, and the like — become integrated on a world-wide scale. This existing and intensifying integration of the world reveals a broad spectrum of favorable opportunities for the future of mankind.

First and foremost, it signifies the possibility of creating a global international security system, thus preventing large-scale military conflicts like the world wars of the 20th century and facilitating a radical reduction in levels of armaments and reducing the burden of military expenditures. This signifies that the attention, and the resources, of the world community can be focused on solving problems in non-military areas: population, environment, food production, energy sources, and the like. This means new opportunities for economic progress, ensuring normal conditions of life for the Earth's growing population and improved living conditions.

We have, in fact, already started moving in that direction. But the significance of these changes, while a great source of hope, should not blind us to the dangers — some of which we have already encountered. It would be a supreme tragedy if the world, having overcome the "1946 model," were to find itself once again in a "1914 model" world. A major international effort will be needed to render irreversible the shift in favor of a democratic world — and democratic for the whole of humanity, not just for half of it.

I am in full agreement with Secretary of State James Baker's formulation. The existing dangers are largely a function of the watershed character of the times we live in. It is quite clear that the enhanced integration and interdependence of the world at the same time creates new strains — both domestically and internationally — unleashing processes which earlier were hidden from view. The very fact that the two world alliances are no longer in confrontation and that the collapse of totalitarian regimes has released centrifugal forces which had been temporarily frozen — territorial and intergovernmental contradictions and claims — has encouraged an exaggerated nationalism. And this has already led to much bloodshed.

The ending of the global confrontation of nuclear superpowers, and of the ideological opposition between the two world systems, has rendered even more visible today's major contradiction — between the rich and poor countries, between "North" and "South", even though these terms today are merely conventional.

The essence of the situation is not altered by the fact that several countries of the "South" have shaken off poverty and backwardness, while others are even treading on the heels of the old developed countries. Still the correlation between poverty and wealth in the modern world has not improved, but has actually deteriorated due to the profound crisis in the countries which have emerged from the USSR. This is aggravated by the headlong development of world communications and the systematic transmission of information, inculcating in the less developed countries a more intense feeling of social deprivation and even of hopelessness and despair

Turning now to the world economy, the increasingly close links between national economies and markets is accompanied by intensified international competition, leading to de facto trade wars and a threatened revival of protectionism. One of the worst of the new dangers is ecological. When Winston Churchill gave his speech here, most people on this planet did not even suspect a mortal threat from that direction.

But today, global climatic shifts, the greenhouse effect, the "ozone hole," acid rain, contamination of the atmosphere, soil, and water by industrial and household waste, the destruction of the forests, etc. all threaten the stability of the planet. Despite all the efforts being made to prevent ecological catastrophe, the destruction of nature is intensifying. And the effects of our poisoning of the spiritual sphere — drug addiction, alcoholism, terrorism, crime — become further ecological threats. All of this together heightens the probability of social, national, and international conflicts.

If they do not understand the transitional character of the present international system, with all its inherent contradictions and conflicts, politicians again risk committing errors which would have the most baneful consequences for all. The prospect of catastrophic climatic changes, more frequent droughts, floods, hunger, epidemics, national-ethnic conflicts, and other similar catastrophes compels governments to adopt a world perspective and seek generally applicable solutions. The only alternative would be an intensification of conflicts throughout the world, instability of political systems, civil wars, i.e., ultimately, a threat to world peace.

This means that we need a different understanding of problems of international security, of national interest, and of the tasks which must be solved to guarantee the survival of humanity. We must explore various scenarios, including the most unfavorable, predicting their occurrence so as to be able to act accordingly. Some experience already exists of various kinds: the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Korea, the Caucasus, the Baltic region, the earthquake in Armenia, the Chernobyl disaster. What is important is that all these varied undertakings by the world community bear the imprint of the new atmosphere in the world, one which emerged, among other reasons, thanks to Perestroika and the New Thinking. One consequence of increasing world integration is the democratization of international relations. It would seem that all are agreed that the bipolar system has run its course. Some say that it will be replaced by a monocentric one. But most people feel that the world will be multipolar. This would probably be acceptable if, of course, one bears in mind that this is not the type of redistribution of roles which was customary in the past.

No, the idea that certain states or groups of states could monopolize the international arena is no longer valid. What is emerging is a more complex global structure of international relations. An awareness of the need for some kind of global government is gaining ground, one in which all members of the world community would take part. Events should not be allowed to develop spontaneously. There must be an adequate response to global changes and challenges. If we are to eliminate force and prevent conflicts from developing into a worldwide conflagration, we must seek means of collective action by the world community.

There are chances for peace. This is confirmed by what has happened to the political views of the leaders of the Great Powers in the past few years. What is needed are principles and mechanisms for converting possibility into reality. The principles are generally known. I spoke of them in New York at the United Nations General Assembly in the end of 1988.

III. What has to be done is to create the necessary mechanisms? In my position it is not very appropriate to name them. It is important that they should be authorized by the world community to deal with problems. Without that there is no point in talking about a new era or a new civilization. I will limit myself to designating the lines of activity and the competence of such mechanisms.

Nuclear and chemical weapons. Rigid controls must be instituted to prevent their proliferation, including enforcement measures in cases of violation. An agreement must be concluded among all presently nuclear states on procedures for cutting back on such weapons and liquidating them. Finally a world convention prohibiting chemical weapons should be signed.

The peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The powers of the IAEA must be strengthened, and it is imperative that all countries working in this area be included in the IAEA system. The procedures of the IAEA should be tightened up and the work performed in a more open and aboveboard manner. Under United Nations auspices a powerful consortium should be created to finance the modernization or liquidation of high-risk nuclear power stations, and also to store spent fuel. A set of world standards for nuclear power plants should be established. Work on nuclear fusion must be expanded and intensified.

The export of conventional weapons. Governmental exports of such weapons should be ended by the year 2000, and, in regions of armed conflict, it should be stopped at once. The illegal trade in such arms must be equated with international terrorism and the drug trade. With respect to these questions the intelligence services of the states which are permanent members of the Security Council should be coordinated. And the Security Council itself must be expanded, which I will mention in a moment.

Regional conflicts. Considering the impartially examined experience obtained in the Middle East, in Africa, in Southeast Asia, Korea, Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, and Afghanistan, a special body should be set up under the United Nations Security Council with the right to employ political, diplomatic, economic, and military means to settle and prevent such conflicts.

Human rights. The European process has officially recognized the universality of this common human value, i.e., the acceptability of international interference wherever human rights are being violated. This task is not easy even for states which signed the Paris Charter of 1990 and even less so for all states members of the United Nations. However, I believe that the new world order will not be fully realized unless the United Nations and its Security Council create structures (taking into consideration existing United Nations and regional structures) authorized to impose sanctions and to make use of other enforcement measures.

Food, population, economic assistance. It is no accident that these problems should be dealt with in this connection. Upon their solution depends the biological viability of the Earth's population and the minimal social stability needed for a civilized existence of states and peoples. Major scientific, financial, political, and public organizations — among them, the authoritative Club of Rome — have long been occupied with these problems. However, the newly emerging type of international interaction will make possible a breakthrough in our practical approach to them. I would propose that next year a world conference be held on this subject, one similar to the forthcoming conference on the environment.

IV. Ladies and Gentlemen! All of these problems demand an enhanced level of organization of the international community. However, even now, at a time of sharply increased interdependence in the world, many countries are morbidly jealous of their sovereignty, and many peoples of their national independence and identity. This is one of the newest global contradictions, one which must be overcome by joint effort. That it can, in principle, be overcome can be seen from the experience of the European communities and, although still to only a slight degree, from the European process as a whole.

Here the decisive role may and must be played by the United Nations. Of course, it must be restructured, together with its component bodies, in order to be capable of confronting the new tasks. These ideas have long been under discussion, and many proposals have been put forward. I myself have no plan of my own for reorganizing the United Nations. I will just address the basic parameters of the changes which are ready for solution.

The United Nations, which emerged from the results and the lessons of the Second World War, is still marked by the period of its creation. This is true both with respect to the makeup of its subsidiary bodies and auxiliary institutions and with respect to its functioning. Nothing, for instance, other than the division into victors and vanquished, explains why such countries as Germany and Japan do not figure among the permanent members of the Security Council.

In general, I feel Article 53 on "enemy states" should be immediately deleted from the UN Charter. Also, the criterion of possession of nuclear weapons would be archaic in the new era before us. The great country of India should be represented in the Security Council. The authority and potential of the Council would also be enhanced by incorporation on a permanent basis of Italy, Indonesia, Canada, Poland, Brazil, Mexico, and Egypt, even if initially they do not possess the veto.

The Security Council will require better support, more effective and more numerous peace-keeping forces. Under certain circumstances it will be desirable to put certain national armed forces at the disposal of the Security Council, making them subordinate to the United Nations military command.

The proposal, which I accept, has already been made that a global system be established for monitoring emergencies. The United Nations Secretary-General should be authorized to put it into action even before a conflict becomes violent. Closer coordination of UN organs with regional structures would only enhance its capacity to settle disputes in the world.

Of course, the UN's contemporary role, and, first and foremost, an expanded and strengthened Security Council, will require substantial funding. The method adopted for financing at the founding of the United Nations revealed its weaknesses just as soon as, some years later, it became more active and came closer to actually carrying out the tasks assigned by its founders. This method must be supplemented by some mechanism tying the UN to the world economy.

My thoughts may, at first glance, appear somewhat unrealistic. But we will count on the fact that business is becoming more humane, that a powerful process of technical and political internationalization is taking place, and that business is achieving an increasingly organic relationship with contemporary world politics into which the seeds of the "new thinking" have been cast. Today democracy must prove that it can exist not only as the antithesis of totalitarianism. This means that it must move from the national arena to the international.

On today's agenda is not just a union of democratic states, but also a democratically organized world community. Thus, we live today in a watershed era. One epoch has ended, and another is commencing. No one yet knows what it will be like. Having long been orthodox Marxists, we were sure we knew. But life once again has refuted those who claimed to be know-it-alls and messiahs.

It is clear that the 20th century nurtured immense opportunities. And from it we are inheriting frightful, apocalyptic threats. But we have at our disposal a great science, one which will help us avoid crude miscalculations. Moral values have survived in this frightful century, and these will assist and support us in this, the most difficult, transition in the history of humanity — from one qualitative state to another.

In concluding I would like to return to my starting-point. From this tribune Churchill appealed to the United Nations to rescue peace and progress, but he appealed primarily to Anglo-Saxon unity as the nucleus to which others could adhere. In the achievement of this goal the decisive role, in his view, was to be played by force, above all, by armed force. He even entitled his speech "The Sinews of Peace"

The goal today has not changed: peace and progress for all. But now we have the capacity to approach it without paying the heavy price we have been paying these past 50 years or so, without having to resort to means which put the very goal itself in doubt, which even constitute a threat to civilization. And while continuing to recognize the outstanding role of the United States of America, and today of other rich and highly developed countries, we must not limit our appeal to the elect, but call upon the whole world community.

In a qualitatively new and different world situation the overwhelming majority of the United Nations will, I hope, be capable of organizing themselves and acting in concert on the principles of democracy, equality of rights, balance of interests, common sense, freedom of choice, and willingness to cooperate. Made wise by bitter experience, they will, I think, be capable of dispensing, when necessary, with egoistic considerations in order to arrive at the exalted goal which is man's destiny on earth.

Thank you.


Delivered 6 May 1992, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri

“Leave the past to history especially as I propose to write that history myself.”

Winston S. Churchill