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Time to Revolutionize Cold War Thinking

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MUCH of the current discussion of whether the cold war is ending focuses on changes in Soviet policy under Mikhail Gorbachev. But the cold war is a two-sided conflict, rooted in certain basic ideas. Without a conceptual revolution on both sides, each will exaggerate the threat from the other and United States-Soviet relations will remain crisis-prone.

The Soviets are well into just such a revolution. The Bush administration has undertaken a review of US strategy; but there is no evidence that it recognizes the need for a fundamental reconsideration of the concepts that underlie strategy.

The Soviet ``new thinking'' about international affairs encompasses the most fundamental Soviet beliefs. For example, it rejects the Leninist idea that international conflict is a form of class warfare - an inescapable and unending confrontation between capitalist and socialist systems. Conflicts in the third world are no longer clearly seen as part of a grand liberation struggle.

The Soviets are redefining national security to emphasize its mutual, interdependent character and to place less emphasis upon military power and territorial control, more upon long-term political adjustment.

These new perspectives are reflected in encouragement of change in Eastern Europe and in action to resolve third-world conflicts; in a new stress upon multilateralism and international institutions; in an effort to redefine the Soviet military posture under the conceptual rubrics of ``reasonable sufficiency'' and ``defensive [non-offensive] defense''; and in a very serious Soviet approach to arms control.

The US has sometimes responded to these conceptual changes with demands for ``more substance,'' as Secretary of State James Baker did recently in Vienna. Clearly, the Soviets are still working out the implications of the new thinking, but we have already seen enough Soviet policy changes to demonstrate their seriousness. It is time US policymakers began to reconsider their own ways of thinking.


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