Mikhail Gorbachev is rarely mentioned. After all, a few days ago, in view of his 90th birthday, even the “Washington Post” brought a longer guest article in his honor. The author, Katrina vanden Heuvel, is the widow of the Russian studies professor Stephen F. Cohen, who died last fall and who also had personal relations with Gorbachev. And she is co-editor of the US weekly magazine “The Nation”. She knows who had and still has something decisive to say in this world. The headline of her Gorbachev portrait in the Washington Post reads: “Here’s what leaders facing global crises can learn from Mikhail Gorbachev”
Katrina vanden Heuvel, begins her portrait with a recent statement by Gorbachev:
“What we urgently need now is a rethink of the whole concept of security,” said former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev last year, just one month after the Covid-19 pandemic nearly brought life around the world to a standstill. Instead of measuring security purely militarily, as we usually do, “the overarching goal must be human security: providing food, water and a clean environment, and caring for people’s health.”
Gorbachev was wanted as a reformer
Gorbachev became general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1985, at the age of 54. From March 1990 to December 1991 he was formally President of the Soviet Union. With his two publications “Glasnost” (transparency) and “Perestroika” (reconstruction) he initiated important and necessary reforms. And last but not least, he set new priorities in foreign policy. It was he who made the reunification of Germany possible. Unfortunately, he was arrested on 19. He was put away in Moscow on August 31, 1991, while he was enjoying summer holidays in Phoros on the Crimean peninsula and was put under house arrest there. Since the death of his wife Raissa in 1999, Gorbachev has lived in his dacha in a suburb of Moscow.
In Russia Gorbachev – unfortunately – does not enjoy great prestige. There he is accused of having given the GDR away to Germany, so to speak, without demanding a treaty according to which an eastward expansion of NATO should be prohibited. And it was criticized that he had pushed for proper reforms with Glasnost and perestroika, but that he had no plan for the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union and had slipped into it without a concept.
But what has not been forgotten today, and also at the top of the Russian establishment, are Gorbachev’s efforts for international disarmament. For example, on 25 February 2020, exactly one year ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in his speech at the 43rd session of the UN Council for Human Rights in Geneva, drew attention to the fact that Russia would like to resume the content of the talks between Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan at that time. The" Gorbachev-Reagan formula", according to which there can be no winner in a nuclear war and such a war must therefore never be sparked, should be confirmed or even better strengthened. Unfortunately, Russia has not yet received a response from the US to this proposal.
Gorbachev still pleads for a safer future
Katrina vanden Heuvel points out in the" Washington Post " that Mikhail Gorbachev is still advocating for a safer world and pleads for three measures in particular:
“First: militarization does not make us safer. As a Soviet leader, Gorbachev saw first-hand how, instead, she often escalates the threat of violence by getting other countries to upgrade their militaries as well. These expensive investments divert resources from investments in basic needs such as health care and education that could really deepen human security. Gorbachev, one of the most dedicated arms reducers to ever lead a nuclear power, was revolutionary when he called for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons in the 1980s. To a large extent, it is thanks to his leadership that by 2015, 85 percent of the American and Russian nuclear arsenals had been decommissioned in the state of the Cold War era. But his vision of demilitarization not only remains unfinished, but is increasingly threatened. Important arms contracts have expired, and some nations, including the US, Russia and China, are now modernizing their arsenals. The United States, for example, is planning to order 600 new long-range missiles with nuclear warheads, each 20 times more powerful than the bomb dropped over Hiroshima. The total cost? 100 Billion Dollars! [ … ] We gain far more security by investing in the health and well-being of our civilization than by buying 600 new ways to destroy our civilization.”
“The second important insight of Gorbachev is that security begins with cooperation, even if this cooperation seems impossible. President Ronald Reagan famously called the Soviet Union an"evil empire”. This starting position would prevent many in Gorbachev’s position at the time from even attempting to open a dialogue. But, as I have often heard Gorbachev say in meetings over the years, “if we do not try, even what seems impossible, we risk being confronted with the unthinkable.“So he persevered-and eventually both leaders came to the realization that no one could win the Cold War. As Gorbachev put it:“We won only when the Cold War was over.” The unlikely partnership with Reagan has made the whole world safer.”
And Katrina vanden Heuvel in the” Washington Post " continues:
“Finally, Gorbachev reminds us that one of the best ways to protect our national security is to preserve and promote our democratic institutions. Gorbachev has shown how even leaders who have emerged from authoritarian systems can carry out important reforms to promote democracy. From 1985, when he came to power, Gorbachev introduced presidential and parliamentary elections, which are to this day the freest and fairest elections in the history of Russia. His characteristic policy of glasnost – openness – rolled back seven decades of state censorship. He even invested in independent journalism by bequeathing part of his Nobel Prize money to Novaya Gazeta, the country’s leading democratic opposition newspaper, which continues to publish important investigative reports.”
Katrina vanden Heuvel closes her Gorbachev portrait with the following words:
“It has been 30 years since Gorbachev surrendered power. But his fundamental insight that true security can be better achieved through demilitarization, cooperation and democratization is all the more valid today as the threats to our security appear in more forms than ever. Understanding this new situation is not idealism. It is realism.”