Like most people in the world these days, I have been thinking a lot about
Mikhail S. Gorbachev. He is not bad looking. But I wish he were better looking.
Now that might sound irrelevant, but a better-looking man would indicate to me that the Russians no longer required a tough-looking leader to rule them and to remind them and the world that Soviet leadership is fully capable of brutal use of force.I am not only concerned about Mr. Gorbachev's looks, but it disturbs me that he is only in his 50s. I would feel better about him if he were older and more worn out. More worn-out Soviet leaders are better. I've got it on the best authority: Henry Kissinger.
In his book, "White House Years," the former secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford attributed the period of detente between the U.S.S.R. and the United States to, among other things, Leonid Brezhnev's not caring about adding any more excitement to his life. Excite ment such as: war.
"I read a novel once," Mr. Kissinger writes, "based on the proposition that each human being has a finite amount of qualities like courage and endurance and wisdom, and that life consists of expending these ever-dwindling resources. Something like that seems to have happened to Brezhnev. When I met him, he had gone through the Stalin purges of the '30s (indeed his first big jump up the ladder took place then), the Second World War, a new wave of purges, the power struggle following the death of Stalin, and the intrigue that led to the overthrow of Krushchev that catapulted Brezhnev to the top. He seemed at once exuberant and spent, eager to prevail but at minimal risk. He had had enough excitement for one lifetime."
That sounds like pretty good insight to me.
In some ways Mr. Gorbachev reminds me of a Slavic John F. Kennedy. Like President Kennedy, he represents the first of a new generation to lead his homeland. He has the energy and perhaps vision to take on new challenges for his country. Recalling President Kennedy's inaugural address, I can imagine Mr. Gorbachev saying:
"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Soviets - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage. . . . "
Mr. Gorbachev can be genial and charming Like Mr. Kennedy, though one suspects he lacks the genuine self-deprecating humorous streak that made John Kennedy so delightful. (President Reagan also is a master of that type of humor.)
Also like Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Gorbachev appears to be an economics technocrat. There is evidence to indicate that, like Mr. Kennedy, he believes that economies can and should be fine tuned and adjusted by the state on a continuing basis.
Information is filtering out of the U.S.S.R. to the effect that, at Mr. Gorbachev's insistence, the Soviet Union is in the midst of the greatest decentralization restructuring of its economy in its modern history. Mr. Gorbachev wants the operational and production decisions for the economy to be made on site where production and manufacturing actually take place, not in Moscow.
The task of bolstering the economy of the Soviet Union is Mr. Gorbachev's biggest problem. The way he is going about solving that problem has been determined in large part by the huge accomplishments of Leonid Brezhnev. And here again it might serve us well to refer to Mr. Kissinger's book.
Under Mr. Brezhnev's leadership, he writes, the Soviet Union had undertaken a colossal military buildup . . . . On the other hand, the massive devotion of scarce resources to military hardware would also inhibit the modernization of Soviet society. Brezhnev sought to escape the dilemma by relaxing tensions so that he could acquire Western technology without changing his domestic structure or impairing his military buildup or reducing Soviet global pressure.
Soviet-U.S. detente was Mr. Brezhnev's solution to this dilemma. It worked only partially. Once Mr. Nixon discovered the real reason for detente, he slowed down trade (and especially trade in so-called strategic materials) with the Soviets.
One might reason that Mr. Gorbachev seeks a similar easing of tensions between the two superpowers in order to build up the economy of his country. Militarily the country is well off. Mr. Gorbachev cannot afford to channel more of his scarce resources to the military and still hope to turn the Soviet economy around.
The question facing President Reagan and the American people is how much breathing space we should give Mr. Gorbachev. Should we permit an easing of the tension between the countries to assist Mr. Gorbachev in building up his country's economy? If we did that and the Soviet Union was still permitted to maintain its military advantage over the United States, I think we would be making a mistake.
The answer, it seems to me, is to link (an old Kissinger term) the improvement of the Soviet economy to a decline in its military advantage over the United States.