The international community is outraged by the U.S. unilateral
air strikes in the Middle East in defiance of the UN. While world
leaders discuss how to reinstate the UN’s guiding role, the
American administration builds up its capacities for war, while
receiving ratification for the most exorbitant military budgets
ever. However, there seems to be a split within the administration.
The Pentagon “hawks,” led by the self-confident and bellicose
defense secretary, believe that Washington can safely ignore the
opinion of other countries. Contrary to this belief, the State
Department “doves” who rally around the cautious and moderate
secretary of state advocate the need for all White House
initiatives to be agreed upon with its allies and even possibly
discussed with its adversaries.
This all sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? To add a couple of
catchphrases like ‘unilateralism’ or ‘multilateralism’ and some
other general remarks about the prospects of a ‘multipolar or
unipolar world’ and it would be reasonable to believe that we were
reading excerpts from the latest events in the press. However,
these thoughts do not come from the latest publications, but from
the memoirs of a most renowned and distinguished Russian diplomat,
Yuri Dubinin. The above events refer not to the summer and fall of
2003, but to the late 1980s. The author spent those years in the
U.S., first as the U.S.S.R. Ambassador to the UN, and then as its
Ambassador to Washington. (To elucidate: the abovementioned strikes
in the Middle East were in reference to U.S. air strikes at Libya
carried out under Ronald Reagan’s orders in 1986; the “hawk” is
U.S. Defense Secretary Casper Wineberger, while the “dove” is
Secretary of State George Shultz.)
Yuri Dubinin worked in the U.S. in 1986-1990, the period of the
most dramatic changes in the relations between the two superpowers
in the 20th century. The head of the Soviet diplomatic mission
played the key role in forging personal ties with the American
leaders, particularly former presidents Reagan and Bush,
respectively. He prepared the major summits between Mikhail
Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik, as well as in Moscow.
Finally, he set the historic meetings between Gorbachev and George
Bush in Washington and in Malta, which put an end to the arms race
and conditioned the future of world politics.
Dubinin’s book is an informative and thought-provoking reading
because it makes us look at the present developments from a new
perspective, although much of the author’s experience creates
genuine historical interest. Generally speaking, this book can
hardly be ranked as a memoir because most of its characters have
not yet left the political stage of the world’s mightiest power.
Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Richard Perle are
among the U.S. ruling elite, while ex-President Bush Senior, his
Secretary of State James Baker and Reagan’s Secretary of State
George Shultz still have a say in the decision-making process of
the presidential team. Not to mention President George W. Bush who
has often mentioned that he is following in the footsteps of his
Republican predecessors – his father and Ronald Reagan. The
described inner-workings of American policymaking in the late 1980s
can help us better understand the current situation.
Dubinin provides an exhaustive description of the U.S. state
officials, all of whom were his former contacts. Ronald Reagan is
portrayed as a man of “luminous individuality,” and “great
ambitions and unexpected landmark decisions to which he stuck with
great conviction; he would not trade them for half-measures, nor
give in to the loop-holes of subtle diplomacy” (p. 32).
George Shultz was “extremely scrupulous in formulating his
positions… Whenever his position or tactics made it necessary, he
knew how to twist people’s arms and put pressure by reasoning as
well as tough wording; he could also persuade, explain or argue in
an inviting and friendly manner” (pp. 288-289).
Colin Powell (at this time, the president’s aide for national
security) “demonstrated the qualities of a sober statesman with the
highest professional expertise extending beyond that of a military
officer” (p. 216).
Unlike his superior [Wineberger – Ed.], Assistant Secretary of
Defense Richard Perle was creative and resourceful in problem
solving, despite the toughness of his stance” (p. 171).
The Soviet leaders are portrayed much more grudgingly. As a
seasoned diplomat, Dubinin avoids his personal sympathies as he
relays his talks with Eduard Shevardnadze, then foreign minister,
and Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Central Committee
of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as well as other
leaders. Only occasionally does he venture sarcastic remarks with
regard to certain “refined think-tanks” in the Soviet Foreign
Ministry and in the party leadership who would devise
“non-traditional” approaches to the art of diplomacy. Yuri
Dubinin’s diplomatic stint in the U.S. coincided with the upsurge
of the crisis in the Soviet Union, and with the start of the
processes that soon led to its disintegration. The author mentions
the famous 1989 visit to the U.S. by the Party-disgraced Boris
Yeltsin (p. 322) and George Bush’s meeting with Prime Minister
Kasimira Prunskiene of rebellious Lithuania (p. 378). Again,
Dubinin shuns personal evaluations. But a dire frustration shows
through his cool comments, revealing how much it pained him as a
professional to see all of his labors at consolidating the
country’s position go down the drain for reasons beyond his
control. (Yuri Dubinin had the bitter experience of working under
the political instability of the 1990s when he headed the Russian
delegation at their talks with Ukraine and was subsequently
nominated Ambassador to Kiev. It was a time when “non-formal”
meetings at the highest level would often stultify the diplomats’
efforts to uphold the national interests.)
“Mid-May of 1990, seemed a good timing for leaving Washington
[Yuri Dubinin was appointed Soviet Ambassador to Paris – Ed.]. It
was the heyday of the country’s popularity in the U.S.; our
relations were booming; the U.S.S.R. was perceived as a reputable,
authoritative and respected partner. Days were numbered before our
domestic afflictions would break out in the open, ruining the
country’s foreign policy, along with the country itself,” writes
the author with bitter disappointment (p. 397).
Dubinin is reluctant to enter into disputes about the role of
this or that politician in the later years of perestroika. Instead,
he gives convincing facts and lets other witnesses have their say.
For instance, describing the Washington summit between Gorbachev
and Bush in late May 1990 (the author did not participate in the
negotiations but was engaged in their preparations) Dubinin
extensively quotes George Bush’s memoirs. The American ex-President
was astonished at how easily Mikhail Gorbachev gave his consent for
united Germany’s accession to NATO. It came as a surprise not only
to the American side, which was ready for lengthy discussions on
the NATO subject, but to the Soviet delegation as well. “It was all
startling,” concludes Bush (p. 399).
Success in international diplomacy of a country hinges upon the
coherence and consistency of its position and domestic stability.
This idea, though not new, remains a topical issue, and Yuri
Dubinin’s book provides a forceful confirmation of this. Time of
Change will have a soothing effect upon those who are inclined to
dramatize the current developments and augur a catastrophic
downfall of the world order. As a matter of fact, many of the
things that look revolutionary and unprecedented to us today have
happened in some way before. There is always a solution to any
situation if we are skilled enough to find it. This truth is well
confirmed by the history of the difficult U.S.-U.S.S.R.
rapprochement in the late 1980s.