Achievements in ending Cold War will not be forgotten

As today’s Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, Mikhail Gorbachev’s achievements in ending the Cold War with the United States, in pursuit of peaceful coexistence in the international community, must again be lauded.

Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, has died. After becoming general secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, which was the national leadership post, he promoted reforms under the slogans of “perestroika” (restructuring) and “glasnost” (openness).

At that time, the Soviet Union’s planned economy under the party’s authoritarian rule was failing to function, and even the production and supply of daily necessities were in disarray. Gorbachev was a member of the party’s elite, and he devised the reforms because he had a strong sense of urgency about the nation’s survival.

The introduction of multiparty and presidential systems, the acceptance of profit-seeking based on a market economy, and respect for individual freedom and rights were groundbreaking efforts for reform, the significance of which will not fade away.

Above all else, Gorbachev’s achievements in ending the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union and reducing the risk of nuclear war are worthy of special mention.

Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty at the U.S.-Soviet summit in 1987. In 1989, he and then U.S. President George H. W. Bush declared to the world that the East-West Cold War had ended.

Gorbachev can be said to have personally demonstrated the importance of engaging in dialogue with the leaders of hostile countries to build a relationship of trust and reduce military tensions.

He also had success in relations with Japan. Gorbachev acknowledged that the four islands in the northern territories were subject to negotiations over a territorial dispute and expressed his “condolences” over the detention of Japanese soldiers and others in Siberia after the end of World War II.

However, history did not proceed as Gorbachev had hoped.

Radical domestic reforms were met with strong opposition mainly from conservatives, and turmoil spread, such as high prices and shortages of goods, before the reforms could improve people’s lives. As a result, Gorbachev’s leadership declined, leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Contrary to his good reputation abroad, the prevailing view in Russia is that Gorbachev was the leader who led the country to collapse. Calling the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has advocated the revival of the great power and established an ironfisted regime.

Under Putin’s leadership, the United States and Russia have fallen into a confrontation like that in the Cold War era, and the INF Treaty expired in 2019. Putin has threatened Ukraine by hinting at the use of nuclear weapons.

This causes a feeling of emptiness that Gorbachev’s philosophy of reform and spirit of coexistence have not been carried on, and that Putin is moving in a direction that is destroying the international order and endangering the world. This is the true tragedy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 1, 2022)