March 4, 1988, Greencastle, Ind. - Zbigniew Brzezinski, a senior adviser at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies and former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter, says the internal reform underway in the Soviet Union is fundamental. The principal challenges to that reform, Brzezinski maintains, are bureaucratic, historical and "last but not least, multinational."
Speaking in a Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture as part of a three-day symposium on relations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., Brzezinski stated, "The Soviet Union is a multinational state ... Unwittingly we have accepted Soviet terminology in speaking of the Russians as a great nation, while speaking of the others as 'nationalities.' They are not merely nationalities. They are nations. The Armenians are a nation. The Georgians are a nation. The Balts -- the Estonians, the Lithuanians and Latvians -- the Ukranians and Uzbeks: all are nations with a history, with a sense of identity, with their own aspirations. And decentralizing a multinational empire is bound to summon up acute national problems, as indeed it is already beginning to do," he said.
Conflict between the superpowers is inevitable, Brzezinski told a standing room only crowd in Meharry Hall of historic East College. "Conflict in international affairs is not an abnormal condition," he said. "It is a peculiarly American propensity to assume that international conflict constitutes an aberration, a deviation from the norm, a condition which in all earnestness must be terminated. But history teaches us it isn't ... The competitive clash between the United States and the Soviet Union is a normal condition in international politics, inherent in their overlapping power."
In the closing session of the symposium, the former National Security Adviser said the U.S.-Soviet relationship should be categorized neither apocalyptic nor utopian terms. "The apocalyptic view concludes that because there is rivalry and hostility, a totally destructive war is inevitable. The fact is that the American-Soviet rivalry has been managed with remarkable responsibility by both sides for over 40 years. There has been only one provocative act which might have precipitated a direct collision of a central type between the two systems. That was the Soviet decision surreptitiously to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. But even that issue was peacefully resolved," he said, adding, "Both sides are conscious of the need to contain and mitigate the more dangerous aspects of the relationship."
Brzezinski described the proposed INF treaty as "in the interest of both parties," and therefore worthy of ratification, but "also relatively unimportant." Far more critical, he says, are the START talks, because they, "in contrast with INF, touch on the vital issue of strategic stability and therefore of war and peace. " Verification is central to the success of START, he added.
In closing, Brzezinski noted that we have long lived in an era "dominated by the centrality of Soviet-American competition on the world scene," but that it appears likely that will change because of the faltering Russian economy. "As of this year the Soviet Union is not even the #2 economic superpower in the world," predicting it will slip to #5 within twenty years. "If this projection comes to pass -- and I think there are high probabilities that it will -- the overall geostrategic context will be greatly changed. For the Soviet-American rivalry will become even less that central axis of world power. While my prognosis is for continued competition, it is also for the waning of the centrality of that competition. It follows, too, that this means the waning of the threat to world peace that Soviet-American competition poses."
The symposium's other guests included: Igor Borisovich Bulai, press counselor at the Soviet embassy in Washington; Jerry F. Hough, professor of political science at Duke University and staff researcher at the Brookings Institute in Washington; Richard G. Lugar, United States Senator (R-Indiana) and former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Adam B. Ulam, Gurney professor of history and political science at Harvard University and director of the Russian Research Center.