FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Legacy of Shevardnadze

by

The history of the end of the Cold War has largely ignored former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, one of the major figures in the seminal events that took place between 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall and 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Western writings on the end of the Cold War focus on the endemic weakness of the Soviet Union and the steadfast policies of the United States, but fail to credit Shevardnadze who recognized the need for reform and pursued policies designed to accomplish profound but peaceful change.

From 1985 to 1991 Shevardnadze’s accomplishments on the international stage were equal to those of Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.  He convinced Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush that the Kremlin would conduct a strategic retreat of its military forces from Central Europe and the Sino-Soviet border, pursue comprehensive disarmament, and resolve outstanding conflicts in the Third World.  He forged close relationships with Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker, who became proponents of reconciliation in administrations that were intensely anti-Soviet.  In Moscow, the Soviet foreign minister had the toughest assignment of all: persuading Kremlin hard-liners that the moment had come for rapprochement with the United States.

The nonviolent collapse of the Soviet Union occurred because Gorbachev and Shevardnadze were committed to domestic reform, reconciliation with the West, and nonuse of force.  The foreign minister understood better than his president that Moscow’s commitment to Communist ideology had limited its ability to adopt practical, constructive programs.  The first
Soviet official to argue that the clash with capitalism was no longer relevant, Shevardnadze began his campaign to remove ideology as the basis of foreign policy in an extraordinary speech to the Foreign Ministry in 1988 that asserted there was no connection between national security and the class struggle.

In order to pursue their foreign policy goals, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze had to take on entrenched bureaucracies accustomed to pursuing long-established agendas.  Shevardnadze had to persuade, co-opt, and force the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry and the officials who ran them to accept new assumptions and directions.  Within a year, Shevardnadze had turned long-time foreign minister Andrei Gromyko’s moribund foreign ministry into a major player in the foreign policy establishment.  Shevardnadze was also the point man in the effort to weaken the military establishment and to push through radical arms control proposals, implement unilateral force reductions, and accomplish the retreat from the Third World.

In addition to changing Moscow’s national security policies, Shevardnadze was instrumental in changing Moscow’s human rights policies.  He appointed new personnel to pursue serious negotiations with their American counterparts, and personally made sure that humanitarian problems would not block Soviet-American progress.  The issue of Jewish emigration had been a major obstacle to improved relations since the 1970s, but Shevardnadze was instrumental in ending the quota system and increasing the rate of Jewish emigration in the late 1980s.  Fewer than 1,000 Jews left the Soviet Union in 1986; almost 20,000 Jews left the Soviet Union in 1988 and the number of Jewish emigres exceeded 70,000 in 1989.

Unfortunately, Gorbachev tried to con and co-opt too many of his opponents and allowed too many military and national security officials to remain in place.  Many of these officials participated in the failed coup against Gorbachev in the summer of 1991.  It was Shevardnadze who had resigned as foreign minister in 1990 and warned that “A dictatorship is coming!”  These words are particularly haunting today with the authoritarian policies and practices of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Before Shevardnadze joined Gorbachev in Moscow in 1985, he was the communist boss of Georgia, where he managed Georgia’s internal security agencies with cold efficiency.  He was not known as a notable defender of human rights in those days, but he reduced corruption and eased communist controls that were stifling the Georgian economy.  In Tbilisi, Shevardnadze had waged a battle against Georgian nationalists to improve conditions for various minority groups.  Perestroika and glasnost were born out of their profound dissatisfaction with the Soviet condition.

Shevardnadze returned to Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union to engage in yet another battle, this time to keep Georgia from self-destruction and to create a viable government.  He survived two bloody conflicts with ethnic separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as two assassination attempts in 1995 and 1998.  The Russian wars in Chechnya led to increased pressures on Shevardnadze’s government, and the corruption and poverty in Georgia blocked his efforts to reform the government in Tbilisi.

With the exception of Mikhail Gorbachev, no other leader of a former Soviet republic can claim the accomplishments that Eduard Shevardnadze registered over the past five decades.  Unlike Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, Shevardnadze was willing to call an election in Georgia in order to enhance his credibility and authority.  And unlike Boris Yeltsin, who was unwilling to organize a political party to provide a popular base for his rule, Shevardnadze organized a political party strong enough to win a free and competitive election.  His achievements in Moscow and Tbilisi were monumental.

Melvin A. Goodman (and Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl) are the co-authors of “The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze” (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997).  Goodman is also the author of National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers, 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail