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Gorbachev’s Peace Prize: No Tongues Wagged Here

October 16, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ To those Americans who shrugged at the news that Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize, some experts on U.S.-Soviet relations say: exactly right. That makes the point.

″We always said that they started the Cold War and it was up to them to end it,″ said Michael Mandelbaum, director of East-West studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. ″Now they’ve ended it. The Nobel prize simply recognizes that fact.″

Forty or 20 or 10 years ago, there’d be an uproar in America if the leader of the Soviet state had been singled out for the prize and the title of peacemaker.

″It would have been a slap at the United States and would have discredited the Nobel Peace Prize″ for a Soviet leader to have won it then, Mandelbaum said.

But the revolution that Gorbachev made - the event that brought him the prize - made communism no longer much relevant in world affairs and the Cold War no longer a reality shaping every aspect of American life.

″I can’t imagine anybody in this country would take it as a slap in the face today,″ said John Gaddis, a diplomatic historian at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, of Gorbachev’s singular honor.

″The things that were done in the Soviet Union last year were things only a Soviet leader could do, but they were things that we’ve been asking Soviet leaders to do since the beginning of the Cold War. So we can only applaud.″

For Gregory Treverton, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former member of the staff of the National Security Council, the award raised questions about how long the honoree will be in office. Treverton said Gorbachev, like so many revolutionaries, may be consumed by the flames he lit.

″It’s hard to believe that he will be around for too many more acts in the Soviet drama,″ said Treverton, alluding to the economic and nationalistic unrest in the Soviet empire. ″He’s likely to go down as a man who set forces in motion and then was overwhelmed by them.″

Diplomat Winston Lord, who spent nearly three decades observing communist affairs at the State Department, Pentagon and White House and as Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to China, said Gorbachev’s honor reflects well on America, too.

Without taking away credit from the Soviet leader, he said, it should be recognized that this country had a hand in persuading him to ring down the Iron Curtain and to curtail Stalinist repression and Marxist dogma at home.

″One can debate to what extent his own domestic problems plus Western firmness induced him to make the moves on the world scene that he’s making,″ said Lord, ″but the fact is objectively he has helped make the world less tense. I believe the United States, including Presidents Reagan and Bush, deserves credit for these developments as well.″

If Americans shrugged at the news, Soviet citizens probably did too, said Lord. ″For many, Gorbachev is irrelevant″ and so are his foreign achievements at a time when Russians are short of bread and see their economic system is a state of disarray.

″The Soviets are preoccupied with their own problems,″ he said.

A cautionary note was sounded by Helmut Sonnenfeld, a former associate of Henry Kissinger in the Nixon administration. Events will yet determine whether Gorbachev was a man who brought peace to his country, he said.

″It is a question of whether the Soviet Union dissolves in chaos or whether things improve,″ he said. ″Gorbachev’s own role may be diluted if it turns out the people of the Soviet Union start fighting each other and, God forbid, nuclear weapons get set off.″

In the meantime, Sonnenfeld said, the world, in celebrating Gorbachev’s prize, should not forget what 45 years of Cold War meant.

″A lot of people were treated miserably, a lot died, and we spent a huge amount of treasure and got involved in huge and costly wars,″ he said. ″That doesn’t get swept under the rug.″

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