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Would the West’s Billions Pay Off?

Los Angeles Times ,

By Grigory Yavlinsky and Graham Allison

June 3, 1991

The path of transformation that the leaders of the Soviet Union can choose depends critically on the extent of Western engagement and assistance is critically dependent on the path of reform the Soviet Union is prepared to undertake.

Therefore, rather than each side waiting for the other to take the first step, the governments of the Soviet Union and the West should jointly develop a common program of what each would do if the other meets specific conditions.

To this end, we are currently co-charging a joint working group of American and Soviet policy advisers that is devising a plan for Western cooperation in the Soviet transformation to democracy in a market economy. The group has been meeting at Harvard and in Washington, and we will deliver a “white paper” outlining our plan to the leaders of the Soviet Union, the United States and the other Western economic powers in the near future.

Such a joint program must consist of initiatives that the Soviet governments – the Union and the republics – would take to move rapidly to a free-market economy as the essential foundation of sustainable democracy. And it must also consist of actions that the United States and its allies would take – including significant economic aid and expert and technical assistance – to motivate, enable and facilitate these Soviet initiatives.

But even if the leaders of the Soviet governments choose the necessary but very difficult program of market transformation over piecemeal reform, will they be able to implement it politically? Are the odds good enough to deserve the West’s active engagement?

For the answer to this question to be a confident “yes,” the Soviet governments must enter into a democratic political compact with their own people. Only then can they demonstrate to the West that they have a sufficient mandate to absorb the immense political costs associated with the dislocations of unemployment and the price increases that will inevitably accompany reform.

The best evidence on this score is what the Soviet leaders have already done.

A remarkable agreement on April 23 between President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the presidents of nine Soviet republics embodies five essential commitments that, if undertaken, should meet every reasonable Western requirement.

First, the agreement recognizes power-sharing among sovereign republics that propose to voluntary join together to create a new federal government.

Second, it explicitly recognizes the right of current republics in the Soviet Union to join the new union or opt out.

A third provision guarantees the human rights of individuals in the territories of the Soviet Union, whatever their national, ethnic or religious identity.

In negotiations on the “nine-plus-one” agreement, the human-rights guarantee was more than a rhetorical affirmation. Specific rights of conscience, speech, religion, political association, press and immigration were reaffirmed.

Fourth, the agreement establishes a framework for immediate negotiation of a new Union Treaty among those republics that choose to join, followed by creation of a new constitution.

Negotiations on this new Union Treaty have preceded apace – defining the powers that the republics will assign voluntarily to the new federal government and the larger number of powers that they will not, the division of natural resources between the republics and the union, division of the existing national debt, and so on.

Fifth and finally, the “nine-plus-one” agreement sets a timetable for democratic elections to the new Parliament and other national offices, including the presidency. The goal is to achieve this within one year’s time.

If this new political entity is prepared to decisively transform the Soviet Union into a market economy, the West must respond just as dramatically with the substantial assistance required to make the program feasible.

The United States and its allies have a fundamental interest in avoiding violent disintegration of the present Soviet Union. No event in the postwar period would pose such high and uncontrollable risks of chaos, civil war and nuclear war.

If there is a realistic program of action the Soviet Union can undertake – with significant Western cooperation – that could avoid this violent outcome, a failure of the West to act would be a historic betrayal of its values and interests.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a former deputy prime minister of the Russian Republic, is an adviser to Soviet President Mikhail S.Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Graham Allison is a professor and the former dean of Harvard’s John F.Kennedy’s School of Government.