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STANFORD -- How bad is the Soviet Union's problem?
"Think about the Great Depression in this country and multiply that by a hundred," Condoleezza Rice, associate professor of political science and former adviser to the Bush administration, told a Stanford audience May 1.
"Add to that the crisis of legitimacy and authority that the United States had between 1968 and Watergate. Add to that questions that we had about whether the Union ought to stay together just before the Civil War. Multiply that by one hundred, and then you've got a fix on what the Soviet Union's problem is."
Rice, a Soviet specialist and arms control expert, returned to work at Stanford on April 1, two years after President Bush named her director of Soviet and Eastern European affairs for the National Security Council.
Later promoted to special assistant to the president for national security affairs, she was involved in key meetings between Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and in discussions on German unification and Soviet conversion to a free-market economy.
Speaking at the start of a two-day symposium on "The New Soviet Union" co-sponsored by the International Relations Society and Stanford's Institute for International Studies, Rice offered an inside look at the challenges the Bush administration faces in dealing with a superpower gone haywire.
First, she said, the United States needs to figure out how to respond to the Soviet Union in foreign policy, particularly in strategic and conventional arms control, and Soviet cooperation in the Middle East.
"That agenda is going to be harder and harder to undertake with a Soviet leadership that is first preoccupied with internal problems, and second, a bit uncertain of its own course in foreign policy," she said.
"There are a lot of people in the Soviet Union now who argue that the new thinking in foreign policy was nothing but a series of concessions to the West. That is a debate that is still ongoing in the Soviet Union, and obviously it has tremendous importance for the course of U.S.-Soviet relations."
A second challenge, Rice said, is how to engage the Soviets on their own economic reform.
"We were able to help the Poles and the Czechs, but the Poles and the Czechs knew where they wanted to go," she said.
The Soviet Union, on the other hand, "is a country that has no banking system, has no monetary system and really doesn't have an idea of how to get from square one to square two in terms of the reform in the economy. There are many resources in the United States and international system that would be helpful in order for them to do that."
The third and hardest challenge for Bush will be to strike a balance between appropriate support for internal Soviet reforms and interference in Soviet internal affairs.
"The Soviet Union has 286 million people, it is a superpower, a country with great pride, and one that I think would look unkindly in the long term on too much interference in its internal affairs," said Rice.
"It is important to continue to expose those in the Soviet Union who are in search of ideas about democracy and the market to people in the West, through exchanges and the like. The Soviets are like a sponge in soaking up ideas.
"It's equally important to say to the Soviets that the particular democratic institutions that have taken hold in this country may not be appropriate for the Soviet Union," she said. "Whatever we do, we must remember that democratic movements and institutions must find indigenous expression in the Soviet Union. If they do not, they will not last, or people will be suspicious of them and will not use them effectively."
It is also important that the United States not try to choose the Soviet Union's leaders, she said.
"I cannot tell you the pressures we had from many quarters to choose Yeltsin over Gorbachev or Gorbachev over Yeltsin or to make some statement about who is who in the Soviet Union," Rice said.
"U.S. policy has to be to deal with the president of the Soviet Union on his own terms because after all, there are things that you can only do with the president of the Soviet Union. It was the president who signed away war power rights on Germany, the president who voted in the U.N. Security Council to support the gulf effort.
"There are plenty of things that can be done with republic leaders too -- most importantly, encouraging them to take responsibility for economic reform into their own hands. But what the United States must not do is try and influence somehow the relative balance between different leaders in the Soviet Union, especially at a time when it very unclear to me and almost everybody else exactly what their political game is."
Finally, she said, it is important to keep a historical perspective on how far the Soviet Union has come.
"We need to remember that the Soviet people have found their voice and that policy is going on in the country in a way that is remarkable, given what it was five years ago.
"It is still a very sticky proposition, and in places like the Baltic states it's very difficult to imagine exactly what the outcome that would satisfy both Moscow and the Baltic states would be, but I'm trying to leave you with a note of optimism."
Rice recalled her own doubts about the Soviet Union's future when, in the wee hours last Dec. 20, the Situation Room at the White House called to tell her that Soviet Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze had resigned.
"As I sat there in my apartment, with morning beginning to break," she said, "and after talking with Secretary Baker, Brent Scowcroft and others, I was really feeling quite down about what had happened with this towering figure, and I really wondered if we were in a situation where we were going to go all the way back.
"Then about five days later, on Christmas Day, I was home and I was watching the evening news, and there on Red Square was the Soviet Navy Band, leading a group of Catholic Christian worshippers toward St. Basil's and playing Adeste Fideles. And I thought, 'Something in that country has changed, and it's changed for the better. Maybe it's not lost after all.'
"Those pictures were something that I never thought I would see, and I think if you had polled every Soviet specialist in here -- give them truth serum -- they would admit to you too that they never expected to see it. And I can't help but think that democratic principles are strong enough, that once exposed to the light of them, no people could go back."
Just a month after resuming her professorial role at Stanford, Condoleezza Rice is busy with the Farm chores: meeting with her long-lost doctoral students, giving lectures, looking for a house, even serving on committees.
"It's terrific to be back," she said. "People have been universally welcoming and warm. Nothing that's happened since has made me think that I made the wrong decision.
"Two years is about as long as one could be away and keep an academic career on track. I could have done it for several more years, but I had such a ride, I don't feel any lack of completion in what I did."
That ride included service to the White House during one of the most momentous times in the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. Rice is particularly proud of the Bush administration's role in negotiations for German unification and in securing international funds for the economic stabilization of Poland.
President Bush, whom she met with personally up to three times a day before the Malta Summit, is "extremely trained and educated for this particular point in time," and, she said, is "a first- class diplomat."
"He has a deep knowledge of international affairs," Rice said. "More often than not, when something was written for him, he'd improve on it, and you'd sit there thinking to yourself, I wish I'd thought of saying that."
Rice's office hours in Washington usually ran from 7:15 a.m. to 8:30 or 9 p.m. The travel pace also was fast: between March and September of 1990, she flew to Germany ten times.
"In an academic setting, you have an awful lot of control over your own time and agenda," Rice said. "It's one of the few places where people pay you to do what you want to do. In government, your schedule is never your own. I was completely driven by other people and events -- I could never plan a day. But that was more than compensated by the sheer energy and ether of the job."
Rice is now busy catching up with her graduate students, two of whom are close to finishing their dissertations, and preparing for yet another trip to the Soviet Union in a couple of weeks. Next year she will be teaching courses in comparative politics, the role of the military in Soviet politics and transition in Europe.
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