Jack Matlock Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Collapse of the Soviet Union and the End of the Cold War: A Diplomat Looks Back; Conversation with Jack Matlock, 2/13/97 by Harry Kreisler

Photo by L. Carper

Page 5 of 10

Common Interests

We've talked about three sets of ideas: Kennan's, Reagan's, and you mentioned Yakovlev. And what merges in all three of those is a link between foreign policy and the domestic ideology which moves us from "A" to "B." In the case of both Reagan and Yakovlev, who was advising Gorbachev, there was the emergence of the notion of a foreign policy based on the common interests of humanity and a national interest that takes account of the other national interests involved.

It's not that you ignore your national interests. You try to interpret them in a way which is consistent with the interests of others.

Was the arms race and the danger of nuclear war the key here? Or was it other issues like the environment that led them to make this leap, to see the "common interests of man" which turns on its head their philosophy of the class struggle?

It was a combination of things, but of those things the arms race was by far the most important. Because I think they could see more clearly that their emphasis on the military had so distorted their economy (though they couldn't measure how much), and in fact their life, that it made reform very difficult. It was becoming such a burden that the Soviet Union was losing out in the technological race and many others. Not just to the United States and not just to Japan but even to South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan -- you know, the "Asian Tigers." They began to see that and it was clear that something very fundamental was wrong. And what was most obviously wrong was the amount of money and emphasis, effort, going into armaments. Very early on, I recall some early discussions particularly between Secretary of State George Shultz and both Shevardnadze, who also contributed to this, and Gorbachev (and, as we mentioned earlier, Yakovlev).

Matlock meets with Alexander Yakovlev in Moscow; with Charles Z. Wick, Director, US Information Agency, and Raymond Brown, Counselor for Public Affars at US Embassy

Shevardnadze was very much in this camp of redefining foreign policy. He was the foreign minister, so he was extremely important in this context. But Shultz would say both to Shevardnadze and to Gorbachev, "Look, look what's happening in the world. We're pouring all this money into arms that we cannot use and will not use because we can't do it without destroying civilization in the world and maybe mankind itself. And look what's happening to the growth rates in Germany and Japan and many other countries. We're crazy." In a philosophical sense, there was very early agreement on this. That, "the two of us, we're being fools," and that we really had to find a way to end this crazy arms race.

And would you say this to each other?

Yes, absolutely. Shultz actually brought in graphs and things and almost like a graduate seminar in economics, and maybe not even a graduate seminar, he would say now, "Let's think about this. Look at the future. Look at what has happened. Look at these trends." He talked to Ryzhkov, the Prime Minister, about it and Ryzhkov said in his memoirs that this was very important. But they were already thinking that, even before Gorbachev came to power. I recall that Gromyko, in a meeting with Reagan -- it must have been in the fall of '84 just before he was elected for the second term -- started out by saying that we're sitting on these piles of weapons which we don't need and cannot use, this is irrational. So I think that even some of the hard-line Soviets were beginning to draw these conclusions, even before Gorbachev came to power. In effect, on his watch he had to do something about it. So yes, people were worried about the environment, particularly after Chernobyl, but this was also related to the whole nuclear question, and these other issues were not unimportant. The whole fact that their economy was not keeping up technologically was very important. They could see that it was running down. The system just wasn't working. But the key element was the amount going into arms.

Next Page: Gorbachev

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