Eduard Shevardnadze
Speech to the Plenary Session of the Supreme Soviet
(October 23, 1989)

Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at the web site of SIPRI.

Eduard Shevardnadze, currently President of Georgia, was the Soviet Foreign Minister in the era of "perestroika." The following are excerpts from his speech.

Esteemed Comrade Chairman!

Esteemed Members of the Supreme Soviet!

The Foreign Ministry has prepared a review of Soviet foreign policy for the years 1985-1989. The practice that existed under V. I. Lenin, whereby the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs submitted annual reports to the Congress of Soviets, is being reinstated.

Please be generous toward this first experiment. It may not have proved successful in every respect.

But it has provided a picture of what has been done to implement the main directions of foreign policy.

Since this is my first speech at the Supreme Soviet, I cannot avoid raising a number of general problems. I ask for your understanding.

International activity is a vast sphere. The country's political leadership, the Congress of USSR People's Deputies, the Supreme Soviet, and the government not only determine the main avenues of policy, the line taken by the state, and its fundamental attitude to events in the world but also guide the work of many departments, establishments, and organizations linked with foreign affairs. Everything that has been achieved is the result of collective effort.

Before I touch on certain general problems relating to foreign policy, I would like to respond to requests from some deputies and assess the results of my recent talks in the United States, Nicaragua, and Cuba. The review that has been circulated contains information about specific aspects of these talks. So I will try to sum up my impressions and conclusions.

Both we and the Americans consider our conversations with President G. Bush and Secretary of State J. Baker important for our relations. Why?

During these talks we effectively decided where we are going and how fast. It turned out that, despite all the differences and divergences in political philosophy and outlook, both sides assess the current situation, view their priorities, and calculate their schedules for action in similar categories with an identical thrust.

There is the realization that conditions are ripe for taking a new and major step forward. The accord on a summit is a result of this.

It is important to stress that both the Soviet and US leaderships are directing their attention to the long-term prospects for increasing positive and constructive cooperation in bilateral relations and on the whole series of world problems.

I cannot fail to note that Soviet-US dialogue has scaled new heights in terms of openness, businesslike intensity, the breadth of the questions raised, and the degree of mutual understanding and amicability. The conversations in Washington and Wyoming took place in precisely that vein. . . .

Given that the material we have distributed contains specific information which effectively relates to all aspects of our ministry's activity, I will venture to broach certain questions relating to the essence of foreign policy, its philosophy, aims, values, morality, and ethics.

It is these categories above all which are affected by what we describe as the new political thinking. This entails the sum total of our views and opinions of the world, the time, and ourselves. They emerged as the result of profound and thorough consideration of the meaning of life and the policy tasks in the new realities of civilization's existence. Understandably, by definition I am talking about an unending process of constant correlation between policy and reality.

That is why when we speak about the new political thinking, we are referring to both the method and the results of the work carried out in the foreign policy sphere in the period of perestroika. The CPSU Central Committee April (1985) Plenum, the 27th Party Congress, the 19th All-Union CPSU Conference, and the first Congress of USSR People's Deputies were most important milestones in the elaboration and evolution of the new political thinking.

The ideas and principles of the new political thinking have been formulated in M. S. Gorbachev's speeches and in our state's foreign policy documents.

Our discussion of foreign policy takes place within a definite context - at a crucial stage of perestroika, a turning point for our country's future.

Speaking recently in New York, I made so bold as to predict that the second session of the Supreme Soviet and the Second Congress of USSR People's Deputies would be of particular significance for the development and - this is the main point - the consolidation of our society.

I am convinced that this is how it should be. Perestroika has entered a phase in which the primary task is to enshrine through appropriate legislation those conceptual breakthroughs, changes of system, and progressive practical developments that have already been obtained as a result of the democratization of our society's life and the renewal of the socialist idea.

I deem it necessary to voice an opinion on the foreign policy aspects of perestroika, because it is not only impossible but also extremely dangerous to divide domestic from foreign policy. The notion that we can ignore the world around us and disregard other people's interests has cost our people and socialism dearly in the past.

One of the foundations of the new political thinking is the understanding of the high degree of unity and interdependence of the modern world. It is in a state of complex and fine balance between its component parts, an equilibrium of interests, and centripetal and centrifugal movements.

We often talk about the international significance of our perestroika. But do we always realize what it really means for the world?

The diplomatic service has a right to express an opinion here since it is a special institution within the state system. Through it we firstly establish what the attitude is toward our country and toward what we are doing, not only outside but also at home. If we want to be part of a civilized world we must consider how our actions and words are perceived.

The diplomatic service can and should provide supreme organs of power with more prompt and precise information about those instances when our positions, approaches, and actions conflict with prevailing international opinions, legal norms, and moral and ethical standards.. . .

We all know about the concern in the world about certain processes in our domestic life and the imbalances between critical and constructive work.

But serious politicians are sure that our perestroika is not a temporary phenomenon, and that its goals will be achieved. I would say that they are staking a lot on this and are making long-term political investments.

We are currently conducting frank discussions and are not afraid to talk about our difficulties and problems. And people are not afraid to tell us what they think about our perestroika.

Its concept and thrust, and the ways of implementing it - through democratization, glasnost, and dialogue - are considered to be correct. People note the reliable foundation of perestroika - our people's intellectual and spiritual riches, the high level of development of all nationalities inhabiting the country and of all regions, the existence of a pretty big production potential, a literate and skilled workforce, and a ramified modern scientific infrastructure, not to mention our natural resources.

On the basis of an analysis of external factors I make so bold as to voice the opinion that nothing will now be more useful for obtaining tangible results from the transformations and reforms than a period of stable, organized, and intensive work.

The draft laws under examination by the Supreme Soviet are of enormous international importance too. This applies above all to such acts as the Law on Ownership. It is, without exaggeration, a key element in a rule-of-law state. The fact that we embarked on drawing up this law attests to a different and incomparably higher level of political maturity and political standards.

The adoption of the Law on Ownership and the other basic legislative acts associated with it is a necessary prerequisite for the Soviet Union's broad participation in the international division of labor and for the compatibility of our economy with the world economic system.

For the first time our country can have a budget and development plan that are really geared to the people's interest. These budget and plan priorities create the conditions for the development of international cooperation and the implementation of foreign policy steps which will work for the success of perestroika, the improvement of Soviet people's lives, and the launching of our country into the ranks of the most advanced states.

I say this not only as a Communist and a citizen, but also because it is now in general impossible to talk about a serious foreign policy or the country's position in the world in isolation from perestroika and its problems and prospects.

Perestroika is presenting our foreign policy with immense tasks. These lie in assimilating different directives, upholding more progressive principles, preventing any divergence between words and actions, and changing the style and methods of our work.

Perestroika is raising once again the question of the place of socialism and the country in the world, of the correlation of various interests, and of priorities and values. In other words, it predetermines the need for a fundamentally different foreign policy.

But the reception given to this policy and the external response to it depend directly on the consistency and irreversibility of perestroika.

Here I would like to state my opinion on the genesis and evolution of perestroika. It was historically inevitable. This inevitability nonetheless proved possible to implement under definite conditions - first and foremost, the readiness of society as a whole to accept it and society's consent as regards the parameters of possible changes.

Two "thaws" failed to grow into extensive renewal because such consent was lacking. But there had been no shortage of the two other important elements: the coming to the leadership in the party and the country of a generation which had not been involved in the well-known deformations and refused to accept them, and confidence in the country's external security.

I cannot agree with the opinion expressed at one large party forum that completely different decisions could have been reached in the March 1985 election of the new general secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. There could simply have been no other choice. And this was essentially the choice of the entire party. M. S. Gorbachev appeared in the party's leading organs under the pressure of the demands of the time as a leader of that generation of Soviet people which was to shoulder the task of transforming the country.

The Soviet Union's foreign policy position was the second factor. In the fifties and sixties there were different realities and different ideas about the external threat. There was no sense of firm national security, and the threat of war was seen as an immediate and even inevitable reality. This could not fail to restrict the very scale of possible reform. It was necessary to acquire confidence and to eschew, if you will, our weakness complex so as to assess the situation objectively in a balanced way.

But the main difference nonetheless undoubtedly lay in the level of the involvement of party and people in the renewal processes. The 19th Party Conference and the activities of the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet reveal most clearly the fundamental difference between past practice and current practice. This is the basis for our optimism and faith in the success of the great cause initiated by the party and the people.

Perestroika faces considerable difficulties, but today we can guarantee that it is irreversible. This is very important for foreign policy.

We can talk about common human interests, confident that our country sees its main interest in combining the national and the common human aspects.

We can talk about the democratization of international relations, knowing that we ourselves are living in a democratic and rule-of-law society and are gearing ourselves to the highest standards of democracy.

We can talk about the humanization of international relations as representatives of a country preaching humanism in its practice.

We can talk about a nonviolent world and the triumph of the force of right over the right of force, relying on the rule-of-law nature of the Soviet state and its adherence to the rejection of the use of force within the country.

Foreign policy can be effective if the values and principles it upholds are also an organic part of the state's domestic policy. Interdependence and the unity of what it does internally and externally ultimately determine a state's position in the community of nations.. . .

The new political thinking has made us adopt a different scale of evaluations and criteria of our own behavior. We have declared that we will be guided by common human values. These values are not an abstraction. They exist and cannot be interpreted arbitrarily or selectively.

A guiding star in this regard is provided by generally recognized documents, primarily the UN Charter and the declarations, pacts, conventions, and resolutions adopted and observed by the overwhelming majority of world states.

When more than 100 UN members kept condemning our action for a number of years, did we need anything else to make us realize: We had placed ourselves in opposition to the world community, had violated norms of behavior, and gone against common human interests.

I am of course talking about the introduction of troops into Afghanistan. There is a lesson to be learned from the fact that in this case too there were also gross violations of our own legislation and of our own intraparty and civic norms and ethics.

I am saying this as someone who was a candidate member of the CPSU Central Committee Politburo at that time. M. S. Gorbachev and I happened to be together at the time, and we learned about it from radio and newspaper reports. A decision which had grave consequences for our country was made behind the party's and the people's back. They were presented with a fait accompli.

We live in a real world where force is unfortunately still being used. The UN Charter recognizes the right to individual and collective defense and allows military assistance to another state. But the charter rigidly regulates such actions and demands that nonmilitary methods, the potential of the UN Organization itself, and other means of political solution be used as much as possible.

The development of events following the withdrawal of our troops indicates the ability of Afghan national forces to shoulder responsibility for their country's future. . . .

Regardless of the personal attitude of each of us toward the decision to send in the troops, our attitude toward the guys [sic] who served in Afghanistan must be imbued with most profound respect and gratitude. Diplomats also had to wage a hard and heavy struggle in connection with Afghanistan in their own way, and we can well appreciate the feelings of the "Afgantsy" [Afghan war veterans] guys who sometimes encounter even unfriendly attitudes.

Our society still owes a debt to the dead, the physically and morally maimed, and their families, relatives, and friends, it owes a debt to all who have been scorched by this war's flames.

It would be only just for us to find a way to perpetuate the memory of "Afgantsy" officers and soldiers.

We must approach the question of providing aid to Afghanistan within this same context. No matter how hard it may be for us, we are not morally entitled to deny support to the Afghan people. If we did so, this would devalue all the sacrifices made by our people. . . .

As I see it, the new thinking primarily implies eternal values like honesty, loyalty. and decency.

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