August 07, 2015 "Information
Mikhail Sergeyevich, during your inaugural speech
as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
in March 1985, you warned of nuclear war and called for the
"complete destruction of nuclear weapons and a permanent ban on
them." Did you mean that seriously?
The discussion about disarmament had already been
going on for too long -- far too long. I wanted to finally see
words followed by action because the arms race was not only
continuing, it was growing
ever more dangerous
in terms of the number of weapons and their
destructive capacity. There were tens of thousands of nuclear
warheads on different delivery systems like aircraft, missiles
SPIEGEL: Did you
feel the Soviet Union was under threat during the 1980s by the
nuclear weapons of NATO member states?
situation was that nuclear missiles were being stationed closer
and closer to our adversary's borders. They were getting
increasingly precise and they were also being aimed at
decision-making centers. There were very concrete plans for the
use of these weapons. Nuclear war had become conceivable. And
even a technical error could have caused it to happen. At the
same time, disarmament talks were not getting anywhere. In
Geneva, diplomats pored over mountains of paper, drank wine, and
even harder stuff, by the liter. And it was all for nothing.
SPIEGEL: At a
meeting of the Warsaw Pact nations in 1986, you declared that
the military doctrine of the Soviet Union was no longer to plan
for the coming war, but rather to seek to prevent military
confrontation with the West. What was the reason behind the
shift in strategy?
Gorbachev: It was
clear to me that relations with America and the West would be a
lasting dead end without atomic disarmament, with mutual
distrust and growing hostility. That is why nuclear disarmament
was the highest priority for Soviet foreign policy.
SPIEGEL: Did you
not also push disarmament forward because of the financial and
economic troubles facing the Soviet Union in the 1980s?
course we perceived just how great a burden the arms race was on
our economy. That did indeed play a role. It was clear to us
that atomic confrontation threatened not only our people but
also all of humanity. We knew only too well the weapons being
discussed, their destructive force and the consequences. The
nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl provided us with a rather
precise idea of what the consequences of a nuclear war would be.
Decisive for us were thus political and ethical considerations,
not economic ones.
SPIEGEL: What was
your experience with US President Ronald Reagan, who many saw as
a driving force in the Cold War?
acted out of honest conviction and genuinely rejected nuclear
weapons. Already during my first meeting with him in November of
1985, we were able to make the most important determination:
"Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." This
sentence combined morals and politics -- two things many
consider to be irreconcilable. Unfortunately, the US has since
forgotten the second important point in our joint statement --
according to which neither America nor we will seek to achieve
SPIEGEL: Are you
disappointed in the Americans?
many decades pass, but unfortunately some things do not change.
Already back in the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated
the problem by its name. The power of the military-industrial
complex continued to be enormous under Reagan and his successor
George Bush. Former US Secretary of State George Shultz told me
a few years ago that only a conservative president like Reagan
could have been in a position to get the Intermediate-Range
Nuclear Forces Treaty through the Senate. Let's not forget that
the the "Zero Option" that Reagan himself proposed (eds.
note: the proposal to remove all Soviet and American
intermediate-range nuclear missles from Europe) had many
opponents in the West. They considered it to be a propaganda
stunt and they wanted to thwart Reagan's policies. After the
Reykjavik summit in 1986 (eds. note: the subject of the
summit between Reagan and Gorbachev was nuclear disarmament),
Margaret Thatcher declared: We won't be able to handle a second
SPIEGEL: Did you
really believe at the time that you could achieve a world free
of nuclear weapons?
Gorbachev: We not
only proclaimed a nuclear weapons free world as a major goal --
we also named concrete interim goals. In addition, we aspired to
the destruction of chemical weapons and are now close to
achieving that goal. Limiting conventional weapons was also on
our agenda. That was all inextricably linked to a normalization
of our relations. We wanted to move from confrontation to
cooperation. We achieved a lot, which shows that my approach was
accused you of using your demand as a tactic to present the
Soviet Union as a peace-loving country.
there was no propaganda at play and it was not tactical. It was
important to get away from the nuclear abyss our countries were
marching toward when they stationed hundreds of
intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
SPIEGEL: Why were
the negotiations over intercontinental ballistic missiles so
much tougher than those over intermediate-range missiles?
Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, Reagan and I not only
established the framework for eliminating intermediate-range
missiles, but also for halving the number of intercontinental
missiles. But Reagan was up against strong resistance from the
hawks in the US administration. This continued under Bush, so,
in the end, we only finally signed the treaty in summer 1991.
With the strategic long-range weapons there were also technical
questions. And then we also had the problem with the missile
SPIEGEL: You were
unable to convince Reagan to abandon his SDI project, which
aimed to create a defensive shield against nuclear
intercontinental ballistic missiles. Did that upset you?
wanted it no matter what. That's why in Reykjavik we weren't
able to turn our agreements on intercontinental missiles and
intermediate-range missiles into treaties. In order to break the
impasse, we offered the Americans concessions and uncoupled the
negotiating package. We agreed on a separate treaty addressing
the intermediate-range missiles. Reagan and I signed it in
Washington in December 1987.
stationing of American intermediate-range missiles led to mass
demonstrations by the peace movement in Germany …
Gorbachev: … and
Helmut Kohl then played a very positive role in the
establishment of the treaty with the elimination of the Pershing
nuclear warhead belonged to the Americans, but the missiles were
German. Kohl declared that the missiles could be destroyed if
the US and Russia came to an agreement on the destruction of the
Kohl had not dispensed with them, we would not have signed.
there actually resistance to your disarmament policies within
the Soviet ruling elite?
member of the leadership at the time understood the importance
of disarmament. All the leading politicians had experience and a
sober view of things. Just think about Foreign Minister Andrei
SPIEGEL: … who
had the nickname "Mr. Nyet" in the West because of his hardline
negotiating tactics …
Gorbachev: … but
like all the others, he understood how dangerous the arms race
was. At the top, we were united at the time about ending it.
SPIEGEL: How did
disarmament treaties materialize under your leadership?
Soviet Union had a strict and clear system for the preparation
of politburo decisions. They happened through the so-called
Five, a committee made up of representatives from relevant
agencies and experts. We took into consideration the positions
of our negotiating partners without jeopardizing the Soviet
Union's state security. The politburo weighed proposals and then
issued directives to our negotiation delegations and also to me,
the general secretary and later president, for summit meetings.
That happened prior to Reykjavik in 1986, Washington in 1987 and
other meetings. The politburo, in turn, fell back on proposals
from experts, which it then reviewed and discussed.
SPIEGEL: Can the
goal of a nuclear free world still be achieved today?
Gorbachev: It is
the correct goal in any case. Nuclear weapons are unacceptable.
The fact that they can wipe out the entirety of civilization
makes them particularly inhumane. Weapons like this have never
existed before in history and they cannot be allowed to exist.
If we do not get rid of them, sooner or later they will be used.
recent years, a number of new nuclear powers have emerged.
why we should not forget that the elimination of nuclear weapons
is the obligation of every country that signed the
Non-Proliferation Treaty. Though America and Russia have by far
the largest arsenals at their disposal.
SPIEGEL: What do
you think of the oft-cited theory that mutually assured
destruction prevents nuclear wars?
There's a dangerous logic in that. Here's another question: If
five or 10 countries are allowed to have nuclear weapons, then
why can't 20 or 30? Today, a few dozen countries have the
technical prerequisites to build nuclear weapons. The
alternative is clear: Either we move toward a nuclear-free world
or we have to accept that nuclear weapons will continue to
spread, step by step, across the globe. And can we really
imagine a world without nuclear weapons if a single country
amasses so many conventional weapons that its military budget
nearly tops that of all other countries combined? This country
would enjoy total military supremacy if nuclear weapons were
talking about the US?
said it. It is an insurmountable obstacle on the road to a
nuclear-free world. That's why we have to put demilitarization
back on the agenda of international politics. This includes a
reduction of military budgets, a moratorium on the development
of new types of weapons and a prohibition on militarizing space.
Otherwise, talks toward a nuclear-free world will be little more
than empty words. The world would then become less safe, more
unstable and unpredictable. Everyone will lose, including those
now seeking to dominate the world.
SPIEGEL: Is there
a risk of war between Russia and the West over the crisis in
have reached a crossroads in relations between America and
Russia. Many are already
talking about a new Cold War. Talks between both powers over
important global problems have practically been put on ice. That
includes the question of nuclear disarmament. Trust, the very
capital we worked so hard to build, has been destroyed.
SPIEGEL: Do you
believe there is a danger of nuclear war?
very worried. The current state of things is scary. The nuclear
powers still have thousands of nuclear warheads. Nuclear weapons
are still stationed in Europe. The pace of reducing stockpiles
has slowed considerably. We are witnessing the beginning of a
new arms race. The militarization of space is a real danger. The
danger of nuclear proliferation is greater than ever before. The
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has not entered into force,
primarily because the Americans did not ratify it. This would
have been extremely important.
SPIEGEL: Do you
think Russia will once again begin to use its nuclear
capablities as a bargaining chip in international relations?
have to view everything in context. Unfortunately, formulations
have reappeared in the nuclear powers' military doctrines that
represent a relapse to the language that predated the
Soviet-American declaration of 1985. We need a new declaration,
probably from the United Nations Security Council, that
reasserts nuclear war as inadmissible -- it knows no winners.
Isn't a world without nuclear weapons just a nice
matter how difficult the situation is, we must not fall into
resignation or panic. In the mid-1980s, there was no shortage of
people who thought the train to atomic hell was unstoppable. But
then we achieved a lot in very short space of time. Thousands of
nuclear warheads were destroyed and several types of nuclear
weapons, such as intermediate-range missiles, were disposed of.
We can be proud of that. We accomplished all that together. It
should be a lesson for today's leaders: for Obama, Putin and
Gorbachev, we thank you for this interview.
was born in 1931 in the rural locality of Privolnoye in
the northern Caucasus. He became a member of the Soviet
Communist Party at the age of 21 and began a career as a
functionary. From 1985 to 1991, he served as the general
secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union, the most powerful man in the
country. With his policies of glasnost ("openness") and
perestroika ("restructuring"), he initiated the end of
the Soviet Union and the Cold War. He received the Nobel
Peace Prize in 1990 for his historic work.