Candidates Differ : Gorbachev Is Third Man in U.S. Election

Times Staff Writer

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, with his revolutionary program for transforming life in the Soviet Union and his “new thinking” about the outside world, has become the silent, looming Third Man in this year’s U.S. presidential election.

The central question of U.S. foreign policy--how to deal with the Soviet Union--has become one of the issues that define the difference between Democratic standard-bearer Michael S. Dukakis and his Republican opponent, George Bush.

And views of the new President on the U.S.-Soviet relationship will be particularly significant amid the opportunities and risks posed by Gorbachev’s perestroika. The Soviet leader appears to recognize that the peredyshka, or “breathing space,” he seeks in East-West competition will require substantial concessions at home and abroad.

How substantial and how permanent the resulting gains for the United States will be may depend largely on the next occupant of the White House.


Both Dukakis and Bush say they applaud and would encourage Gorbachev’s efforts to achieve a more open society and a more Western-oriented economy. Both promise to be wary of Soviet intentions even as they continue along President Reagan’s path toward improved relations.

For all their apparent agreement on the over-arching goal, however, Bush and Dukakis differ substantially on the specifics of how to deal with Moscow in the months and years just ahead. Equally important, they disagree on the basic question of what is forcing the transformation in Soviet behavior represented by Gorbachev.

In Bush’s view, it was the pressure of President Reagan’s huge defense buildup that drove Gorbachev to launch his program of radical reforms. Accordingly, as President, Bush would try to maintain the pressure with continued emphasis on building military strength and hard bargaining at the arms-control table.

“Real arms reduction, real improvements in East-West relations and real security can only be achieved through strength and consistency,” Bush says. “We can pursue negotiations tenaciously while proceeding with the military measures to guarantee our security.”


Massachusetts Gov. Dukakis, by contrast, believes Gorbachev’s reforms are primarily a response to the Soviet Union’s internal economic problems. Unlike Bush, Dukakis would offer economic incentives to win concessions from the Soviets.

Access to West

Gorbachev, according to Dukakis, “wants to make his country part of the international economic community. He wants access to Western resources and technology.” The United States, he says, should “translate Soviet economic weakness into improved Soviet behavior in world affairs (and) hold out the prospect of better economic ties.”

Thus Bush, relying on sticks, would continue with Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars.” Bush is also more committed to modernizing the U.S. land-based missile force than Dukakis even as negotiations continue on a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Dukakis, dangling carrots before the Soviets, would hold out such possibilities as Soviet admission to the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which governs international trade practices.

Beyond these specifics, the positions of the two candidates on how to manage the U.S.-Soviet relationship appear to reflect more basic attitudes: The more conservative Bush is inclined toward caution, skeptical of drastic change, concerned that today’s promising climate might turn sour. The comparatively liberal Dukakis, by contrast, is less skeptical, more inclined to trust in his ability to achieve progress.

Reflecting this difference in basic attitudes, Dukakis is more willing than Bush to believe Gorbachev represents a decisive break with the Soviet past, both internally and internationally, according to William A. Galston, government professor at the University of Maryland and an adviser to the 1984 Walter F. Mondale campaign. Dukakis wants to accelerate the process aggressively, and he seems more prepared than Bush to help Gorbachev against his conservative opponents if possible.

Bush welcomes the Soviet changes but is less inclined to regard them as an opportunity to be seized and capitalized on. Instead, he takes a less urgent “show-me” attitude, fearing that Gorbachev might be overthrown or that an economically resurgent Soviet Union, even under Gorbachev, could again turn aggressive and expansionist.


Would Rely on U.N.

Where U.S. and Soviet interests clash in the Third World, Dukakis would rely more heavily than Bush on the United Nations and other international organizations to help find settlements. And he seems inclined to invite the Soviets into regions such as the Persian Gulf and Middle East, where their military presence and diplomatic influence has been historically small.

Under Bush, by contrast, the United States would more often take the lead unilaterally, as it did under Reagan.

As President, either man would be limited both by Congress and by the federal budget deficit, of course. Both the Democratic-controlled Congress and the deficit, for instance, would act as brakes on Bush’s efforts to build up the military as a club to force concessions from the Soviets.

Dukakis might move faster than Bush to negotiate a treaty reducing long-range nuclear weapons, but the Senate, more skeptical of a treaty negotiated by a Democratic President, might be less likely to ratify a Dukakis treaty, scholars say. The Senate ratified President Richard M. Nixon’s SALT I accord and Reagan’s treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear missiles, but it did not ratify President Jimmy Carter’s SALT II agreement.

The candidates have laid out their broad approaches to Gorbachev and the Soviet challenge in single speeches.

Bush, in an Aug. 2 address in Chicago to the Mid-America Committee, said: “We welcome the developments in the Soviet Union--but we should not let our hopes outrun our practical experience. Soviet ideology has proven bankrupt, but Russia remains a formidable military power. . . .

“In the final analysis, the Soviet Union will be judged by what it delivers--on conventional and chemical arms reduction; on defusing regional tensions and reining in aggressive Soviet clients; on human rights and emigration, and repudiating the Brezhnev Doctrine in Eastern Europe. These are the measures of meaningful change.”


Dennis Ross, a senior foreign policy adviser to Bush, contends the Soviets are withdrawing from Afghanistan and Angola because of U.S. pressure.

Ross, explaining Bush’s views in an interview, said Gorbachev “is prepared to take radical steps, (but only) in those areas where it’s clear Soviet policies have failed and are very costly. He’ll bite the bullet only when it becomes clear that halfway measures don’t work.

Sees Real Potential

“A key part of Bush’s view is: Don’t relieve Gorbachev of the need to make choices. If we continue to maintain leverage and maintain the costs of certain (Soviet) policies, then you have real potential to create a very different relationship with the Soviets over time.”

Dukakis, who delivered his speech on U.S.-Soviet affairs Sept. 13 to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, declared that “some of us (Democrats) do not, and will not, accept the tragedies of the past as a prophecy for the future. . . . We want to challenge the Soviet leaders, test their intentions and explore the opportunities that may exist to build” a safer world.

“Mr. Gorbachev is a Leninist,” Dukakis asserted. “He has not abandoned Soviet goals, but rather seeks to advance those goals through different means. . . . To deal successfully with Gorbachev, the next President must be tough, he must be realistic, he must have good judgment, and he must be committed to building a strong defense.

“Mr. Gorbachev presides over a nation that has seen its rate of economic growth fall in every five-year plan since the 1950s. . . . (He) wants to make his country part of the international economic community. He wants access to Western resources and technology. . . . What is he prepared to do in return?” The United States, Dukakis said, should “translate Soviet economic weakness into improved Soviet behavior in world affairs (and) hold out the prospect of better economic ties.”

Dukakis’ view is that “it is time for the United States to set the agenda in U.S.-Soviet relations, not Gorbachev,” according to his chief foreign policy adviser, Prof. Madeleine K. Albright of Georgetown University.

In reality, the next Administration--no matter who heads it--will inherit the four-part agenda established by Reagan and Gorbachev.

Bush and Dukakis have no discernible differences on two of the items: human rights and bilateral issues. Both want freer emigration from the Soviet Union and more civil liberties for Soviet citizens, including greater political and religious freedom.

On the other two issues--arms control and regional or Third World conflicts--the two candidates have similar goals but some differences in how they would achieve them. Both seek a stable strategic nuclear balance at lower levels of arms, including cuts in conventional forces in Europe; and limits on or reversal of Soviet presence in the Third World.

In nuclear arms control, both men want a START agreement to cut offensive strategic arms by 50%, but Dukakis takes positions that go further toward meeting some key Soviet demands.

The Democratic candidate has promised to scale back radically the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative program, for example, and to abide by the traditional interpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

Differ on Radar Site

The Massachusetts governor also seems more inclined to give the Soviets a face-saving excuse to dismantle their Krasnoyarsk radar station, which violates the ABM treaty. The Reagan Administration and Bush want the radar dismantled unconditionally.

But Dukakis might then be attacked as too accommodating to Moscow. As a Democrat, he is certain to face greater difficulties than Bush in winning Senate ratification of a nuclear arms agreement. He may be tempted to demand more from the Soviets than Bush to satisfy conservative critics, but that could cancel his gain in removing some of the presently contentious issues from the START negotiations.

Dukakis has also called for a total ban on nuclear tests and a ban on ballistic missile test flights--again making it easier to reach agreement with the Soviets, who have long endorsed both ideas. But again, conservatives of both parties are likely to strongly oppose ratification of any such agreement. U.S. diplomats say Soviet officials are very much aware of this potential problem for a victorious Dukakis.

Bush opposes the two bans, arguing that both types of tests are needed to maintain the reliability of the existing U.S. nuclear deterrent.

Dukakis’ readiness to link economic aid and technological trade with improved Soviet behavior, in fact if not in name, contrasts with the Reagan/Bush approach to treat each agenda issue on its own merits.

While all issues in U.S.-Soviet relations are broadly linked, fine-tuning the policy is very difficult in practice. Every U.S. interest group wants progress in arms control linked to its concern, whether emigration, trade, religious freedom or Nicaragua. Moreover, it is not evident that such linkage will give the United States much leverage with the Soviets now.

Support Amendment

The near-term economic value to the Soviets in joining international institutions will be small, for example, until Moscow reforms its pricing system, makes the ruble convertible to Western currencies and manufactures products that are competitive on the export markets. And both Dukakis and Bush have pledged not to seek repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which demands a high rate of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union in return for economic credits and improved most-favored-nation trading status for the Soviet Union.

Finally, Bush and Dukakis would take different approaches toward Third World conflicts in which both the United States and the Soviet Union have important stakes. Dukakis would rely more than Bush on multinational organizations such as the United Nations and strive for “international consensus” before taking action.

“We’ve learned over time painfully that unilateralism generally fails,” he told The Times in February. “It is in our best interest as well as the hemisphere’s best interest that we act together. . . . When we intervened unilaterally, we generally failed.”

Dukakis, for example, proposed a U.N. naval force, including Soviet warships, to convoy tankers in the Persian Gulf rather than the U.S. Navy. If implemented, critics say, that would have risked giving the Soviets a military foothold and legitimate presence in the small states of the Gulf.

Prof. Richard N. Gardner of Columbia University, a Kennedy and Carter Administration official, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that a U.N. naval force would not be approved by the Security Council and would not work if sent. For the United States, inviting the Soviets in would be “a risky proposition at best,” he added.

Defend U.S. Action

Bush advisers contend it was necessary for the United States to act on its own--that if the United States had not unilaterally sent warships into the Persian Gulf, none of the five European allies would have followed suit, as they eventually did. “They would not have taken us seriously if we didn’t take the lead,” said Ross, Bush’s foreign policy coordinator. The U.S. move also persuaded Iran to seek peace with Iraq and raised Washington’s stature enormously in the oil-rich area, Ross added.

In the oldest and potentially most dangerous regional issue, Eastern Europe, Dukakis appears ready to recognize Soviet “security concerns” in the region but has called for the political, economic and cultural freedom of the Warsaw Pact countries. He does not, however, propose U.S. programs “to force changes” in the region, a top Dukakis adviser said.

Bush would follow the Reagan Administration lead of treating each country of Eastern Europe differently and would not acknowledge the legitimacy of Soviet hegemony imposed on those nations after World War II.