Bush Soviet Policy Speech Apparently Revives Eisenhower’s Failed ‘Rollback’ Stand

Times Staff Writer

President Bush’s speech Friday outlining how his Administration will approach policy toward the Soviet Union recalls U.S. efforts to deal with its primary adversary during the early years of the Cold War.

Forty years ago, the United States adopted a policy of “containment” toward an expansionist Soviet Union. In the early 1950s, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Administration went further, calling for a “rollback” of communism that would force the Kremlin to release the East European nations it had subjugated after World War II.

The policy of “rollback” died in 1956 when the United States did not help Hungarians who rebelled against Moscow. However, President Bush revived the concept Friday in his speech mapping a new U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union that went, as he said, “beyond containment.”

In it, the President urged Moscow to give East European nations their political freedom and to promise not to move again into nations around the Soviet periphery. He called for the Soviets to cut ties with Libya and to stop arming Nicaragua and Cuba.


It was “rollback” in everything but name, several experts noted.

Tentative, Cautious Policy

While highly ambitious in this respect, as well as in its declared intention to welcome a reformed Soviet Union into the international community, the new Bush policy toward Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s government was tentative and cautious in other ways.

For example, it reached back to revive Eisenhower’s “open skies” proposal for flights of unarmed reconnaissance planes over hostile territories, even though such flights would have only limited military value in an era of spy satellites. And it offered the possibility of waiving tariffs on Soviet trade goods if Moscow legalizes liberal emigration procedures for Jews and other national minorities.


These proposals seemed intended more for political and symbolic effect than for immediate and tangible impact, experts said.

“This looks like a political riposte to Gorbachev’s political offensive in Europe,” said Harry Gelman, an analyst for the Santa Monica-based RAND Corp. and a former CIA specialist on Soviet affairs.

“Bush seems to be saying to Gorbachev: ‘If you have a defensive military doctrine, you can’t object to these planes.’ It shows the United States wants military relaxation in Europe, too,” Gelman added.

Born in Truman Administration

American efforts to contain Soviet aggression took shape in the Harry S. Truman Administration of the late 1940s after Moscow’s takeover of the six nations of Eastern and Central Europe. Eisenhower’s secretary of state, the pre-eminent cold-warrior John Foster Dulles, called for “rollback” although it was never an operative part of U.S. policy after 1956, said Seweryn Bialer, a Columbia University professor.

In his address, Bush called on Moscow to “support self-determination"--political freedom--for the nations of Eastern Europe, to abandon the so-called (Leonid I.) Brezhnev Doctrine that was used to justify armed Soviet intervention in those nations and to “tear down the Iron Curtain.”

And welcoming the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the settlement in Angola, the President called for Moscow to take more steps toward “diplomatic solutions to regional conflicts"--meaning settlements more favored by the West than the Soviets have been prepared to consider until now.

“It would be ironic,” said Bialer, chairman of the East-West Forum and a widely respected expert on Soviet Bloc affairs, “that the Cold War might end in the ‘rollback’ desired by Dulles, with democratic societies in place of the governments imposed during Communist takeovers.”


Eisenhower proposed “open skies” in 1955 as a way to reduce the risk of surprise attack. After Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev rejected it, Eisenhower approved the secret overflights of Soviet territory with U-2 spy planes. These ended in May, 1960, when one of the aircraft was shot down, but spy satellites soon began gathering military data in their place.

Satellites move in precise orbits, however, with the time and direction of their overflights easily predictable. Both sides have long learned to hide secret new projects, including the Soviet aerospace plane and the U.S. Stealth aircraft, during these “passes.”

The aircraft overflights envisioned by Bush presumably would occur when and where the inspecting side chose, making discovery of secret projects more likely. Such overflights would be mainly valuable in close-up monitoring of conventional forces along borders, and as such would be considered a “confidence-building measure.”

The idea is far from being put into practice, however. The United States only recently brought up the issue with Moscow, a White House official said. The matter has not been fully discussed with U.S. allies, who would be asked to join in opening their skies to overflights by Warsaw Pact nations. Important details such as the frequency and altitude of flights are yet to be discussed.

Bush’s proposal to seek a temporary waiver of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik trade amendment came as no surprise to experts. Named after the late Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) and former Rep. Charles Vanik (D-Ohio), the measure denies Moscow “most favored nation” trading status, meaning that a 50% to 100% tariff is imposed on Soviet imports here--unless the President certifies that the Soviets are permitting relatively free emigration.

The Soviets have relatively little to export to the United States, so the economic benefit from a Jackson-Vanik waiver will be small.