Might We Lose Russia? Nixon Dares to Ask the Question : Former President wants Bush, and the Democrats, to rise to the occasion


Former President Richard M. Nixon has performed a service to his country by faulting President Bush, and the Democratic presidential candidates in this year’s election campaign, for virtually ignoring the crisis facing Russia. A greater benefit will come if Nixon’s call to action succeeds in forcing the nation’s political leaders to address one of the urgent challenges of our day.

In a private memo circulated in advance of a foreign policy conference in Washington this week, and in a talk at that meeting, Nixon describes the fate of political and economic reform efforts in Russia as “the most important issue since the end of World War II.” He warns that if the reforms fail, “a new, more dangerous despotism based on extremist Russian nationalism will take power,” imperiling nascent democracies in Eastern Europe and encouraging totalitarian regimes in China, Iraq, Syria, Libya and North Korea.

The choice, Nixon suggests, is between helping Russia evolve into a free-market democracy now and being forced to rearm at much greater costs later if Russia reverts to its familiar role as an inwardly authoritarian, outwardly hostile state. So far, he says, the level of U.S. help given has been “pathetically inadequate . . . in light of the opportunities and dangers we face in the crisis in the former Soviet Union.”


Nixon wants to see a much larger international aid program, under American leadership. Specifically, he calls for expanded deliveries of humanitarian food and medical aid; creation of a “free-enterprise corps” of Western managers to teach capitalism and modern business practices; rescheduling of the debt run up by the late Soviet Union to give the Russian economy some breathing space; moves to expand hard-currency earning exports from Russia, and providing the International Monetary Fund with the money it needs to help stabilize Russia’s currency, an essential step to improving its internal and external economic health.

This is not a novel program; for some time economists and others have cited each of these needs. But by putting his advocacy behind them, and in a way that implicitly criticizes the President whose reelection he has endorsed, Nixon gives them a prominence they clearly would not have had in this election season.

It’s easy enough to account for the silence of politicians on the Russian aid issue. Foreign aid, which has never had an enthusiastic constituency, particularly lacks one this year, when the nation has hit a hard patch economically and as the seductive call of Patrick J. Buchanan’s nativist neo-isolationism echoes through the campaign. Bush, responding to Nixon but no less to Buchanan, says that while he would like to help Russia more, “I don’t have a blank check for all of that.” But a blank check isn’t required. Leadership, however, is, and so far there’s been precious little in evidence from any quarter.

Key Democrats in Congress say they are waiting for an initiative from Bush before they get behind greater help to Russia; let the President sound the trumpet call, and a bipartisan coalition will almost certainly rally to this cause. The key political requisite, we think, is that an aid package not look like an altruistic effort to rescue a former enemy whose threatening posture cost us so much. Offer it instead for what it truly is: a prudent and necessary investment in American national security, one that if made at a relatively low cost now could well spare us the need to spend vastly greater sums a few years hence.

The collapse of Soviet communism is one of the momentous events of the modern age, but the opportunity now given Russia to re-emerge as a stable, democratic, market-based state is fleeting. The task of American political leadership seems clear. It is to recognize what help must be given, to speak candidly and forcefully to the public about what must be done, and then to act, as American leaders have at other crucial moments in the past, with the decisive bipartisan strength that the national interest so compellingly requires.