Jorgen Dragsdahl (Danish journalist), 1991

Jorgen Dragsdahl (Moscow, August 1991 at END convention)
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

DRAGSDAHL: I think that one of the brightest people you should meet is Andrei Kortunov at the USA-Canada Institute. Do you know him?

METTA: I have not met him yet. I have been trying to meet him. In fact, I’m coming back in December.

DRAGSDAHL: Okay. He was here yesterday but I have his phone number if you would like that.

METTA: Oh you do? Good. I don’t have his phone number.

DRAGSDAHL: He, of course, still is very young, although not as young as when he started writing together with some of his more significant […].

METTA: One piece that I’ve seen referred to a lot has to do with reasonable sufficiency which he did with Sergei Karaganov and Zhurkin.

DRAGSDAHL: That was a very early piece and very, very significant. You’ll see many of his ideas in that article later on being expressed in speeches by Gorbachev.

METTA: How could I make it clear that there’s a connection?

DRAGSDAHL: You could ask him.

METTA: He would know.

DRAGSDAHL: I mean, and you can see [the crazy], but he might, he is not the bragging type. I think what is significant is to raise the question: why did they write the article?

METTA: Why did they write the article?

DRAGSDAHL: Oh yeah. And probably more than why write it, was why was it published? In the Party’s Theoretical Journal. I mean, they must’ve had people in quite high position opening the magazine for that article, (paraphrasing: the author knew someone in high places who could allow the publication of the article in that magazine) and he would probably point to some very, very vague and earlier statements by Gorbachev which opened up the possibility for the debate. But still hadn’t that and other articles which were quite challenging being published. Who was it? I haven’t asked him directly, or when I have tried, he has not answered me directly. But it becomes possible to — I met him so many years ago that at that time he was still hesitant in many of the things that he said.

METTA: Right now, his position is…

DRAGSDAHL: He is head of the foreign policy department at the USA-Canada Institute. Although, as he would stress, there is an inflation in titles, he is a very significant person. Again, in an absurd way, maybe less significant today than some years ago in the sense that today, I think he has to work with public opinion, whereas earlier, there was almost a political [outbreak?] behind the publication of such articles. Another key person in that article is dead also, and that is Lev Mendelevitch.

METTA: He’s the General’s for Peace man.

DRAGSDAHL: No. Mendelevitch. I described him in the article. In the article, he is from the Foreign Ministry and had, in the 60s and 70s, had a lot of significant positions. He basically focused on Europe and he was very involved in making Soviet Policy change with regard to the EEC. Simply seeing it all that they had to relate to the EEC. He negotiated with Paul Warnke on, I think it was the Indian Ocean Arms Limitation or it was Limitation of Arms trade, where his counterpart was Warnke. But what happened then was that he was sent into retirement, as a representative of Denmark.

METTA: The ——- you mentioned him.

DRAGSDAHL: He’s absolutely the key in what then did elapse. First of all, Denmark is absolutely insignificant so having one of the top people in the Soviet Foreign Ministry being sent there can only be called retirement. And then, also, of course, with some political exile and that, although that might be too strong a word. What he did, however, in Denmark — the old man is not finished — he, after a lot of objections at the [. . .], he ordered them to collect all available material on non- offensive defence. He analyzed it and kept sending things back. It was very significant for developing a policy on that issue. He was then recalled from Denmark (I think in ’86) and put in charge of long term planning for the ministry and a member of the Council of Ministers. So he came to one of the most significant positions later on. And as a person, he was extremely respected. People used to say about him, “if we don’t have policy, Mendelevitch will make it on the spot.” And he died a year and a half ago.

METTA: Was he close? How do you know all of this?

DRAGSDAHL: Because I know him. Some of the other people in the Foreign Ministry had thought of this. He at one time told me about the objections and difficulties he had to work on in making.. .

METTA: Did he give specifics about who, for example?

DRAGSDAHL: No. But that was supposed to be his advisors and his whole staff at the embassy in Copenhagen. On the realistic side to say that, “Oh, that’s just nonsense from the left wing”.

METTA: What was nonsense?

DRAGSDAHL: All the talk about non-offensive defense.

METTA: Oh, I see. Yeah.

DRAGSDAHL: “And that’s not a thing that should not be taken seriously by serious people. It more belongs to the propaganda side.” But he took it seriously. He gave peace — it’s my impression that that debate is not very current about non-offensive defense. The interest in Western Europe is almost at zero. There is a man there —

METTA: Which one?

DRAGSDAHL: No, he had glasses on. I’m not what it was. But Kortunov would be able to tell you more about that possibly because it is in here. In Western Europe, there is a…

METTA: Do you know anything about the Soviet policy-making process and policy makers with respect to Naval Arms Control.

DRAGSDAHL: Yes. If I could just recall it, there are several people who have something to do with that here. I was at a very open conference last year in February, in Moscow, on that subject. It was awful because it was the Soviet Peace Committee that had set it up and afterwards, I’m still puzzled about what the intention was. It showed a lot of the Soviet Naval Officers, top level people, retired people and they made them read a lot of speeches which clearly came from the same source. They had the same phrases, the same message, and so on, and it was irritating, to put it mildly.

METTA: And what kind of content did the speeches have in common?

DRAGSDAHL: One of the lines which were in common was, “Since we now have agreed to achieve parity in Europe on land, we should also have parity at sea”. So, we are negotiating on land, to have equal levels of weapons, and so on, and so we should also have it at sea. They never had an answer to this argument. I looked at them and said, “You must be fooling yourself. You call this equal levels? First of all, you know that if we have numerical equal levels, NATO will be overwhelmingly superior because of its qualitative edge. Secondly, if you haven’t found out yet, let me tell you: the Warsaw Pact is dead. So what are you talking about equality in Europe? And if you cannot perceive a threat on land in this situation, how can you be so wild that you perceive a threat at sea because if there is a threat anywhere, it certainly ought to be on land”. I myself would have some counter-arguments to that, and so on, but they were able to go into a dialogue; they were not able to think about the issue, which led me to conclude that there were one of the following explanations and maybe them all. One, that the Soviet Peace Committee, as usual, needed to do something and since they have a lot of money and since their careers and influences are based on that they are seen to be doing something, they made this. They invited alot of people from the West, had [Mel Smeling?] from Germany and a lot of Americans, labour people, former Naval people, a lot of peace activists…

METTA: Was Jim Bush there?

DRAGSDAHL: Yeah. So the act is significant and anything else is not significant. But Another possibility is that the Soviet Naval people had not been touched by the process of Arms Control. The process of Arms Control is significant for achieving just a minimum of civilian control or insight into the forces. The process of arms control has been significant for civilians at all having any information about the strategic forces. You see, if he was significant for civilians at all having any influential information on the army, and you could see how they still were able to institute all kinds of tricks, even after the treaty was signed. None of this has taken place with regards to the Navy. So, you have a Navy which technically — the ships are becoming very old, and they all need to be retired and renewed, so the Political Leadership will have an interest in Arms Control, will have an interest in just a debate about Naval issues in order to be able to cut down, because it’s very easy for the Soviet Navy to say, “We need Aircraft Carriers because the West has Aircraft Carriers.” When trying to ask the Soviet Naval People, “What do you need Aircraft Carriers for?” They would say, “protect our ships.” “Oh really,” you say, “you haven’t found out that American Aircraft Carriers are protected by ships.” “They’re not protected ships; it’s the other way around.” So, again, on such issues, you can never pick an argument with them. I’ll return, then, to what you asked, just to explain. Only at one time during that conference, we had one of the Soviet Naval people finally exploding in anger because some of the Americans attacked them. They called them ignorant, stupid, and so on, and that man exploded and said, “You are not to question our competence. We are very competent.” He spoke the truth, and he spoke from his heart. That was the only time that concrete information came out. And he basically had a challenge to say that it would be expensive, but we will follow you, in what we have in our Navy. We are not going to bend to your superiority and so on. So, the (worthies) and I, let me say that, both the reasoning for the conference I tested with some people, Kortunov, for example, and they agreed that you never take such an arrangement at face value. Jim Lacey, who used to be at the Rand Corporation, has done three studies on Arms Control that are out now. He is now with Barry Blackman.(Blechman?) I might have Jim’s phone number with me. At the Rand Corporation in Washington they probably would still refer you to his new number, and they definitely can get you his research memorandums. It has some excellent things on the history of naval arms controls, analysis of subject positions. There is a man in the Soviet Foreign Ministry and I think his name is Gronov, but there are people here who can tell you — who has been in charge of all the Arms Control proposals. What they have — and there are several hundred — simply done in the Foreign Ministry. He has admitted that he has no contact with the Navy.

METTA: Pardon?!

DRAGSDAHL: He has no contact with the Soviet Navy. There is here another man I saw today, who was, is the Soviet Ministry’s Research Department on Arms Control and he was in charge of Naval Arms Control. He had never spoken with a Naval officer.

METTA: Holy smoke.

DRAGSDAHL: All his sources he might have officially, every information he had he had through friends he knew through school or otherwise, or by reading western Publications on the Soviet Navy.

METTA: Is it just that the Navy people are just not there to cooperate?

DRAGSDAHL: The Soviet military forces are a state in the state. The Soviet Military are in many ways an independent state, who refuse to have anything to do with civilians, who refuse to speak with civilians. You have had all these desperate attempts to get something going. APN, their so-called press bureau, hired alot of retired military people to have somebody with some knowledge and some context and try to setup a military department and all that. I just talked the other day with a friend of mine who is the deputy editor of an independent daily newspaper which is growing very rapidly, and they were trying to look at what would the Union treaty mean for the armed forces. They called a lot of military people they could. Get the phone numbers, and all. And all the way there, “Why are you raising such questions? What do civilians have to do in our area of expertise.” They couldn’t get any answers at all.

METTA: Amazing. It’s really amazing.

DRAGSDAHL: There has been several attempts — I am putting it in black and white terms in order to get closer to the truths. Because the problem is so big, there has been a lot of attempts to make bridges, try to make working groups on all kinds of things, and the problem is still there.

METTA: It’s really quite amazing. I have never heard this.

DRAGSDAHL: The basic problem with Naval Arms Control is that the Soviet Union apparently don’t know what it wanted its Navy for. Ask them, “What do you need the Navy for”, and you get the dumbest answers you can imagine. The Soviet Union…

METTA: Okay, so take the Murmansk Speech that Gorbachev made which was quite wonderful in some ways. Do you mean to tell me he didn’t consult with the Navy? How could he say such a thing without having a lot of discussions beforehand with the Navy?

DRAGSDAHL: He got Akhromeev in as his advisor, probably to strengthen the link to the military. Of course, there has been some input, but it’s also clear that what Gorbachev and what the Foreign Ministry again and again. That man walking there…

METTA: That blond guy?

DRAGSDAHL: No. The old man.

METTA: Coming toward us?

DRAGSDAHL: Yeah. He always speaks Russian, is as stupid as a brick, but he was the man who was in charge of that Seminar on Naval things. He is a retired officer and a member of the Soviet Peace Committee. Ask him about the conference context, who at the foreign ministry, and so on, because he would know.

METTA: Okay.

DRAGSDAHL: But he’s awful. He is absolutely unreformed.

METTA: That’s fascinating.

DRAGSDAHL: He tried the whole audience with a declaration on Naval Arms Control, and in the booklet out, they had the Soviet Peace Committee saying, “we do have the final result”, and it’s called something else now. But this was an attempt to get us all to send out a declaration and people were furious from the West because they did not come to that seminar to make political statements.

METTA: Well, you know, I just interviewed Jim Bush about three days ago. He’s almost saying the same thing about the US Navy, that the US Navy just will not talk about any policies that they don’t want to make.

DRAGSDAHL: I like Jim Bush, but I think that many people at the Centre for Defence Information have two problems. First, that they have let the US Armed Forces knock with a very friendly attitude to their own Armed Forces? Secondly, they have only vague ideas about the reality of life in the Soviet Armed Forces. They have made their career out of saying that the Soviet threat don’t exist, and saying that the US has overinsured themselves. It’s a very important function in Jim’s democracy to have people like that, but again, as I say, analyze from what people’s background and people’s interests are in this. Anybody who has tried to talk with an American Naval Officer and has tried to talk with a Soviet Naval Officer and try to say it is the same experience, I cannot take seriously.

METTA: I shouldn’t say. I don’t mean to put words in his mouth. He wasn’t making a comparison to the Soviets. He was just telling me. I was asking him why, for example, the US or NATO has not responded to Gorbachev’s Murmansk Proposals.

DRAGSDAHL: Because the US Navy has no interest in Arms Control.

METTA: Well, okay that’s his answer basically, that they don’t do anything that they don’t want to do. They just won’t do it. So I made the comparison, not he.

DRAGSDAHL: So what I’m saying is, that Arms Control for Arms Control is all insane. I cannot see the point. You have Armed Forces. Armed Forces have certain tasks, and so on. If you go into court, if you go into control, there should be a purpose in the controlling. One reason could be saving money. That again has to be balanced to other things. When you look at Gorbachev’s Proposals and Soviet Arms Control proposals, the basic problem is that you can always see how it will hurt the US Navy because we know what its plans of operation are. We know in detail about its weapons systems. We know in detail about the needs of the West. We know, in general, next to nothing about how these proposals would limit and hurt the Soviet Navy, because they do not tell us what is its purpose. What is its plans of operations? Why do they need aircraft carriers? Are we going to limit aircraft carriers? You see it with proposals on limiting submarines. It’s one of the things that Jim Lacey talks about as a possibility that end up hunter-killer submarines could be limited — that there is an interest. Of course, submarine forces in the US Navy will never agree, but you have a lot of other US Navy agree because the submarines are expensive and take money away from the aircraft carriers.

METTA: Okay.

DRAGSDAHL: But when you come to the Soviet Navy, you can never… it’s very hard to find out what the impact would be. Are we going to have a nuclear arms control at sea? I think the Americans now would be quite interested in that since they are abolishing all the tactical nuclear weapons, most of them, many of them. Would the Soviets agree? Probably not. They’ll say that quite clearly to you. They think that they need nuclear weapons in the Navy because the American Navy is so superior. They need nuclear weapons against American Aircraft carriers, and so on and so on. I mean I can understand the argument, but it all breaks down on the fact that you cannot get a sensible discussion with the Soviet Navy on that, and you cannot get information here.

METTA: It seems that I need to go to look at this Gronov?

DRAGSDAHL: Gronov is his name at the Soviet Foreign Ministry.

METTA: Find out about at.

DRAGSDAHL: But there are people here and I can try to put them in touch with you, but the old man there would know.

— End —

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books