Sergei Karaganov (political analyst), 1992

Interview with Sergei Karaganov, Institute of Europe, May 21, 1992. Phrases in square brackets are partly guesswork. The sound quality is generally poor.
Interviewer — Metta Spencer, with Alexander Kalinin

M. Spencer: I would like you to tell me how you came to the views that are represented, say, in this book. What was your personal journey, say, over the last decade or so?

Karaganov: Well, first of all, it started earlier than that. I started to study military and political matters sometime around 1979 or ’80 and at that juncture I had the feeling that something was wrong — that [the obvious overarmament, etc. etc. were 99.9% driven by the liberal] notion of normal logic. However, in my case, and in some others’ case, but especially in my case, the crucial influence was the debate over the.i. INF;. I defended the Soviet position with less and less enthusiasm,and by that time I started to study seriously the Western policies, and also the history of Russian defence policy and I came to certain conclusions which started to change my mind. Also the INF debate was extremely crucial, not only that larger stratas of policymaking circles here and in Europe were involved in the security debate for the first time on a large scale, but also that the Russian elite was exposed for the first time, not only to the official Western argumentation —which was extremely weak— but also was exposed to liberal western argumentation. For the first time, massive contacts with social democratic, liberal people started to be [forged] to the Soviet elites. I think the main source of this liberal thinking is of course the views of German social democracy—Egon Bahr, Karsten Voight, and others. [They were all over the place.] There was a re-evaluation of our own policies and our own attitudes, and second, there was the influence of the more liberal version of the Western thinking on these matters. Another intellectual influence — but a very weak intellectual influence — was of course the globalist and interdependence policies of the 1970s.

MS: Such as?

Karaganov: Such as Joseph Nye, Keohane, _____ , etc. etc. They had a certain influence on certain groups of Western-oriented Soviet elites, especially scholarly debates on these matters. Their notion of interdependence and globalism were introduced. So I think there were these three intellectual sources — the globalism and social democracy and security (I don’t remember those globalism people but I remember reading them some years ago) and also the re-evaluation of our own policy. Mostly they were liberals. The conservative thinking never had any influence here. These were the intellectual resources — social democracy on security, globalism on general world view, and also on the re-evaluation of our own policy.

Also, immense amounts of information were for the first time brought to the surface. We never had any information until the INF debate, we got some.

MS: Really! That’s interesting. You were a professional military analyst and you didn’t have critical parts of the information you needed?

Karaganov: Absolutely. We still don’t have all the information now. But at that time, there was absolutely no information.The only information we got was from American sources.

Alexander Kalinin: Or the SIPRI publications.

Karaganov: Well, SIPRI publications still were based on American sources, basically.

S: I am surprised. That’s the first time anybody has told me that.

Karaganov: But the military didn’t even know their own secrets because they were so closely hatched. Most of the military awere unable to analyze [structures within the defence establishment]. There was complete secrecy.

S: I had understood that under Gorbachev the institutes began to play an important role, and the civilian analysts within those institutes, but until that point you were working in the dark?

Karaganov: Well, first of all, most of the information was correct. Let’s put it this way, many of the arguments were wrong but most of the information was correct. If you developed certain proficiency in these matters, you could see where the truth lay and where there were certain exaggerations, etc. So you were able to have your own opinion.

S: But what was the point? What were you being asked to do? What was your job officially intended to accomplish?

Karaganov: Well, first of all, we were asked to explain the policies of the West. Second, we were asked to provide argumentations for the Russian positions.

Kalinin: Apologies.

Karaganov: Yes, apologists so they would have a more sophisticated set of ideas. I am not aware that we have ever been asked to analyze the real,[hard core policies] but still the institutes had much [reality] and the directors and deputy directors, well, they were scholars and they conducted studies on their own.

S: So you really were independently free to —

Karaganov: No, no. We were not independently free, but we were partly free. Partly independently free. Some things are not.

S: Did you feel yourself in the process of trying to expand that realm in which you could function? Or was this opportunity more or less given to you unexpectedly?

Karaganov: Well, we had been constantly — at least some of us, even in our circle we were certain people who were trying to push the boundaries. You know them all by now. There were a lot of people who had been following the official line, but they were influenced. _____________[?]

Spencer: I spoke to Admiral Eugene Carroll a couple of weeks ago and he said that the concept of reasonable sufficiency was always a slogan. There may have been new things that happened, but the argument in terms of reasonable sufficiency was not a new slogan or concept at all, that Soviet military people were always talking in those terms. Is that so? I had understood that this term came partly through your own invention.

Karaganov: Admiral Carroll is wrong. Of course, Soviets referred to reasonable sufficiency, the same as everybody else, but it was a very rarely used term. Actually, reasonable sufficiency, I think it was mentioned by somebody around Gorbachev or somebody. Many people like myself took the word and then used it as a leverage to change security policy. It was never a concept, however. I was quite cynical about it; everybody wanted to relate it to how you translate that into hardware, etc. etc._____ And some people might have tried to do that. But [___________ I used it to change security.]

S: So you were not ever interested in trying to specify how much is enough?

Karaganov: Because that is absolutely stupid.

S: But some people are still trying to do that!

Karaganov: That’s a stupid way of wasting time. Because the whole idea of parity was phony from the beginning to the end. There has been no such thing, and could not be such a thing as a balance in Europe of military forces. It has no military utility. It had developed into some kind of a political symbol and was used during negotiations to change the military situation, but it had no military logic whatsoever.

S: Hm. That’s a sweeping statement. Okay. So your initial paper on these questions was still not your first thinking about it. You had been privately discussing it.

Karaganov: Sure, for quite some years.

S: Can you tell me more specifically how you came to write that particular paper on reasonable sufficiency?

Karaganov: We were writing papers like that in ’83, ’84,‘85. I don’t know how. Somebody proposed such a paper. Also we were think of of ways how to change it. My personal belief, and some others came to a similar conclusion, that in order to change the whole thing we had to do two things. One was to change the threat system, because people, even after reasonable sufficiency was introduced, still the threat assessment [wasn’t over?]. And I began to publish with these two colleagues a paper in Kommunist in ’87 or ’88 where I said that there is no threat from the West. Until then, nobody would dare to say that. [______?] The West had not prepared itself politically for a massive invasion. But I understood that it was impossible to change the military policies of the state without changing the threat assessment. The same with reasonable sufficiency. That again was a way to change their thinking about this matter.

MS: I was just reading a paper by Mr. Blagovolin which was interesting because he seems to have started with the assumption that you have to get to something that looks like parity before you can discuss any changes. You are not even making the assertion that parity makes any sense.

Karaganov: Of course. I supported the idea because it was a fact of life, but the idea of parity makes no military sense. I am one of the very few who would say that.

MS: How do you make that case with people who disagree with you? There must surely still be lots of people who disagree.

Karaganov: Sure, but I am not interested. [________________]

MS: You don’t want to convince anybody.

Karaganov: That’s because it is impossible. It is simply a waste of time. It has no military sense. Either you understand that or you don’t understand that. Or to show you, you would have to read a course on the history of the arms race, history of arms control, which I could do. Parity, balance in Europe, if one ever studied the dynamics of the arms race, which I did, parity was achieved by chance. I could give you thousands of examples, but to give a very few, when the Soviet Union started speaking about parity in the beginning of the seventies there was no parity. There was nuclear superiority of the West. Then we spoke about [consolidation] of parity while the United States was MIRVing, so the gap increased, but there was still “parity.” Then we started to speak of parity in 1978 while, according to all classified and also some open Western NATO estimates, the West had over whelming supriority of theatre nuclear forces. Overwhelming! And we were talking about parity, while NATO was talking about Soviet superiority! And I could give you dozens of examples of the same kind with conventional balance. There is no such thing as conventional balance. Conventional balance is totally scenario-dependent, is totally geography-dependent, is totally human-dependent.

Of course, you cannot defend a country with one division against ten armies, but you could defend a country with two armies against four or five. You could defeat five armies with two or one, which the Americans proved so brilliantly by their high-tech_ superiority but also by wise tactics in Iraq.

MS: Okay, tell me where your idea went, once you began publishing in this area. I’m not completely clear how you got permission or felt yourself free to do this, so I would like to know a little more about that, but also what you feel you accomplished. Who began to listen to you and what difference did it make in policy terms?

Karaganov: Of course, probably some of our papers had some direct influence on policy, but I wonder. I think what influence there was, and it was significant in some cases, is that it legitimized certain foreign ideas — not just foreign in the sense of from abroad, but foreign or illegitimate to the debate. And immediately that started to change the whole political debate on the matter. I remember this for example after we published some articles on the absence of threat. For half a year there was complete silence [and we were treated as mad]. . .

MS: Because at that point it was still dangerous?

Karaganov: Well, I considered it was not dangerous because it was published in Kommunist, and everybody knows that some in the army were angry, but nobody would dare challenge the main organ of the Communist Party. And then after a half a year it was a [novel idea] and now it has become almost indecent to speak of threat from the West. It’s like uttering obscenities in the presence of children.

MS: So, as I understand you, you cannot say that you know that as a result the publication of an article or by a conversation with someone at the level of the Defence Minister, that you changed anybody’s opinion.

Karaganov: Well, I could pretend that I had changed some of my colleagues, but [policymaking in the Soviet Union is] done by huge groups of people, so one can influence a small ______ here or there, but it is not done by ___ processes.

MS: You are suggesting that within policy-making elites, opinions changed as a result of thousands of conversations.

Karaganov: Well, in some cases. But there was one person whose pronouncements made things move. That person is Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. He was far up front and far ahead of most __ and he was introducing most of the ideas and then they would become legitimate.

MS: But he didn’t invent all those ideas by himself.

Karaganov: Well, yes and no. He was listening to people but I think to some people, reading papers, but I think some of the ideas were his. ____ And then they were put into [technical form].

MS: Can you identify the origins of some of the ideas he did not invent himself but that he picked up?

Karaganov: I guess we have to go idea by idea.

MS: Uh huh. But surely he became a supporter of reasonable sufficiency.

Karaganov: Yes, but I think he was one of the first to use this term — not, probably, understanding fully what it meant. Nobody understood it. You remember, he would start to write about the “common European house,” and then everybody would start writing about what the common European house was. And there were fights on the Soviet policy and then gradually, _____________. Actually, “common European house” was a useful concept to open up Soviet Union to Europe. You cannot live in a house without adhering to the basic rules in that house, and from there, the obvious conclusion is that you have to adhere to the human rights things. And here you are.

MS: So all along you thought of this as related. You were not just doing military analysis, you were doing human rights thinking as well.

Karaganov: No. At that time I was doing mostly military but I was doing political and economic analysis as well. I even wrote a book on the economy, but at that time I was specializing mostly on the military.

MS: You mentioned Egon Bahr and Karsten Voight. Did they come here or were their influences primarily through their writing?

Karaganov: No, no, no! A lot of people of a lesser calibre came and some of them became famous. Egon Bahr was very often here — every other week. And Karsten Voight and many others. You could draft a list. There were all these seminars — there with the “peaceloving forces” and there were debates with them. Gradually, people [started to adjust to it].

MS: And with “common security,” I suppose mainly the Palme Commission?

Karaganov: Yes. Basically the idea has come from Palme Commission. At that time one of the most influential people in the whole debate was Academician Arbatov. He introduced personally, I happen to know, many ideas and one of the vehicles was _____________ from the Palme Commission. Because in the preparation for the Palme Commission, he had to commission a lot of backup materials, which were discussed in different forum here. And that’s why the Palme Commission Report and the work around it was extremely influential.

MS: I was often coming to Europe and to Moscow, partly participatin in some of the dialogues organized by the Peace Committee— not always happily so — but I wondered at the time whether any of those conversations had any influence. I think there were transcripts and memos that were produced.

Karaganov: Well, in some cases the reports were sent somewhere. And also, many of the people who participated were, unlike the Western participants, were close to policymaking circles. That was a basic inequality. When the peace movement people came, obviously their only way to influence policy was to protest in the streets or to publish articles. They were talking [about the executives peacemakers with the policymakers, in many cases, or with people in the policy-making apparatus.

MS: I used to visit some people, for exmple, in Europe. I think that the European revolutions were more dramatic than here in that some of the people I used to visit, such as Jiri Dienstbier, and some of the Polish dissidents, immediately became leaders of their governments. Was there any contact whatever between people working as you did during that time and either individuals or their ideas, their publications? People like Dienstbier published things in samizdat.

Karaganov: [Very little.]

MS: My sources, I can trace some of their ideas within the dissident community, both here and in Europe, and I can see how some of the ideas moved in the elite circles, but I can’t show any connection.

Karaganov: I don’t think that [there were any connections.] Well, maybe in the KGB there were some connections. But I am not aware. However, there was an influence, I would say. The Hungarians, who had been exposing negative ideas that the [__dissidents?] had been putting forward, were influential on the human debate because they were comrades, in a way, and they had access to everybody, and they tried to persuade. . .

MS: Within, say, WTO meetings?

Karaganov: No, there were large scale meetings of the elites, closed to the public. They ___ the foreign policy and academic communities.

MS: So you say that, of the European Countries belonging to WTO, the Hungarians had the most influence?

Karaganov: Not the most. The only influence. Because the other influences had been to [the communal] — the other direction. The Germans had a very negative influence because _____ censored the debate here, especially on Germany. Very few people ______ because the Germans hushed any debate here on the future of Germany.

MS: I have a sense that there may have been an indirect influence because the presence of many dissidents was made known by radio.

Karaganov: Well, I’m not sure that their influence on foreign policy debates was _____. Because I was aware of the writings of some people in the Soviet dissident community, as well as regularly listening to the radio. I was aware of their publishings in the press. And because they didn’t have any polemologists or whatever you call this science of —

MS: That sounds right. Polemology.

Karaganov: polemologists of their own and their thinking on these matters was naive and off the mark. It was just normal —. They were writing on history, on human rights, on political, etc. etc. So their influence on foreign policy was —

MS: You said you were familiar, a little bit, with some of their writings. Can you tell me any that you read?

Karaganov: Oh, I don’t remember. I read this literature. I remember reading it but I also remember my impression that it —

MS: Okay. You yourself saw a connection between human rights issues and things like non-intervention in other countries?

Karaganov: ___, yes but not from the beginning.

M: Do you have any sense of how the decision was made to leave Afghanistan?

Karaganov: Yes, the decision was made by Andropov. First of all, it was clear from the beginning that the decision was a mistake. Unlike Czechoslovakia, the invasion was not supported here. Czechoslovakia was widely supported by most of [the elites]. Afghanistan was not. So it was an unnecessary war from the beginning. So when Andropov come, in so many words he said that our goal was to get out. So Gorbachev started, but there was a slowdown for the very simple reason because Chernenko didn’t move and the old elites took power___ they also were not for staying there. Of course there were people like [Ponomariov], who was rumored to say that we have to build socialism there, but these people were strange people. Now, however, Gorbachev if I remember started to comply to public opinion but the decision had been made long before Gorbachev, as far as I know.

MS: Gorbachev’s most remarkable speech was at the United Nations, which covered everything any peace-minded activist could have longed for. Do you know who was involved in the preparations for that speech — discussions such as support for strengthening the United Nations and for international agencies and law?

Karaganov: That had already been present, pretty much, in the writings of new political thinking. Of course, as I told you before, the roots of new political thinking was this globalism of the sixties and the seventies ________________. The most prominent man who was espousing these kinds of theories was Vladimir Petrovsky, who is now a deputy secretary general of the United Nations. And people like ___ had some influence, and people like _________, and Kozyrev at that time. People like that. But that was not a shock; that was not news for us. The real news was unilateral cuts.

Because in our debate, if I remember correctly, we were absolutely ridiculed in the West. There were only three or four of us who supported unilateral cuts.______ Most people did not believe that that would be a possibility. However, I was absolutely sure that it would become the reality because I knew that so many people believed [do this and do that], and so there was objective logic to it. ___

MS: Do you feel that your policies are going to be reflected in the policies of the new Defence Minister for Russia.

Karaganov: It is impossible to implement any policies now. The new Minister of Defence will be saving the independent army — [a wounded animal]. So now, probably, the military policy of Russia as espoused by Grachev and others is exactly what we have been proposing, but that doesn’t mean that it will be implemented.

MS: What about cuts?

Karaganov: Cuts will happen but not because of a political decision but because of economic, social, etc. But I must say that I personally also sometimes contradicted Gorbachev’s policies — and very harshly.

MS: In what way?

Karaganov: For example, I contradicted his denuclearization ideas, and I am proud to be one of the few who ruined the idea.

MS: Oh!

Karaganov: I found some friends and we started to challenge it, saying that the idea was stupid. It’s impractical, it’s counterproductive, and also Russia is not interested in complete denuclearization for all kinds of reasons.

MS: But you supported the INF cuts.

Karaganov: Of course. I supported cuts but I was against the idea of ridding the world of nuclear arms.

MS: What kind of level would you be happy to see?

Karaganov: It’s not a question of levels. Again, it’s theology and I spent enough time on nuclear theology. It’s a matter of principle. The nuclear arms have to be here. [They may be used.] I can give you a ____ which reflects a _________ which we have been circulating on nuclear ___. It was a ______ at that time because it is nicer to risk being a liberal than to risk being a conservative.

MS: Okay. I would love to explore that further but I think we have come to the end of our time.

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