Enter Gorbachev

Enter Gorbachev

When Gorbachev assumed the Party leadership, the analytic questions targeted by the CIA were not whether Gorbachev faced a deteriorating economy and major societal problems. They were: what would be his plan for dealing with them? What would be the repercussions on political stability in the USSR? What would be the implications for US security interests?

CIA products and a National Intelligence Estimate produced within a few months of Gorbachev's accession, (Appendix A, references 14-16) described the enormous tasks he faced but concluded (in CIA's case) that he was indeed a new kind of leader with an agenda to confront the maladies in the Soviet economy and society. These early assessments, however, also presented CIA's judgment that if Gorbachev's vision really went no further than trying to ``fix'' the existing system, his prospects of achieving his aims were low. (This judgment was also presented to the JEC at the end of Gorbachev's first year in office. See Appendix A, reference 20.)

Within the first year of Gorbachev's tenure, CIA's Office of Soviet Analysis (SOVA) also raised the prospect that his agenda could have major implications for defense outlays (Appendix A, references 17 and 18). It judged that, for a while, he could postpone confronting this issue, given the military-industrial infrastructure already in place. SOVA believed, however, that if he was serious in his objectives, he would ultimately have to deal with the defense burden. On the basis of this analysis, the office attempted to record a dissent from a 1986 NIE's projections of Soviet strategic force deployments over the coming decade (Appendix A, reference 19) on the grounds that the level of expenditure needed to acquire those forces was directly contradictory to Gorbachev's economic revitalization goals.

At the end of Gorbachev's first year, CIA disseminated a lengthy analysis (Appendix A, reference 21) that previewed the dynamic that would ultimately shape his tenure. It provided an in-depth look at the sources of the endemic societal problems he was confronting and highlighted his principal dilemma-that the very steps needed to deal with these problems would threaten the preservation of the nomenklatura's power and thus put at risk his ability to maintain the political strength he needed to bring about change.

CIA analyses during the period 1987-88 (Appendix A, references 22-27) described the increasingly evident flaws in Gorbachev's approach to restructuring the existing system. These papers pointed to the evidence that his half measures at reform were generating political resistance among the bureaucracy while failing to produce the economic results necessary to sustain popular support for his revitalization program. They also described the intensifying nationality fissures and the coalescing of threatened establishment factions into an opposing political force.

In a CIA assessment in the fall of 1989, the prospect that Gorbachev would be able to control the events he had turned loose were described as ``doubtful at best.''

These same products included SOVA analysts' views that, to contain pressures for defense outlays that would be counter-productive to his economic objectives, Gorbachev would seek arms control agreements and other measures to ratchet down the East-West confrontation. In June 1988, SOVA also disseminated a study (Appendix A, reference 28) concluding that Gorbachev was finally going to confront the military burden issue and that there was a good chance of a significant unilateral cut in Soviet defense spending.

By this time, CIA analysts had concluded that Gorbachev himself recognized the failure of his flawed approach and saw the need for and was prepared to undertake more radical approaches. The CIA's expectations of a ``watershed'' were described in a paper disseminated in June 1988 (Appendix A, reference 29). The timing it postulated for Gorbachev's action was a bit premature, but he did make his move a few months later, at the end of September, when he sought to circumscribe the power of the party and bureaucracy. The CIA forecast this event shortly before it happened (Appendix A, reference 30).



Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 02:26 PM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 01:09 PM