311 Lessons of the Cold War

Jack Matlock was US Ambassador to the USSR during its final years. He argues that progress in negotiating requires confining contentious issues to private talks


  • Jack Matlock


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I have enjoyed your talk with Jack Matlock, who was in my opinion one of the smartest US officials during the time in question. I met him personally only after the collapse of the Soviet Union at several Cold War related conferences, which only strengthened my opinion. He is still excellent, demonstrating not just intellect but heart as well.
That said, I would not agree with several points he made which are actually rooted in his “realist” intellectual constructs (he calls that pragmatism), that extend far beyond university classrooms. As such these theories offer a filter for looking at a complicated picture, sometimes distorting it. And obviously some comments (related to modern Russia) raise the question to what extent realism remains realist today.
I would also disagree with his Cold War end dating – I think it was over after the Berlin Wall dismantling and the USSR decision to withdraw troops from Eastern Germany (not after the Gorbachev speech at the UN), but these are scholarly details (there are dozens of theories about the Cold War end timing) because what’s important is his recognition that it was not the collapse of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War, it happened before.
I would have loved if he touched a bit the internal cabinet struggle over whom to support – Gorbachev or Yeltsin in 1991. In the early 90s, Washington faced a choice of strategy for the future fate of the USSR. In fact, the question was the choice between the stakes in the conflict between Gorbachev and Yeltsin; between confederation or disintegration into republics. According to my knowledge the State Department, military analysts and affiliated experts considered it important to stay away from Yeltsin. The characterization of Yeltsin himself and the forces behind him was negative. In contrast, analysts and the leadership of the CIA actively advocated support for Yeltsin in Washington. It is known that the main communicators with theSoviet intelligence counterparts from the American side were the head of the Department of Soviet Analysis George Colt and the chairman of the National Intelligence Council Fritz Ermart. It would have been interesting to hear about this “shadow’ story…
I liked very much his very short passage regarding democracy and republicanism, I would have loved to hear more about this because this is exactly what I teach my students touching the issues of the inherent contradiction of the ‘liberal democracy” notion.
I must say that you have a gift of an intellectual interviewer, your comments are sharp, provoking and insightful that helps you to unobtrusively open up your counterpart.
Well done, it was an excellent program.
Thank you for this!
Alexander Likhotal

I’m fascinated by your comment re the cabinet debate over Yeltsin vs Gorbachev. I don’t think the public knew anything about it, but Clinton obviously made his preferences known. He still keeps talking about what a great guy Yeltsin was (without denigrating or even mentioning Gorbachev). And he sent political advisers to help Yeltsin win his election. Isn’t there a norm against one country interfering in the elections of another country? The US public and the press certainly tries to invoke that norm nowadays when it comes to Putin’s interference in the US presidential elections.

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