The Mainichi Shimbun sat down with Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, 84, on Dec. 11, asking him about present tensions between Russia and the West, as well as the Syrian civil war and how to tackle international terrorism. The interview has been condensed and edited for content.
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Mainichi: How do you see the development of global affairs since the end of the Cold War?
Mikhail Gorbachev: During Perestroika, the Soviet Union developed a "new diplomatic concept" that eschewed ideology and prejudice. We adopted a new point of view on the world, one prioritizing disarmament, and developing trust and improved relations among countries, such as with the United States and China. Now, the next generation of leaders has strayed from this new diplomacy, failed to build a system to ensure security and cooperation, and as a result has lacked the ability to respond to the realities of today's world.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. was overjoyed, and it became the single superpower of a mono-polar world. As a result, the world became less safe. We ended up not with a new "world order," but with "global chaos."
The cause of the Ukrainian crisis can be found in the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Western powers ignored Russian interests and tried to pull Ukraine into the European Union and NATO community. We've ended up with a new Cold War; one that risks turning hot. Military power once again took center stage, inviting the bloodbaths in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.
M: So what should be done?
MG: The Islamic State extremist group and other "new characters" on the world stage are a menace, but it's impossible to solve the terrorism problem with military force. Trust between the major nations is being destroyed, and it reminds me of the worst days of the Cold War. The U.N. Security Council is not fulfilling its role.
Also, nuclear weapons are becoming a serious issue again. Weapons development is continuing, and (the U.S. and Russia) have first-use doctrines. They have retreated from the joint statement of the 1985 Soviet-U.S. summit, which declared that there can be no winner of a nuclear war. We need a "grand dialogue" to tackle (global issues like) security, poverty and environmental problems. The leaders and Cabinet ministers of the U.N. Security Council countries should meet at least once a year. These discussions would rebuild trust between the leading nations, which would help the world resolve crises.
The same principles that brought the Cold War and the nuclear arms race to an end should be used now. That means repudiating the use of armed force, and always talking. Even when tensions rise, not breaking off talks, each side listening to what the other has to say, and a cooperative attitude in all areas are universal rules for rebuilding trust.
An anti-terror pact is needed very soon, and the international community should be preparing one. And it absolutely must include a provision banning the supply of weapons to armed groups acting illegally. It should also forbid giving such groups either financial or moral support.
M: What do you think of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin?
MG: The democratization policies of Perestroika -- such as the guarantee of free elections, human rights and freedom of expression -- have become so deeply embedded in Russia that we cannot go back to the ways of the past.
However, in recent years, I've seen setbacks (in our freedoms), and it worries me. We don't have a true multi-party system, a checks and balances structure, and term limits. We don't have strong national institutions that perform efficiently or civil society, but rather counterfeits of these things. A system based on (Mr. Putin's) personal power has appeared. There is a real risk of tragedy in the future, one that will split Russian society deeply and for a long time.
What's underpinned stability in Russia so far are the proceeds from high oil and natural gas prices, and Mr. Putin's high approval ratings. But stability is not a final goal. If we are forced to accept political stagnation for the sake of stability, that stability will eventually reach its limits. Russian domestic and international politics are walking down a blind alley. The only way out is to democratize both.
M: How do you see Japan-Russia relations?
MG: It's just not normal that we don't have a peace treaty 70 years after the end of World War II. This is a leftover from the Cold War. In this situation, there needs to be unbroken dialogue. I remember negotiating with (former) Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu far beyond our deadline when I visited Japan (in April 1991). We did this because we opened our hearts and built a framework of absolute trust. Now, there should be no resentment or ultimatums. The best way to solve even the most difficult problem and get a peace deal signed is to develop a relationship of mutual trust and cooperation.