WESTON, Mass., Oct. 30 (UPI) -- During the 1980s, the Reagan administration used the competitive strengths of the United States against weaknesses in the Soviet block to implement seven strategies:
1. Support internal disruptions with special emphasis on Poland. Sell Freedom.
2. Dry up sources of hard currency so the Soviet Union could not buy or pay its debts.
3. Overload the economy with a technology based arms race.
4. Work to stop the flow of any Western technology with economic value.
5. Weaken support for leaders of the Evil Soviet Empire.
6. Raise the cost of the various wars the Soviet Union was supporting.
7. Demoralize the Soviets and generate pressure for change in their system.
Poland was seen as the key to disrupting the Soviet block. Solidarity was challenging the Polish government and was kept alive by smuggled in U.S. aid. This aid created a flood of underground publications. Armed with U.S.-supplied equipment Solidarity even inserted slogans during TV or radio breaks.
The imposition of martial law in Poland led President Reagan to embargo the technology needed for the expansion of Soviet oil and gas sales. This stopped the Japan-Soviet oil and gas venture and delayed and reduced the Siberian pipeline to Germany. The hard currency denied the Soviet Union would prove critical.
With the United States behind in military hardware, the Reagan administration emphasized advanced weapons that would make obsolete what the Soviets had built in quantity. When Reagan announced the Strategy Defense Initiative in 1983, Soviet documents showed Soviet military officials believed the SDI system might prove 90 percent effective. The compulsion of the Soviet leaders to try to match the United States led them to increase military spending even more than the 45-percent increase they had planned for 1981-85. Military spending went up another 45 percent under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
The Soviets had been saving resources by buying or stealing technology instead of creating their own. By April 1982, a vulnerability assessment showed the Soviet economic system was "rigid and inflexible" and that without a continual infusion of technology and equipment from the West its economy would decline. Tighter restrictions were implemented and violators prosecuted.
Western companies that wanted to export a U.S.-controlled item had to certify that it would absolutely not get to the Soviet bloc. The United States engaged engineering firms to design defects into the technologies it knew the Soviets wanted. This offset Soviet efforts.
Reagan did not hesitate to call the Soviet Union what he felt it actually was: The Evil Empire. Word of this went quickly as far as the Siberian labor camps. Selling freedom became a major competitive weapon against a system that had none. Remember his challenge, "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall." Many in the Soviet Union reacted to Reagan's statements as proof that their system was evil as many Soviet citizens suspected.
When Reagan raised U.S. support, the Soviet cost of the war in Afghanistan skyrocketed. As the Soviet retreated from Afghanistan, the capital of the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan erupted in violence. The unrest spread throughout this Soviet republic, thanks to earlier efforts by the United States and Pakistan.
The administration worked to stop Western Europe from making loans to Moscow. The crowning factor in cutting off hard currency was the sudden increase in oil production by Saudi Arabia. The large oil surplus dropped the price from $35 to below $12 per barrel and profitable Soviet oil revenue disappeared. Soviet arms sales dropped sharply. European bankers halted all new loans and the many western industrial projects in the USSR were halted. The price drop by Saudi Arabia was encouraged by the relationship the Reagan administration had developed.
The use of U.S. competitive advantages, both economic and moral, demoralized the Soviet elite and drained their ability to pay for foreign purchases and debt repayment. The hard currency available to the Soviets had dropped by over $35 billion per year in 1986 and they had $12 billion in unexpected costs. Most of the anticipated increases did not occur and the hard currency situation was much reduced from what it was in 1980.
Comments made by Soviet officials during the Cold War and since confirm the great impact the actions of Reagan and the follow on actions by President George H.W. Bush had on ending the Cold War. Edward Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister, stated in May 1990: "The Kremlin's expansionist military first policies throughout the Cold War made our people, the country, destitute." A review of memoirs showed many former Soviet officers cited the military burden as more than the Soviet economy could bear.
(Warren Norquist is a retired corporate executive. This piece is taken from a paper, "How the United States Used Competition to Win the Cold War" he presented in October at the American Society of Competitiveness Conference in Arlington, Va. This is the second of two parts.)