Hoover.org, Stanford, California, on April 11, 2016, reported on a roundtable discussion in memory of Harry Rowen. The nonviolent resolution of the Cold War owed much to the Reagan administration’s work to bring about a peaceful regime change from within the Soviet Union. Reagan based his strategy on an insight from Hoover Institution senior fellow Henry R. “Harry” Rowen, who showed that beyond the Soviet veneer of military power laid an exhausted economy and unstable regime that could be pushed over the brink of collapse. Can Reagan’s strategy be applied to the Soviet Union’s modern authoritarian counterparts? Or are today’s rogue regimes too different for meaningful parallels to be drawn? Excerpts below:
According to Hoover Institution visiting fellow Yuri Yarim-Agaev, a native of Russia, a former Soviet dissident, and an authority on international human rights, Cold War diplomacy isn’t only relevant today, it’s crucial for dealing with modern threats in the international arena.
Hoover dedicated the panel to the memory of Harry Rowen, who helped Yarim-Agaev develop the roundtable before his death in November 2015 at age ninety. Rowen, whose research papers are in the Hoover Archives, would have added much to the conversation. He was an expert in international relations and economic development and served as chair of the National Intelligence Council under President Regan, as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President George H.W. Bush, and later on the Secretary of Defense Policy Advisory Board and the Presidential Commission on Intelligence of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. In his opening remarks, Yarim-Agaev praised Rowen as “a good friend and a very profound mind”;
Excerpts from some of the participating panelists are presented below:
Yuri Yarim-Agaev offered a methodical approach to the topic, explaining key general characteristics common to authoritarian regimes, including intrinsic opposition to US interests. As a result, according to Yarim-Agaev, regime change is the only viable solution to security threats from rogue actors. He argues that Ronald Reagan’s strategy for fostering peaceful change from within was proven effective during the Cold War and is an equally viable strategy for dealing with contemporary authoritarian regimes.
Secretary George P. Shultz’s work alongside Ronald Reagan in crafting Cold War strategy and negotiating with Soviet leaders adds a valuable firsthand dimension to the discussion. Shultz outlines President Reagan’s diplomatic “playbook”: execute against your word, be realistic, lay a strong hand, and know your agenda, illustrated with personal stories from his experience in executive office. He also applied these lessons to current US relations with Iran and China, demonstrating a troubling deviation of today’s diplomacy from tested strategic principles.
Kori Schake introduces economics to the discussion, describing effectively targeted sanctions as one of the most powerful diplomatic tools available to policy makers. She attributes the Reagan administration’s success in Cold War negotiations to pragmatism, including open lines of communication, recognizing opportunities for advancing the US agenda, building partnerships in the international community, and supporting ideological allies within rogue states. She also emphasizes the United States’ soft power as an intellectual influence on the world’s elites as a promising force for change.
Abraham D. Sofaer argued that Reagan’s Cold War strategy offers important lessons for contemporary US policy toward Iran, despite Reagan’s failure to apply those lessons in his own negotiations with the Iranian regime. Recounting five principles from Reagan and Shultz’s diplomatic work with the Soviet Union, Sofaer shows how parties opposite the table can be effectively engaged without losing focus on the US agenda.
Abbas Milani focused on Iran but paints a more complex picture of a state divided, with movements toward reform and international engagement clashing against authoritarian elements within the government. Stressing understanding a regime as a crucial prerequisite to effective strategy, Milani calls for targeted US policy toward Iran that bolsters movements for change and undermines support for the status quo.
Comment: One can only agree with Yarim-Agaev that the only viable solution to the problem of rogue nations is regime change. Yarim-Agaev is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, as well as a scientist and human rights activist. He has a degree in 1972 from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and later worked at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1980 he was forced into exile.
On his arrival in the United States, Yarim-Agaev continued his professional work in physics at MIT, Stanford University, and Bellcore; he later worked in financial analytics at Bankers Trust and Deutsche Bank in New York.
Continuing his work in human rights activities, Yarim-Agaev founded the Center for Democracy in the USSR in 1984. This New York–based organization provided support to dissidents in the USSR, aided by the National Endowment for Democracy and various American foundations.
By the end of the 1980s, Yarim-Agaev, along with Vladimir Bukovsky and Paruir Hairikyan, created Democracy and Independence, an organization devoted to promoting the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union into new independent states. The organization held international conferences in Paris (1989) and Prague (1990), at which dissidents and new democrats from the various Soviet republics began the discussing how power might be reallocated at the end of communism.
Yarim-Agaev continues his involvement in human rights issues around the world and his professional work in science and finance. His recent publications deal with the failure of democracy in Russia and the situation in Iraq and North Korea.
Based on his long time work for democracy and human rights in Russia Yarim-Agaev is a highly qualified guide in matters of how the West ought to treat rogue regimes. He clearly demonstrates the danger of present policies in relation to Iran. The Obama agreement with Tehran has strengthened the regime. The lack of official American support for the opposition in Iran has strengthened the regime and is a growing threat to Israel. The present American “soft policy” in relation to Cuba is only strengthening the regime of Raul Castro in Havana. The Chinese support of the North Korean regime is an indication that the long term policy of the West must be regime change in both countries.