Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1988 UN Speech

Why did Gorbachev choose the United Nations as his forum?

Mikhail Gorbachev chose the United Nations as his forum for his famous 1988 speech because it gave him a vantage arena whereby the whole world was the audience. Gorbachev prided himself in being a statesman who recognized that the Soviet Union’s time in the sun was over. At the time of Gorbachev’s address, the United Nations had more than one hundred member countries. Therefore, the Soviet leader was sure that this was the right stage to present his attitude-changing views. It is important to note that Soviet matters dominated global politics at the time of the leader’s address. The choice to make the address in the United Nations conference was also reiterated by the fact that the speech was meant to neutralize the prevailing ideologies at the time and the global organization supports neutrality.

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“De-ideologizing relations among states

During Gorbachev’s speech, he insisted on the need to de-ideologize relationships among nations. The call to de-ideologize international relations was mostly based on the speaker’s belief that “freedom of choice is a universal principle to which there should be no exceptions” (Gorbachev, 1988). Therefore, the Soviet leader was against the concept of having ideologies as the main basis for establishing relations between states. According to the speaker, ideologies only served the purpose of infringing on the rights and freedoms of others and suppressing creativity.

The reasoning behind these claims is that international relations should not force nations to denounce their traditions and identities. According to Gorbachev, forcing ideologies upon other people can only lead to ‘spiritual impoverishment’. In essence, the call to de-ideologize led to a shift in superpower relations. The goal was to ensure that global policies did not explicitly favor superpowers or victimize states on the basis of ideological foundations. One area that was impacted by Gorbachev’s speech was how superpowers were allowed to handle nuclear weapons. Thereafter, the world focused on solving problems instead of aligning ideologies.

Force can no longer be an instrument of foreign policy

In his speech, Gorbachev also noted that “force can no longer be an instrument of foreign policy” (Gorbachev, 1988). This statement was informed by the fact that force was often used as a substitute for influencing a country’s progress politically, economically, and scientifically. Force stands out as a tool of influence because the element of willingness does not apply to it.

Gorbachev was of the view that nations should only abide by treaties willingly, and for the benefit of their citizens. These sentiments had far-reaching implications on the Soviet bloc because they appeared to disrupt the status quo between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets became the first of these two entities to point out the hypocrisy in international relations and treaties. For example, a country like the United States was using ideologies to force other nations to reduce their weapons when it was doing the opposite (Weiss, Forsythe, & Pease, 2016).

The future role of the superpowers in the world

Gorbachev insinuated that the future role of superpowers in the world was to ensure there was a reduction in global conflicts. The leader believed that this role was achievable if the superpowers dedicated their efforts towards “putting an end to wars, confrontation and regional conflicts, aggression against nature, and political terrorism” (Gorbachev, 1988). He gave an example of the incident in which superpowers had overcome the tensions of the Cold War using their individual influences. Gorbachev believed that it was possible for superpowers to cater to the interests of other nations without interfering with their domestic and international affairs. Gorbachev’s speech and his other contributions remain as good examples of a personality who believed in the peace process.

References

Gorbachev, M. (1988). Excerpts of address presented at Gorbachev’s speech to the U.N.

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Weiss, T. G., Forsythe, D. P., & Pease, K. K. (2016). The United Nations and changing world politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1988 UN Speech'. 7 April.

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