Nixon and Gorbachev

Here’s a bit of Cold War role reversal for you:

Which US president cancelled America’s offensive biological weapons program? Richard Nixon, in 1969, three years before the Biological Weapons Convention.

Which Soviet premier ordered Biopreparat, the Soviet bioweapon program, to weaponize smallpox? Mikhail Gorbachev, in the Five Year Plan launched in December 1987. He also ordered the production of mobile production centres for biological weapons, to try to retain such offensive capabilities despite inspections of suspected bioweapon facilities.

For me, at least, this sits awkwardly with my general perceptions of the two men: Nixon the amoral schemer and Gorbachev the unintending architect of the end of the Communist system.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

6 thoughts on “Nixon and Gorbachev”

  1. This seems quite shallow to me. All global leaders are a-moral schemers. Sometimes their a-moral scheming is, for public relations reasons, apparently moral. Sometimes it is too abhorrent to white (or green) wash. Even if this wasn’t true, no single particular thing a leader does means much at all – events need to be interpreted in context.

  2. Actually, I think this example demonstrates how cultural relativism is not fully appropriate when considering the Cold War.

    Even the very worst Western leaders often made more humane choices than the very best Soviet leaders.

  3. Of course not, but the general case of biological weapons seems illustrative.

    The Soviets developed them in enormous quantities, at considerable risk to their own population (see: Sverdlovsk anthrax leak) and the world as a whole. Their secret labs were built using slave labour, in violation of international agreements they signed and ratified.

    All told, it makes Western states look pretty good by comparison.

  4. Good is not “by comparison”. And if it were, “good by comparison” is not a reason to accept hypocrisy or lies.

  5. During the Cold War, both sides clearly did some illegal and immoral things. That said, the Soviet record seems far worse in pretty much all the ways that are really important: from the treatment of their citizens and allies to their adherence to international law.

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