Nixon and Gorbachev


in Bombs and rockets, Law, Politics, Security

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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan June 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm

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.

Milan June 6, 2010 at 11:56 pm

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.

Tristan June 7, 2010 at 12:04 pm

If that is true, it is not established by any single example.

Milan June 7, 2010 at 12:10 pm

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.

Tristan June 7, 2010 at 12:22 pm

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

Milan June 7, 2010 at 12:27 pm

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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