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The End of a War

The Cold War winds down

The following article is reprinted from the Associated Press after political changes in communist Poland and Hungary in 1989.

by James McCartney/Associated Press

For more than 40 years U.S. relations with the world have been founded on a single imperative: the containment of communism. Now, fear of that enemy is declining as the communist world goes through economic and political upheaval.

Meanwhile, the United States' traditional friends in Asia and western Europe have become our fierce economic competitors, threatening American jobs and the American standard of living.

All of this presents vital questions to America's leaders. If communism is no longer the enemy, what is ? And if a wide array of U.S. political, military and economic policies founded on the communist threat are no longer adequate in this fast-changing world, on what principles should our relations with other nations be based?

Every working day, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Fred Mason, 29, of Baldwinsville, N.Y., peers through field glasses near the Fulda Gap, in West Germany, on guard for a Soviet tank attack that would signal World War III.

Sixty feet below the plains of North Dakota, near Grand Forks, 2d Lt. Rick Peterson, 24, of Perrysberg, Ohio, sits in a concrete silo ready to fire 30 nuclear warheads at the Soviet Union.

At the McDonnell Aircraft Co. in St. Louis, Kim Osecki, 27, of Florissant, Mo., prowls the F-ISE fighter plane assembly line, searching for structural flaws.

This is the world as Americans have known it for more than 40 years. The Soviets are the enemy. The goal is survival.

It is the world on which the economy has been built, defense strategy mapped, politics fought, budgets planned and psychology firmly based. Now, in the words of President Bush, "There is an opportunity before us to shape a new world."

Mikhail Gorbachev, facing urgent economic problems, has launched the Soviet Union on a new path away from military and political confrontation with the United States and its Western allies. He has withdrawn forces from Afghanistan; made peace in Angola and Mozambique; announced huge cuts in his defense budget; pledged unilateral reductions of 500,000 troops and 500 short-range nuclear weapons; and stopped military aid to Nicaragua.

After four decades of stone-faced, table-pounding Soviet leaders promising to bury the West, the United States is up against one of the world's most popular politicians offering a reassuring hand of cooperation, peaceful trade and a pullback from the brink of war.

Suddenly, U.S. leaders are confronting what may be this country's biggest challenge of the coming decade -- the challenge of peace. Peace is what everyone wants, but it means hard decisions and painful adjustments for millions of Americans. Kim Osecki could lose her job if defense budgets are reduced. Sgt. Miller may no longer be able to look in a single direction for threats to U.S. security. The missiles Lt. Peterson tends will not deter new adversaries, such as Japan, whose threat is economic, not military.

Some experts think the challenge of peace offers Americans an opportunity, not a moment too soon, to turn national energies toward more productive pursuits--away from building ever-deadlier weapons, for example, and toward better, more competitive consumer products.

"Our principle problems are no longer with East-West" relations with the Soviet Union, "they are West-West relations with allies in Europe and Japan, says Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. "The real gut issues of the next decade will rest on an ability to manage trade," he says.

"The battleground of the future is going to be economic, not military," says Fred Branfman, a director of Rebuild America, an economic research group. "We not only have competitors, but we are in danger of becoming--we may already be--the world's number two industrial power for the first time since Henry Ford invented the assembly line....The key to maintaining strong living standards and our way of life will be revitalizing our economic base.... We are falling behind badly."

But others fear the United States may, in fact, lose by dropping its military guard just as it has won victory in its long struggle to contain the Soviets. To them, the challenge of peace is to keep our defenses strong through an uncertain transition period.

White house officials state flatly that no consideration is being given to major defense spending cuts and that none are anticipated for many years, despite improved relations with the Soviet Union.

Says Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney: "I think it is very important that we maintain our current level of effort, not reduce our vigilance, not reduce our allocation of resources, until we see fundamental reductions in Soviet military capability.

"It'd be a big mistake for us now to run out and unilaterally cut the budget in the hopes that all of this comes to pass. There's always the possibility that something could go haywire."

That relatively conservative view is buttressed by powerful social and economic forces in this country. Spending for defense has produced a national way of life. Every part of the economy is affected. More than 8 million Americans are involved in the defense business in one way or another.

"These 8 million Americans have a vested interest in keeping the Cold War going," says retired Adm. Gene LaRocque, head of the Center for Defense Information, a privately supported think tank. "Big money is at stake. Your talking about careers, reputations, jobs," says former Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis "You're talking about towns that fight for military bases, big corporations that fight for profits, generals that fight for stars, labor unions that fight for jobs, service industries that do business near military installations."

Whether they argue caution or bold new departures, most U.S. foreign policy experts agree that there are fundamental changes under way in the world order.

Gorbachev has acknowledged the failure of communism to provide a decent life for its people. And he has begun to radically alter communism and its face around the world.

"A truly monumental historical change has occurred ... a watershed.... Before our very eyes communism is dying," says Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser.

Economist Robert Heilbruner observes: "Less than 75 years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over; capitalism has won."