Douglas Gillies
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an interview with


President Mikhail Gorbachev



General Secretary, Polit Bureau of the Soviet Union (1985-1991)

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 1990

President, Green Cross International 1992 - present

Mikhail Gorbachev was interviewed by Douglas Gillies at the Washington Hilton one week after the State of the World Forum, hosted by the Gorbachev Foundation/USA in San Francisco.

Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 Douglas Gillies: What most concerns me is a comment by Ted Turner. He said that our chances of making it are less than 50-50.

Mikhail Gorbachev: You mean when he spoke about the environment?

Douglas Gillies: Yes, and the population.

Mikhail Gorbachev: Indeed. I think probably this conclusion is not just his conclusion, his analysis. He is basing it on the analysis of scientists. Here in Washington in the autumn of 1992, 1500 scientists, including more than 100 Nobel Prize winners, expressed the view that if things continue in a "business as usual" mode and the current tendencies are not halted and if production patterns do not change, then within 30-40 years, they said, changes in the biosphere will begin to be irreversible. So I think that when he said we have a less than 50-50 chance, he was basing it on that conclusion.

Given that historically, not just from the standpoint of eternity but from the standpoint of history, 30-40 years is just a moment, one has to be very active and vigorous in our actions in order to meet the challenges of the environment and to change our way of life. This is not easy, because we are feeding a world population of over 6 billion people. If you look at the population challenge, you understand that you cannot use Malthusian methods and you cannot say that wars are useful because they reduce the population of the world. This is unacceptable. You also cannot have forced sterilization. That too is unacceptable. Women and men will not accept it because of their thinking and their religious feelings. So you can only go by way of cultural education, medical education, and general education. It will take money -- a lot less than was consumed by the arms race. We have to begin now because a revolution in the minds of men and women will make them understand that the Earth cannot carry this kind of increasing burden.

When I spoke at the State Of The World Forum in San Francisco, I said that it's not just technology that will save us. We had a dialogue with Carl Sagan and then with Margaret Thatcher. I said that we need the technologies. New technologies are absolutely necessary. Otherwise we would find our civilization in a trap -- not just some kind of detour but a trap. That will be very dangerous for the human race. We need new technologies, but they are not enough.The population problem and our way of life, our patterns of consumption, all of that must change. All of us must change. We have to be more modest. We have to be more prudent and more responsible. We have to show more solidarity towards each other.

We cannot accept a situation whereby the resources and everything in the world will be distributed in a way that makes the rich countries even richer. Given the constraints on our resources, the poor will become even poorer and they will die of disease and hunger. Solidarity is absolutely necessary. Some regulation of this process is necessary. Therefore, I said that in the United Nations we need some effective structures, bodies that would address environmental problems, not just at the national but at the international level. We also need an Earth Charter that would provide guidelines for human beings and the principles that will then be implemented through national legislation and by means of culture, with the help of the media. The media is instrumental here. I believe that perhaps our salvation lies in this.

We have very little time; little or no time. We are late already, perhaps 25 years late in addressing these problems. Our civilization has given the world a great deal but it has brought the world to a global environmental crisis. We cannot continue business as usual. We must adjust to the new environmental challenges.

Douglas Gillies: Where do you find your optimism and your hope to work so hard on behalf of this?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Well, what I know -- based not on my own analysis but on the analysis of outstanding scientists -- the synthesis of that information makes me hopeful that we will be able, as happened several times in history, to unite our efforts. We united to defeat Nazism despite all our differences, despite mistrust and suspicions. We acted together. This is perhaps an even more terrible threat.

—from the documentary "On the Edge--a wake-up call."

I was one of those who participated in ending the Nuclear Arms Race. We started the process of destroying nuclear weapons that also threatened the Human Race. Of course, the continuation of the arms race would have resulted in the accumulation of so many weapons that they could perhaps blow up or fire someday, even without the politicians. Sometimes systems break down. That could create an avalanche. We prevented that. We ended the Cold War.This means that we can do it, this is our experience. This is not something done by someone else. This is something done by our generation.

But in order to address the new challenges, we need a policy that would be consistent with these new tasks, a policy that looks at the problems of self-interest. Of course, national domestic problems have to be addressed because they're important for the human beings living today in their countries and their governments are responsible for helping them. But we should also think about what is going to happen in 10 years. What is going to happen if we don't address global problems? Therefore there is a new dimension in politics today and new criteria in politics today, such as understanding the environmental challenge and acting upon it.

So we need consistent policies. Of course, such policies will emerge if a philosophical revolution happens, a revolution in the minds of women and men, a revolution that would shape global environmental consciousness, a revolution that would change our scale of values. We have to rethink many things and we have to do it together. Therefore I am hopeful that we can act. I disagree with those who think that things will take care of themselves in some way and eventually the pendulum will swing back. This I do not believe. What is happening today is a process, a kind of tendency that can undermine the very fundamentals of human civilization. If we understand that then we can act. We can stimulate positive efforts; we can stimulate positive tendencies and we can stop the destructive tendencies. Let me say once again, that time is very short. It's shrinking.

Douglas Gillies: Do you see signs of this revolution in thinking beginning to occur?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Yes, I do. All revolutions began with debate; began with predictions, forecasts, declarations. Sometimes terrible scenarios were first discussed prior to the sharp turns in human history. There was always a revolution in thinking. This time I believe we can say that this awareness is beginning to emerge. We do have many environmental organizations, movements. Many governments have adopted legislation or are adopting such legislation.

I became president of Green Cross International at the request of more than 100 international organizations who met in Rio De Janeiro parallel to the Earth Summit. Given my experience in creating this organization, I can see how people are responding. Green Cross organizations have been created in more than 20 countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Swaziland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela. More than 40 countries have applied to become members of our movement, so something important is happening in the minds of people. Now that we have ended the Cold War, the environment has occupied its rightful place. It's the number one priority for the next century, the environmental challenge, the environmental imperative as I would call it.

Douglas Gillies: It seems that what's needed is greater determination and will power to move more strenuously in the right direction. Are there any keys that would help us to heighten the sense of urgency?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Well, it worries me. I believe that the period of rethinking the opportunities following the end of the Cold War, this period has been too long. I believe that there is an overly long gap between the challenges and the opportunities. We understand the challenges. We see the opportunities of uniting our effort and if you look at politics, something very strange is happening. Instead of moving with determination to unite our efforts and to create mechanisms for this unification, some people are questioning the United Nations. Of course we can debate the United Nations because we need to enhance the effectiveness of that body. But some of my partners in that debate indicated that the United Nations is not the kind of organization that we need. If you don't like the United Nations as it exists today, with the current rights and powers, let us create a new United Nations that would be consistent with the new times when the confrontation has ended.

When we are no longer facing confrontation, let us create a new United Nations and effective regional security and cooperation systems. I think that you are right and this should be a concern to all of us. When you suggest that politicians are moving too slowly or not at all and when policy-making is not moving forward, it means that we will have a reversal. We will be thrown back to the past. If we're not ready to act in a new way based on the new ground rules and new mechanisms, then we go back to the old methods.

Some people are discussing who should control the world or have leadership in the world. I believe leadership should belong to the United Nations. One country cannot guide the world. God, itself, when he created the world, gave men and women the right to control their behavior and actions. Similarly, in the world, one nation--the United States, China, or Russia--cannot guide the world. Of course, major nations have a major responsibility, a major role to play because they are big nations. But the United Nations must be an active organization. The existing systems -- the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and others -- their role should be rethought given the current problems. Look at the environment. There is very little at the global level in terms of institutions to address those problems. So policy making is lagging behind and this is dangerous.

Douglas Gillies: There seems to be a new branch of government, or decision-making emerging--the non-governmental organizations. The State of the World Forum was an NGO. NGOs at Rio and in Beijing exerted a very strong influence. Are we seeing a new type of organization emerging in the NGOs?

Mikhail Gorbachev: There isn't any doubt about it and I welcome this. In countries where there are established democracies, you have the rule of law, you have civil society, and the state. The government leaves many areas to regulation and interaction by various corporate, non-governmental and other associations. Those are important institutions for civil society. I believe that the increasing role of non-governmental organizations is very important.

Currently a global civil society is beginning to emerge. In addition to governments and inter-governmental organizations, public movements, social movements, forums, foundations, conferences, organizations are becoming more and more important. That is why I suggested that we create an independent brain trust that would work regardless of election campaigns and political rivalries and would serve the truth. Today, we meet to find the truth, to understand what is happening to us. Without that, we will not be able to build a program for the future. I am very pleased that you asked this question because I am in favor of enhancing the role of such associations. The more the role of such associations grows both nationally and internationally, the faster we're going to move towards meeting these global challenges and coping with them.

Douglas Gillies: In your book, you speak of the need to renounce selfishness and the attempt to outsmart each other, to take unfair advantage. That is the most challenging issue of all. How do we overcome our history as selfish people and work for the common good?

Mikhail Gorbachev: You are right. I believe this is exactly what we should be doing. We addressed this in the beginning of our conversation. I am referring again to the need to alter our consciousness, our thinking. We have to understand that we live on one Earth and isolationism is a dangerous concept. If we equip ourselves with this kind of thinking, we will be paralyzed. Our need for international cooperation will be paralyzed at a time when we need international cooperation, when it's five minutes to midnight.

So I believe in mobilizing the possibilities available to the media, to education, to culture, by cultivating such values as mutual help, sympathy, solidarity, these Christian, these Buddhist, these Islamic values. All religions emphasize these values. The time has come when this vision should replace the old, hedonistic thinking. We are interdependent. If things are bad around us, things will be bad for us. I have to emphasize this and I hope that this talk will be delivered to the people.

Of course, we cannot compel people. We cannot have some kind of compulsive redistribution, but there has to be some sharing of technology and education--helping people in other countries to use technology, not handouts, not soup-kitchens. That is humiliating, something to be done only in extreme situations. We need to help people who are hungry but we also need to address the root problem. We should give technology to countries. Malaysia, Korea, China are now developing rapidly. They used to be backward countries. Instead of redistribution in a Communist way, forcible redistribution, you have to produce and the key to production is technology.

We should also understand that the emphasis on consumerism should be abandoned, particularly the consumption of material things rather than spiritual values, rather than cultural values. Life is not just a feeding trough.

—from the documentary "On the Edge--a wake-up call."

Douglas Gillies: You touched on the use of force. In your book you write about the "cult of force." We see a decentralization of violence, but it seems to be more pervasive. How do you deal with that? How do individuals choose to renounce violence to solve problems?

Mikhail Gorbachev: I think this is an interesting observation. During the Cold War, we had major conflicts. We had hotbeds of tensions in international politics. The two alliances -- our countries -- fueled that race and fueled those conflicts with more explosive material. Then when we started cooperating toward the end of the Cold War, we were able to put out most of those fires and we even began a peace conference in the Middle East. It was very difficult to imagine that would ppen, but it is happening.

Also, after the Cold War we have seen many international conflicts, ethnic conflicts. That, I think, is also the result of our policy making, our politicians lagging behind. During the Cold War, many conflicts accumulated within nations or in borderline areas. All of this was suppressed by the discipline of alliances. All of that is now resurfacing and we have to address all of those multiple problems. Very often we were not able to see all those latent conflicts, to really become aware of those conflicts in the initial phase, when the conflicts had not yet exploded. That is the time, when the conflicts are still latent, when we can do a great deal to stop those conflicts.

Douglas Gillies: What changed as a result of the State of the World Forum?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Well, I think that the Forum has given a major impetus that should be sustained. In my concluding remarks, I said that we should spread the word about the Forum and make public what happened. Let the various think tanks and business communities know about what happened. This represented the view of many organizations and people from 50 countries who now have agreed on many urgent issues affecting our civilization at the threshold of the 21st century. We will send a summation of the most important points of agreement and also to create the brain trust that I suggested.

Being a realist, I don't want to sound euphoric but I feel that the San Francisco Forum has sent an important, good message. I want people to think about that message. I believe that people returning to their countries from the Forum will speak out and that will stimulate regional and national activities of a similar kind. That will affect politicians and policy making -- I hope so. I'm an optimist.


Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev © Concensus Designs, Inc. For permission to reprint portions of this interview, please contact East Beach® Productions.


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