“Many people have misinterpreted how we ended the Cold War.”
That was the overarching message of ASU’s 2018 E. James Holland – Roy A. Harrell Foreign Affairs Speakers Program, which this year highlighted the current relationship between the United State and Russia.
Dr. Jack Matlock, former ambassador and senior director for European and Soviet affairs on the National Security Council, headlined this year’s program. During his 35-year Foreign Service career, Matlock spent 11 years in the Soviet Union, including a stint from 1987-91 as the U.S. ambassador.
“I was invited by the Reagan administration in 1983 to come to Washington and develop a negotiating strategy to end the Arm’s Race,” he said. “Then I had the luck of being assigned ambassador to the Soviet Union to try to implement some of the policies I helped develop.”
“We ended the Cold War by negotiation to the benefit of both sides,” Matlock continued. “To say we won, implying the other side lost, is incorrect. Coming out of it, the Soviet Union broke up because of internal pressure, not external pressure, and not as a favor to us.”
During his public lecture titled “The Cold War with Russia? How Did We Get Here?,” Matlock addressed the ending of the Cold War and how misunderstanding of how it ended has led to our current contentious relationship with Russia.
“Relations with Russia today look as if it’s a Cold War,” he explained. “There is no good reason for that whatsoever.”
“I hope they [students] take away a basic understanding that in dealing with other countries, we have to be respectful of the interests other countries have. Try to have some understanding of others. You aren’t always right, particularly when you’re talking about their politics.”
Matlock began his presentation by addressing the current investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 general election. He then proceeded to break down several myths regarding the ending of the Cold War and then trace the relationship between the U.S. and Russia through former presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.
“Many of these myths gave rise to the false notion that American power could transform other nations,” Matlock said. “We seem to draw a conclusion that we have the secret for proper society everywhere and that as the only remaining superpower, it’s our obligation in effect to police the world, to rule the world. I think that’s incorrect. I think it doesn’t just do the world a disservice, it does us a disservice.”
“The whole concept of superpower as giving one country the power to change another is misplaced,” he added. “If we’re a superpower, it’s because of our destructive power, and Russia still has a comparable destructive power. If you want to do it on the basis of how much one can destroy, there are still two superpowers in the world, and to make an enemy of one of them is hardly rational.”
Besides his public lecture, Matlock met with students throughout the day, including a luncheon with members of ASU’s Honors Program.
“I think it’s extremely important for those of us who have gone through a pretty turbulent period in our lifetime to share our experiences with students,” Matlock said. “I find that interactions with both graduate students and undergraduates is important. Getting their point of view, their questions, and then being able to discuss with them the conclusions I’ve drawn from my experience.”
“I hope they take away a basic understanding that in dealing with other countries, we have to be respectful of the interests other countries have,” he added. “There is nothing automatic for mankind about our form of democracy. Try to have some understanding of others. You aren’t always right, particularly when you’re talking about their politics.”