From testimony before a House subcommittee on Feb. 25 by Martha Brill Olcott of Colgate University:

Before becoming general secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev had little firsthand experience in dealing with the non-Russian nationalities of the Soviet Union. This inexperience has proven to be quite costly. It has undermined his goals for the national regions, has hampered his economic reforms more generally and has even cast doubt on his fitness to rule the complex and diverse country that he is in charge of. . . .

Gorbachev's nationality policies have exacerbated the tensions that his political and economic reform programs have engendered in Central Asia. He is demanding that the area develop rapidly, and in ways that will aid the nation as a whole rather than the local economy, but he is not providing the manpower or the material resources necessary to do this. Nor has he found leaders who share this vision and who can effectively communicate these policies to the local population.

At the very time that he demands the maximum sacrifice from the local population he further antagonizes them by pursuing social goals that they perceive as destructive of their traditional cultures. Meanwhile, as a backdrop to life in Central Asia, the Soviet Union has fought an unpopular war in a neighboring Muslim country, and now seems likely to pull out and be replaced by an anti-Soviet regime.

It is hard to imagine a scenario more likely to produce instability in Central Asia than the one Gorbachev himself has contrived to introduce. What seems the safest course for U.S. interests is to simply sit on our hands and watch while the drama unfolds, less we inadvertently do anything to allow Moscow to successfully reassert control.