WASHINGTON -- It's official: The Cold War is over.
Without hoopla, Congress last week passed the Friendship Act. Borrowing from Russia's tradition of rewriting history books, the act renounces the very idea of an arch-enemy that President Ronald Reagan once called the Evil Empire and repeals laws that even suggest an adversarial relationship between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
In its place, Congress embraced what the legislation calls the Emerging New Democracies and removed laws, regulations or policies that served to impede normal relations between them and Washington.
Struck from the legal record are yellowed references to the "worldwide communist conspiracy" found in the Internal Security Act of 1950. Gone are allusions to "international communism and the countries it controls" in the Foreign Assistance Act, along with condemnations of Soviet slave labor in the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988.
Disavowed is the primary goal of post-World War II foreign policy, defeat "communism or communist-supported aggression."
But Congress insists that it is not following in Stalin's footsteps. The purpose of the act, the legislation itself states, is not to
"rewrite or erase history, or to forget those who suffered in the past from the injustices or repression of communist regimes in the Soviet Union." Rather, it says, the aim is to "update United States law to reflect changed international circumstances."
Still, the act is largely symbolic, a first step in a process of regulatory review. The United States is now engaged in discussions of how best to reform the apparatus controlling sensitive exports in light of the new relationship with the nations formed after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Robert Legvold, an expert on Russia at the Harriman Institute of Columbia University, called the Friendship Act a "Good Housekeeping seal of approval." He said the United States had been "too tardy in moving in this direction," especially in the area of trade.