Reagan Needed Gorby to Succeed in Ending the Cold War





Marshall Goldman, in the Boston Globe (June 8, 2004):

IF THERE WAS EVER AN ODD COUPLE IN WORLD AFFAIRS, IT WAS RONALD REAGAN AND MIKHAIL GORBACHEV. WHEN THEY FIRST MET IN GENEVA IN NOVEMBER 1985, THE WORLD HELD ITS BREATH. COULD THEY EVEN BE CIVIL TO EACH OTHER?

There was President Reagan, one of the most unabashed proponents of capitalism and democracy and critic of the evil empire of the Soviet Union. As for General Secretary Gorbachev, he was one of the most dedicated believers in Communist Party ideology and an outspoken opponent of NATO and the capitalist world. Yet within five years, together they brought an end to the Cold War and became friends and welcome heroes in each other's capitals.

At the time, particularly during the first few years of Reagan's presidency, it was hard to believe that there could be any such result. Reagan made clear his contempt for the Soviet Union and all that it stood for.

To him, the Soviet Union was evil incarnate. There was no doubt in his mind that the Soviets were intent on dominating Western Europe just as they dominated Eastern Europe and as they were trying to do in Afghanistan. He announced early on that he would not stand by idly and allow the Soviet Union to continue its expansion. But to do this, the United States would have to take some important and costly steps.

In his view, the United States had fallen behind the Soviet Union in military terms. It was foolhardy, he declared, to negotiate with the Soviets until the United States could match them as equals. This meant a major arms buildup, the installation of Pershing II missiles in Germany, and the creation of a "Star Wars" missile defense system.

In Soviet eyes, this was a serious threat not only because the Soviet Union could not afford such a race but because if the "Star Wars" system could succeed in intercepting incoming Soviet missiles, the United States would feel free to attack the Soviets and they would be unable to retaliate. This would bring an end to the whole system of mutually assured destruction. Neither country would dare attack the other because it would be destroyed in retaliation. With a "Star Wars" system, the United States could do as it pleased without fear of such a Soviet response.

It may well have been the case that "Star Wars" would never have worked, but the Soviets could not be sure. What they did know is that Reagan had been heard off microphone saying that he was about to bomb the Kremlin. To them this was no joke. Yuri Andropov, the general secretary from 198384 and the former head of the KGB, decided to call Reagan's bluff and suspended all arms control discussions. My Soviet friends have confessed that they firmly anticipated a preemptive nuclear strike from the United States. In their minds, we were close to nuclear war....


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