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A Strategy to Win or to End the Cold War?

He lets me come closer than anyone else, but there are times when even I feel that barrier. Charles Wick, his longtime friend and head of the U. Of course, Reagan had a set of strong convictions that he preached for most of his long career as a spokesman for General Electric, as governor of California, as an aspirant for the highest office in the land, and as president.

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He revered free enterprise and abhorred big government. He wanted to cut taxes and catalyze private entrepreneurship. He adored the city on the hill and detested the evil empire. But things got complicated for his advisers when they learned that he also yearned for peace, detested nuclear weapons, thought mutually assured destruction MAD was itself mad, feared that nuclear war would lead to Armageddon, and embraced compromise. When trade-offs were necessary, when priorities needed to be agreed upon, when complicated options needed to be resolved, Reagan was opaque.

Those directives, formulated in and early , outline a strategy: build strength, constrain and contract Soviet expansion, nurture change within the Soviet empire to the extent possible , and negotiate. These interpretations by sophisticated scholars such as Hal Brands, William Inboden, and John Gaddis appear, at first glance, persuasive.

There were sharp differences of opinion, Matlock subsequently wrote,. All recognized that the Soviet leaders faced mounting problems, but understood that U. President Reagan was in favor of bringing pressure to bear on the Soviet Union, but his objective was to induce the Soviet leaders to negotiate reasonable agreements, not to break up the country. These senior officials outlined the key goals: reduce the use and threat of force in international disputes, lower armaments, establish minimal levels of trust with the hope of verifying past agreements, and effectuating progress on human rights, confidence-building measures, and bilateral ties.

They also agreed that they should pursue a policy of realism, strength, and negotiation. So, what should one conclude? Shultz had presented his own memorandum to the president on Soviet-U. Was there a strategy to win the Cold War? Or was there a strategy to end the Cold War?

While pondering these questions, one should consider two of the most famous quotes and stories about Reagan and the Cold War. Thomas Reed, a special assistant to Reagan for national security and a former secretary of the Air Force, narrates the other story. Reed goes on to emphasize that Reagan believed that the way to end the Cold War was by winning it. Was there, in fact, a strategy to win the Cold War, as many triumphalists claim, or was there instead a strategy to end the Cold War? What would it have taken to win the Cold War rather than end it?

The Last Superpower Summits

Would each involve different approaches, goals, and tactics, or would they overlap? What assumptions would shape the pursuit of one or the other? In a series of interviews conducted by the Miller Center, leading officials in the Reagan administration were asked whether Reagan had a strategy. Clark said yes. Richard Allen implied that such a strategy existed.

Things worked out. Indeed, the results were breathtaking.

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In fact, George Shultz said that Reagan did not have a strategy to spend the Soviets into the ground. Shultz reiterated the points that he and Matlock had outlined in realism, strength, negotiation. James Baker pretty much agreed with Weinberger, stressing that the president was a pragmatic compromiser. Adelman, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, acknowledged that he personally had never believed that the Cold War would end. Nor did he think that the United States could bankrupt the Kremlin. But, Adelman concluded, it is what Reagan accomplished that counts.

So, what did Reagan actually do, and what precisely mattered? A few years ago, Paul Wolfowitz contributed an essay to a volume on post-Cold War strategy that began with an anecdote about a young Russian who visited Dick Cheney in , when he was secretary of defense. The man explained how Reagan had won the Cold War, saying that the Russians thought they were invincible until Reagan plowed ahead with the stealth bomber B-2 and with SDI. At that point, according to the young man, the Russians knew they could not compete unless they changed.

Critics of this viewpoint, and I am one of them, need to be honest: Many similar quotations from Soviet officials and military people attest to this perspective. I do not believe that the anti-Communist, anti-Soviet rhetoric and the increase in the armaments and military power of the United States played a serious role in our decision-making. I think perhaps they played no role whatsoever. Anatoly Dobrynin, the longtime Soviet ambassador to the United States who returned to the Kremlin in to lead the international department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, agreed totally with Chernyaev.

Everything was driven by departmental and careerist concerns. Many of the most renowned historians of Soviet leaders and Kremlin decision-making similarly disagree that SDI and the U.

The Reagan Doctrine: To Wipe Out Communism

While not discounting its salience, Service stresses that Gorbachev eventually decided to ignore the Strategic Defense Initiative. He would not build a Soviet Star Wars. He averted another massive weapons competition. What then did Reagan do that made a real difference? Shultz says it was the combination of strength, realism, and negotiation. Adelman says it was the unique combination of seeking arms cuts, building strength, championing SDI, and delegitimizing the Soviet Union. Although U. Recall that the U. Although the new literature persuasively shows that Reagan and his advisers deserve credit for their shift to democracy promotion and support for human rights, one should not forget that when Reagan left office, it was Gorbachev who drew wildly enthusiastic crowds wherever he went abroad — not Reagan, who was tarnished from the Iran-Contra affair.

The Soviet system lost its legitimacy not because of the U. Even before Gorbachev took office his comrades grasped that their system was faltering and required a radical overhaul. Gorbachev infused conviction, energy, and chaos into efforts to remake and revive socialism. He knew the system was stagnating. Indeed, this was evident around the world, as China embarked on a new trajectory and as country after country moved away from command systems and statist controls.

Reagan deserves credit for understanding these trends and extolling them. In his recent book, Hal Brands brilliantly assesses the ability of Reagan administration officials to capitalize on globalization, technological change, the communications transformation, and the electronics revolution. Shultz emphasizes negotiation. To say that Reagan wanted to negotiate is far too facile.

Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War / Edition 1

He fiercely wanted to talk to Soviet leaders from his first days in office. He was scripted to say:. I bring with me a message of peace. We know this is a time of difficulty; we would like it to be a time of opportunity. We know that some of the things we do and say sound threatening and hostile to you. The same is true for us.

The two governments needed to transcend that distrust. It is the path of negotiation. To say that Reagan wanted to negotiate trivializes his approach. You are starting your term as general secretary. Ronald Reagan is starting his second term as president. President Reagan is ready to work with you. He was ready. He thought the Soviet Union was an economic basket case.

The Reagan Legacy: The End of the Cold War

They are part of the puzzle, important parts. Yet they were present at other times during the Cold War, and it had neither ended nor been won. What was different now? It was his sensibility, empathy, conviction, skill, charm, and self-confidence. Learning that the Soviets were insecure and genuinely frightened, he tried to insert this understanding in his handwritten letters to Chernenko before the Soviet leader died. This empathy subsequently infused his meetings with Gorbachev.

Although Reagan wanted armaments to cast shadows and bolster his negotiating posture, he also grasped Soviet perceptions of SDI. The deliberations of the National Security Council after do not reveal officials designing a strategy to win the Cold War, break up the Soviet Union, or eradicate communism.

Instead, they reveal officials who were struggling to shape a negotiating strategy that would effectuate arms reductions.


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They reveal a president pushing hard for real arms cuts. They reveal a president who feared nuclear war, believed in SDI, and wanted to share it. They reveal a president who desired to abolish nuclear weapons. President, that would be the most massive technical transfer the Western world has ever known. We have to do something now. Reagan was not very good at getting his advisers to do things they bickered over or did not want to do. But Reagan was good, indeed superb, at dealing with people.

Moscow succumbed, and democracy proved victorious. This book challenges the conventional wisdom regarding the Reagan administration's role in ending the cold war. It contends that Washington did not merely respond to changes within the Soviet Union. In fact, the Reagan administration began seeking a rapprochement with the Kremlin before the Soviets began to reform. The White House switched to a more conciliatory policy toward Moscow in January —fifteen months before Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union, and more than two years before the introduction of glasnost and perestroika.

As will be detailed, the Reagan administration's stated policy toward Moscow was especially hard-line through October On October 31 Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Dam delivered a speech on superpower relations that epitomized the administration's early position toward Moscow. Dam contended that East and West were engaged in a zero-sum competition for spheres of influence.

The Soviet Union posed the most immediate threat to U. Dam declared that the primary aim of U. Only ten weeks later, however, Washington reversed course. On January 16, , President Reagan delivered an address on superpower relations that proved to be the turning point in his administration's approach to the Kremlin.

With this speech, Reagan began seeking a rapprochement. The president expressed a more nuanced understanding of the superpower relationship, and introduced new policy goals and strategies. In sharp contrast to Dam's remarks two months earlier, he played down the ideological differences between the two capitals, and spoke at length about the superpowers' "common interests. Reagan warned of the dangers of war, and declared that the United States posed no threat to the security of the Soviet Union. The president also spoke of the urgent need to address "dangerous misunderstandings" between the two capitals.

Toward this end he called for the immediate institutionalization of high-level dialogue, new efforts in arms reduction, and the implementation of a wide range of confidence-building measures. The aim of U.

President Reagan's January 16 address was not simply an aberration. Rather, it was a turning point. Throughout and others within the administration echoed Reagan's call for "cooperation and understanding" between the superpowers, and underscored that Washington "posed no threat" to Soviet security.

The superpowers had a common interest in avoiding war and "misunderstandings," they reiterated. Likewise, Reagan officials continued to speak of the "imperative" need for superpower dialogue. The policy changes that Reagan introduced in are striking for a number of reasons. Most importantly, they are remarkable because they were implemented before the Soviets began to reform. In January Yuri Andropov was general secretary of the USSR, and there was no indication that Moscow intended to introduce radical changes to its foreign policy The old guard within the Kremlin was still fighting the cold war.

The conventional view that Washington responded to changes within the Soviet Union is therefore inaccurate.

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The degree to which the administration altered its stated policy toward Moscow is also striking. This was not simply a case of "fine-tuning. In many respects, these changes represented a wholesale reversal of the administration's earlier policies. The Reagan administration had been the most vehemently anticommunist administration in U.

The president himself had been denouncing communists for over forty years, since he had been an actor in Hollywood. He had repeatedly asserted that democracies must do all they can to undermine communism and to stop its spread. It is remarkable, therefore, that Reagan would suddenly begin speaking of "common interests" and the need to join together to solve global problems.

The speed with which the Reagan administration switched course is also extraordinary. On October 31, , Deputy Secretary Dam struck a hard-line posture toward the Soviets, and suggested that superpower relations would not improve in the near future. On January 16, , the president began seeking a rapprochement with the Kremlin. The Reagan administration reversed course within a mere ten weeks. Finally, the Reagan administration not only changed its stated policy, but it significantly revised its image of the Kremlin and its understanding of the nature of the superpower relationship.

Such revisions are highly unusual. For example, before official policy statements exhibited a Manichaean understanding of superpower relations: Moscow and Washington were engaged in a zero-sum competition for spheres of influence. The Soviets were the enemy. There was no common ground. However, beginning in , the administration's policy statements revealed a more complex image of the Kremlin and a more nuanced understanding of superpower relations. While Soviets and Americans had ideological differences, they also had many common interests.

This change in the administration's view is curious because psychological studies have repeatedly shown that fundamental beliefs about others tend not to change. Moreover, images of one's enemy tend to be especially entrenched. It is striking, therefore, that the Reagan administration would revise its image of the Kremlin. The primary aim of this book, then, is to determine why the Reagan administration so abruptly reversed course in January If Washington was not simply responding to Soviet overtures, then what caused the changes in U.

Soviet policy? Although the literature on U. Much of the literature focuses either on the policy-making process, or on the substance of American foreign policy. Both types of studies tend to ignore the issue of change. For example, policy-making studies typically focus on how different actors, such as interest groups and bureaucratic organizations, seek to influence policy outcomes.

Such studies focus on factors that constrain policy change, rather than on factors that may facilitate or catalyze a change in policy. Likewise, studies that have focused on the substance of U. This is no doubt due in part to the relative stability of U.


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