The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Already critical of Reagan's Soviet policy, liberals are therefore inclined to accept the view that Gorbachev led the president on the path to ending the cold war. A lucky bumbler, Reagan was simply in the right place at the right time.

Conservatives, on the other hand, also have reason to support the idea that Reagan responded to changes in Soviet policy. In this view, the administration's original hard-line rhetoric and military buildup forced the Soviet Union to its knees. Gorbachev had to seek a rapprochement with Washington because his country could no longer compete with the United States. By standing firm, President Reagan had forced the Kremlin to capitulate in the cold war. 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.

The Reagan Doctrine: To Wipe Out Communism

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.

The Defense Buildup and the “Evil Empire”

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.


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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. Get access to the full version of this article.

23-3: End of the Cold War

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Many Americans believe this to be the case. The president did not seek to destroy the USSR; rather, he sought to eliminate nuclear weapons. This volume also explains why Moscow chose to abandon the arms race, adopt democratic reforms, and withdraw from its ill-fated war in Afghanistan.