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End of the Cold War: Gorbachev or Reagan?


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 07 June 2004 - 02:23 PM

I have been rather surprised by the way that the media has claimed that Ronald Reagan should take credit for the end of the Cold War. This appears to be based on the idea that Reagan’s hard-line speeches against communism, speeches that included phrases such as the “evil empire” and “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this (Berlin) wall”. Speeches like this were nothing new for American presidents. Every president since Harry Truman have made similar speeches without bringing an end to the Cold war (in fact they were often accused of only making the situation worse). Anyway, it would seem very bizarre that Gorbachev should bring an end to communism (and aspects of the system like the Berlin Wall) because Reagan told him to do it.

Others point out that Reagan was willing to meet Gorbachev to discuss nuclear disarmament. That is true but there is nothing new here. Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter were also willing to do that. However, they were unable to bring the Cold War to an end.

The third reason given is that Reagan’s willingness to increase military spending by a third created serious economic problems for the Soviet Union. It is indeed true that the Soviet’s attempt to keep up with American spending did have economic repercussions. This is especially true in the United States and by the time Reagan left office the company had a national debt of $3 trillion. This has had a long-term impact on the American economy (although it did wonders for Reagan’s political backers – the American arms industry).

If the Cold War was just about the arms race we would have seen a dramatic fall in American arms spending since the fall of communism. However, this has not happened, the Military-Industrial Index still manages to persuade American governments to spend increasing sums of money on the latest weapons of mass destruction. Whenever the American public start to question this strategy they find an excuse to use up some of these weapons.

If Reagan’s anti-communist policies were so powerful, why did it not bring an end to communism in other countries such as China, Cuba and North Korea. It seems that he needed the support of someone who was actually making decisions in the Soviet Union to make it possible. That man was Mikhail Gorbachev. The end of what had become known as the Cold War started when Gorbachev announced he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe. This was reinforced in 1989 by withdrawing Soviet forces from Afghanistan.

Aware that Gorbachev would not send in Soviet tanks there were demonstrations against communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. Over the next few months the communists were ousted from power in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany.

It is Mikhail Gorbachev and not Ronald Reagan who deserves the credit for bringing the Cold War to an end.

#2 Michael White

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Posted 07 June 2004 - 02:40 PM

The former Hollywood actor turned 40th president did indeed become the symbol of America's final victory over the Soviet Union in the cold war. Side by side with Margaret Thatcher, he also led the rightwing reaction to the settlement bequeathed to the boys who stormed the D-day beaches by FDR's New Deal and the 1945 Attlee Labour government. From being the solution, the state became the problem. Much of the confusion inherent in current US policy - from Kyoto to Baghdad - stems from that flawed insight. As such, Reagan has a lot to answer for at the bar of history, as much at home as abroad. You do not find poverty anywhere else in the first world quite like you can find in America in the big city slums or the black districts of mid-size towns. You can find it in the former USSR, of course, but that too is a charge for which Reaganomics must bear some blame.

Reagan knew that the appeal of individualism, both noble and selfish, would defeat the Soviet fox. Armed with "evil empire" rhetoric - which he believed - and a chequebook, he outspent it. Missile defence tests were fiddled, then as now, but worked. All this was combined within a bundle of contradictions. Though a believer in Armageddon, Reagan himself was not particularly religious, but his influential wife, Nancy, had an astrologer. He was a divorcee, and personally tolerant. And his own family was a dysfunctional prototype of the Osbournes.

Edited by Michael White, 07 June 2004 - 02:42 PM.


#3 David Richardson

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Posted 07 June 2004 - 02:41 PM

Let's also remember how the Iron Curtain actually fell. I'm writing from memory now, but I think it went something like this …

In the summer of 1989, Hungary opened its border to the west, and Czechoslovakia followed suit. This enabled thousands of people to leave the satellites in the East for the West, and put immense pressure on East Germany, since East Germans started leaving for the West via Czechoslovakia.

This, in turn, created the conditions in which the on-going East German protests against the authoritarian Communist government *weren't* immediately repressed by force, especially since Gorbachev made it very clear that the Soviet Russian forces in those countries would not be available for repression of the local populations (as in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968).

… and then the whole apparatus of Communism collapsed like a card house.

However, let's celebrate one or two other people, such as Helmut Kohl, who seized the opportunity to re-unite Germany (in the teeth of the opposition of such politicians as Margaret Thatcher), which thus created a new 'map of Europe' into which the former satellite states could fit. Let's also celebrate the Balts who seized their freedom from the hands of Russians wanting to keep them in the fold. I think that there were plenty of Russians who saw the post-Communist Russia as continuing to include the Baltic States, and their independence has undoubtedly caused a lot of difficult for Russia.

This is not to deny that the USA had a lot of influence too … but I think that these 'future historians' are much more likely to see the end of the Cold War as a 'home-grown' phenomenon.

Edited by David Richardson, 07 June 2004 - 02:42 PM.


#4 Jack Anderson

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Posted 08 June 2004 - 09:29 AM

Let me tell you about the greatest victory in the history of the United States. We won World War III without firing a shot. Do you realize that? World War III had been raging for 45 years. We called it the Cold War, and we won it without firing a single shot. Who deserves credit for that? The credit belongs to a man who has been abused by the press. A president who is much greater than history is willing to portray him, because he was not their kind of guy.

President Reagan did it, by establishing something that he has been denounced for. Criticized for. Castigated for. Star Wars. Star Wars was not established to shoot down incoming Soviet missiles. That was what we said we were going to do with it. That was the purpose that we announced. But that wasn't the real purpose. We had discovered that the Soviet Union was near economic collapse. We knew that we had a stronger economy; that we could out-spend them, and we knew that they were crazy enough to continue to try to keep up with us, so we started Star Wars for the purpose of crashing the Soviet economy. And we succeeded. The Soviet Union came crashing down. The citizens in the Kremlin didn't want to do it. We now know, we didn't know then. They are now a little more free with us, telling us some of the secrets that they used to keep, and their civilian leaders didn't want to do it. They said, "We can't afford it. We've got to go ahead and let the Americans go ahead and prepare for Star Wars." The military said, "No, we have the responsibility to defend the Soviet Union, so we must develop Star Wars too." They ran out of money. They went bankrupt. They collapsed.

#5 Mikhail Gorbachev

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Posted 08 June 2004 - 09:34 AM

Ronald Reagan was a statesman who, despite all disagreements that existed between our countries at the time, displayed foresight and determination to meet our proposals halfway and change our relations for the better, stop the nuclear race, start scrapping nuclear weapons, and arrange normal relations between our countries.

I do not know how other statesmen would have acted at that moment, because the situation was too difficult. Reagan, whom many considered extremely rightist, dared to make these steps, and this is his most important deed.

#6 Mikhail Gorbachev

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Posted 08 June 2004 - 09:40 AM

In March-April 1985 we found ourselves facing a crucial, and I confess, agonizing choice. When I agreed to assume the office of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee, in effect the highest State office at that time, I realized that we could no longer live as before and that I would not want to remain in that office unless I got support in undertaking major reforms. It was clear to me that we had a long way to go. But of course, I could not imagine how immense were our problems and difficulties. I believe no one at that time could foresee or predict them.

Those who were then governing the country knew what was really happening to it and what we later called "zastoi", roughly translated as "stagnation". They saw that our society was marking time, that it was running the risk of falling hopelessly behind the technologically advanced part of the world. Total domination of centrally-managed state property, the pervasive authoritarian-bureaucratic system, ideology's grip on politics, monopoly in social thought and sciences, militarized industries that siphoned off our best, including the best intellectual resources, the unbearable burden of military expenditures that suffocated civilian industries and undermined the social achievements of the period since the Revolution which were real and of which we used to be proud - such was the actual situation in the country.

As a result, one of the richest countries in the world, endowed with immense overall potential, was already sliding downwards. Our society was declining, both economically and intellectually.

And yet, to a casual observer the country seemed to present a picture of relative well-being, stability and order. The misinformed society under the spell of propaganda was hardly aware of what was going on and what the immediate future had in store for it. The slightest manifestations of protest were suppressed. Most people considered them heretical, slanderous and counterrevolutionary

Such was the situation in the spring of 1985, and there was a great temptation to leave things as they were, to make only cosmetic changes. This, however, meant continuing to deceive ourselves and the people.

This was the domestic aspect of the dilemma then before us. As for the foreign policy aspect, there was the East-West confrontation, a rigid division into friends and foes, the two hostile camps with a corresponding set of Cold War attributes. Both the East and the West were constrained by the logic of military confrontation, wearing themselves down more and more by the arms race.

The mere thought of dismantling the existing structures did not come easily. However, the realization that we faced inevitable disaster, both domestically and internationally, gave us the strength to make a historic choice, which I have never since regretted.

Perestroika, which once again is returning our people to commonsense, has enabled us to open up to the world, and has restored a normal relationship between the country's internal development and its foreign policy. But all this takes a lot of hard work. To a people which believed that its government's policies had always been true to the cause of peace, we proposed what was in many ways a different policy, which would genuinely serve the cause of peace, while differing from the prevailing view of what it meant and particularly from the established stereotypes as to how one should protect it. We proposed new thinking in foreign policy.

#7 Sidney Blumenthal

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 07:23 PM

At the Reykjavik summit in October 1986, Reagan had agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons (to the consternation of his advisers) until Gorbachev insisted that testing for the Star Wars missile defence shield be suspended. Two of Reagan's utopian dreams collided. But after the exposure of the Iran-contra scandal, Gorbachev dropped the objection to Star Wars. Instead, he crafted a practical arms reduction agreement, the intermediate nuclear forces treaty. And, despite opposition from conservatives, Reagan seized upon it.

With script in hand, Reagan was Reagan again. In September 1987, he addressed the United Nations general assembly: "I occasionally think how our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world." That December, Gorbachev came to the White House to sign the treaty. Then, in June 1988, Reagan went to Moscow, where he declared that "of course" the cold war was over and that his famous reference to the "evil empire" was from "another time."

Reagan did not bring about the downfall of the Soviet Union. But he lent support to the liberalising reform that hastened the end. In reaching out to Gorbachev, Reagan blithely discarded the rightwing faith that totalitarian communism was unchangeable and that only rollback, not containment and negotiation, would lead to its demise.

Reagan was acutely self-conscious about his about-face and on his trip to Moscow he explained it. "In the movie business actors often get what we call typecast," he said. "Well, politics is a little like that too. So I've had a lot of time and reason to think about my role."

Reagan's embrace of Gorbachev rescued his own political standing. His rise in popularity to the mid-50s was essential in lifting his vice-president's presidential ambition, for the elder Bush was moon to Reagan's sun. Yet Bush distanced himself, adopting the "realist" view that Reagan suffered from "euphoria" and that nothing fundamental in the world was changing.

http://www.guardian....1235299,00.html

#8 Jonathan Steele

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Posted 11 June 2004 - 01:59 PM

Reagan's policies towards the Soviet Union were hysterical and counter-productive. He put detente into deep freeze for several years with his insulting label "the evil empire". It led to overblown outrage over the downing by Soviet aircraft of a South Korean airliner that intruded into Russian air space. Moscow's action was inept, but if Reagan had not put the superpowers in collision, the Kremlin might have treated the wayward plane more calmly.

Moscow's policies in the developing world were no less cynical than Reagan's. In Iran and Iraq they played both sides, tilting towards Saddam Hussein, in spite of his execution of communists. They feared Iran's Islamic fundamentalism as much as Washington did. But the cold war was not mainly about ideology, and certainly not freedom. It was a contest for power. By the time Reagan took office, some independent analysts and reporters with experience in the Soviet Union were arguing Moscow's power had peaked.

The CIA was exaggerating the strength of the Soviet economy and the amount being spent on defence (shades of the recent fiasco over Iraq's WMD). The issue was hotly debated, and it was hard to reach the truth of events in a closed society. Those like myself who detected Soviet weakness had to struggle against the Kremlinological establishment, where traditional views were in a majority.

But the record of Soviet behaviour suggested that, behind Brezhnev's rhetoric, Moscow had become disillusioned with its international achievements. Its Warsaw Pact allies were unreliable and had to be periodically invaded or threatened.

In the Middle East, Moscow had few allies in spite of decades of trying to win friends through the supply of arms. Egypt had moved west, Syria saw that Russia had no clout on the central issue of Israel and Palestine, the Gulf states were suspicious, and only Yemen and Iraq seemed to offer a little hope.

The Kremlin was losing heart, but its elderly leaders were too ill to draw the consequences. It took a younger leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to start the process of international withdrawal. High oil prices after 1973 had given Moscow a decade of easy money to finance its part in the US-Soviet arms race while also developing its industrial infrastructure.

By the early 1980s the weakness of the consumer goods sector, the failure to reform agriculture, and the pressure for liberalisation coming from a policy elite which had travelled abroad as diplomats, engineers and journalists was about to break the surface.

Reagan's Star Wars project did not bankrupt the Soviet Union into reform, as his admirers claim. In repeated statements as well as his budget allocations Gorbachev made it clear Moscow would not bother to match a dubious weapons system which could not give Washington "first-strike capability" for at least another 15 years, if ever.

The Soviet Union imploded for internal reasons, not least the erratic way Gorbachev reacted to the contradictory processes set in motion by his own reforms. Reagan was merely an uncomprehending bystander. His acceptance in his second term of detente was a u-turn which millions of peace activists in Europe had been demanding.

It was detente that made the end of the cold war possible, and without Reagan's blind anti-communism it could have come at least four years earlier.

http://www.guardian....1236211,00.html

#9 John Simkin

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Posted 12 December 2006 - 01:24 PM

It was in fact an active member of the Democratic Party that did most to shape Reagan's foreign policy. In 1979 Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote an article for Commentary, entitled Entitled Dictatorships and Double Standards. The article argued that right-wing “authoritarian” governments, such as those in Argentina, Chile and South Africa, suited American interests better than left-wing regimes. She criticized the emphasis placed on human rights by Jimmy Carter and blamed it for undermining right-wing governments in Nicaragua and Iran. She went onto argue that right-wing dictatorships were reliably pro-American. She therefore proposed that the US government should treat authoritarian regimes much more favourably than other governments. Kirkpatrick added: "liberal idealism need not be identical with masochism and need not be incompatible with the defence of freedom and the national interest".

As Bill Van Auken has pointed out (Social Democrat to Champion of Death Squads): "The policy implications of Kirkpatrick’s thesis were unmistakable. Washington should seek to keep in power right-wing dictatorships, so long as they suppressed the threat of revolution and supported “American interests and policies.” Moreover, the limits placed by the Carter administration on relations with regimes that had carried out wholesale political killings and torture, as in Chile and Argentina, for example, should be cast aside."

You can read the full article here:

http://www.commentar...cle.aip?id=6189

#10 Erick A. Bovik

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Posted 18 December 2006 - 03:26 AM

In March-April 1985 we found ourselves facing a crucial, and I confess, agonizing choice. When I agreed to assume the office of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee, in effect the highest State office at that time, I realized that we could no longer live as before and that I would not want to remain in that office unless I got support in undertaking major reforms. It was clear to me that we had a long way to go. But of course, I could not imagine how immense were our problems and difficulties. I believe no one at that time could foresee or predict them.

Those who were then governing the country knew what was really happening to it and what we later called "zastoi", roughly translated as "stagnation". They saw that our society was marking time, that it was running the risk of falling hopelessly behind the technologically advanced part of the world. Total domination of centrally-managed state property, the pervasive authoritarian-bureaucratic system, ideology's grip on politics, monopoly in social thought and sciences, militarized industries that siphoned off our best, including the best intellectual resources, the unbearable burden of military expenditures that suffocated civilian industries and undermined the social achievements of the period since the Revolution which were real and of which we used to be proud - such was the actual situation in the country.

As a result, one of the richest countries in the world, endowed with immense overall potential, was already sliding downwards. Our society was declining, both economically and intellectually.

And yet, to a casual observer the country seemed to present a picture of relative well-being, stability and order. The misinformed society under the spell of propaganda was hardly aware of what was going on and what the immediate future had in store for it. The slightest manifestations of protest were suppressed. Most people considered them heretical, slanderous and counterrevolutionary

Such was the situation in the spring of 1985, and there was a great temptation to leave things as they were, to make only cosmetic changes. This, however, meant continuing to deceive ourselves and the people.

This was the domestic aspect of the dilemma then before us. As for the foreign policy aspect, there was the East-West confrontation, a rigid division into friends and foes, the two hostile camps with a corresponding set of Cold War attributes. Both the East and the West were constrained by the logic of military confrontation, wearing themselves down more and more by the arms race.

The mere thought of dismantling the existing structures did not come easily. However, the realization that we faced inevitable disaster, both domestically and internationally, gave us the strength to make a historic choice, which I have never since regretted.

Perestroika, which once again is returning our people to commonsense, has enabled us to open up to the world, and has restored a normal relationship between the country's internal development and its foreign policy. But all this takes a lot of hard work. To a people which believed that its government's policies had always been true to the cause of peace, we proposed what was in many ways a different policy, which would genuinely serve the cause of peace, while differing from the prevailing view of what it meant and particularly from the established stereotypes as to how one should protect it. We proposed new thinking in foreign policy.


Mr. Gorbachev, I hope you are still a member of this forum. I enjoyed your book, Perestroika and still have it on my bookshelf. I remember you wrote Perestroika in response to the tragedy in Chernobyl, and you called for a new openness in your country. I think that Chernobyl and your policy of perestroika, formed a new mindset in the Soviet people, which put them on the path to new freedoms. You will certainly be remembered in history as one of the people who changed world history for the better.

That being said, my understanding--and please correct me if I'm wrong--is that major factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union was the drop in oil prices in the mid-1980's. The Soviets were the largest oil producer in the world, and had profited greatly from the oil-price shocks in the 1970's. In 1983 CIA Director William Casey went to Saudi Arabia and made a deal. In return for selling them F-15 fighter jets and AWACS reconnaissance aircraft, the Saudis agreed to vastly increase oil production for the purpose of driving down prices and bankrupting the already weakened Soviet economy. At the time, were you aware of that deal Casey made with the Arabs?




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