Cold War Clarity

Article excerpt

Byline: John Barry

During a few tumultuous months in 1989, Soviet tanks pulled out of Eastern Europe, communist governments there collapsed, the Berlin Wall fell--and the Cold War ended without a shot fired. Figuring out why it happened so fast and so peacefully will occupy historians forever, and a new 700-page collection of documents will be essential to their understanding. Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989 is a treasure trove of the most secret discussions by leaders of the Soviet Union and the West that year, and the first time they've all been pulled together. Publication of the 122 documents, and hundreds more online, is the climax of a 15-year effort by the National Security Archive, the contemporary-history research project at George Washington University.

The documents show leaders on both sides of the standoff preoccupied with "instability"--a term President George H.W. Bush uses repeatedly--after the Soviet withdrawal from Central Europe. ("Look at how nervous we are," Mikhail Gorbachev told President Bush at their Malta summit.) They also detail European fears of a unified Germany. Interestingly, though, most of the documents come from European and Russian archives; almost none come from the U.S. because of tougher declassification procedures introduced, ironically, by Bush's son, President George W. Bush, after 9/11. "We are supposed to be the open society, committed to open government," says Tom Blanton, director of the archive. …