1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe

1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe

1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe

1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe


There are unique periods in history when a single year witnesses the total transformation of international relations. The year 1989 was one such crucial watershed. This book uses previously unavailable sources to explore the momentous events following the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago and the effects they have had on our world ever since.

Based on documents, interviews, and television broadcasts from many different locations, including Moscow, Berlin, Bonn, Paris, London, and Washington, 1989 describes how Germany unified, NATO expansion began, and Russia got left on the periphery of the new Europe. Mary Sarotte explains that while it was clear past a certain point that the Soviet Bloc would crumble, there was nothing inevitable about what would follow. A wide array of political players--from leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl, George H. W. Bush, and James Baker, to organizations like NATO and the European Community, to courageous individual dissidents--all proposed courses of action and models for the future. In front of global television cameras, a competition ensued, ultimately won by those who wanted to ensure that the "new" order looked very much like the old. Sarotte explores how the aftermath of this fateful victory, and Russian resentment of it, continue to shape world politics today.

Presenting diverse perspectives from the political elite as well as ordinary citizens, 1989 is compelling reading for anyone who cares about international relations past, present, or future.


Before beginning, I must acknowledge my scholarly debts to a number of previous authors and the places that provided the sources used in writing this book.

I am fortunate in that I have a rich body of literature to draw on, because many analysts have already devoted considerable time to 1989. A majority of them have seen that year as a moment of closure, most famously Francis Fukuyama, who called it the end of history even while it was unfolding. He and others have produced impressive studies tracing the Cold War’s trajectory toward its ultimate collapse and dissolution. Particularly worthwhile examples have come from the writers Michael Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, James Mann, and Don Oberdorfer, and the scholars Frédéric Bozo, Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth, Archie Brown, Robert English, John Lewis Gaddis, Timothy Garton Ash, Richard Herrmann and Richard Ned Lebow, Hans-Hermann Hertle, Robert Hutchings, Konrad Jarausch, Mark Kramer, Melvyn Leffler, Charles Maier, Gerhard Ritter, Andreas Rödder, Angela Stent, Bernd Stöver, and Stephen Szabo.

As will become clear in the pages to follow, I see 1989 not as an end, but as a beginning. It created the international order that persists until today. The need to understand this nonviolent transition from the Cold War to the present is enormous, because we greatly prefer nonviolence to the alternative. As Gaddis has observed, the goal of historical scholarship “is not so much to predict the future as to prepare for it.” The process of studying history expands our range “of experience, both directly and vicariously, so that we can increase our skills, our stamina—and if all goes well, our wisdom. The principle is much the same whether one is working out in a gym, flying a 747 simulator,” or reading a historical study. Trying to understand the transition of 1989–90 is a singularly useful exercise, since it established durable new democracies. We therefore need to look closely at this transition as it represents a quintessential example of what political scientist G. John Ikenberry has rightly called a reordering moment.

I have chosen to investigate this particular reordering moment by looking at evidence from all key actors. Obviously, this means examining the role of the United States and the Soviet Union; but as Ellen Schrecker has complained in a book lamenting U.S.-centric Cold War studies, the fact that East Europeans “might have also had a hand in the process” does not figure often enough in the . . .

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