Magazine article Insight on the News

Roll Back the Power of Dangerous Regimes

Magazine article Insight on the News

Roll Back the Power of Dangerous Regimes

Article excerpt

On July 27, 1984, during the height of the Cold War, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko sat down with former U.S. senator George McGovern to discuss the state of U.S.-Soviet relations. Frustrated by the Reagan administration's hard line, the Russian reportedly told his guest: "[The Reagan administration members] want to cause trouble. They want to weaken the Soviet system. They want to bring it down" A few months later, in a September 1984 face-to-face meeting with President Reagan, Gromyko declared that "behind all this [the arms buildup] lies the clear calculation that the U.S.S.R. will exhaust its material resources before the U.S.A. and therefore will finally be forced to surrender."

In the 10 years that have passed since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, there has been a continued debate about why the Soviet bloc dissolved when it did. But as a growing body of recently declassified material becomes available from both sides of the Cold-War divide, Gromyko's complaints ring true: The Reagan administration did have a plan to undermine the Soviet system. And understanding those plans is invaluable to shaping U.S. foreign policy today.

Reagan's policy toward the Soviet Union represented a radical break from the traditional U.S. policy of containment. Reagan didn't want simply to stop communism, he wanted to undermine it. His approach was spelled out in an offensive strategy in a series of top-secret National Security Decision Directives, or NSDDs.

NSDD-32, which outlined "U.S. National Security Policy:' declared that the U.S. "global objective" was to "contain and reverse the expansion of Soviet control and military presence throughout the world." (Emphasis added.) Another objective was to "weaken the Soviet alliance system by forcing the U.S.S.R. to bear the brunt of its economic shortcomings, and to encourage long-term liberalizing and nationalist tendencies within the Soviet Union and allied countries" NSDD-75, a later directive that specifically dealt with Soviet policy, laid out similar objectives.

Under Reagan the U.S. goal became to roll back the Soviet Union, and this policy was played out on a number of fronts. The administration undertook the largest peacetime buildup in U.S. history. The procurement budgets increased by nearly 25 percent per year, and the overall budget doubled between 1980 and 1985. The particular emphasis was on high-tech weapons, which were considered a key Soviet weakness.

It was a military challenge a weak Soviet economy would have trouble matching. In a May 4, 1983, closed session of the Warsaw Pact's Political Consultative Committee, Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov chillingly noted, "The Soviet Union feels the burden of the arms race into which we are being pulled, more than anybody else.... It is not a big problem for Reagan to shift tens of billions of dollars of appropriations for social needs to the military-industrial complex."

At a Princeton University conference, former Soviet foreign minister Aleksandr Bessmermykh recalled the concern among Soviet officials: "The atmosphere in Moscow was very tense for the first few years of the Reagan administration, especially because of the SDI, or Strategic Defense Initiative, system: It frightened us very much."

The CIA under Bill Casey literally worked to roll back Soviet power by supporting anticommunist insurgents. The most dramatic results were in Afghanistan, where the administration enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. …

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