The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War

By Raymond L. Garthoff | Go to book overview

6
Gorbachev, Reagan, and the Reykjavik Summit, 1986

THE KEY DEVELOPMENTS of 1986 were the party congress in Moscow early in the year that consolidated and further defined the policy line of the new leadership under Mikhail Gorbachev, and a second summit meeting of Gorbachev and Reagan. The unsuccessful pursuit of arms limitations and reductions given highest attention by the Soviet leaders, and the active pursuit of regional geopolitical competition given priority by the Reagan administration, dominated the uneasy development of relations between these two events and resulted in uncertainties for a number of months as to whether a second summit meeting would occur in 1986 and whether the dialogue launched at the Geneva summit would survive.

When a new summit meeting did take place, at Reykjavik in October, it was a spectacular failure in the immediate run, but it broke the mold and opened up new possibilities in arms control. As Gorbachev began to demonstrate "new thinking" and a new flexibility in internal and foreign policy, Reagan's standing and control of events in Washington were shaken late in the year by revelations in the Iran-contra scandal of duplicitous and unsuccessful foreign policy management. In retrospect, it is clear that the year marked a shift from Reagan's domination of the relationship to his sharing of at least an equal role with Gorbachev and his new approaches.

The first significant development in the new year was an initiative by Gorbachev to reanimate the field of arms control and disarmament. In a major formal "declaration," he offered a comprehensive program for elimination of all nuclear weapons by the year 2000 but framed to allow flexibility in the pursuit of more limited agreements.1 Most initial American and other Western reaction addressed the dramatic call for eliminating nuclear weapons and saw the

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1
"Declaration of the General Secretary of the CC of the CPSU M. S. Corhachev," Pravda, January 16, 1986.

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