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

By Raymond L. Garthoff | Go to book overview

8
Culmination of the Reagan-Gorbachev Rapprochement, 1988

SURELY NO ONE in Washington or Moscow would have predicted when Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president in January 1981 that by the time he left office eight years later he would have set a record of five summit meetings with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and carried a rapprochement with Moscow as far as any earlier attempt at détente. To be sure, by the time of the Washington summit in December 1987 this development was well advanced, and the final year of the Reagan administration did not see any major new achievements. Still, even as that year began, few would have predicted that Ronald Reagan, in Moscow, would repudiate any continuing validity to his earlier charge that the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire.

By 1988 the initiative in U.S.-Soviet relations had largely passed from Reagan to Gorbachev. Even the INF Treaty at the Washington summit was the product of Gorbachev's move to accept Reagan's earlier challenge. Reagan's administration essentially coasted through its final year, in domestic as well as foreign policy. Gorbachev, by contrast, while seeking to keep some momentum in foreign affairs, was embattled and preoccupied with his efforts to promote internal political and economic reform. Late in the year, however, he undertook a bold initiative on arms in Europe that reinvigorated his external policies.


Reagan's Course on Relations with the Soviet Union

President Reagan had shown that he was ready to deal with Gorbachev and ready to improve relations with the Soviet Union--on his terms. Progress in relations came only in areas and to the extent that the Soviet side was prepared to accept U.S. positions. The rapprochement that developed from 1985 through 1988 stemmed from the fact that Gorbachev had been prepared

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