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

By Raymond L. Garthoff | Go to book overview

12 The Evolving Strategic Relationship: Military Power, Arms Control, and Security

THE STRATEGIC and military relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union was a central consideration influencing policy throughout the Cold War. Its salience in the first several years of the 1980s was greater than usual. By the late 1980s, however, it had diminished greatly, and by 1989-91, was rapidly receding to a peripheral role. Strategic considerations influenced the transformation of political relations over this period, but ultimately political change dominated and transformed the strategic relationship.

In the early 1980s, threat assessments were an important policy consideration, and on both sides serious concern arose not only about the adversary's capabilities but also about his intentions. Negotiated arms control, the ameliorating palliative of the 1970s, was relegated by the Reagan administration to an essentially irrelevant sideline. Political tensions fed upon and in turn generated military effort and concerns. Yet by the late 1980s, Gorbachev's political, military, and arms control initiatives had reduced perceived threats and led to mutual security arrangements, including but not limited to traditional arms control measures, both bilaterally with the United States and multilaterally, which greatly alleviated security concerns even before the Cold War came to an end at the close of the decade.

The strategic relationship has been one important strand of the overall U.S.-Soviet interaction traced in some detail in the preceding chapters. There is no need to recapitulate all of those developments. It may, however, be useful to examine the motivating factors and role of the strategic military and security dimension of the relationship. This can most expeditiously and usefully be done through dividing the subject not into segments such as "military doctrine," "military programs," and "arms control," but into three successive periods: first, a combative unilateral pursuit of security dominated by Reagan's initiative, from 1981 to 1985; second, a period of transition to a more interactive détente in military strategic relationships from 1986 through 1989 in response to initia-

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