Perestroika and the Transformation of U.S.-Soviet Relations

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Twenty years ago this week the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union concluded their Geneva Summit, which became the first step on the road to transforming the entire system of international relations. Unlike the summits of the 1970s, it did not produce any major treaties and was not seen as a breakthrough at the time, but as President Ronald Reagan himself stated at its conclusion, "The real report card will not come in for months or even years." The movement toward the summit became possible as a result of change in the leadership in the Soviet Union. On March 11, 1985, the Politburo of the USSR Communist Party Central Committee elected Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev as its new General Secretary. This event symbolized the beginning of the internal transformation of the Soviet Union.

Today, twenty years after those seminal events, the National Security Archive is posting a series of newly declassified Soviet and U.S. documents which allow one to appreciate the depth and the speed of change occurring both inside the Soviet Union and in U.S.-Soviet relations in the pivotal year of 1985. Most of the documents are being published for the first time.

Major highlights include insights into Gorbachev's early thinking and his skillful use of his power of appointment to build a reform coalition and to achieve a breakthrough in foreign policy. The challenging road to Geneva is illustrated by the leaders' correspondence, which touched upon all the most difficult issues in U.S.-Soviet relations -- the arms control negotiations (especially the Strategic Defense Initiative), regional conflicts and humanitarian issues. The Geneva Summit itself became a tremendous learning and trust-building experience for both leaders, but also represented a missed opportunity in terms of their inability to move faster toward deep reductions of nuclear weapons, which were the highest priority for both Reagan and Gorbachev.

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