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Effect of Summits between US and Russia: 1985-8

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Published: 9th Dec 2019

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‘Summitry simply ratified events; it did not make history.’ Discuss this judgment on the period 1985-8.

The image was startling: on 31st May 1988, the seemingly inveterate anti-communist President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, delivered an address at Moscow State University, overlooked by a bust of Lenin as he sang the praises of the Soviet Union. His theme was technological revolution, and the former B-movie star could not resist a classic Western film reference. Seeking a parallel with perestroika, the political and economic restructuring of his Soviet counterpart, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan detailed the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where the eponymous outlaws must escape their pursuers by jumping off a cliff into a river. Since Sundance cannot swim and there is no guarantee that they will survive the jump, it became, like perestroika,a leap of faith.[1]

The same comparison could as easily be applied to the rapprochement overseen by Reagan and Gorbachev between the United States and the Soviet Union through a series of summits between 1985 and 1988: Reagan’s visit to Moscow was the fourth. Both leaders sought to dispel the climate of misunderstanding and distrust in a Cold War between the supposedly incompatible bastions of American capitalism and Soviet communism, catalysed by four decades of an escalating arms race. They shared a genuine abhorrence of nuclear weapons and the literally “mad” doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. The leaders sought through personal diplomacy to ‘de-Other the adversary’;[2] their first summit in Geneva in November 1985 followed a freeze in top-level negotiations between the United States and Soviet Union for over six years. Reagan and Gorbachev followed up a symbolic and constructive meeting here with further talks in Reykjavik (October 1986), where they narrowly missed an agreement to abolish all nuclear weapons: such audacity was unprecedented in superpower summitry. Henceforth, Gorbachev accepted an invitation to Washington in December 1987 where the leaders signed the first ever agreement between superpowers to reduce nuclear stockpiles, rather than simply limit arsenals as their predecessors had done. By the time of the President’s return visit to Moscow (May-June 1988) and their farewell summit at Governor’s Island, New York (December 1988), Reagan and Gorbachev had engineered – in the General Secretary’s words – ‘a new turn in Soviet-American relations’, where for the first time, ‘Americans could see… the lives of regular Soviet people’.[3]

The summits of 1985-8 certainly made history. The personal chemistry and trust developed between leaders at the summit – which Gorbachev christened the “human factor” – precipitated a psychological transformation in American and Soviet perceptions of the enemy. It helped stimulate the end of the Cold War. The President’s personal conversion from the image of a ‘trigger-happy cowboy’[4] to a great peacemaker was unmistakable. On a walk-about in Moscow’s Red Square hours before his university speech, Reagan recanted his 1983 indictment of the USSR as ‘the focus of evil in the modern world’.[5] He told Gorbachev and reporters present, ‘I was talking about another time, another era’.[6]

What defined summitry in the mode of the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings? Political scientist David Dunn concluded that as of 1996, the label “summit” was overused to the point of insignificance;[7] thus it seems worthwhile to consider its origins and scope for application. The immediate cultural connotation of mountain peaks is explored by historian David Reynolds; reaching the “summit” is a potentially dangerous, risk-laden passage to the highest form of negotiation and problem-solving between nations.[8] By extension, it should only involve great powers which, in the 1980s, meant the United States and the Soviet Union.[9] Speaking in 1950, Winston Churchill suggested this exclusivity when he conceived the term “summit” as ‘another talk with the Soviet Union at the highest level’.[10] Multilateral, institutionalised conferences of international bodies such as the Group of Seven (G7), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), or the United Nations General Assembly should not be considered “summits” in this sense, especially given the tendency of diplomats to “pre-cook” agreements beforehand. In terms of personnel, for a summit to be substantive it must, as Elmer Plischke argues, be an in-person meeting restricted to those with executive agency – widely-recognised national leaders with relevant foreign ministers.[11] As such, only the five aforementioned meetings headed by Reagan and Gorbachev should qualify as “summits” between 1985 and 1988. Though their Reykjavik meeting was supposed to serve as a ‘quick one-on-one meeting’[12] to lay the groundwork for a full “summit” in 1987, and Governor’s Island constituted a luncheon between leaders, these must still be considered as summits due to the stature of the delegations and their two principal attendees.

Having established the parameters of summitry in 1985-8, it is essential to unpack whythe five Reagan-Gorbachev meetings were able to “make history”. Making history means to accomplish something sufficiently memorable and meaningful that it is seen to alter an anticipated course of events. Therefore, it required leaders at the summit to contemplate negotiation beyond the standard refrain in U.S.-Soviet relations that the Cold War was an unalterable state. Their personal trust superseded trust in the system; as Churchill (perhaps mistakenly) surmised of Stalin during World War II, the General Secretary in private and the General Secretary in plenary sessions, under the command of advisors, were very different beasts.[13] Reagan and Gorbachev’s idealism, as Soviet diplomat Alexander Bessmertnykh believes, made them such effective summit partners and allowed them to reach an arms agreement on intermediate nuclear forces (INF) which the “experts” did not believe possible.[14] In fact, hitherto, the most productive summits of the 1970s détente (relaxation of tensions) period involved strategic arms limitations treaties, SALT I in 1972 and SALT II in 1979, the second of which was never ratified by the U.S. Senate.

Teamwork with and between the leaders’ chief advisors on both sides equally enabled 1985-8 summits to run smoothly. The relationship of Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze from July 1985 developed over at least thirty-five meetings (they lost count!)[15] to become as strong and warm as their superiors’. Similarly, while Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbacheva clashed personally, both leaders relied intensely on the informal advice of their wives who shared a commitment to making the superpower relationship work.

Beyond this “human factor”, “making history” at the summit relied on the perception of multiple audiences: the delegations themselves, national and international media, and the public. Reagan and Gorbachev attempted to “spin” the outcomes to their domestic audiences, but instant reactions were difficult to suppress for the thousands of journalists habitually present at each summit. In a matter of minutes, images could be beamed across the world which continue to define these meetings: the signing of the INF Treaty in the East Room of the White House, or the walkabout in Red Square. It was the forlorn expressions of each leader departing Hofdi House which typified Reykjavik as an immediate failure. But perceptions change over time and depending on the audience. For many analysts, later understanding of the symbolism of what might have been achieved at Reykjavik (especially given arms reductions actually made in 1987) has promoted this October 1986 summit to the apogee of the five. It is important to note what later scholars, and leaders approaching the summits holistically in their memoirs, have judged of their historical significance.

Not every aspect of 1985-8 summitry “made history”, but it is crude to evaluate the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings on a spectrum where the alternative is simply “ratifying events”. Ratification of events can have two, contrary meanings: either leaders confirming at the summit agreements made by American and Soviet delegations beforehand (such as the INF Treaty at Washington), or emphasising disagreements characteristic of the pre-1985 status quo. In the latter case, a recurring dispute centred on President Reagan’s advocacy of defensive strategic weapons in space (the Strategic Defense Initiative), which his Soviet counterpart viewed as an extension of the arms race. “Ratifying events” and “making history” were not mutually exclusive.

Still, select factors could limit summitry from making history in substantive terms. Voices of caution worked against the dynamism of leaders and represented a number of interest groups – Congress, regional allies, military-industrial complexes – with a stake in summit outcomes. They were motivated to contain spontaneity (after Reykjavik particularly), even if the alternative was “ratifying events” in the negative sense. Contingencies such as the Iran-Contra affair and the two-term presidential limit for Reagan, or economic crisis and a focus on domestic political reform for Gorbachev, provided similar confines. In 1988, on issues of substance, summitry did “ratify events” if still “making history” symbolically.

This essay will explore each of the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings in Geneva, Reykjavik, Washington, and Moscow in turn. It will focus on expectations before the summits, their reception, and the proceedings themselves to judge to what extent history was made and in which way events were ratified. A discussion of the Governor’s Island summit will also explore the “human factor” when applied to Reagan’s successor, then President-elect George Bush. To conclude, I will briefly contemplate how summitry contributed to the broader geopolitical shift of the late 1980s, the end of the Cold War. But plainly, as a cumulative process of mutual education and engagement at the highest level, converting the assumptions of international audiences through media exposure, the summitry of 1985-8 made history.

A summit between the superpowers was not possible before 1985 due to gerontocratic illness on the Soviet side, and President Reagan’s actions to fuel a negative perception of his intentions. The deaths of General Secretaries Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko inside twenty-eight months after November 1982 left Reagan without an operative opposite number until March 1985, after his second term began. Besides, he was conceived as a conservative, foreign policy “hawk”, presiding over increasing defence budgets. His defence advisors such as Caspar Weinberger and Robert Gates believed that the Cold War could be won by spending the Soviet Union into oblivion.[16] However, this was far from the image Reagan hoped for; the assassination attempt he survived in March 1981 had infused in the President a sense of divine purpose. He recorded in 1990: ‘Perhaps having come so close to death made me feel I should do whatever I could in the years God had given me to reduce the threat of nuclear war…’.[17] This retrospective judgement can be substantiated with evidence from 1981; Reagan’s “double-zero” proposal to eliminate all intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe suggests he was amenable to negotiation with the U.S.S.R. throughout his presidency. Still, the Kremlin viewed this as a publicity stunt,[18] and his personal letters to each new General Secretary were treated with scepticism. The President’s public rhetoric seemed a better indicator of his aims. In two March 1983 speeches, Reagan denounced the Soviet Union in apocalyptic terms as an “Evil Empire”, and later announced the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), a missile defence system which for Moscow entailed the weaponisation of outer space. As the Soviet military mistakenly shot down civilian airliner KAL007 over Russian territory that September, tensions were arguably at their highest since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

What, then, changed to allow historically-significant summitry? Following KAL007, the President perceived that a shift in tone was required, exemplified by a foreign policy address of January 1984 in which he personally added an allegory illustrating the similarities between an American couple, “Jim and Sally”, and their Soviet equivalent, “Ivan and Anya”.[19] Yet according to his Secretary of State, George Shultz, only when Reagan’s landslide re-election in November looked likely did Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko express a more sincere intention for talks:[20] Reagan’s overtures had hitherto been perceived as election-year intrigue. At this point, it required a dynamic leader to cut through. Mikhail Gorbachev, the 54-year-old elected by the Politburo on 11th March 1985, immediately signalled to his colleagues the impetus for reform: ‘dynamism is necessary for our democracy, for the development of our foreign policy’.[21] Such was the deterioration of U.S.-Soviet relations since the Carter-Brezhnev summit in 1979 that both leaders made clear their enthusiasm for an early meeting in candid, constructive letters. Diplomat Jack Matlock recounts that Reagan was almost willing to agree to a summit in Moscow,[22] but administration officials more suspicious of Gorbachev’s motives pushed for a politically expedient, neutral territory. Geneva, where in January 1985 Shultz had persuaded the Kremlin to resume arms control negotiations, was most palatable to both sides.[23] The leaders were cautious with regard to the substance of the meeting: as the President underscored to Gorbachev after the unjudicial killing of U.S. Major Nicholson by a Soviet officer on a liaison mission in East Germany,[24] rebuilding lost trust through personal relations should be their primary goal.

‘If substantive gains can be achieved, so much the better. But this is not a requirement in the short run.’[25] This open-minded CIA assessment of Gorbachev’s intentions for the Geneva summit of November 1985 departs considerably from the expectations of his predecessors, who preferred fastidiously controlled set-pieces which did mainly “ratify events”. Reagan and Gorbachev’s focus, if successful, would be historically significant: understanding each other at the fundamental, personal level. Still, the President played down expectations in a television address of 14th November – his aim in Geneva was simply ‘a mission for peace’.[26] He needed to bridge the rift inside his administration between Shultz’s State Department on one side, favouring a pragmatic approach to Gorbachev, and Weinberger’s Defense Department, who urged the President against compromise on SDI and military expenditure.[27] Bureaucratic caution and the desire for departmental self-preservation militated against “making history”, in a theme throughout the summitry of 1985-8. Nonetheless, Gorbachev and – to a lesser extent – Reagan were self-confident enough to use official advice about their counterpart at their leisure. Their foreign ministers – Shultz and Eduard Shevardnadze, Gromyko’s more progressive replacement in July 1985 – employed a similar pragmatism. As such, before it began, the media anticipated a summit at Geneva different from anything held between the U.S. and the Soviet Union before. That 3,614 journalists made the trip to Switzerland heightened the sense of expectation.[28] Surely any evidence of rapport or agreement between Reagan and Gorbachev would be scaled to massive proportions.

The Geneva meetings of 19th and 20th November made history principally in transforming the tone of the superpower relationship. In Gorbachev’s words, ‘heated exchanges’ which read like “No.1 Communist” versus “No.1 Capitalist” turned to a ‘desire to understand each other’.[29] Aided by less formal social exchanges, the two leaders were able to break down barriers of mistrust and work through disagreements rather than treat them as insuperable obstacles. For instance, in a plenary session on the first afternoon, Reagan defused the building tension over SDI with the suggestion of a walk from the main summit venue, Maison de Saussure, to continue talks at a poolhouse by Lake Geneva. They discussed one of the President’s films, King’s Row, while notably exchanging invitations to each other’s countries ‘in the parking lot’.[30] Equally, in substantive terms, Geneva was more than a ratification of over six years of inertia. Both leaders agreed to the integral joint statement that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” while making bilateral agreements (such as to restart airline services between nations), and educational and athletic exchanges. Theoretically, Gorbachev agreed to elements of an American arms control proposal that would reduce strategic nuclear weapons arsenals by 50%, a significant breakthrough despite his vehement opposition to SDI.

Indeed, SDI proved the flashpoint of the discussions at Geneva, and to some extent ratified fundamental differences in the American and Soviet positions. Gorbachev was convinced that the testing and deployment of strategic defence measures would infringe the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM, 1972) and he refused to believe Reagan’s assertions that a system was necessary should a “madman” gain control of the global nuclear arsenal.[31] Nonetheless, the change in approach to this disagreement was novel; each leader could sense the genuine depth of their counterpart’s convictions. In the third plenary session, Gorbachev asked ‘with some emotion’ why Reagan did not believe that the Soviet Union would never attack, then immediately ‘Gorbachev repeated the question. He again interrupted the President’s answer to insist on a response’.[32] It is notable that the conversation itself could become so passionate, the result of electronic simultaneous translation methods in plenary discussions which allowed each leader’s words and body language to align as in real conversation. Before 1981, summitry outside the UN had exclusively used the stilted consecutive translation, which required long periods of interpretation.[33]

Geneva’s reception was overwhelmingly positive. It was historically meaningful in the official view of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and especially for the personalities involved. While Jack Matlock expressed his trepidation at a skewed Soviet view of the summit – Western transmissions such as Voice of America and Radio Liberty were blocked[34] – Moscow appeared as cautiously optimistic as Washington. Gorbachev’s private position is shown by advisor Anatoly Chernyaev: ‘At first, he saw only the blank, uncomprehending eyes of the President, who mumbled certain banalities from his paper’ but Reagan ‘did crack open after all’.[35] The General Secretary conveyed a more critical analysis to the Politburo, commenting that Reagan was ‘manoeuvring’ and how the U.S. position betrayed ‘no increased love toward us’.[36] It is true that when discussing regional conflicts, the President missed Gorbachev’s receptivity to withdrawal from Afghanistan, a telling about-face from the Soviet policy of occupation since 1979. The summit might have made further substantive progress, perhaps, had Reagan been less fixated on cue-cards castigating Moscow’s intervention here, or in Nicaragua and Cambodia. Still, Gorbachev’s uncharacteristically negative report was what domestic officials expected to hear; Marshal Sergey Akhromeyev believed that the President’s renunciation of nuclear war was Geneva’s only real achievement.[37] Meanwhile, in a triumphant address to Congress immediately following his return, Reagan emphasised the joint statement and a ‘new realism’ in the superpower relationship, if downplaying the acrimony over SDI to emphasise U.S. strength.[38] He correctly warned that the “spirit of Geneva” would be meaningless without further negotiations: ‘The real report card will not come in for months or even years’.[39] But as the intervening eleven months before the next summit at Reykjavik made clear, the President was ironically discouraged from action by the continued scepticism of his advisors.

Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev’s relationship carried a palpable frostiness which equally distracted from the achievements of Geneva. The polished mannerisms of the First Lady clashed with the pedagogical, sanctimonious style of Mrs. Gorbachev. William Taubman quotes Nancy’s scathing remarks after their first afternoon tea: ‘If that was an ordinary housewife’s tea then I’m Catherine the Great’, and ‘[w]ho does that dame think she is?’.[40] Nonetheless, the Geneva summit made history as the first step in the development of a meaningful dialogue and warm personal relationship between leaders – if not their wives.

It was clear after Gorbachev’s announcement of an unprecedented arms reduction proposal in January 1986 that the potential for a breakthrough at his next summit with Reagan – to be held at Reykjavik that October – held great historical significance. This plan, the Liquidation of Nuclear Weapons by the Year 2000, was judged by veteran diplomat Paul Nitze at Reykjavik as the best arms control proposal received by the U.S. from Moscow in twenty-five years.[41] Reagan took Gorbachev’s overture seriously, since it accorded with his own desire to eliminate nuclear weapons, but prevaricated on holding a meeting on the advice of his administration. His staff viewed the General Secretary’s overtures as a publicity stunt, given that the proposal was announced to the press one day after its written communication to Reagan.[42] Margaret Thatcher called it ‘pie in the sky’ thinking.[43] Indeed, Reykjavik must be set in the context of institutional caution on the American side as much as a Soviet leader conscious to expand his domestic reform program with a breakthrough on nuclear de-escalation. The stakes for Gorbachev were considerable, given Soviet economic concerns (the global oil price collapsed by 70% from autumn 1985)[44] and the reinforcement of his own abhorrence of nuclear war with the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in April 1986. After nine months of stalling, he invoked the developing “human factor” in the superpower relationship; the momentum of Geneva would be squandered, Gorbachev suggested in a 15th September letter to Reagan, ‘unless you and I intervene personally’, meeting in ‘Iceland or London – maybe just for one day’ to ‘craft agreements on two or three very specific questions’.[45] The General Secretary softened his objectives to the President (the eventual meeting in Reykjavik was not framed as a “summit”) but presented them bluntly to the Politburo: to de-escalate an arms race which Moscow would lose.[46] Reagan too understood the potential consequence of Reykjavik,[47] but remained under pressure from conservative circles not to compromise essential American defence. His friend Charlton Heston wrote, ‘When you go to Iceland, don’t blink’.[48]

The Reykjavik summit of 11-12th October 1986 ended in a bitter near-agreement; to the media present as the tired, downcast leaders left Hofdi House, it seemed that an historic opportunity to abolish all nuclear weapons had been squandered. Gorbachev was overheard telling Reagan ‘we won’t be seeing each other again’,[49] a line taken by commentators to mean definitive failure, or perhaps the ratification of four decades of disagreement. George Shultz later clarified that this referred directly to their press-conference schedules in Reykjavik, but Reagan recorded equal resentment in his diary of 12th October: ‘[Gorbachev] wanted language that would have killed SDI… I was mad and I showed it.’[50] However, a closer analysis of the chronology of the summit, the substance of what was almost agreed, and the reactions of the leaders beyond the immediate sense of betrayal, reveals a far different picture.

The meetings at Reykjavik were unique from the start; as Shultz recalls, they ‘broke the mold’ in shunning pre-cooked agendas determined by advisors. [51] Each leader was emboldened by the radicalism of their opposite number to go ever further in pursuit of strategic arms reductions. The venue heightened the sense of tension and expectation in what Gorbachev christens in his memoirs a ‘Shakespearean drama’.[52] The wooden nineteenth-century guesthouse, Hofdi, was so cramped that sometimes bathrooms had to be used for private discussions. Further than ratifying Gorbachev’s immediate proposal for 50% missile cuts, the Soviet delegation moved towards Reagan’s 1981 proposal for a “double-zero” on INF in Europe and conceded even to allow testing of SDI in laboratories, a red-line for Gorbachev in Geneva. Each delegation’s sense of the radicalism of the proposals grew as they took long breaks to deliberate, although an overnight working group session headed by Paul Nitze for the U.S. and Sergei Akhromeyev for the U.S.S.R. reached an impasse over the agenda. A telling comment for the summit as a whole was made by Soviet diplomat Georgy Arbatov: ‘what you are offering requires an exceptional level of trust’, ostensibly yet to be reached.[53] However, entering the final day, the “human factor” allowed the leaders themselves to rise above such despondency; the Soviet leader’s ultimate proposal was to abolish all nuclear missiles within a decade, albeit in a package which would include restricting SDI to laboratories and U.S. non-withdrawal from the ABM Treaty (which SDI testing would violate) for that ten-year period. SDI remained Reagan’s pet project and the cause of an impasse – ‘tediously familiar ground’ for Matlock.[54] While the ability of scientists to develop SDI was unlikely, the Kremlin continued to fear American strategic defence as offense. Reagan repeated his assurance from Geneva that the U.S. would share SDI technology, but Gorbachev remained suspicious: ‘You don’t want to share even petroleum equipment…’.[55] SDI proved the obstacle which prevented Reykjavik from making history in substantive terms. Scholars have speculated that the President might have stayed longer to reach an agreement if his chief informal adviser, Nancy Reagan, had been invited (as Reykjavik was not branded as a full summit, she remained in Washington).[56] This is difficult to substantiate; more likely, SDI would have remained a non-negotiable ‘matter of principle’ for Gorbachev.[57] It was an insuperable obstacle which left both leaders genuinely sorry to leave Reykjavik empty-handed.

Nevertheless, once removed from the pressurised, jet-lagged atmosphere of Hofdi, Reagan and Gorbachev could contemplate its vast implications. Without an agreement, the summit still “made history” for what was now possible. It took just twenty minutes for the ever-optimistic Gorbachev to reconsider Reykjavik as a ‘breakthrough, which allowed us for the first time to look over the horizon’.[58] Reagan’s positive angle came in the following days, but he too remarked that radical arms control measures were now possible between once sworn enemies.[59] His optimism was tempered by America’s European allies, who ascertained Reagan’s willingness to abandon four decades of independent nuclear deterrence. Reagan would quickly host West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl followed by Margaret Thatcher at Camp David to placate their conventional concerns that he had fallen into an unattainable and undesirable Soviet ‘trap’ in believing that all nuclear weapons could be eliminated.[60] Appealing to the Western audience, Reagan sought to pin blame for the impasse on his counterpart; his speech to Congress argued that ‘complete elimination of all ballistic missiles’ by 1996 was an ‘American offer still on the table’.[61] Still, both leaders’ sense of the other’s sincerity was amplified from Geneva to the extent that nuclear arms reduction was now a true possibility. In the short term,Reykjavik ratified a history of disagreement, but it affirmed Gorbachev’s radical agenda. The summit holds great symbolism, given the INF agreement it facilitated in 1987, and exemplifies that perceptions of summitry can change markedly – from “ratifying events” to “making history” – based on retrospective analysis.

Like Reykjavik, the Washington summit held historical significance because of Mikhail Gorbachev’s pressure for a substantive foreign policy breakthrough to hasten domestic reform. While Reagan was enthusiastic, he was castigated for the recklessness of the near-agreement in Iceland and restricted to internal ‘scandal management’[62] as the Iran-Contra affair indicted several administration officials.[63] Again, Gorbachev needed a summit; by February 1987, he even compromised on allowing SDI testing in space after scientific advice that the programme would be infeasible. U.S.-Soviet negotiations in Geneva on an INF Treaty, linked to Reagan’s 1981 “zero option” proposals, were the crucial step to justify another meeting, yet a visit by Shultz to Moscow in April suggested even this was impossible. Gorbachev exclaimed in frustration: ‘you are walking around hot porridge and cannot make a decision to do anything’.[64] The General Secretary’s ultimate aim to ‘clear Europe from nuclear weapons’[65] prompted him to make concessions on INF to force American agreement by October – over the concerns of Soviet military brass – and thus the achievement of a December 1987 summit in Washington to ratify an INF Treaty attests to Gorbachev’s persistence.

Held between 8th and 10th December, the Washington meetings exemplify that summitry can “ratify events” (quite literally, a treaty) and “make history” in the process. The INF Treaty achieved the first ever reductions in superpower arsenals. While it constituted an elimination of only 5% of total arsenals, the intermediate and shorter-range missiles destroyed were based in Europe and therefore constituted the most significant threat to the Soviet Union. As Garthoff notes, Gorbachev could justify that the flight time of these weapons made them ‘most likely to spur escalation to general nuclear war from any local hostilities’.[66]

The second major theme of the Washington summit was the continued attitudinal shift in each leader’s perception of the other and the entire Cold War order. Moments of levity and spontaneity gave the summit value. At Geneva and Reykjavik, President Reagan had overused the Russian proverb doveryai no proveryai – “trust, but verify” – taught to him by cultural expert Suzanne Massie. Employing it again in his INF signing speech, Gorbachev protested: ‘You repeat that at every meeting!’. ‘I like it!’ replied the “Great Communicator”.[67] For the first time, “Ron” and “Mikhail” addressed each other on a first-name basis. Gorbachev conversed with well-known Americans at a state dinner, from Steven Spielberg to Joe DiMaggio (from whom he received a signed baseball), and the Soviet delegation stayed late to sing along to “Moscow Nights” played by American pianist Van Cliburn. The General Secretary strengthened his rapport with Reagan’s eventual successor, Vice President Bush, in a 35-minute ride to the airport (such was his perception of the conversation’s significance that he asked his interpreter, Pavel Palazchenko, to write it up).[68] The journey even included an impromptu stop – at Gorbachev’s request – to greet crowds on Connecticut Avenue.

Characteristically, the Soviet leader looked beyond INF to a rigorous summit agenda of further strategic arms reductions talks (START), chemical weapons and conventional force eliminations, and regional issues such as the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. However, the negotiations themselves proved more to ratify dispute and prove that Reagan – a “lame duck” president retiring in thirteen months – had little room for manoeuvre. On Afghanistan, American funding to the Mujahedeen evidenced an obstacle to Gorbachev’s planned withdrawal (it would be phased, regardless, from May 1988). The Soviet leader noted that ‘his list of priority regional questions coincided perfectly with that of the President’[69] and yet words proved stronger than deeds vis-à-vis Nicaragua, the Iran-Iraq War, and the Berlin Wall. From the first meeting, Gorbachev clarified that ‘he would not sit as the accused before a prosecutor’[70] on human rights, which were a problem as much for African-Americans in the U.S. as citizens of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, when he delivered an impassioned speech on glasnost, Reagan interrupted with an inappropriate joke about Soviet cab drivers, prompting a rebuke from Secretary Shultz.[71] Even on economic relations, Congress still debated new constraints on trade with the Soviet Union; Most-Favoured Nation status could not be negotiated.[72] Meanwhile, the First Ladies clashed as Nancy Reagan complained that Raisa Gorbacheva had not asked her about her recent cancer surgery, and called the White House a “museum” before giving a long speech on the American Civil War losses.[73] INF and headline-grabbing imagery typified the summit where the negotiations themselves – and the development of some relationships – did not “make history”.

In terms of symbolism and the substance of INF, Washington was the best summit yet, as Reagan concluded to a congressional breakfast on 11th December. Following the first ever nuclear arsenal reductions, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock back to six minutes to midnight, from the three minutes established at the nadir of relations in early 1984.[74] The INF Treaty attracted notable criticism from five U.S. Senators,[75] who protested that the reductions excessively privileged the Soviets, but its ratification the following May by 93-5 indicates that most lawmakers thought beyond the Cold War paradigm. Washington marked a significant rise in the Soviet leader’s personal popularity in the U.S. to sixty-five percent; he would become Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” for 1987 due in large part to his public reception in the capital. Gorbachev ranked some seven points higher than the President, who himself enjoyed his highest ratings since before Iran-Contra.[76] Gorbachev understood his impact, identifying the enduring theme in Moscow the following year: ‘In Washington, probably for the first time, we clearly realized how much the human factor means in international politics… These people are guided by the most natural human motives and feelings.’[77]

Unlike previous summits, Reagan’s return visit to Moscow was decided without quarrel, for May-June 1988: further evidence of the triumph of the “human factor” at Washington. However, this summit did not achieve much progress beyond the topic of human rights, which topped the President’s agenda. This was a function of Reagan’s approaching retirement and conventional thinking from advisors such as Frank Carlucci and Colin Powell on START negotiations.[78] Indeed, Reagan focused on short-term solutions to regional, human rights and bilateral issues in his pre-summit address of 28th May,[79] and arms control did not even feature until the second day of discussions. To Shultz in February, Gorbachev had lamented that the administration was term-limited and, noting the United States’ inability to deliver, focused on his sweeping platform for democratisation at the upcoming CPSU Congress in July over the summit. Gorbachev laid the groundwork for his “new thinking” the previous summer in his book Perestroika, designed specifically for an American audience. Moscow was expected to further dispel the malevolent image of the U.S.S.R: a cultural exchange via the medium of television, and it was in this sense that the summit “made history”. Such was the media circus that Reagan was interviewed almost daily about his visit to Moscow in the preceding weeks, and he conveyed to Russian sources through Suzanne Massie his intention to make a bold statement dispelling his “Evil Empire” rhetoric.[80]

Emblematic public occasions overshadowed what was little more than the ratification of events through negotiations in Moscow. The President gave his remarks at Moscow University and in Red Square, and to reiterate his human rights focus, discussed freedom of religion with monks at Danilov Monastery and hosted a breakfast at the ambassadorial residence for forty-two dissidents and their families. Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post argued that the diplomatic business itself ‘could have been accomplished by a couple of assistant secretaries of state in Geneva before lunch’.[81] Further bilateral exchanges were made (one could include Gorbachev’s gift from Reagan of an American-made leather jacket!), as were deals on regional conflicts in Cambodia and North Korea. Nonetheless, more often the delegations agreed to disagree, for instance on Central American conflicts, SDI yet again (Gorbachev stated his view ‘amiably’ that the President was ‘being deceived’[82]), and American funding to rebels in Nicaragua and Afghanistan. Gorbachev rued that a more substantive outcome might have been reached had the United States endorsed his statement to reject “military means” in the solution of problems, expressly in Eastern Europe.[83] In addition, the summit’s joint statement was diluted as Reagan’s advisors took issue with the connotations behind the phrase “peaceful coexistence”, again betraying traditional thinking. In 1972, the Soviet interpretation of “peaceful coexistence” in the Declaration of Principles signed by Nixon and Brezhnev applied only to “states with different social systems”, giving the U.S.S.R. a free pass to intervention in wayward socialist countries, as characterised the Brezhnev Doctrine. As Matlock suggests, surely a simple revision to “peaceful coexistence of all states” would have given the document symbolic weight.[84] Characteristically, Reagan did not notice the issue. As it was, the Moscow summit’s symbolism derived from the tangible further development of personal connections between Reagan and Gorbachev, which allowed a media perception of substantive agreement.

The political capital earned by each leader in the successful execution of their fourth meeting gave Moscow more historical significance in retrospect, especially for its host. Even though Gorbachev’s advisor Anatoly Chernyaev viewed Moscow as insignificant in comparison to the CPSU Conference in July 1988 – he wrote indicatively that Soviet diplomats ‘took a break from Volynskoe-2 [where the conference platform was being prepared] due to Reagan’s visit’[85]  – Gorbachev’s political stature was improved by staging the summit so closely before. As Hunt and Reynolds surmise, the leader could ‘outflank rivals’ both on the “right” (such as Yegor Ligachev, who perceived the internal liberalisation of the Soviet Union as excessively fast) and the “left” (Boris Yeltsin was a notable rival who had resigned from the Politburo in 1987 in protest at the slow speed of reform).[86] This was important at a Conference where he would announce democratic elections to over 80% of seats in the Congress of Peoples’ Deputies and emphasise the right of each country to choose their own economic and political system – effectively renouncing the Brezhnev Doctrine. As a result of the Moscow ‘media extravaganza’,[87] President Reagan was viewed as a celebrity in the Soviet Union. Clearly a psychological transformation had taken place at the Moscow summit, while propelling Gorbachev’s reforming audacity to greater heights. He would detail further foreign policy proposals to a wider audience at the United Nations in December 1988, providing the opportunity for a final summit with Reagan.

The Governor’s Island summit of 7th December 1988 is primarily a point for reflection on the cumulative impact of the 1985-8 summitry process. A self-proclaimed ‘light and nostalgic’ farewell luncheon for Reagan,[88] it also served as an improbable truce between Nancy and Raisa, who exchanged invitations to each other’s countries.[89] Most significantly, Gorbachev and President-elect Bush might be able to kindle a relationship.

Sadly, the New York meeting was curtailed for the General Secretary by the news of 25,000 deaths in an earthquake in Armenia, so achieved virtually nothing of substance. However, its profile was raised by Gorbachev’s momentous speech to the U.N. General Assembly which immediately preceded the summit. He announced Soviet “new thinking” on foreign policy on the global stage, throwing down the gauntlet for a permanent breakthrough with Reagan’s successor. He spoke of the ‘de-ideologization of interstate relations’[90] and unilateral withdrawals of troops, tanks, artillery and combat aircraft in the Eastern bloc. An American follow-up survey found that 65% of those polled now thought the Soviet Union was primarily concerned with protecting its own national security, with only 28% believing it focused on world domination. This is almost the opposite outcome to a pre-Geneva poll.[91]

The caution displayed by President-elect Bush towards Gorbachev at Governor’s Island signifies the time and effort he would require to cultivate the historic “human factor” in summitry to the extent of Reagan. Bush professed himself ‘in the awkward position of having to weigh my present role against my future one’[92] and careful not to make a ‘foolish or short-sighted move’.[93] His selection of foreign policy hardliners for the incoming administration, like Brent Scowcroft as National Security Adviser, ensured that Bush’s thinking on the Soviet Union was dictated by a long-term bureaucratic cynicism which Reagan had dispelled by coming to understand General Secretary Gorbachev. Bush’s “congratulations” for the UN speech were empty; he remarked almost disingenuously that ‘[Gorbachev] seemed to have had a full house’.[94] Bush spoke in platitudes about continuing the relationship developed with Reagan but – despite Gorbachev’s stark presentation of military de-escalation at the UN – he would need time to “review” the issues. Domestic constraints again prevented summitry from “making history” substantively; Bush was elected on a unique mandate in 1988, despite serving as Reagan’s Vice President for eight years, and needed to address dogged conservative concerns that the incumbent had been too “soft” on the Soviet Union. Yet it is indicative that by December 1989, when a “non-summit summit” was finally held between Bush and Gorbachev in Malta, the leaders took time to develop personal relations and continue the remarkable rapprochement initiated in 1985.

Despite their contrasting backgrounds, Reagan and Gorbachev shared an enthusiastic commitment to solving disagreements between the United States and the Soviet Union at the summit which were, only years before, seen as intractable. Reagan abhorred the communist system, but despite his hawkish “Evil Empire” rhetoric and hard-line defence advice, the President was consistent in his aim to abolish nuclear weapons and understand the psychology of the Soviet regime. With the encouragement of his wife Nancy, especially after his 1984 re-election, [95] Reagan aspired to be a peacemaker President. Meanwhile Gorbachev came from a Soviet generation of shestidesyatnaki (“men of the sixties”) – well-educated, shaped by Western influences and coming of age in the unorthodox Khrushchev years.[96] As General Secretary by the age of fifty-four, it quickly became clear that reducing the power of a military-industrial complex in command of an unsustainable nuclear arsenal was central to Gorbachev’s reforming zeal. Reagan and Gorbachev, convinced of the necessity of dialogue, contested forty years of Cold War orthodoxy and cut through bureaucratic inertia in the process.

The “human factor” alone did not allow summitry to make history; media perceptions of the developing relationship heightened this sense. Television and newspaper headlines prioritised the imagery of summitry – be it the leaders’ initial greeting at the Maison de Saussure in Geneva, or Gorbachev speaking with crowds on Washington’s Connecticut Avenue – over the complexities of individual agreements. Equally, media attention allowed a dispelling of preconceptions on both sides, brought into particular focus in the United States with Gorbachev’s 1987 visit to Washington, and in the Soviet Union with Reagan’s return visit to Moscow five months later. However, the historical quality of summitry was substantive too. The breakthrough to allow the signing an INF Treaty relied on the fraught dialogue between delegations at Geneva and especially Reykjavik, which enabled both leaders to identify the sincerity of the other. Even Margaret Thatcher, who admonished Reykjavik as the bargaining away of European nuclear deterrence, realised its historical significance in the Soviet realisation that it could not match the U.S. in military competition. She was won round by the cumulative effect of superpower summitry; it was no coincidence that the Prime Minister conceded in a late 1988 interview: ‘We’re not in a Cold War now’.[97]

Did superpower summitry between 1985-8 make history to the extent that it ended the Cold War? Certainly not singlehandedly – economic difficulties within the Soviet Union, which in turn added impetus to the reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s desire to end the arms race and thus divert resources to domestic reform, are a considerable part of the explanation. Summitry could scarcely determine the transformation of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in late 1989 either. However, the trust, frankness, and personal dialogue developed between leaders at the summit created an environment where the Soviet leader could justify his reformist course to Moscow, and gives agency to a U.S. President with the genuine desire to stimulate a nuclear-free world. The “Great Man” theory of history is outmoded, but a focus on individual engagement at summits between 1985 and 1988 highlights the diplomatic explanation for the end of the Cold War alongside other political, economic or structural sources.[98] It is somewhat ironic that due to the success of the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings, summits in the classical sense ‘no longer have the same global significance and resonance’, as Mourlon-Druol and Romero contend.[99] In other words, since 1989, a global political bipolarity accentuated by massive nuclear arsenals on each side has ceased to exist. In 2018, summits to search for understanding and to prevent a dangerous escalation of tension between nations are no longer perceived as critical – for the time being.

















Primary manuscript sources


‘To the Geneva Summit: Perestroika and the Transformation of U.S.-Soviet Relations’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 172, National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington D.C. [posted 22nd November 2005]

‘The Reykjavik File: Previously Secret Documents from U.S. and Soviet Archives on the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev Summit’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 203, National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington D.C. [posted 13th October 2006]

‘The INF Treaty and the Washington Summit: 20 Years Later’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 238, National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington D.C. [posted 10th December 2007]

‘The Moscow Summit 20 Years Later: From The Secret U.S. and Soviet Files’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 251, National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington D.C. [posted 31st May 2008]

‘Reagan, Gorbachev and Bush at Governor’s Island: Previously Secret Documents from Soviet and U.S. Files On the 1988 Summit in New York, 20 Years Later’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 261, National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington D.C. [posted 8th December 2008]



Primary printed sources


Bush, G. and Scowcroft, B., A World Transformed, New York: Knopf, 1998.

Gorbachev, M., Memoirs, London: Bantam Books, 1997.

Gorbachev, M., Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, New York: HarperCollins, 1987.

Palazchenko, P., My years with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze: the memoir of a Soviet interpreter, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

Reagan, R., with Lindsey, R., An American Life, London: Hutchinson, 1990.

Shultz, G., Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State, New York: Scribner’s, 1993.

Thatcher, M., The Downing Street Years, London: HarperCollins, 1993.





Secondary sources

Dunn, D. H., ed., Diplomacy at the Highest Level: The Evolution of International Summitry, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996.

FitzGerald, F., Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the end of the Cold War, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Garthoff, R. L., The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the end of the Cold War, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1994.

Grachev, A., Gorbachev’s Gamble: Soviet Foreign Policy & the End of the Cold War, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008.

Leffler, M. P., and Westad, O. A., eds., The Cambridge History of the Cold War Volume III: Endings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Mann, J., The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War, London: Penguin, 2011.

Matlock, J. F., Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended, New York: Random House, 2004.

Mourlon-Druol, E., and Romero, F., eds., International summitry and global governance: the rise of the G7 and the European Council, 1974-1991, London; New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.

Oberdorfer, D., From the Cold War to a New Era: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1983-1991, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Reynolds, D., Summits: Six Meetings that Shaped the Twentieth Century, London: Penguin, 2007.

Reynolds, D., ‘Summitry as Intercultural Communication’, International Affairs 85 (2009), pp. 115-127.

Savranskaya, S., and Blanton, T., eds., The Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan and Bush, Conversations that Ended the Cold War, Budapest; New York: Central European University Press, 2016.

Service, R., The End of the Cold War, 1985-1991, London: Macmillan, 2015.

Spohr, K. and Reynolds, D., eds., Transcending the Cold War: Summits, Statecraft, and the Dissolution of Bipolarity in Europe, 1970-1990, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Taubman, W., Gorbachev: His Life and Times, London: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Wilson, J. G., The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev’s Adaptability, Reagan’s Engagement, and the End of the Cold War, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014.

[1] See Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session with the Students and Faculty at Moscow State University, 31st May 1988, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=35897&st=&st1= [accessed 6th May 2018].

[2] Kristina Spohr and David Reynolds, ‘Introduction’, in Kristina Spohr and David Reynolds, eds., Transcending the Cold War: Summits, Statecraft, and the Dissolution of Bipolarity in Europe, 1970-1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), p.9.

[3] Politburo Session [Excerpt from notes of Anatoly Chernyaev], 6th June 1988, in ‘The Moscow Summit 20 Years Later: From The Secret U.S. and Soviet Files’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 251, National Security Archive, George Washington University, Washington D.C.

[4] Ronald Reagan, with Robert Lindsey, An American Life (London: Hutchinson, 1990), p.557.

[5] Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, 8th March 1983, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=41023&st=evangelical&st1= [accessed 28th April 2018]. This is commonly labelled the “Evil Empire” speech.

[6] Ronald Reagan quoted in Jonathan Hunt and David Reynolds, ‘Geneva, Reykjavik, Washington, and Moscow, 1985-8’, in Spohr and Reynolds, eds., Transcending the Cold War, p.151.

[7] David H. Dunn, ‘What is Summitry?’, in David H. Dunn, ed., Diplomacy at the Highest Level: The Evolution of International Summitry (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), pp. 14-15.

[8] David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings that Shaped the Twentieth Century (London: Penguin, 2007), pp. 3-4.

[9] See Dunn, ed., Diplomacy, p.14. Donald Watt argued along these lines in 1963, although he insisted that summits must be multilateral, and thus the bilateral Reagan-Gorbachev meetings would not qualify.

[10] Winston Churchill quoted in Reynolds, Summits, p.3. At this point, Churchill harboured delusions that a terminally-declining British Empire might still be regarded as the third great power.

[11] See Dunn, ed., Diplomacy, p.15. In the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary from March 1985 was technically second in rank to Andrei Gromyko as Chairman of the Presidium until the latter’s retirement in late 1988, but Gorbachev was the most powerful figure and widely-recognised “leader” of the USSR.

[12] “Dear Mr. President,” Mikhail Gorbachev letter to Ronald Reagan, 15th September 1986, in ‘The Reykjavik File: Previously Secret Documents from U.S. and Soviet Archives on the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev Summit’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 203.

[13] Reynolds, Summits, p.105.

[14] Aleksandr Bessmertnykh quoted in Beth A. Fischer, ‘US foreign policy under Reagan and Bush’, in Melvyn Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, eds., The Cambridge History of the Cold War Volume III: Endings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p.286.

[15] Reynolds, Summits, pp. 367-8.

[16] See Fischer in Leffler and Westad, eds., Cambridge History of the Cold War Volume III, p.267.

[17] Reagan, An American Life, p.269.

[18] Hunt and Reynolds in Spohr and Reynolds, eds., Transcending the Cold War, p.155.

[19] Ronald Reagan, Address to the Nation and Other Countries on United States-Soviet Relations, 16th January 1984, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=39806&st=&st1= [accessed 28th April 2018].

[20] George Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (New York: Scribner’s, 1993), p.487.

[21] Mikhail Gorbachev to Politburo, 11th March 1985, in ‘To the Geneva Summit: Perestroika and the Transformation of U.S.-Soviet Relations’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 172.

[22] Jack Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended (New York: Random House, 2004), p.125.

[23] Ibid, p.126.

[24] See Reagan Letter to Gorbachev, 4th April 1985, ‘To the Geneva Summit’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 172.

[25] CIA Assessment: Gorbachev’s Personal Agenda for the November Meeting, ‘To the Geneva Summit’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 172.

[26] Ronald Reagan, Address to the Nation on the Upcoming Soviet-United States Summit Meeting, 14th November 1985, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=38068&st=gorbachev&st1= [accessed 28th April 2018].

[27] Weinberger leaked a memo to the New York Times and Washington Post to this effect on the eve of the summit. See Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p.598.

[28] This number is provided in Don Oberdorfer, From the Cold War to a New Era: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1983-1991 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p.140.

[29] Mikhail Gorbachev, Memoirs (London: Bantam Books, 1997), p.528.

[30] Ronald Reagan, Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress Following the Soviet-United States Summit Meeting in Geneva, 21st November 1985, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=38088&st=gorbachev&st1= [accessed 28th April 2018].

[31] Memorandum of Conversation, 2:30-3:40 p.m., Second Plenary Meeting, 19th November 1985, ‘To the Geneva Summit’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 172.

[32] Memorandum of Conversation, 11:30 a.m.-12:40 p.m., Third Plenary Meeting, 20th November 1985, ‘To the Geneva Summit’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 172.

[33] This style was more intimate in the view of Gorbachev’s interpreter, Pavel Palazchenko, and was still employed in Reagan and Gorbachev’s one-on-one meetings. See Pavel Palazchenko, My years with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze: the memoir of a Soviet interpreter (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), p.33.

[34] Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, p.145.

[35] Excerpt from Anatoly Chernyaev’s Diary, 24th November 1985, ‘To the Geneva Summit’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 172.

[36] Gorbachev Speech at the CC CPSU Conference, 28th November 1985, ‘To the Geneva Summit’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 172.

[37] Raymond Garthoff, The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the end of the Cold War (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1994), p.242.

[38] Ronald Reagan, Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress Following the Soviet-United States Summit Meeting in Geneva, 21st November 1985, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=38088&st=gorbachev&st1= [accessed 28th April 2018].

[39] Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Issuing the Joint Soviet-United States Statement on the Summit Meeting in Geneva, 21st November 1985, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=38087&st=gorbachev&st1= [accessed 28th April 2018].

[40] Nancy Reagan quoted in William Taubman, Gorbachev: His Life and Times (London: Simon & Schuster, 2017), pp. 290-1.

[41] Paul Nitze quoted in Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p.760.

[42] This was recounted specifically by Jack Matlock. See Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, p.177.

[43] Margaret Thatcher quoted in ibid, p.178.

[44] Robert Service, The End of the Cold War, 1985-1991 (London: Macmillan, 2015), p.199.

[45] “Dear Mr. President,” Mikhail Gorbachev letter to Ronald Reagan, 15th September 1986, ‘The Reykjavik File’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 203 [my italics].

[46] USSR CC CPSU Politburo session on preparations for Reykjavik, 8th October 1986, ‘The Reykjavik File’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 203.

[47] Reagan, An American Life, p.674.

[48] Charlton Heston quoted in Service, The End of the Cold War, p.209.

[49] Mikhail Gorbachev quoted in Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p.774.

[50] Reagan, An American Life, p.679.

[51] See Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pp. 751-2. He cites the G7 meetings at Ottawa (1981) and Versailles (1982) as those with a tendency to bore Reagan, their agenda determined from the bottom-up. Reykjavik proved the complete opposite.

[52] Gorbachev, Memoirs, p.539.

[53] Russian transcript of Negotiations in the Working Group on Military Issues, headed by Nitze and Akhromeev, 11th-12th October 1986, ‘The Reykjavik File’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 203.

[54] Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, p.224.

[55] U.S. Memorandum of Conversation, Reagan-Gorbachev, Second Meeting, 3:30 p.m. – 5:40 p.m., 11th October 1986, ‘The Reykjavik File’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 203.

[56] Meanwhile, Raisa Gorbacheva topped the list of her husband’s attendees, which only increased Nancy’s sense of her “one-upmanship”. For a further discussion see Taubman, Gorbachev, pp. 302-3.

[57] Russian transcript of Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in Reykjavik, 12th October 1986 (afternoon), ‘The Reykjavik File’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 203.

[58] Gorbachev quotes himself at the Reykjavik press conference in Memoirs, p.541.

[59] See Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Broadcast Journalists on the Meetings in Iceland With Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev, 14th October 1986, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=36597&st=gorbachev&st1= [accessed 28th April 2018].

[60] Margaret Thatcher, The Downing Street Years (London: HarperCollins, 1993), p.470. She described the events of the summit on the next page as ‘an earthquake beneath my feet’.

[61] Ronald Reagan, Address to the Nation on the Meetings With Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev in Iceland, 13th October 1986, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=36587&st=gorbachev&st1= [my italics] [accessed 28th April 2018].

[62] Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton, eds., The Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan and Bush, Conversations that Ended the Cold War (Budapest; New York: Central European University Press, 2016), p.257.

[63] It was uncovered in November 1986 that senior Reagan administration officials had secretly allowed arms sales to Iran, while negotiating for the release of U.S. hostages and despite an official embargo. The proceeds of these sales were forwarded to the Contra right-wing rebels in Nicaragua, working to overthrow the socialist Sandinista regime (also banned by Congress).

[64] Mikhail Gorbachev quoted in Spohr and Reynolds, eds., Transcending the Cold War, p.168.

[65] Politburo Session, 9th July 1987, ‘The INF Treaty and the Washington Summit: 20 Years Later’, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 238.

[66] Garthoff, The Great Transition, p.327.

[67] Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Remarks on Signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, 8th December 1987, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=33795&st=gorbachev&st1= [accessed 28th April 2018].

[68] See Document 53: Record of Conversation between Bush and Gorbachev Following Summit, Washington, 10th December 1987, in Savranskaya and Blanton, eds., The Last Superpower Summits, pp. 356-9. They clarify that the request to write up the conversation only appears in the Russian language version of Palazchenko’s memoir.

[69] Draft Memo of Conversation between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, 10:55 a.m. – 12:35 p.m., 9th December 1987, ‘The INF Treaty and the Washington Summit’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 238.

[70] Memo of Conversation between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, 10:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., 8th December 1987, ‘The INF Treaty and the Washington Summit’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 238.

[71] Service, The End of the Cold War, p.291.

[72] Garthoff, The Great Transition, p.337.

[73] Taubman, Gorbachev, pp. 409-10.

[74] Garthoff, The Great Transition, p.337.

[75] Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p.1007.

[76] Richard Morin, “Post-Summit Poll Shows Reagan Gains”, Washington Post, 15th December 1987, taken from Garthoff, The Great Transition, p.333.

[77] Mikhail Gorbachev quoted in Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, p.271.

[78] See Frances FitzGerald, Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the end of the Cold War (New York, Simon & Schuster, 2001), p.443. She argues that these conventional thinkers were the chief obstacles to the signing of a START Treaty in Moscow.

[79] See Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on the Soviet-United States Summit Meeting in Moscow, 28th May 1988, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=35891&st=&st1= [accessed 28th April 2018].

[80] See National Security Council Memorandum of Conversation, NSC Meeting with Suzanne Massie, 11th March 1988 [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request], ‘Moscow Summit’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 251.

[81] Jim Hoagland quoted in FitzGerald, Way Out There in the Blue, p.458.

[82] Memorandum of Conversation, First Plenary Meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, 30th May 1988 [Reagan Library declassification, FOIA request], ‘Moscow Summit’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 251.

[83] Garthoff, The Great Transition, p.356.

[84] Matlock, Reagan and Gorbachev, p.300.

[85] Anatoly Chernyaev Diary, 19th June 1988, ‘Moscow Summit’, National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 251.

[86] Hunt and Reynolds in Spohr and Reynolds, eds., Transcending the Cold War, p.173.

[87] Garthoff, The Great Transition, p.351.

[88] Service, The End of the Cold War, p.356.

[89] Taubman, Gorbachev, p.421.

[90] Mikhail Gorbachev, Speech to the United Nations, 7th December 1988, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. Available at https://astro.temple.edu/~rimmerma/gorbachev_speech_to_UN.htm [accessed on 5th April 2018].

[91] Oberdorfer, Cold War to a New Era, p.323.

[92] George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Knopf, 1998), p.3.

[93] Ibid, p.9.

[94] Document 70: Memorandum of Conversation, Reagan-Gorbachev, Luncheon Meeting, Governors Island, 1:40pm – 3:10pm, 7th December 1988, in Savranskaya and Blanton, eds., The Last Superpower Summits, p.476.

[95] James Mann, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War (London: Penguin, 2011), p.66.

[96] Ibid, p.35.

[97] Margaret Thatcher quoted in Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p.1131.

[98] This links to James Wilson’s argument that adaptation, improvisation and engagement of individuals in high office ended the Cold War. See James Graham Wilson, The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev’s Adaptability, Reagan’s Engagement, and the End of the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014), p.2.

[99] Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol and Federico Romero, eds., International summitry and global governance: the rise of the G7 and the European Council, 1974-1991 (London; New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2014), p.18.

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Politics refers to the way in which decisions are made on behalf of groups of people. A politician will use their position to suggest and support the creation of new policies and laws, before a group of politicians will come together to debate the creation of such policies and laws.

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