Profile: Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev was a participant or observer in the following events:
Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, in office just 13 months, dies of a long illness. Chernenko had moved to reopen talks with the US (see February 23, 1984 and Early 1985). President Reagan sends Vice President George H. W. Bush to the funeral with an invitation to hold a summit meeting with Chernenko’s successor, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev signals his acceptance (see November 16-19, 1985). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139]
Days before President Reagan’s scheduled Geneva summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985), Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger attempts to sabotage the meeting by leaking to the press a letter he had recently written to Reagan outlining what he called systematic Soviet violations of existing arms treaties, and warning Reagan that if he makes any deal with Gorbachev, he implicitly accepts those infractions. Author J. Peter Scoblic will call it “a clumsy attempt to undermine the talks,” and one that angers the more moderate administration officials. Instead of undermining the negotiations as he had intended, Reagan takes Weinberger off the Geneva delegation. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143]
Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva summit meeting. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]The long-awaited summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in Geneva. The meeting, later known as the “fireside summit,” comes after months of Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR—“glasnost,” or openness to government transparency; “perestroika,” a retooling of the moribund Stalinist economy; and a dogged anti-alcohol campaign, among others. Gorbachev has packed the Kremlin with officials such as new Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze and chief economist Alexander Yakovlev, who back his reform campaigns. (Yakolev has even proposed democratization of the Soviet Communist Party.) Reagan and Gorbachev have exchanged several letters which have helped build relations between the two leaders. Reagan, unlike some of his hardline advisers, is excited about the summit, and has diligently prepared, even holding mock debates with National Security Council member Jack Matlock playing Gorbachev. Reagan has also quietly arranged—without the knowledge of his recalcitrant hardline advisers—for an extension of the scheduled 15-minute private meeting between himself and Gorbachev. The two actually talk for five hours. Nothing firm is agreed upon during this first meeting, but as Reagan later recalls, it marks a “fresh start” in US-Soviet relations. Gorbachev returns to the USSR promoting his and Reagan’s agreement on the need to reduce nuclear arms; Reagan presents the summit as a “victory” in which he did not back down to Soviet pressure, but instead emphasized the need for the Soviets to honor basic human rights for their citizens. Gorbachev realizes that Reagan’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons and his desire for a reduction in nuclear arms (see April 1981 and After) is personal and not shared by many of his administration’s officials, much less the US defense industry. As a result, he focuses on personal contacts and appeals to Reagan, and puts less stock in formal negotiations between the two. [National Security Archive, 11/22/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139-140; Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 1/23/2008]
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, following up on the successful “fireside summit” between himself and Ronald Reagan (see November 16-19, 1985), sends Reagan a letter calling for drastic reductions in US and Soviet nuclear weapons. He proposes the complete eradication of all nuclear weapons by the year 2000. He proposes cutting strategic arsenals by half, banning space-based weapons outright, and halting nuclear testing. He also proposes the complete dismantlement of all intermediate-range systems in Europe—in essence accepting the US’s “zero option” that was such a sticking point in earlier negotiations (see September 1981 through November 1983). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139-140] One administration hardliner, chief arms negotiator Edward Rowny (see May 1982 and After), warns Reagan that the Soviets are inherently untrustworthy and begs him “not to go soft on this.” Instead of giving Rowny what he wants, Reagan launches into what Rowny will later recall as a Martin Luther King-like speech: “I have a dream. I have a dream of a world without nuclear weapons. I want our children and grandchildren particularly to be free of those weapons.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143]
Gorbachev and Reagan at the Reykjavik summit. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]President Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, for a second summit, to follow on the success of their first meeting almost a year before (see November 16-19, 1985). They base their discussion on Gorbachev’s January proposals of deep cuts in the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see January 1986).
Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons by 1996 - Gorbachev and his negotiators begin by reiterating Gorbachev’s proposals for a 50 percent cut in all nuclear weapons, deep reductions in Soviet ICBMs, and the elimination of all European-based intermediate nuclear weapons. Reagan and his negotiators counter with a proposal for both sides to destroy half of their nuclear ballistic missiles in the next five years, and the rest to be destroyed over the next five, leaving both sides with large arsenals of cruise missiles and bomber-based weapons. Gorbachev ups the ante, proposing that all nuclear weapons be destroyed within 10 years. Reagan responds that it would be fine with him “if we eliminated all nuclear weapons,” implicitly including all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and everywhere else. Gorbachev says, “We can do that,” and Secretary of State George Shultz says, “Let’s do it.”
Agreement Founders on SDI - The heady moment is lost when the two sides fail to reach an agreement on SDI—the Americans’ “Star Wars” missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Gorbachev cannot accept any major reductions in nuclear weapons if the US has a viable missile defense system; Reagan is convinced that SDI would allow both sides to eliminate their nuclear weapons, and offers the SDI technology to the Soviets. Gorbachev finds Reagan’s offer naive, since there is no guarantee that future presidents would honor the deal. Reagan, in another example of his ignorance of the mechanics of the US nuclear program (see April 1981 and After), does not seem to realize that even a completely effective SDI program would not defend against Soviet cruise missiles and long-range bombers, and therefore would not end the threat of nuclear destruction for either side. Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “[SDI] would have convinced the Soviet Union that the United States sought a first-strike capability, since the Americans were so far ahead in cruise missile and stealth bomber technology.” Gorbachev does not ask that the US abandon SDI entirely, but simply observe the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty (see May 26, 1972) and confine SDI research to the laboratory. Reagan refuses. Gorbachev says that if this is the US’s position, then they would have to “forget everything they discussed.” Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze breaks in, saying that the two nations are “so close” to making history that “if future generations read the minutes of these meetings, and saw how close we had come but how we did not use these opportunities, they would never forgive us.” But the agreement is not to be.
Participants' Reactions - As Shultz later says, “Reykjavik was too bold for the world.” Shultz tells reporters that he is “deeply disappointed” in the results, and no longer sees “any prospect” for a third summit. Gorbachev tells reporters that Reagan’s insistence on retaining SDI had “frustrated and scuttled” the opportunity for an agreement. Gorbachev says he told Reagan that the two countries “were missing a historic chance. Never had our positions been so close together.” Reagan says as he is leaving Iceland that “though we put on the table the most far-reaching arms control proposal in history, the general secretary [Gorbachev] rejected it.” Scoblic will later write, “In the end, ironically, it was Reagan’s utopianism, hitched as it was to a missile shield, that preserved the status quo.” [Washington Post, 10/13/1986; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Hardline Sabotage - One element that contributes to the failure of the negotiations is the efforts to undermine the talks by hardline advisers Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, who tell Reagan that confining SDI to research facilities would destroy the program. Perle and Adelman are lying, but Reagan, not knowing any better, believes them, and insists that SDI remain in development. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-144]
Going Too Far? - Reagan’s negotiators, even the most ardent proponents of nuclear reduction, are shocked that he almost agreed to give up the US’s entire nuclear arsenal—with Shultz’s encouragement. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand are horrified at the prospect, given that NATO’s nuclear arsenal in Europe is the only real counterweight to the huge Red Army so close to the borders of Western European nations. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Failure of Trust - The US-Soviet talks may well have foundered on an inability of either side to trust the other one to the extent necessary to implement the agreements. During the talks, Soviet aide Gyorgy Arbatov tells US negotiator Paul Nitze that the proposals would require “an exceptional level of trust.” Therefore, Arbatov says, “we cannot accept your position.” [National Security Archives, 3/12/2008]
President Reagan speaking before the Brandenberg Gate. [Source: Public domain]In one of the most iconic moments in modern history, President Reagan, in a speech before the Brandenberg Gate in the Berlin Wall, challenges Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to raze the wall and allow East and West Berlin to become one city again. Reagan says: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan’s speech is widely, if perhaps simplistically, credited for bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. [PBS, 2000]
Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF treaty. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a fundamental disarmament agreement. The two sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been stalled for years (see September 1981 through November 1983). The INF Treaty eliminates an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles. It also provides for on-site verifications for each side (which agrees with Reagan’s signature quote, “Trust but verify”). And it marks the first real multi-lateral reduction of nuclear weapons, even if it is only a 5 percent reduction.
Strong Approval from American Public - Reagan’s approval ratings, weakened by public outrage over the Iran-Contra affair, rebound, and Gorbachev becomes a celebrity to many Americans (he causes a near-riot in Washington when, the day before signing the treaty, he spontaneously leaps out of his limousine and wades into the gathered crowd of well-wishers). Altogether, some 80 percent of Americans support the treaty.
Unable to Continue Longer-Range Negotiations - Reagan wants to build on the INF agreement to reopen the similarly moribund START negotiations (see May 1982 and After), but recognizes that there is not enough time left in his administration to accomplish such a long-term goal. Instead, he celebrates his status as the first American president to begin reducing nuclear arms by scheduling a visit to the Soviet Union.
Conservative Opposition - Hardline conservatives protest Gorbachev’s visit to Washington, and the signing of the treaty, in the strongest possible terms. When Reagan suggests that Gorbachev address a joint session of Congress, Congressional Republicans, led by House member Dick Cheney (R-WY—see 1983), rebel. Cheney says: “Addressing a joint meeting of Congress is a high honor, one of the highest honors we can accord anyone. Given the fact of continuing Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, and Soviet actions in Africa and Central America, it is totally inappropriate to confer this honor upon Gorbachev. He is an adversary, not an ally.” Conservative Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Committee is more blunt in his assessment of the treaty agreement: “Reagan is a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as in clout, and not in a position to make judgments about Gorbachev at this time.” Conservative pundit William F. Buckley calls the treaty a “suicide pact.” Fellow conservative pundit George Will calls Reagan “wildly wrong” in his dealings with the Soviets. Conservatives gather to bemoan what they call “summit fever,” accusing Reagan of “appeasement” both of communists and of Congressional liberals, and protesting Reagan’s “cutting deals with the evil empire” (see March 8, 1983). They mount a letter-writing campaign, generating some 300,000 letters, and launch a newspaper ad campaign that compares Reagan to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Steven Symms (R-ID) try to undercut the treaty by attempting to add amendments that would make the treaty untenable; Helms will lead a filibuster against the treaty as well.
Senate Ratification and a Presidential Rebuke - All the protests from hardline opponents of the treaty come to naught. When the Senate votes to ratify the treaty, Reagan says of his conservative opposition, “I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting an understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 142-145]
As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-145]
When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary (see March 20, 1989 and After), he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s). Cheney places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”
A Different View of the Soviet Union - Cheney pairs with Wolfowitz and his neoconservatives to battle one issue in particular: the US’s dealings with the Soviet Union. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has been in office for four years, and has built a strong reputation for himself in the West as a charismatic reformer. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the others see something far darker. Cheney opposes any dealings with the Soviets except on the most adversarial level (see 1983), and publicly discusses his skepticism of perestroika, Gorbachev’s restructing of the Soviet economy away from a communist paradigm. In April, Cheney tells a CNN news anchor that Gorbachev will “ultimately fail” and a leader “far more hostile” to the West will follow in his footsteps. Some of President Bush’s more “realistic” aides, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as Bush himself, have cast their lot with Gorbachev and reform; they have no use for Cheney’s public advocacy of using the USSR’s period of transitional turmoil to dismember the nation once and for all.
Cheney's Alternative Policy - Cheney turns to the neoconservatives under Wolfowitz for an alternative strategy. They meet on Saturday mornings in the Pentagon’s E ring, where they have one maverick Sovietologist after another propound his or her views. Almost all of these Sovietologists echo Cheney and Wolfowitz’s view—the USSR is on the brink of collapse, and the US should do what it can to hasten the process and destroy its enemy for good. They assert that what the Soviet Union needs is not a reformer guiding the country back into a papered-over totalitarianism, to emerge (with the US’s help) stronger and more dangerous than before. Instead, Cheney and his cadre advocate enforced regime change in the Soviet Union. Supporting the rebellious Ukraine will undermine the legitimacy of the central Soviet government, and supporting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, will strike at the heart of the Gorbachev regime. Bush and his core advisers worry about instability, but Cheney says that the destruction of the Soviet Union is worth a little short-term disruption.
Failure - Bush will not adopt the position of his defense secretary, and will continue supporting Gorbachev through the Soviet Union’s painful transition and eventual dissolution. After Cheney goes public one time too many about his feelings about Gorbachev, Baker tells Scowcroft to “[d]ump on Dick” with all deliberate speed. During the final days of the Soviet Union, Cheney will find himself alone against Bush’s senior advisers and Cabinet members in their policy discussions. [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Boris Yeltsin, Franklin Foer, US Department of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James A. Baker, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, Spencer Ackerman
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
A terrorist group plans to kill some of the world’s most important leaders in Madrid, Spain, by crashing two hijacked planes into the buildings where they are meeting for a Middle East peace conference. [London Times, 9/14/2001] The Madrid Conference is hosted by the government of Spain, and is co-sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union. It opens on October 30, 1991, and lasts for three days. [Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1/28/1999] The unnamed Islamic fundamentalist group intends to hijack two aircraft outside Spain and fly them to Madrid. One aircraft is to be crashed into the Spanish Royal Palace during a reception for world leaders, including US President George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union. The other aircraft is to be crashed into a hotel where the Soviet delegation to the conference is staying. The plot is foiled by Arab intelligence. The plot will come to light in the days after September 11, 2001, when former Spanish Secretary of State for Security Rafael Vera reveals it, and it is compared to the 9/11 attacks. [London Times, 9/14/2001]
Prince Bandar bin Sultan. [Source: CBS News]Former President George H. W. Bush calls on his longtime friend, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and asks him to meet with his son, Texas Governor George W. Bush. His son has an important decision to make, the elder Bush tells Bandar, and needs the prince’s advice. Bandar flies to Austin, Texas, planning on using a visit to a Dallas Cowboys game as a “cover” for his visit. He lands in Austin, and is surprised when Governor Bush boards the plane before Bandar can disembark. Bush comes straight to the point: he is considering a run for the presidency, and though he already knows what his domestic agenda will be, says, “I don’t have the foggiest idea about what I think about international, foreign policy.” Bandar runs through his experiences with various world leaders, including the USSR’s Mikhail Gorbachev, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, the Pope, and former US President Ronald Reagan. Finally, Bush says, “There are people who are your enemies in this country who also think my dad is your enemy.” Bandar knows Bush is speaking of US supporters of Israel, and wants to know how he should handle the Israeli-Jewish lobby as well as the neoconservatives who loathe both the Saudis and the elder Bush. Bandar replies: “Can I give you one advice?… If you tell me that [you want to be president], I want to tell you one thing. To hell with Saudi Arabia or who likes Saudi Arabia or who doesn’t, who likes Bandar or who doesn’t. Anyone who you think hates your dad or your friend who can be important to make a difference in winning, swallow your pride and make friends of them. And I can help you. I can help you out and complain about you, make sure they understand that, and that will make sure they help you.” Bandar’s message is clear: if Bush needs the neoconservatives to help him win the presidency, then he should do what it takes to get them on his side. “Never mind if you really want to be honest,” Bandar continues. “This is not a confession booth.… In the big boys’ game, it’s cutthroat, it’s bloody and it’s not pleasant.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 154-155]
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