Cold War Termination - Summit diplomacy: geneva, november 1985




When Secretary Shultz initiated discussions with Soviet officials for a summit conference between Gorbachev and Reagan in Geneva in November 1985, Reagan made a significant contribution to ending the Cold War by overruling hard-liner objections and by recognizing that Gorbachev provided new possibilities for at least a reduction of tensions and nuclear risks in the Cold War. Weinberger and the hard-liners opposed a summit with Gorbachev, but Shultz persuaded a wavering president to go ahead, especially since Gorbachev and Shevardnadze had indicated a significant interest in the reduction of the burden of strategic weapons to enable the Kremlin to stimulate economic reform. Shultz, however, failed in an effort to persuade Reagan to accept a trade-off between offensive missiles and defense with limits on SDI. Instead, the secretary found himself fighting something of a rearguard action against efforts by hard-liners to reinterpret the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972 so that it would permit development, testing, and deployment of new space weapons.

Gorbachev also faced resistance to the Geneva summit and a significant arms control settlement, but he did start to shift Soviet positions. Eastern European leaders and Soviet conservatives opposed any change in bloc relations and affirmed a class-struggle perspective in international relations. They pushed for an expanded offensive in Afghanistan and continued Soviet aid to anti-imperialist forces. In late August, however, Gorbachev signaled the possibility of a trade-off on offensive missiles and defense by dropping the longtime Soviet stance that called for a complete ban on SDI research, as opposed to a ban only on research outside of the laboratory. On 27 September, Shevardnadze followed up Gorbachev's comments with a proposed 50 percent reduction in strategic weapons in exchange for an agreement affirming the ABM Treaty against the development, testing, or deployment of space-based weapons. This represented the first of a significant number of concessions from Gorbachev on arms control that started to move the Soviet Union toward the U.S. position.

The summit did not produce significant movement in any of the three areas of arms control—intercontinental ballistic missiles, intermediate range missiles, and missile defense. It did establish the agenda for future summits, as the leaders agreed to hold two more meetings in Washington and Moscow, with regional issues such as Afghanistan and Central America and human rights issues receiving attention along with bilateral questions. Through substantial private exchanges during the two days, Reagan and Gorbachev initiated a personal relationship that started to break down entrenched stereotypes of the Soviet head of the evil empire and the American leader of capitalist imperialism. Shultz had finally brought Reagan into a policy of negotiation with the Soviet Union despite the continuing resistance of hard-liners, who leaked a letter by Weinberger on the day the president left for Geneva that warned the president against any agreements to restrain SDI or continue the unratified SALT II treaty.

In the aftermath of Geneva, Gorbachev faced the most serious challenges from critics who argued that he came home from Geneva without anything. The Soviet leader, however, moved the farthest to work out an accommodation with Washington. In January he proposed the elimination of all nuclear weapons by the year 2000 and a response on INF missiles that moved toward Washington's position of zero on both sides. The prospect of getting rid of all missiles clearly interested President Reagan, who brushed aside the criticism of Richard Perle, the original author of the zero strategy, that Gorbachev was just engaging in propaganda. Gorbachev, however, had to use all of his powers of persuasion as well as the strong Soviet commitment to disarmament to persuade the Soviet military to accept his proposals.

Gorbachev went on to establish a new policy line on both the domestic and international fronts with the Twenty-seventh Party Congress in February. Before the congress, Gorbachev, Yakovlev, and Shevardnadze met to work out a new philosophy of foreign policy with input from a number of new thinkers and with much personal struggle. They ultimately moved from Lenin's basic precept of a divided world and Marxist class struggle to a concept of an interdependent world that needed cooperation on global problems rather than an arms race and Cold War with the imperialist camp.

Shevardnadze went ahead in the Foreign Ministry to implement this perspective with new officials. Under this agenda the Soviet Union would aim at the reduction of regional conflicts, the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the establishment of a security system in Europe, the significant reduction of nuclear and conventional arms, respect for neighboring states with a policy of noninterference, and the end of the Cold War with the United States. In May, Gorbachev presented this perspective to the Soviet diplomatic corps, including all ambassadors. Although this new thinking effectively abandoned the traditional Soviet Marxist-Leninist framework and any ideological rationale for a Cold War, practical implementation would be more difficult with both Soviet and American hard-liners, who remained suspicious.

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