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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Did Reagan Plot the End of The Cold War?

Let the battle commence. The historians are squaring off for the great argument: whether Ronald Reagan won the Cold War, or Mikhail Gorbachev chose to end it.


In one corner, Peter Schweizer of Stanford University's Hoover Institute. His new book "Victory" is summed up in its subtitle: "The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union."


Relying mainly on interviews with Reagan's national security staff, Schweizer claims there was a deliberate masterplan. On the economic front, it consisted of a concerted effort to drop the world price of oil in 1985 and diplomatic and physical sabotage of the energy pipelines into Western Europe, in order to force the Soviet Union into a foreign-exchange crisis.


Meanwhile, at the rim of the overstretched Soviet empire, William Casey's CIA massively reinforced covert support for Solidarity in Poland and for the Afghan resistance, as part of a deliberate plan to roll back the Kremlin's influence.


In the other corner, former State Department official and diplomatic historian Ray Garthoff this month publishes "The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War." Garthoff takes the view that the Reagan administration wilfully failed to realize until almost too late that Mikhail Gorbachev was trying to end the Cold War.


"The American contributions to both detente and confrontation were on the margins of history," Garthoff said. "Reagan's crusading confrontations of the 1980s probably slowed up by about two to three years the ending of the Cold War."


Aware that their place in history is at stake, the Reaganauts are naturally keen to support Mr. Schweizer. "We adopted a comprehensive strategy that included economic warfare, to attack Soviet weakness. It was a silent campaign," says Reagan's Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.


We all know that Ronald Reagan came to power determined to rearm the West, to mount a stout ideological challenge against the Soviet Union. The problem is that Schweizer cannot come up with a smoking gun, a policy document from the early 1980s that lays out the whole strategy.


This is no arid historical debate, but one that goes to the heart of the current rightist attacks upon the Clinton administration's Russia policy, and to its prime architect, Strobe Talbott.


Talbott takes the Garthoff view. In a long 1990 essay in Time magazine naming Mikhail Gorbachev as "man of the decade," Talbott wrote: "A new consensus is emerging that the Soviet threat is not what it used to be. The real point, however, is that it never was. The doves in the great debate of the past forty years were right all along."


And now as deputy secretary of state, Talbott still holds that view. He still rejects the Reaganite view that the Soviet Union was beaten into submission by American resolve.


Talbott still gives Gorbachev and the reformers credit for dismantling the police state, withdrawing from the Cold War and accepting the independence of Eastern Europe. And he is deeply skeptical of the new conservative claims that Russia is plotting to rebuild the Soviet empire.


This is why the competing views of Cold War history are so important now in its aftermath. The historians' debate is in fact a policy war by proxy about the future.