GLOBAL ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT
Editor's Note: With the death of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan over the weekend, the theme has been raised over and over again that his military buildup was instrumental in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union. In two contributions to Global Viewpoint -- first in 1995 as part of a roundtable with former President George Bush, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterrand and in 2000 marking the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall -- Mikhail Gorbachev offered his views of Reagan's role in ending the Cold War.
1995: SDI WAS NOT DECISIVE; SOVIET REFORM CAME FROM WITHIN
Gorbachev's response to former British Prime Minister Thatcher's assertion that "there was one vital factor in the ending of the Cold War: Ronald Reagan's decision to go ahead with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)":
"SDI (Reagan's Star Wars program) was not decisive in our movement toward a new relationship with the West. If you accept that reforms in the Soviet Union started under pressure from the West, particularly as a result of the implementation of SDI, that would distort the real picture and offer a wrong lesson for the future.
"Of decisive importance were the changes within the Soviet Union. They necessarily preceded any change in our external relations. We had to go a long way from a critical reassessment of the Communist model that was forcibly imposed on our country and that was sustained by repressive measures. With technological progress and the improvement of the educational and cultural level, the old system began to be rejected by people who saw that their initiative was suppressed, who saw they were not able to realize their potential.
"Therefore, the first impulses for reform were in the Soviet Union itself, in our society which could no longer tolerate the lack of freedom, where no one could speak out and choose their own party or select their own creed. In the eyes of the people, especially the educated, the totalitarian system had run its course morally and politically. People were waiting for reform. Russia was pregnant.
"So, the moment was mature to give possibility to the people. And we could only do it from above because initiatives from below would have meant an explosion of discontent. This was the decisive factor, not SDI."
2000: 'MR. GORBACHEV, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL'
In response to this question by Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels: What was your personal reaction when Ronald Reagan went to Berlin and declared "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall"?
"When Ronald Reagan said in Berlin, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,' he did not contradict my convictions in any substantive way. As the Russian saying goes, 'You can't leave the words out of the song.' But I didn't appreciate his actor's showmanship in making the statement the way he did. It certainly didn't help in easing the confrontational atmosphere at the time and provoked hard-liners in Moscow. Later, though, I can't deny that Reagan played a very significant role in lessening tensions in arms talks in Reykjavik and elsewhere. In contrast, I appreciated George Bush's more sober approach when, as president, he declared he did not intend to make any similar show by dancing on the rubble of the Berlin Wall. Bush knew it didn't help to stick his fingers in our eyes."
(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services