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Ronald Reagan And The Fall Of The

Ronald Reagan And The Fall Of The

Soviet Union: Plot Or Serendipity


CSC 95


SUBJECT AREA - Foreign Policy




There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in


its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.





The fall of the Soviet Union was an amazing event for most Americans. For so many


years, we had seen the USSR as a threat and, in many ways, had come to accept it as a permanent


menace. For those of us who grew up with fallout shelters and civil defense drills, and whose


entire adult lives have been defined within the parameters of the cold war, the rapid disintegration


of the Soviet empire in the early 1990s was akin to winning the lottery -- staggering, elating and


totally unexpected. We celebrated the disintegration of our old foe and heralded a great victory


for the West and President Ronald Reagan in particular. Our champion anti-Communist had


accomplished what seven U.S. Presidents before could or would not -- he had stopped and then


reversed the tide of Communism.


The question that remains is: how much of what happened to the USSR was going to


happen anyway, and how much resulted from the efforts of President Reagan and his


administration? Was it just coincidence that the closing years of the Soviet empire mirrored those


of the most anti-Communist President in U.S. history? The purpose of this paper is to inquire as


to the specificity of President Reagan's plan to bring about the downfall of the Soviet Union and


to discover if his policies constituted a new form of containment. This Study is germane to a


complete understanding of the United State's part in the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and


to the larger issues surrounding the appropriate application of national power to "contain" another


nation's growth. I have chosen recent works by former U.S. government and administration


officials, and journalists for my research. These sources represent the continuum of opinion that


places President Reagan, on one end, as the mastermind behind the demise of the USSR and, on


the other, as an ill-informed, passive by-stander. I have chosen these particular works in order to


highlight current disagreements on President Reagan's rightful place and to offer a synthesis of


these views. Additionally, I have supplemented these sources with interviews from John


Lenczowski, Peter Rodman and Angelo Codevilla -- all mid-level insiders during the Reagan


years. Their perspectives, generally unbridled by concerns about attribution, assisted greatly in


penetrating much of the myth about President Reagan and his administration.


My line of inquiry will begin with an overview of U.S. containment policies (1947-- 1981)


highlighting differences in President Reagan's approach to containing the Soviet Union. I will


then offer case Studies of the top five external events leading to the disintegration of the Soviet


Union: the insurgencies in Angola, Afghanistan and Central America; the Solidarity movement in


Poland; and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to see if they reveal a coordinated anti-USSR


effort. I will then address the effects of these activities inside the Soviet Union and finish with my






In December 1988, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the Secretary General of the


Communist Party of the USSR surprised the world when he appeared before the United Nations


and promised to cut Soviet forces in Eastern Europe by half a million troops and ten thousand


tanks over the next two years. The people of Eastern Europe must have pinched themselves to


make sure they were awake and that it was all really happening. The USSR did not have the will


to stay the course in Afghanistan and was now withdrawing support for the likes of Honecker,


Ceausescu, and Jaruzelski. By 1990, the Soviet economy had nose-dived and the Soviet


leadership was increasingly unable to control the new political forces within the country. The


attempted coup by Soviet hard-liners in 1990 was a last gasp attempt to hold on to the old system


but, in the end, it only served to accelerate the disintegration of the USSR. As the authority of


the USSR waned so did Mikhail Gorbachev's. Boris Yeltsin emerged from the political maelstrom


that followed to become the first popularly elected President of Russia. By the end of 1991, the


Soviet Union was no more and the era of U.S. and Soviet relations had, quite literally, ended.1


When President Reagan was elected in 1981, the strategy of de'tente described the


relationship that existed between the United States and the USSR . President Nixon and


Secretary of State Henry Kissenger had advanced this strategy in the 1970s and it had remained


fundamentally unchanged by both the Johnson and Carter administrations until 1979. While


Webster defines de'tente as a relaxation or reduction, as of tension between nations, President


Reagan believed the leadership of the USSR was interpreting de'tente as "freedom to pursue


whatever policies of subversion, aggression and expansionisn they wanted anywhere in the


world."2 President Reagan believed the United States had lost its hard-earned edge over the


USSR and that President Carter's administration was foolish to believe the USSR had any other


goal but their historically stated one of destroying democracy and replacing it with Communism.


President Reagan saw the Soviet leaders as moral and mortal enemies and believed that, by


surrendering the initiative to the USSR, Carter had sent a dangerous message that America was


prepared to accept, as inevitable, the advance of Soviet expansionism.3




1 Raymond L. Garthoff, The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of

the Cold War (Washington DC: The Brookings Institution, 1994), 3

2 President Ronald Reagan, An American life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990),


3 John Lenczowski, interview with the author. 1995


From President Reagan's point of view, the world in January 1981 was one fully engaged


by the Brezhnev Doctrine.4 The Soviet leadership, undeterred by the previous administration was


aggressively pursuing their goal of world domination. President Reagan saw USSR sponsored


"wars of national liberation" in El Salvador, Angola, Ethiopia, and Cambodia. The Soviet Union


was on a roll -- they had taken Indochina by proxy, sent military advisers to interfere in Ethiopia,


and helped engineer events in South Yemen. The USSR was involved in Mozambique and


Angola, and was advancing in Granada, Central America and, of course, Afghanistan. In Western


Europe, the Soviet leaders were beginning to make political inroads by virtue of the power of the


peace movement and challenging NATO's deployment of theater nuclear forces. President


Reagan saw a revolt against Communist rule being stamped out in Afghanistan and the stirrings of


democracy being extinguished in Poland. In his mind, the tide of Soviet excursions had to be


stopped and then setback.


President Reagan had a strong faith in the viability of the American economy and our


technological superiority. He believed that once the American economy revived we could


out-spend and out-produce the Soviets indefinitely.5 Early in his Presidency, President Reagan


saw cracks in the armor of the Soviet Union -- particularly in their economy. In his own words:


"You had to wonder how long the Soviets could keep their empire intact. If they didn't make


some changes, it seemed clear to me that in time Communism would collapse under its own


weight, and I wondered how we as a nation could use these cracks in the Soviet system to




4 After Czech reformers were ousted by Soviet tanks in 1968, Brezhnev issued a public

justification for the action which became known as the"Brezhnev Doctrine." It stated that a threat

to the political system in any socialist country was a "threat to the security of the socialist

commonwealth as a whole." The implication was once a socialist country, always a socialist


5 Ronald Reagan, An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990) 236.


accelerate the process of collapse."6 President Reagan believed that the oppressive system


supporting the USSR "could not survive against the inherent drive of all men and women to be


free."7 In a speech at Notre Dame University in 1981, President Reagan asserted that "the West


will not contain Communism; it will transcend Communism," and dismissed the whole


Communist experiment as a "sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even


now being written"8 President Reagan personally believed that the Soviet Union was illegitimate


and non-reformable and that it had to be met from a position of strength.


In The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War,


Raymond Garthoff, former Deputy Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs at the U.S.


Department of State, described President Reagan as the champion of the "essentialist" approach


to containing Communism. This approach assumed that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian state


driven by a militant ideology and therefore intrinsically expansionist. Determined confrontation


was the only thing such a power understood. Garthoffs second "mechanical" approach conceded


that the Soviet Union was expansionist but that it was also a pragmatic power that could be


"managed" by the astute application of rewards and penalties. President Reagan seems to have


skirted both these approaches. While there is no question President Reagan intended to


strengthen America's position vis-a-vis the USSR, it is unclear whether or not his efforts


represented more than mere rhetoric. Was there a specific plan to that end or was his Presidency,


as some have suggested, simply another well-orchestrated act. Were President Reagan's actions




6 President Ronald Reagan, An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990)


7 Ibid. 237.

8 Richard Pipes, Misinterpreting the Cold War: The Hardliners Had It Right. (Review

Essay, Foreign Affairs, New York, NY: Council On Foreign Relations Inc. January/February



fundamentally different or simply a revitalized, more aggressive version of the containment


policies he inherited?9


In his first meeting with Prime Minister Thatcher in 1984, G.S.Gorbachev asked her what


she thought the Americans were really up to. Wasn't the Reagan administration bent on


humiliating and finally destroying the Soviet Union? Thatcher replied that President Reagan was


more reasonable than his public rhetoric would indicate.10 Indeed there are those who suggest


that President Reagan was all facade and although he sounded tough it was all an act to improve


U.S. leverage with the Soviet Union. Others believe that President Reagan understood that the


USSR was a moral and mortal threat to the United States and that he orchestrated a specific plan


designed to play to their weaknesses and bring them down.11 Still others believe that the Soviet


Union fell of its own weight, brought down by Gorbachev's bungling of the totalitarian


mechanisms that maintained the Soviet system -- the loss of the socialist ideological base, an


increasingly dissatisfied population and a late attempt to reform an unreformable political





9 President Reagan relates in his autobiography that early in his first term he received

briefings that convienced him that the Soviet Union's economy was a "basket case." In his words:

"The Soviet economy was being held together by baling wire. In Poland and other Eastern-bloc

countries, the economies were also a mess, and there were rumblings of nationalist fevor within

the captive Soviet empire. If they didn't make some changes, it seemed clear to me that in time

that Communism would collaspe of its own weight, and I wondered how we as a nation could use

these cracks in the Soviet system to accelerate the process of collaspe."

10 Micheal R. Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels (New York: Little,

Brown and Company, 1993) 30.

11 Raymond Garthoff in The Great Transition and Peter Schweizer in Victory represent

opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue. Schweizer believes that the fall of the Soviet Union

was the direct result of a specific President Reagan plan while Garthoff sees more complex

interactions at work which dilute much of what has been attributed to the Reagan administration.

12 In his book The Age of Exteremes: A History of the World 1914 to 1991, Eric

Hobsbawm argues that what brought about the collaspe of the Soviet Union was a raising tide of

expectations that an authoritarian elite could not satisfy: "Beginning in the 1960's; the (USSR and

the nations of Eastern Europe began to open up their command economies to trade with the




If we are to discover the levels of detail of President Reagan's plan to unhinge the Soviet


Union, we must try to understand if that plan was fundamentally different from those that


preceded it. If President Reagan did indeed see the Soviet Union as diametrically opposed to the


United States and if he had a strategic plan to bring them down, then everything he did must be


measured by its contribution to that vision and plan.


In 1946, the United States found itself faced with an emerging and aggressively


expansionist Soviet Union who was fully prepared to take part in shaping the post-war world.


Neither Presidents Roosevelt nor Truman could avoid the Faustian bargain brought about by their


strategies to allow the Soviet Union to bear the brunt of the fighting to defeat Germany.13


Although both Truman and Roosevelt recognized the danger of allowing the Russian armies to


occupy large parts of Eastern Europe at the end of the war, geo-political realities prevented either


from doing much about it. The United States could not defeat Germany then Japan, keep


causalities below those of W.W.I and have enough forces left over to limit USSR advances in


Eastern Europe and the Far East. As a result, the Red Army ended W.W.II in a dominant


position throughout Eastern Europe and parts of the Far East. In the aftermath of victory, the


United States found itself at odds with an increasingly uncooperative Soviet Union and at a loss as


to what to do about it. Leonid Brezhnev summed up the Soviet attitude when he told Czech


leaders in 1968: "Your country lies on territory where the Soviet soldier trod in the Second



western world. Inevitably, their citizens began to compare their cramped apartments and dreary

cultural life with the wonderous freedoms available in the west. Meanwhile, under cynical

autocrats like Leonid Brezhnev, even card-carring communists shed their hopes for a classless

society. In the 1980's; when economic crisis battered the ramparts of the Soviet empire, its

ideological empire was bare."

13 In Strategies of Containment, John Lewis Gaddis relates that for every American soldier

who died fighting against Germany in WWII, 53 Russian soldiers died.


World War. We bought that territory at enormous sacifices and we shall never leave it. In the


name of the dead in World War II who laid down their lives for your freedom as well, we are


therefore fully justified in sending soldiers into your country. It is immaterial whether anyone is


actually threatening us or not: it is a matter of principle, independent of external circumstances.


And that is how it will be, from the Second World War to eternity."14


In December 1946, George Kennan, a Foreign Service Officer station in Moscow,


produced his appraisal of the situation in the Soviet Union. The famous "Long Telegram" he sent


back to the States stood American foreign policy makers on their collective ears and became the


basis for the series of policies aimed at meeting Soviet expansionism. These policies and the


actions they produced would come to known as "containment". According to Kennan, the Soviet


Union saw itself as an ideological entity being assailed from all sides by a hostile outside world.15


Soviet ideology and world view were incompatible with those of the West and that this situation


was not susceptible to change in the near future. Further, the Soviet system of internal repression


required an external threat and since Hitler's Germany no longer produced it, the West and in


particular, the United States served as the new threat. According to Kennan, the suspicions of the


Soviet leadership ran so deep that not even total capitulation by the United States would suffice to


ease their fears -- the USSR would manage to smell a rat no matter what we did. Kennan went


on to describe Soviet foreign policy as "the product of internal influences not susceptibte to


persuasion, manipulation or even comprehension from the outside."16 Kennan made American




14 Richard L. Pipes, Misinterpreting the Cold War: The Hard-liners Had It Right. Review

Essay, Foreign Affairs (New York, NY: Council On Foreign Relations Inc, January/February


15 John L. Gaddis, Strategies of Containment. (New York: Oxford University Press Inc,

1982) 33.

16 Ibid.,356


foreign policy makers understand that they were in for a long term struggle with the Soviet Union


-- one requiring more than simple patience and firmness.


The Soviets believed they were beyond judgment because they were on the side of history.


At the first meeting of the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform)17 in September 1947,


Andrei Zhdanov, a politburo member, said of the post-war world: "The world is now divided into


two camps, the imperialist and anti-democratic and the anti-imperialist and democratic and the


principal driving force of the imperialist camp is the United States emboldened by their


newfound power and temporary atomic monopoly."18 Early proposals to "rollback" the Russians


from their European and Far East holdings vanished with the explosion of the first USSR atomic


bomb in August 1949 and the Communist victory in China in October of the same year. The


United States found itself with less and less leverage over the Soviet Union due to the rapid build


up of their nuclear arsenal.


The history of American containment policies represents a continual process of balancing


the burden of long term containment on the U.S. economy with the threat of an aggressive Soviet


Union. Gaddis describes five distinct approaches to this balancing act in the post-war world era:

1. Kennan's original strategy of containment, implemented by the Truman administration

1947 to 1949.

2. The National Security Council Action 68 (NSC-68) brought about by the Korean

conflict and implemented 1950 to 1953.

3. The Eisenhower-Dulles "New Look", 1953-1961.

4. The Kennedy-Johnson "flexible response", 1961 to 1969.

5. The policy of de'tente initiated by Nixon-Kissenger and continued by Ford and Carter

until the invasion of Afghanistan late in 1979.





17 Stalin used the Communist Information Bureau to coordinate the policies of the world's

Communist parties.

18 Peter W. Rodman, More Precious Than Peace. (New York, NY: Charles Schribner's

Sons, 1994) 48.


The Korean War, more than anything, helped to solidify the United States1 global role in


the 1950s as the containing force on Communism. Although NSC-68 recognized the danger


posed by Soviet expansionism, it did little to counter it. Not until the North Korean invasion in


June 1950 did the United States begin the level of military build up necessary to make it a player


on the world scene. NSC 73/4, that followed in August 1950, warned the invasion of South


Korea should not be taken as an isolated event and it represented part of a larger plan. Indeed, it


seems the North Koreans made the same mistake the Japanese had in 1941-- they had provoked


the United States into action. Kim il-sung and Stalin's throw of the dice in June 1950 was a great


blunder and a monumental overreaching that provoked a response -- America's definitive


undertaking of a global role. It was a role which Stalin could not have intended or welcomed.19


This aside, there were always swings of policy resulting from U.S.economic pressures that


worked to the benefit of Moscow. As American forces began to be cut back after the Korean


war, the Republican administration promoted a "new look" in defense policy that trimmed the


budget and promised "more bang for the buck" -- there was actually little option for the United


States other than to bluff with nuclear weapons where we could not or were not willing to engage


with conventional forces.20


The United States' move toward de'tente in the late 60s recognized that the world had


become a much more complex place since the early days when the Soviet Union could be


contained by the simple act of geographic encirclement.21 The capabilities of the USSR now



19 Peter W. Rodman, More Precious Than Peace. (New York, NY: Charles Schribner's

Sons, 1994) 51.

20 Ibid., 59.

21 Some have called this period De'tente I in order to highlight, as De'tente II, that phase of

President Reagan's second term in which he adopted a less comfrontational stance with the



allowed them to reach beyond simple geographic bounds and there was little support in the United


States for direct confrontation and certainly none for another peripheral engagement like Vietnam.


Peter Rodman, a long time Kissenger aide, asserts that Nixon and Kissenger would have loved to


do in 1969 what President Reagan was able to do in 1981. In the 1970's and 80's, U.S. policy


makers were forced to deal with a decrepit gerontocracy while, in 1985, President Reagan had


Gorbachev who was willing to re-assess everything and who believed that the Soviet system had


to be reformed. Additionally, the economic basis of foreign policy had reversed from 1975 to


1985. President Reagan in 1985 represented, in many ways, America's recovery from the


humiliations of the past decade while. At the same time, the Soviets had gone through a long


succession of crisis brought about by a procession of pathetic, aged, failing leaders. Rodman


argues that Nixon's de'tente was the only approach that "post-Vietnam paranoid" America was


going to stand for and given that constraint and the lack of bi-partisan support, Nixon did quite


well keeping the Soviet Union in check. It was, by necessity, a "more diabolical, crafty and


difficult policy to implement.


The Carter administration's muddled and inconsistent version of de'tente and its failure in


1979 suggest the limits of containment as practiced had been reached. In his first term and really


until the arrival of Gorbachev, President Reagan's policy of containment (the sixth) was based on


the realization that past U.S. policies to contain Communist expansionism had become obsolete


and the Soviets weren't going to play fair with de'tente. President Reagan sensed the historical


moment was right for a direct approach and that there was wide support for a more aggressive


policy. The failure of de'tente to curb Soviet adventurism in the 70s had frightened our allies,


produced a ground-swell of bi-partisan support for firmer measures and contributed greatly to



22 Peter W. Rodman, Interview with the author. 1995

President Reagan's election in 1981. Secretary of State George Schultz described President


Reagan's new approach to containment in a statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee


in 1983: "The policy of de'tente represented an attempt to induce Soviet restraint. De'tente was


based on expectations that the anticipated benefits from expanding economic relations and arms


control agreements would restrain Soviet behavior. Unfortunately, experience has proved


otherwise." As a result, the new (Reagan) policy was "based on the expectation that faced with


demonstration of the West's renewed determination to strengthen its defenses; enhance its


political and economic cohesion, and oppose adventurism, the Soviet Union will see restraint as


its most attractive or only option."23


Although realism and diplomacy from a position of strength were the buzz words of the


sixth containment policy introduced by President Reagan, the essence of the policy was its vision


of a Strategic offense. The defensive connotation of the term "containment" aptly describes the


average American's impression of U.S. policies toward the Soviet Union after W.W.II.


Americans saw themselves as reacting to world events rather than initiating challenges to the


world order.24 It is this impression of being on the defensive for so long and losing ground that


spurred the turn-about in the Carter administration in the late 70's and which President Reagan


saw and capitalized on in his effort to garner support for his initiatives against the USSR.


President Reagan saw the weakness of the Soviet Union as an opportunity and understood that


nothing would galvanize the American public more than acting beyond containment and striking


the USSR directly.



23 Raymond L. Garthoff, The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of

the Cold War (Washington DC: The Brookings Institution, 1994)107

24 John L. Gaddis, Strategies of Comtainment. (New York: Oxford University Press Inc,

1982) 41.


It is perhaps ironic that President Reagan's second term, which saw so many setbacks for


the USSR, was the scene of a shift in U.S. policy that some have labeled De'tente II. President


Reagan had at last found what he had been looking for -- a Soviet leader with whom he could


communicate. The administration moved toward a reduction of tensions between the two


superpowers and a recognition that arms control would be the focal point of relations between the


two countries -- both classic characteristics of de'tente. This is the phase of U.S. foreign policy


that gives the most problems to those trying to build an airtight case that everything President


Reagan did was meant to undermine the Soviets. If that was so, why was he being so friendly


with the enemy? John Lenczowski, an Eastern European expert in the Reagan administration, has


suggested President Reagan's move toward something like a De'tente II was victory for the Soviet


leadership whose primary goal to "get Reagan to stop telling the truth about the Soviet Union"


and that the USSR gave President Reagan "a man he could like, someone who looked harmless


and western."25 In 1985, shortly after Gorbachev came to power, President Reagan said of him


"Mr. Gorbachev may or may not be a new type of Soviet leader, time will only tell and it might


not be for a decade. I want to keep the heat on the Soviets. I don't want to let up on anything


we're doing."26 President Reagan realized the conduct of foreign policy was never a neat, surgical


procedure. It was instead an untidy business ruled by uncertainty, forced compromise and that


Clauswitzian friction and fog that makes even the simplest things difficult. Although President


Reagan may have been attracted to the bright promises of negotiation with the Soviet Union, it is


clear he was above all a realist and a pragmatist who understood the value of both diplomacy and





25 John Lenczowski, Interview with author. 1995.

26 Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened

the Collaspe of the Soviet Union (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994) 236.


a strategic offensive. The following insurgent case studies, highlight the use of U.S. national


power in a strategic offensive designed to limit USSR expansionism.




The evidence suggests that Cuba's move into Angola in 1975 was largely Castro's idea.


He meant to rekindle the revolutionary spirit of Che Cuevera and bolster his own image as a


leader with global reach.27 The Soviet Union went along because they realized correctly that the


United States was in no mood, so soon after Vietnam, to involve itself in another peripheral


conflict. Although Angola was on the strategic periphery, the Soviets saw an easy one -- a cheapie


and they were tempted. Peter Rodman describes Brezhnev and his colleagues as having "no


category of thought for the concept of self-restraint; of not seizing an opportunity, of not filling a


vacuum."28 The decision to embark on an intervention-by-proxie for a strategically insignificant


gain would come back to haunt the Soviet leadership. Georgii Arbatov, then a Brezhnev loyalist,


described the Soviet Leadership as a group "unable to resist further temptation to become


involved in the complex internal affairs of other countries." and that after Angola they were


emboldened to go "boldly down the path of intervention and expansion that we had beaten so


assuredly. It led us through Ethiopia, Yemen, a series of African countries and eventually, into


Afghanistan."29 Angola was significant because it marked the first conflict in which President


Reagan was able to turn the tables on the Soviets and make a small war work against them.


The United States withdrew its covert program from Angola in 1975 because of the


clamor raised over working with the South African government -- even if it was against Soviet



27 Peter W. Rodman, More Precious Than Peace. (New York, NY: Charles Schribner's

Sons, 1994)171.

28 Ibid., 169.

29 Georgii Arbatov, The System: An Insiders Life in Soviet Politics (New York, NY:

Times Books/Random House, 1992) 246


expansionism and due to the general lack of American will in the post-Vietnam period. In 1976,


after the Congress passed the Clark Amendment prohibiting U.S. military assistance to the


pro-western fighters in Angola, a massive influx of Soviet military equipment and Cuban troops


propelled the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) into power. Despite


billions of dollars of Soviet military equipment and almost 40,000 Cuban troops, Jonas Savimbi's


resistance movement, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) held


out. Their continued success after the withdraw of U.S. support and the MPLAs inability to


consolidate power produced a sinkhole for Soviet assets in Africa and signaled a change in


fortune for Soviet adventurism.


When President Reagan came to power in 1981 he reinstated a vigorous diplomacy in the


region. In a shrewd diplomatic move, the U.S. seized an opening to propose a resolution of the


civil war that linked U.S. support for implementation of a UN Resolution on neighboring Namibia


with the withdraw of Cuban forces from Angola. United Nations resolution 435 called for the


transfer of power from South Africa to the people of Namibia through free elections sponsored by


the UN. This linkage worked two ways for the United States in that it got the South Africans out


of Namibia and at the same time prevented a Soviet - Cuban proxie government (the MPLA) from


consolidating power in Angola.


Not surprisingly, there was great resistance to any plan that linked Cuban withdrawal from


Angola to South African withdrawal from Namibia. With the SADF operating inside Angola, the


MPLA was not about to give up Cuban support. Likewise, South Africa was not going to


withdraw from Namibia as long as the Cuban-supported MPLA continued to provide sanctuaries


for the Southwest Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO). The fighting went on. The difference


this time was that it was the Soviet Union's coffers that were being drained by a protracted


conflict and not the ours. Not surprisingly, President Reagan, through Chester Crocker, clung


stubbornly to his negotiating position -- historically something we have not done well. It was a


very Soviet-like tactic which recognized, for a change, time was on our side. It was not until


President Reagan's reelection in November, 1984 that the MPLA finally accepted the linkage of


the two issues. Negotiations to finally get the Cubans out of Angola dragged on for another four


years but the issue had been settled with the acceptance of linkage in 1984 and the 1985 repeal of


the Clark Amendment prohibiting aid to UNITA.


The repeal of the Clark Amendment is still another indicator how well things were falling


into place for President Reagan after his re-election. The administration had not actively sought


the repeal of the Clark Amendment -- it had been handed to them by a Congress that had been


transformed by the 1984 presidential election. The conservatives were energized and the


moderates were feeling the pressure of not being on the bandwagon.30 In 1986, in response to


the U.S. decision to resume support for UNITA, the MPLA broke off negotiations and resumed


the offensive against Savimbi's forces. In August 1987, the South African Defense Force (SADF)


intervened to prevent UNITA's defeat by an Angolan force with massive Soviet-Cuban military


backing. Soon the SADF was involved in direct combat with Cuban regulars. The fighting led to


a series of escalation's culminating in battles at Mavinga, Cuito Cuanavale and Calueque during


1987-88. The end result of these battles was stalemate. Although the Cubans had forced the


SADF out of Angola, they had reached their culminating point and could do no more against the


strong South African defenses in Namibia. Behind the scenes through all this fighting between the



30 Peter W. Rodman, More Precious Than Peace. (New York, NY: Charles Schribner's

Sons, 1994) 364.


Cubans and the South Africans was Chester Crocker -- quietly bidding his time with patient


diplomacy. Finally, in 1988, the parties wearied of the conflict and agreed to a U.S. brokered


settlement. The last Cuban soldiers left Angola in May, 1991 and another misbegotten


Soviet-brokered adventure from the l970s ended.31




The Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan dates from the 1950's when it was seen as


a counter (along with India) to Pakistan's alignment with the United States. In that year, the


Soviets embarked on a generous program of military and economic aid designed to nourish


fledgling pro-Soviet factions among the Afghan tribal society. These efforts bore fruit with the


establishment of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in 1977. In 1978, the


PDPA staged a coup, killed Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud and announced the establishment


of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union wasted no time in pledging its full


support for the new government. Despite Soviet backing, however, the PDPA was never able to


consolidate its rule among the diverse Muslim tribal factions that made up that fractured country.


Rural uprisings in 1978 over heavy-handed policies destabilized the new government and a Soviet


plot to place their man in power failed in 1979. The Soviets were confronted with a dilemma --


whether to intervene to save a collapsing Soviet-backed regime or to accept all the implications


such a collapse would entail for their interests not only in the region but elsewhere in the world as


well.32 While with hindsight it seems easy to see why the Soviets should have chosen the latter


option, one must recall that, in 1979, they were on a roll and the Brezhnev Doctrine prohibited



31 Peter W. Rodman, More Precious Than Peace. (New York, NY: Charles Schribner's

Sons, 1994) 399.

32 Amin Saikal and William Maley,The Soviet Withdrawl From Afghanistan. (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1989) 4-5


escape from the Soviet empire. As C.V. Wedgwood, a British historian, once said: "History is


written backward but lived forward. Those who know only the end of the story can never know


what it was like at the time."33


In December 1979, the Soviet Union exercised the first use of Red Army troops outside


the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe since the end of WW II when it invaded Afghanistan and


re-installed the PDPA. The initial assault was an awesome display of Soviet military might which


saw airborne and special forces inserted into Kabul airport to link up with armored and


mechanized units and seize control of the country. After this initial success, the operation bogged


down and never recovered its initial momentum. The initial invasion force of 85,000 men which


was later increased to 120,000 was fought to a standstill by loosely organize resistance forces of


Afghan guerrillas aided by arms from the United States, China and Islamic countries.


The invasion marked a turning point for the Carter administration and their version of


detente. Indeed it symbolized the high-water mark of America's policy of peaceful co-existance.


Contrary to the popular common view of Carter as somewhat indecisive, he reacted vigorously to


the Soviet Union's invasion in a number overt ways but also by signing a secret lethal finding to


assist the Mujabedin in harassing Red Army occupation forces. This action was the seed that


would grow to cause the USSR so much trouble later when President Reagan and CIA Director


William Casey came on the scene. In addition to the covert finding, the invasion initiated other


unpleasant consequences for the Soviet Union. Although only "next door", the war caused the


USSR to overextend itself militarily, politically and psychologically. It united the Western and



33 Don Oberdorfer, The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era: The United States and

the Soviet Union 1983-1990. (New York: Posidon Press, 1991)14.


Muslim worlds against the Soviet Union, solidified U.S. relations with China and eventually was a


factor in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981.


President Reagan saw the war in Afghanistan as one part of the overall U.S. strategy to


undermine the Soviet Union by supporting insurgent wars that would drain the Soviets both


militarily and economicaIly.34 The Reagan Doctrine as it applied to Afghanistan didn't really get


off the ground until 1985 when the President signed NSDD-166. The finding contained language


that radically altered the intended endstate in Afghanistan from simple harassment operations to


outright defeat of the Soviet occupation forces.35 In 1985, after his re-election, President Reagan


won consistent bi-partisan support for the Afghan resistance package which translated into


massive increases in aid to the Mujahedin including the decision to send Stinger missiles and other


non-SOVMAT material. The introduction of the Stinger anti-aircraft missile into the region and


its integration with other less sophisticated anti-air systems had an immediate and devastating


effect on Soviet forces who had come to count on freedom of the skies over Afghanistan. The


already thinly stretched occupation troops were now without vital air combat service support or


close air support. The Kremlin was in a dilemma, it had to either increase troop levels in


Afghanistan or concede that without air power, it couldn't remain effective against the


Mujahedin. Gorbachev realized that he could not afford to increase ground forces to compensate


for the loss of mobility and firepower brought by the Stingers. The escalation of U.S. military aid


to the Mujahedin in 1985, especially the Stinger missiles, broke the stalemate of the war in favor


of the Afghan resistance and turned the war into a real "bleeding wound" for the Soviet Union.



34 Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened

the Collaspe of the Soviet Union (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994) xviii.

35 Ibid., 214.


While President Reagan rode the crest of the bi-partisan wave in the U.S., Gorbachev


was trying to end the war on the best terms he could get. In 1985, he authorized an escalation of


the conflict in a final attempt to win a military victory. He ordered his Generals to "be done with


it in two years or he would have other options."36 In addition to increasing the pressure on his


military, Gorbachev pursued a wide variety of non-military methods including diplomacy and even


threats designed to dilute support for the Afghan rebel forces. In December, 1986 the Soviet


leadership summoned top members of the Afghan Politburo to Moscow to announce that Soviet


troops would be withdrawn from Aghanistan not later than the end of 1988.37 In September,


1987, while in Washington for INF talks, Soviet Foreign mister Shevardnadze approached


George Schultz to announce that the Soviet Army would be out of Afghanistan, probably by the


end of the President Reagan administration.38 Despite their outward willingness to withdraw from


Afghanistan, the Soviet leadership continued to stymie negotiations over the point of the length of


the withdrawal phase. The military was concerned that the withdrawal would look like a cut and


run operation if it was executed to quickly -- the final scenes of the U.S. withdrawal from


Vietnam were probably on there minds. Additionally, they were concerned about what would


happen to the Soviet backed government in Kabul after the withdraw. The Soviets realized that


the puppet government of Mohammed Najibullah would not survive long against the rebel forces


presently held in check by the Red Army and they attempted to link their withdrawal to a


reduction in support for the Mujahedin. On July 22, 1987, Gorbachev told the Indonesian


newspaper Merdeka that he favored a short time-frame for withdrawal of Soviet forces from




36 Don Oberdorfer, The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era: The United States and

the Soviet Union 1983-1990. (New York: Posidon Press, 1991) 237-239.

37 Ibid., 240.

38 Ibid., 234-235.


Afghanistan but that "interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan must be stopped and its


non-resumption guaranteed."39 The Geneva Accords on Afghanistan of 14 April 1988, concluded


under the auspices of the United Nations between the USSR backed communist regime of the


PDPA and the government of Pakistan was jointly guaranteed by the Soviet Union and United


States and provided the overall framework for the withdrawal. Despite the delaying tactics, the


die had been cast and the USSR realized that after 13,000 causalities and 10 years of effort, they


were really bargaining for peanuts. In addition to having lost the war and their faith in the


Leninist ideology, they were dealing with a growing public anti-war sentiment at home. It was


time to leave. At 11:55 on the morning of February 15, 1989, General Boris Gromov walked


across the steel bridge at the Soviet border point at Termez and closed the door on their


misbegotten adventure. President Reagan had been out of office for only twenty-six days.




Central America has always been the place where American anti-colonial sentiments have


clashed with our perceived right to have our way in our own backyard. Liberal Presidents like


Roosevelt and Kennedy attempted to mitigate circumstances in Central America through aid


programs (the Good Neighbor Policy, the Alliance for Progress) and by working to empower the


Latin governments. These policies of U.S. aid and social reform, although well intentioned, have


seldom been equal to the task of establishing stable governments with viable economies.


Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon, on the other hand, took a more direct, unapologetic


approach and acted sharply in Guatemala 1954, the Dominican Republic in 1965 and Chile


1970-73.40 Nixon's Presidency, under Kissenger's influence, was the first to see Central America



39 Don Oberdofer, The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era: The United States and

the Soviet Union 1983-1990. (New York: Posidon Press, 1991) 242-243.

40 Peter W. Rodman, More Precious Than Peace. (New York, NY: Charles Schribner's


in purely geo-political terms (vice business interests) and to articulate the growing concern among


conservatives over pro-Soviet radicalism in the region. The Nicaraguan revolution which ousted


Anastasio Somoza and propelled the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) into power in


1979 was seen by many conservatives as not only another Carter administration blunder but also


as USSR expansionism in the western hemisphere. Nicaragua seemed to be going the way Cuba


and Eastern Europe had with initial promises of democratic reform under an anti-facist,


broad-based coalition government giving way to a calculated program designed to suppress the


opposition and consolidate power. When Nicaraguan defense minister Humbero Ortega


announced in 1980 that free elections would be postponed until 1985, it was clear that the U.S.'s


worst fears were confirmed -- Post-Somoza Nicaragua became a pro-Soviet socialist state.


Cuban and Nicaraguan relations quickly developed as did a substantial military buildup of the


Nicaraguan armed forces. In March 1980, the FSLN and the communist party of the USSR


established formal ties. For the Soviet leadership, the opportunity to establish another foothold in


the western hemisphere was an unexpected windfall and they took full advantage of it. For the


United States, a spreading communist revolution in Central America had strategic implications


that threatened our ability to contain Soviet expansionism at a reasonable cost. We could not


afford a credible threat so close to home. In mid-1980, Nicaragua began providing military


assistance for the communist guerrillas attempting to overthrow the government of El Salvador --


this newly minted, pro-Soviet regime seemed bent on destabilizing the region. Thus, when the


Reagan administration came to power in January 1981, it inherited both a crisis and an


opportunity in Central America.





Sons, 1994) 226.


President Reagan saw the situation in Central America in the worst possible light. In his


memoirs, he writes that he believed the Soviets and Castro had targeted all of Central America for


a communist takeover and that Nicaragua and El Salvador were "only a down payment" and that


"Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica were next, and then would come Mexico."41 The


situation in Central America was clear for President Reagan and it frustrated him to have to


defend his actions in countering what he saw as an undeniable threat to the United States. For


him, the USSR was investing substantial sums of its national treasure to gain another foothold in


our backyard -- it should be easy to stop them and to set them back. Actions against Soviet


sponsored activities in Central America were in the same class as those in Africa and Afghanistan.


The idea was to stop the spread of socialist governments by supporting insurgencies in those


countries. If the Soviet Union was engaged in many places, President Reagan reasoned, then they


were vulnerable in many places.


Despite the strong talk in his auto-biography and much of the myth of that era, the truth is


that the Reagan administration remained relatively weak on Central America well into the second


term. Although he increased military aid to El Salvador to $25 million, added two dozen military


trainers and formally terminated U.S. aid to Nicaragua, President Reagan found he had


surprisingly little support for further measures. Americans had still not overcome their Vietnam


syndrome and were not prepared to support anything resembling the first step on a slippery slope


into a jungle war. In addition to overt economic assistance to the pro-western states in the


region, President Reagan ordered the CIA to develop a plan for covert operations. William Casey


came up with a scheme to use anti-Sandinista Nicaraguans to harass military targets inside


Nicaragua and other Latin Americans to interdict the flow of Soviet made arms from Cuba to El



41 Ronald Reagan, An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 990) 300.


Salvador. In late November 1981, President Reagan signed NSDD- 17 which authorized overt


measures and soon after the intelligence "lethal finding" for the covert operation. This was the


pilot program for what President Reagan would come to call the Contra Freedom Fighters.


During his first term, President Reagan's policies in Central America were a source of


almost constant turmoil. After the successful invasion of Grenada in 1983 and the election of


Durarte in El Salvador in May 1984, President Reagan began to garner both public and bi-partisan


support for his initiatives. In spite of these positive developments, the Boland amendments


ensured that for two years (October 1984-86) the Contras received no appropriated aid.


President Reagan directed the Contras be held together "body and soul" and used the NSC to do


just that. The Iran-Contra scandal was a by-product of their successful efforts and reflects the


depth of Reagan's commitment to enforcing his doctrine in the region and keeping the pressure on


the Soviet Union. Grenada broke the Vietnam taboo and Duarte's election was, in part, a


justification of the regional strategy.


By the summer of 1984, the U.S. sponsored Contra army had grown to over seven


thousand and was making strikes deep inside Nicaragua. The final blow for the Sandinistas was


President Reagan's reelection in 1985. The Nicaraguan Army had, by this time, grown to sixty


two thousand and was being trained by over three thousand Cuban, USSR and East-bloc advisers.


USSR aid to Nicaragua between 1885-87 was 1.1 billion dollars and included tanks, artillery and


advanced helicopter gunships. Soviet military deliveries to Nicaragua grew to 18,000 metric tons


per year and cost them $500 million a year. Against this background, and growing publicity about


Sandinista repression inside Nicaragua, President Reagan found support for his initiatives in the


region. On June 25, 1986, the House of Representatives passed a $100 million dollar Contra


support package.42


Although the 1986 aid package was the high water mark for the Reagan administration,


the effects of almost a decade of U.S. resistance to Soviet influence in the region were beginning


to show. Unlike the communist governments of Eastern Europe after W.W.II, the Sandinistas


were unable to consolidate power in the region. The Reagan polices in Central America were key


to keeping the opposition alive long enough for diplomacy to force the Sandinistas to hold fair


elections -- which they lost in 1990. President Reagan checked the Soviet Union in Central


America and as a result it was unable to project the kind of political and military power that


would have sustained the Sandinistas and spread the revolution. Once again, significant


investments by the USSR in the Third World had not paid off. Moreover, the failure of the Soviet


Union to gain and maintain a foothold outside Cuba discredited communist ideology in the region


and signaled the final episode of the era of influence that began in 1959 in Cuba and win end with


the death of Fidel Castro. Lets now turn from our own backyard to that of the Soviet Union.


The case study that follows describes U.S. success in a region many times more sensitive to the


USSR than Central America.




Few other events captured President Reagan's imagination like the challenge Lech


Walesa's fledgling Solidarity trade union was giving the Polish Communist Party and the Soviet


Union in 1981. To him it represented "a heroic and spontaneous ground swell on the behalf of


freedom...and the first break in the totalitarian dike of Communism"43 Poland was a critical



42 Peter W. Rodman, More Precious Than Peace. (New York, NY: Charles Schribner's

Sons, 1994) 417.

43 Ronald Reagan, An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990) 301.


ideological battleground for both the United States and the Soviet Union. It was important for


the United Sates because it represented an effort albeit covert at an offensive move against


Communism. For once, we were taking the fight to the Soviet Union's side of the field. It was a


strike at Communism in the heart of the Soviet Empire. It was critical for the Soviet Union


because it represented a clear challenge to the totalitarian mechanisms supporting the system. In a


memo written for the President in 1981, Richard Pipes asserted that, next to the Soviet Union


itself, Poland was the single most important state in the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet leadership


saw Solidarity as an "infection" to be cleansed from the socialist body. Solidarity's greatest threat


was that it facilitated a bonding of dissidents against the government and represented the


nightmare scenario for a totalitarian system -- the failure to gain and maintain fatal resignation


among the people and the failure to maintain the atomization of the population.44 Yurii


Andropov, then head of the KGB, put it simply when he said: "the one thing we cannot have is


an organized opposition." Solidarity, like the Czechoslovak Charter 77 and the Soviet Helsinki


Monitoring Group, highlighted chinks in the seemingly fail-safe internal security armor of


Communist states -- a bonding of workers and intellectuals into dissident groups who could


circumvent the system. The fear these movements produced in the Soviet leadership is one factor


that stimulated reform.45


USSR internal security procedures for handling dissent reflected the necessity to isolate


crisis' and suppress information so the general population could not become part of the


movement. The instant flow of truthful information was the threat. If the people did not know




44 John Lenczowski, Interview with the author. 1995

45 Richard Pipes, Misinterpreting the Cold War: The Hardliners Had It Right. (Review

Essay, Foreign Affairs, New York, NY: Council On Foreign Relations Inc. January/February



about the strike in Gdansk, for example, they could not support it and it could be suppressed.


Oppressed people must be denied information until it is too late for that information to be useful.


During the strikes, Solidarity understood this fact and managed to get information out to Radio


Free Europe in Munich where it could be re-broadcast back into Poland. Upgrading these


broadcasts was one President Reagan initiative.


John Lenczowski claims that President Reagan's greatest contribution to the fall of the


Soviet empire was that he "told the truth about the Soviets" and that it was his battle of ideas, his


attempt to reach the common people with "truthful information" about the outside world that


undermined the totalitarian hold of the Soviet security apparatus. In a speech in England in 1982,


President Reagan introduced the battle of ideas when he spoke of the power of the idea of


democracy. Walter Raymond Jr., a CIA propaganda specialist on the NSC, grabbed hold of the


concept and presented it to CIA Director William Casey, who pushed the idea with NSA William


Clark. The result was NSDD-77 which created a Special Planning Group (SPG) to coordinate all


"Public Diplomacy."46 Walter Raymond chaired the SPG's coordinating group on international


broadcasting and modernized the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and created the


anti-Cuban Radio Marti. The effect of these broadcasts in this particular circumstance and over


the life of the program in helping to win the "battle of ideas" cannot be overstated. When asked


what he thought of the effectiveness of the broadcasts to his cause, Lech Walesa said "without the


sun would there be life on earth?"47


Part of the difficulty for the Soviets in Poland was that there was a part of Polish culture


that had escaped subversion by the system and the institutionalization methods of totalitarianism



46 John Prados, Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council. (New

York: William Morrow and Company Inc., 1991) 465.

47 John Lenczowski, Interview with the author. 1995


-- that, of course, was the Catholic Church. The Soviet Union was unlucky enough to see the rise


a Polish Pope who took special interest in the freedoms denied his homeland. It is perhaps the


efforts of the Polish Pope more than any other actor that sustained the flame in Poland. In


March, 1980 the Pope spoke out against the dangers of a branch of radical Catholic thinking that


tied Christianity with Marxism-Leninism and positioned the Vatican firmly against the


procommunist priests in Latin America.48 The Soviet press responded by calling the Pope's views


an "infection" and accusing him of attempting to "unite Catholics all over the planet into a single


anti-Communist force."49 Inside Poland, an ailing Cardinal Wyszynski was acting as the only


moderating force. On the one hand he was threatening the government with unrest if they


cracked down too hard on Solidarity while, one the other hand, he was urging the movement's


radicals to show some restraint. The Church, like the U.S., was hoping to facilitate reform in


Poland without inciting Soviet intervention.


The search for Poland's place in the President Reagan strategic plan to bring down the


Soviet Union starts as a covert financial, intelligence and logistical support operation mounted by


the U.S. in order to ensure the survival of an opposition movement (Solidarity) in the heart of the


Soviet empire.50 Although the United States didn't have a clear end in sight, it seemed a good


thing to support a free trade union operating illegally in the center of the Soviet empire.


Solidarity, backed by the Catholic Church could be a powerful catalysis for change in the region.


Already in 1981, there were stirrings reminiscent of the early Solidarity movement in Baltics. In



48 Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened

the Collaspe of the Soviet Union (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994) 36.

49 From Voproy Nauchrovd Ateizma, cited in Peter Schweizer's, Victory: The Reagan

Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collaspe of the Soviet Union (New York:

The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994) 37.

50 Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened

the Collaspe of the Soviet Union (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994) xviii.


September 1981, Union leader Andrzej Gwiazda forwarded a resolution at the Gdansk convention


that read: "We support those of you who have decided to enter the difficult road of struggle for


free and independent unions."


Although he wanted to do much more to help Solidarity, President Reagan was


constrained by the memory of the 1956 Hungarian upraising and didn't want to push things so far


that the Soviet Army would again by called to restore the status quo. Clearly a more


sophisticated approach was required. Additionally, while President Reagan wanted to help the


Poles, he was careful not to indirectly aid the government and prolong what he called the survival


of Communism. In addition to stimulating reform inside Poland, the Reagan administration


exploited the worsening Polish economy. Poland was heavily in debt and struggling to provide


the basics for its populace. In 1981, Poland borrowed between $11.0 and $12.0 billion and


required substantial amounts of hard currency to manage this debt. Without Western credits, they


were going to default. The Soviet Union was also feeling the pressure of Poland's poor economic


situation, between 1980 and 1981 it had sent $4.5 billion in aid to Warsaw.31 At the urging of Bill


Casey and Donald Reagan U.S. banks were taking a hard stance which required economic and


political change in Poland as a precondition for future loans. General Jaruzelski and the Soviet


leadership felt the pressure.


On December 12, 1981 the Polish military, under guidance from the USSR, invaded its


own country, arrested 5000 activists and instituted martial law. President Reagan was at first livid


and then horrified that Solidarity might be lost and with it the seeds of dissent in the region. The


hard-liners on his staff urged strong action above and beyond the traditional sanctions and




51 Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened

the Collaspe of the Soviet Union (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994) 59.


President Reagan was ready to deliver. Solidarity, as Richard Pipes argued, had to be funded so


that the first "anti-Communist organization above ground in the Soviet bloc survived the harsh


political winter"52 Casey and the CIA were given the go ahead for a covert support program and


were soon funneling funds, communications equipment and intelligence into the activists and


receiving information on the internal situation in return.53 In addition to the clandestine support


for Solidarity, the administration bypassed the beleaguered Polish economy to put direct pressure


on the USSR. On December 29, President Reagan announced an embargo on American gas and


oil equipment and technology bound for the Soviet Union. The plan affected sixty U.S.


companies, seriously disrupted the Siberian pipeline project and shut down a joint Soviet and


Japanese venture to develop the oil and gas fields on Sakhlin Island. The loss of the gas pipeline


and the Sakhahn Island project cost the Soviet Union several billion dollars a year in income they


desperately needed to upgrade their technology, stabilize their economy and shore up their


empire. Additionally, U.S. efforts to reduce the credit worthiness of all the Eastern bloc countries


placed additional pressure on the Soviet Union to pick up the slack. Support to offset U.S.


sanctions against Poland alone cost the Soviet Union $1 to $2 billion dollars per year.


In March 1982, President Reagan signed NSDD-32 which declared the United States


would seek to neutralize Soviet control over Eastern Europe and authorized the use of covert


action and other means to support anti-Soviet organizations in the region.54 The finding was


significant in that it essentially threw out the W.W.II Yalta agreement and declared the U.S. was


no longer resigned to the status quo of USSR domination in Eastern Europe. Specifically, the




52 Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened

the Collaspe of the Soviet Union (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994) 69.

53 Ibid., 75.

54 Ibid.,xvi.


finding provided for covert support for anti-Communist underground movements not limited to


Poland, increased psychological operations including beefed up Voice of America and Radio Free


Europe programs and the use of diplomacy and trade in an effort to "wean away" regimes' from






In his memoirs, President Ronald Reagan takes credit for conceptualizing a purely


defensive system that would allow the world to break out of the cycle of Mutually Assured


Destruction (MAD). He claims the idea of a purely defensive anti-missile system came to him


while he was reflecting on the sobering responsibilities he had assumed as the new commander in


chief -- particularly how little time he would have to decide whether or not to order American's


nuclear forces into action. He wanted to render nuclear weapons impotent.56 President Reagan


believed nuclear weapons and the policy of MAD in which each side checks the other with the


threat of annihilation were immoral. He seized on the idea of finding a way out of the nuclear


dilemma and putting the nuclear genie back into the bottle. Whatever other motives he might


have had, President Reagan really believed that SDI could work. Don Oberdorfer, a longtime


watcher of the Soviet Union for the Washington Post, characterizes President Reagan as a


President who was "acting out of long-standing convictions" and while he found SDI useful in


making the Soviets easier to talk to, he was not a "Machiavellian or even a Kizengerian figure


seeking to manipulate the international environment through his pronouncements."57




55 Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened

the Collaspe of the Soviet Union (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994) 77.

56 Peter Rodman, Interview with author. 1995.

57 Don Oberdorfer, The Turn: How the Cold War Came to An End: The United States and

the Soviet Union 1983-1990. (New York: Posidon Press, 1991) 23.


In a nationally televised speech on March 23, 1983, President Reagan revealed his vision


of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to the American people. The resumption of the B-1


program, the continued deployment of the MX missile and the development of the SLBM Trident


II during this same period, all served to convince the USSR, if SDI worked, they were in danger


of not only losing nuclear parity, but also becoming vulnerable to a U.S. first-strike capability.58


Although he claims it was never a bargaining chip, President Reagan credits the Strategic Defense


Initiative (SDI) as being the single most important reason (along with the build-up of the military)


of America's success negotiating with the Soviet Union.59 Additionally, President Reagan saw


SDI as an opportunity to break out of traditional mutual deterrence -- a chance to go back to the


glory days of American supremacy to a world in which we wouldn't have to accommodate or


reciprocate. The idea of regaining strategic leverage over the Soviet Union that had been lost so


quickly after W.W.II was irresistible to President Reagan. Aggressive foreign policies and


programs (like SDI) reflected his belief in American exceptionalism -- that we had a moral


obligation to be the "shining city on the hill" and the "last hope of man on earth."60 The Soviets


were only slowly coming to understand that Reagan, although Republican, was not another Nixon


and that he represented a different constituency with an aggressively nostalgic agenda.


Strategic defense had always been something that the Soviet Leadership believed in and


feared. The Soviet Union was unlike United States in that they didn't suffer from the inner




58 John Prados, Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council. (New

York: William Morrow and Company Inc., 1991) 486.

59 John Prados points out in Keepers of the Keys that Bud Macfarlane, the NSA at that time

pushed for SDI because he recognized its importance as an arms control negotiating chip.

Unfortunately, like Kissenger's cruise missiles, once the Pentagon got serious about the program,

it became nonnegotiable.

60 Peter W. Rodman, More Precious Than Peace. (New York, NY: Charles Schribner's

Sons, 1994) 234.


political struggles about whether a program was de-stabilizing or not. For them a strategic


defense was always seen as a good thing. Therefore, despite the controversy in the United States


over the viability and advisability of SDI, the Soviets took our attempt at a strategic defense very


seriously. They feared we would be able to do something they were unable to do and that we


would make some sort of break through. The revolution in super-computer technology as it


applied in particular to battlefield management Systems was something the Soviets realized they


had left themselves out of and this only reinforced their fears. By 1987, the U.S. led the Soviet


Union by 8 to 9 years in microprocessors; 8 to 12 years in computer-operated machine tools; 8 to


10 years in minicomputers; 8 to l2 years in mainframe computers; 10 to 12 years in


supercomputers; 7 to 11 years in software and 7 to 10 years in flexible manufacturing systems.61


Soviet leadership saw that, in theory at least, SDI was possible and the U.S. might do it.


If it could be done, it would nullify the one element of their military power in which they had an


advantage -- their ballistic missile nuclear forces. SDI went to the heart of their military doctrine


and economic insecurities. In many ways SDI forced the Soviet leadership to realize they had a


real Systemic problem -- to compete they had to get their economy into the modern age and to do


that they needed some peredyshka (breathing space). SDI highlighted more than anything else the


technical shortfalls of the Soviet System and caused its leadership to come to grips with the facts


of life. The fear, dissatisfaction and disillusionment that the arms race in general and SDI in


particular produced in the Soviet leadership played to the reformist themes represented by



61 CIA/DIA, Gorbachev's Modernization Program: A Status Report, (A paper submitted to

the Subcommittee on National Security Economics of the Joint Economic Committee, March

1987) 4.


Gorbachev and placed a great strain on their economy.62 Gorbachev's attempt to reform the


unreformable led to the unraveling of the Union.





In the mid-70's, it was said Brezhnev was not what he seemed and neither was Soviet


policy. On the surface both Brezhnev and the Soviet Union looked impressive, but the truth was


the Soviets were struggling with a decrepit gerontocracy and an out of control military and


industrial complex supported by an increasingly frail economy. At the same time they were


announcing they had achieved nuclear parity with the United States, then KGB Chief Andropov


was proposing they must achieve parity with the combined might of the U.S., the rest of NATO


and China. This quest posed an impossible economic burden. A Soviet Union that seemed


capable of anything, was in fact rapidly bankrupting itself with its defense expenditures. There


was no control over defense expenditures and little coordination between the political and the


military and industrial complex. As a result, the system as it existed was going to collapse.


In 1984, shortly before Gorbachev came to office, Richard Pipes depicted the Soviet


Union as a country in the throes of a "revolutionary situation" whose leaders had no alternative,


short of war, but to carry out drastic internal reforms.63 Gorbachev inherited a system in


shambles -- Breznhev's death had been followed closely by those of Chernenko and Andropov had


left the Soviet Union without a coherent foreign policy. Africa, Afghanistan and Central America


had turned into quagmires and there was a free trade organization alive and well in Poland -- the


heart of the Soviet empire. NATO was sighting cruise and Pershing missiles in Western Europe



62 In his book Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened the

Collaspe of the Soviet Union, Peter Schweizer claims that SDI was part of a widespread

technological disinformation campaign designed to disrupt the Soviet economy.

63 Richard Pipes, Can the Soviet union Reform? (Foreign Affairs, New York, NY: Council

On Foreign Relations Inc. Fall 1984) 47-61.


and there was a chance that SDI just might work. When Gorbachev came to power, he was


already convinced things would have to change. Gorbachev, an ardent communist, didn't want to


dismantle the System, just reform it. The problem was he didn't know how to do it. He thought it


was like a good engine that had been left in the yard too long -- although it was rusty, it just


needed a little oil and then you could push the starter and off it would go again down the track.


Reagan wrote that when Gorbachev came to power in 1985 he would have "continued on the


same path as his predecessors if Communism had been working" and that he (Gorbachev)


believed "wholeheartedly in the Communist system of government" but it had been managed


poorly and he intended to change that management.64 Reagan went on to describe Gorbachev as a


leader who "had the intelligence to admit Communism was not working, the courage to battle for


change, and, ultimately, the wisdom to introduce the beginnings of democracy, individual


freedom, and free enterprise."65 Whether Gorbachev's initiatives to reform the Soviet system


were wise or not, he clearly failed to appreciate the dangers of attempting to reform a totalitarian


state with an entrenched and uncooperative industrial and military complex. A totalitarian state is


kept together by fear and the perception of an external threat -- Gorbachev's policies undermined


both. Charles Wolf et al. in a study of The Costs and Benefits of the Soviet Empire 1981-1983


noted that expansion of the Soviet empire performed a valuable function for the leadership by


"contributing to the sense of urgency and crisis that promotes the system's internal cohesion and


control" Additionally, efforts to reform the country predictably exacerbated the already




64 Indeed, during Gorbachev's first two years in power the Soviets actually escalated the

conflict in Afghanistan and it wasn't until December, 1988 that he was able to announce troop

reductions in Eastern Europe -- very late in the game indeed.

65 Ronald Reagan, An American Life. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990) 707.


considerable stringency's of Soviet life. In January, 1989, the Politburo approved an economic


austerity package reducing state investment and linking salaries to production.66




The grand strategy of the Reagan administration with regard to the Soviet Union


represented a new aggressive containinent based on President Reagan's personal appreciation of


the USSR's vulnerabilities. The success of that strategy was a direct result of President Reagan's


will to "stay the course". President Reagan added to the costs of Soviet foreign policies in the


third world and in their arms build-up at the very moment of greatest Soviet vulnerability. He


attacked vulnerabilities in the Eastern bloc, the Third World and inside the Soviet Union in order


to destroy the USSR's center of gravity -- its economy. His policies compelled reforms in the


Soviet Union that once launched, unraveled the system.


There exists a lasting perception that while he might have personally recognized the


Soviets as moral and mortal threats, Reagan did not have a strategic plan with a clear endstate for


bringing about the fall of the Soviet Union and that an "entrepreneurial policy System" within the


administration made it difficult if not impossible to execute a coordinated effort against the


Soviets.67 Many point to the inconsistencies of negotiating with the "evil empire" as evidence


that, in many ways, Reagan's policies were as ad hoc as any that had gone before. There is


evidence to suggest these perceptions are at least partially incorrect.


In his book Victory, Peter Schweizer recounts the events of an NSPG meeting that took


place on 30 January, 1981 citing as his sources interviews with Casper Weinberger and other



66 Micheal R.Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels. (New York, NY: Little,

Brown and Company, 1993.) 33

67 John Prados, Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council. (New

York: William Morrow and Company Inc., 1991) 489.


"unnamed U.S. officials present at the meeting." Schweizer reports it was at this meeting that the


idea of a covert strategic offensive against the Soviet Union was first discussed. Present were


President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, Secretary of


State Alexander Haig, DCI William Casey, and National Security Adviser Richard Allen.


Schweizer claims, among other things, the need to take a stand on Poland was discussed. Haig


asserted the best way to deal with the Soviets was through a "hardheaded de'tente" administered


from a "position of strength" -- essentially a rehashed containment policy. William Casey and


Richard Allen, traditional hard-liners, argued for a more proactive approach. Casey reasoned the


relative strength of the United States and the Soviet Union was not what mattered because that


could only deter and not alter the threat. The idea was to raise American strength in relative


terms while reducing Soviet power in absolute terms. In Casey's words: "for the past 30 years,


we've been playing this game on our side of the field. You don't win games that way. If they are


secure at home, it won't matter what we do. Their behavior will only change on the tangent."


Reagan's reaction to all this was: "I think Al's ideas are the most liked to get results in the public


arena -- getting help from our allies and so forth. But Bill's option makes the most sense to me


strategicallly."68 The idea of early strategic thinking is supported by Richard Pipes, then Soviet


and East European affairs specialist on the NSC. Pipes asserts Reagan "displayed great


discernment and the instinctive judgment of a true statesman..." Early on in the first term foreign


policy was "set by the President and not his staff and it was vigorously implemented over the


objections of several more dovish secretaries. It rested on a keen grasp of the vulnerabilities of


the Soviet regime."69 John Lenczowski, then on the European Bureau at the State Department,



68 Peter Schweizer, Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened

the Collaspe of the Soviet Union (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994) 7.

69 Richard Pipes, Misinterpreting the Cold War: The Hardliners Had It Right. (Review



relates that in so far as there was a strategic vision it was discussed at a meeting that took place


very early in the administration and Reagan's strategic vision arose from his "understanding of the


fundamental moral conflict that underlay the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United


States."70 The evidence suggests several things. The first is while Reagan was thinking


strategically about attacking Soviet weaknesses, rolling them back and fundamentally altering


their System; he didn't sort out his foreign policy machine, form the NSPG or instigate a


coordinated strategy until almost a year into his administration. General Robert Schweitzer, head


of Richard Allen's defense policy staff on the NSC summed up the first year when he said".. in


the forty year history of the NSC there was always a defined pulse for the NSC until we came


to that first year of the Reagan administration and the clearly defined purpose did not exist."


because the government was "being run by a troika"71 The second point is from the beginning


there were divisions within the administration on foreign policy matters and a lack of discipline


within the policy making mechanism. There were what John Prados describes as 'foreign policy


entrepreneurs" who sought to force their own particular agenda regardless if the implications for


a coherent U.S. strategy. The third point is Reagan saw the battle with the Soviet Union as a


unilateral affair to be conducted by the United States through covert action. Diplomacy,


accommodation, arms control and the negotiating track were all fine as long as their ultimate


effect was to undermine the absolute strength of the Soviet Union. Reagan's strategic vision


which sought to "take the game to their side of the field" was a fundamental change from what



Essay, Foreign Affairs, New York, NY: Council On Foreign Relations Inc. January/February


70 John Lenczowski, Interview with the author. 1995.

71 John Prados, Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council. (New

York: William Morrow and Company Inc., 1991) 457.


had gone before and therefore represented a policy beyond containment and de'tente -- a sixth


policy in Gaddian terms.


In President Reagan's first term, for many reasons, the administration's aspirations failed to


reach the level of global pollcy. In the second term, things began to come together and President


Reagan began to get bi-partisan support in the Congress. The Clark Amendment was repealed,


Contra aid was approved, there were for escalation's in the amounts spent supporting the


Mujahedin in Afghamstan to include approval for Stinger missiles and there was even some money


for Cambodia. It became a global policy called the Reagan Doctrine and it's success was a


function of all the things that came together in 1985. After his reelection, President Reagan was


able to articulate and popularize efforts against the Soviet Union. That articulation of a strategic


vision represented a threat and a challenge to opponents of his policies who were in danger of


being labeled anti-anti-Communist. President Reagan's success at splitting off the opposition,


especially the centrist democrats, helped secure the bi-partisan majority he enjoyed really until


Ollie North's Iran-Contra caper poisoned it.


It is ironic the Reagan Doctrine with all its hard-line and rollback philosophies was a


feature of the second term -- a term that saw U.S. foreign policy dominated by George Schultz


and the departure of hard-liners like Kirkpatrick and Weinberger. George Schultz pushed a


diplomatic tack which the hard-liners saw as inconsistent. President Reagan went along with him


and the result was much negotiation in the second term -- the diplomatic track in Afghanistan, the


Geneva Agreement in 1988, Crocker's Angola diplomacy, the efforts in Nicaragua and talks with


the Soviets on the regional issues. Although many administration hard-liners opposed negotiating


with the Soviets, Reagan believed that while they were an "evil force in the world and


untrustworthy" that "we should still talk to them."72


Between 1988 and 1992, one of Gorbachev's primary activities was extracting the Soviet


Union from its self-made military quagmires in the Third World. Toward the end of the second


term, the efforts devoted to negotiations by the Reagan administration began paying off in rapid


succession. In April, 1988 the Soviets committed to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan by the


following February. In December, 1988 the accord requiring the withdrawal of all Cuban forces


from Angola was signed in New York. Later diplomacy brought about a Vietnamese troop


withdrawal from Cambodia in 1989, a free election in Nicaragua in 1990, and political settlements


in both El Salvador and Cambodia in 1992 and 1993.73 Reagan understood that while covert


operations may push an adversary toward reform, negotiation -- however distasteful -- was the


primary means through which it was realized.


There were three main legs in the U.S. plan to maintain pressure on the Soviet Union.


The first was through our support of the freedom fighters in Afghanistan. By 1985 the war was


costing the Soviets an estimated $3 to $4 billion dollars per year mainly because of the arms and


equipment we were providing the Mujahedin. The second leg was our efforts to support the


Solidarity movement in Poland. U.S. sanctions against Poland were costing the Soviet Union


another $1 to $2 billion dollars per year. The third, and perhaps most devastating leg was SDI.


In 1985, the Soviets were convinced that we could field a strategic defense and made large scale


resource shifts to the military industrial sector in an attempt to remain competitive in that arena.




72 Ronald Reagan, An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990) 606.

73 Peter W. Rodman, More Precious Than Peace. (New York, NY: Charles Schribner's

Sons, 1994) 324.


U.S. policies played an important role in compelling reforms in the Soviet Union and the


reforms once launched, unraveled the system. Thus fear, dissatisfaction and disillusionment


played to the reformist themes represented by Gorbachev. The problem with Gorbachev was he


didn't realize the limits of modernizing and reforming a huge, totalitarian, Communist System and


without repression the whole thing was going to fall apart. Western intelligence may be forgiven


for not predicting the fall of the Soviet Union -- analysts must assume leaders, especially


totalitarian leaders are acting in their own self-interest. Gorbachev, they reasoned, may loosen


the grip, he may reform a bit but he must realize that he can't reform and modernize the whole


system simultaneously. At some point, he will re-establish control just as all the leaders before


him. Since even at this late stage it was possible for Gorbachev to re-establish control, it is to his


moral credit that when he realized that he had gone too far and that he was going to lose


everything, he didn't resort to the brutality of the past -- he just let it happen. While President


Reagan's administration cannot take complete credit for this collapse, Gorbachev was re-assessing


the Soviet system in large, prompted by those external pressures contributed by the "sixth policy."


President Reagan added to the costs of Soviet foreign policies in the third world and their


arms build-up at the very moment of greatest Soviet vulnerability. The Reagan Doctrine as a


policy involving all the aspects of the program to unseat the Soviet Union, was something that


evolved out of an initial ideological stance put forward by President Reagan early in his


administration but that could only come to fruition in the second term. Although there was much


confusion in the first term at the lower levels, at the operational and strategic levels there was a


common thread -- a combination of the man and the moment, an aspiration and many forces came


together. Reagan helped pull these forces together. That is what made it a historical


development -- a leader and his vision coincided with a historical moment.




Arbatov, Georgii The System: An Insiders Life in Soviet Politics. New York, NY: Times

Books"Random House, 1992.


Allen, Richard V. Democracy and Communism: Theory and Action. Princeton, NJ: Princeton

University Press, 1967.


Ibid., National Security: Political, Military and Economic Strategies in the Decade Ahead

New York, 1963.


Beschloss, Micheal R.and Talbott, Strobe At the Highest Levels. New York, NY: Little, Brown

and Company, 1993.


Casey, William The Secret War Against Hitler. Washington DC: Regnery, 1988.


CIA/DIA Gorbachev's Modernization Program: A Status Report, A paper submitted to the

Subcommittee on National Security Economics of the Joint Economic Committee, March, 1987.


Codevilla, Angelo. War: Ends and Means. New York, NY: Basic Books Inc. 1989.


Fought, Stephen O. SDI, A Policy Analysis. Newport RI 1987


Garthoff, Raymond L. Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet relations from Nixon to

Reagan. Washington D.C. 1985


Ibid., Deterence and the Revolutuion in Soviet Military Affairs. Washington, D.C. 1990


Gutman, Roy Banana Diplomacy: The Making of American Policy in Nicaragua 1981-1987.

New York 1988


Grossman, Karl Nicaragua : Americas New Vietnam? Sag Harbor 1984


Hobsbawm, Eric The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991. New York, NY:

Pantheon Press, 1994


Klinghoffer, Arthur, J. The Angolan War : A Study in Soviet Policy in the Third Word Boulder

CO 1980.


Lenczowski, John. Soviet Perceptions of US. Foreign Policy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University

Press, 1982.


Muravchik, Josuha The Senate and National Security : A New Mood. Beverly Hills, Ca 1980.


National Council of Churches Namibia: The Crisis in the United States Policy Toward

Southern Africa. Washington 1983.


Oberdorfer, Don The Turn: How the Cold War Came to An End: The United States and the

Soviet Union 1983-1990. New York: Posidon Press, 1991.


Pipes, Richard Detente II: Report of the Task Force on the Dangers of Detente II Washington

DC 1988.


Ibid., The Formation of the Soviet Union; Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923.

Cambridge 1964.


Ibid., US - Soviet relations in the Era of De'tente. Boulder CO 1981.


Ibid., Misinterpreting the Cold War: The Hardliners Had It Right. Review Essay, Foreign

Affairs, New York, NY: Council On Foreign Relations Inc. January/February 1995


Prados, John Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council. New York



Ibid., Presidents Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since W.W.III. New York



Ibid., The Soviet Estimate: US Intelligence Analysis and Russian Military Strength. New York



Reagan, Ronald National Security Strategy of the United States. Washington DC 1988.


Rodman,Peter W. More Precious Than Peace. New York, NY: Charles Schribner's Sons, 1994


Saikal, Amin and Maley, William The Soviet Withdrawal From Afghanistan. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1989.


Schweizer, Peter Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy That Hastened the

Collapse of the Soviet Union. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press 1994.


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