There's a widespread assumption that the Soviet Union had no alternative to ending the Cold War in the way they did. But that's wrong, says the Oxford historianby Prospect Team / March 26, 2020 / Leave a comment
Why did you decide to write this book?
I was dissatisfied with the widespread assumption that the Soviet Union had no alternative to ending the Cold War in the way they did. My aim was to write a book that rejected simplistic materialist and triumphalist explanations of the Cold War’s ending; I wished to show how both leadership and ideas mattered, and to study the domestic context of foreign policy in each of the countries on which I focus. While I did a lot of new research, I felt I had the relevant background knowledge to tackle this subject. I’ve written entire books on the transformation of the Soviet political system during perestroika. I wanted to tackle with equal seriousness the profound change of Soviet foreign policy and the transformation of an adversarial relationship with the West to one of partnership. Moreover, while others have written about Reagan and Gorbachev or about Thatcher and Reagan, no other author has studied the triangular interrelationship of these three very different but influential leaders.
Your book highlights ‘the human factor’; what do you mean by that and what was its significance in the ending of the Cold War?
Often heads of government are not as important as they think they are, but there are times when they play a decisive part in the making of history. Gorbachev not only changed Soviet foreign and domestic policy fundamentally, he spearheaded a conceptual revolution. The idea of ‘all-human values’ and ‘universal interests’ taking precedence over those of any social class or nation was especially significant. In a further break with Marxism-Leninist interpretations of history, he referred frequently to the ‘human factor’ (chelovecheskiy faktor) which, domestically, meant placing a new emphasis on the autonomy of the individual and, internationally, on the significance of establishing relations of trust and mutual understanding with leaders of other countries.
For that, he needed interlocutors willing to engage with him, especially the President of the United States. There were powerful interests in both the USA and the USSR against any such rapport. Reagan himself described the Soviet Union in 1983 as an ‘evil empire’, so his turn to engagement, with the strong encouragement of Margaret Thatcher (the foreign leader to whom he felt closest), was no foregone conclusion. Thatcher,…