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governor's island


Reagan, Gorbachev and Bush at Governor's Island

Previously Secret Documents from Soviet and U.S. Files
On the 1988 Summit in New York, 20 Years Later

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 261

Edited by Dr. Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton

Posted - December 8, 2008

For more information contact:
(202) 994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Related postings

The Diary of Anatoly S. Chernyaev: 1987-1988

The INF Treaty and the Washington Summit
20 Years Later

The Reykjavik File
Previously Secret U.S. and Soviet Documents on the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev Summit

The Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev
Former Top Soviet Adviser's Journal Chronicles Final Years of the Cold War

To the Geneva Summit
Perestroika and the Transformation of U.S.-Soviet Relations

Alexander Yakovlev and the Roots of the Soviet Reforms


Washington DC, December 8, 2008 - Previously secret Soviet documentation shows that Mikhail Gorbachev was prepared for rapid arms control progress leading towards nuclear abolition at the time of his last official meeting with President Reagan, at Governor's Island, New York in December 1988; but President-elect George H. W. Bush, who also attended the meeting, said "he would need a little time to review the issues" and lost at least a year of dramatic arms reductions that were possible had there been a more forthcoming U.S. position.

The new documentation posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org) includes highest-level memos from Gorbachev advisors leading up to Gorbachev's famous speech at the United Nations during the New York visit, notes of Politburo discussions before and after the speech and the Reagan-Bush meeting, CIA estimates before and after the speech showing how surprised American officials had been and how reluctant the new Bush administration was to meet Gorbachev even half-way, and the declassified U.S. transcript of the private meeting between Reagan, Bush and Gorbachev on December 7.

The Governor's Island Summit, December 1988

The last official meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev – after four spectacular summits that commanded worldwide attention at Geneva 1985, Reykjavik 1986, Washington 1987 and Moscow 1988 – took place on an island in New York harbor on December 7, 1988 during the Soviet leader's trip to deliver his now-famous United Nations speech announcing unilateral arms cuts and – to many observers – the ideological end of the Cold War. 

Adding particular interest to this abbreviated summit was the participation of then-President-elect George H.W. Bush, who was at that moment constructing a national security team of aides who were distinctly more skeptical of Gorbachev's motives than President Reagan or his top officials were.  In fact, the transition from the Reagan to the Bush administrations at the end of 1988 and beginning of 1989 might be described as a transition from doves to hawks.  (One of the leading hawks was Bush's deputy national security adviser Robert Gates, now serving as Secretary of Defense for President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama.)

According to evidence from the Soviet side – much of it published here for the first time anywhere – Gorbachev explicitly prepared the U.N. speech as a means to speed up arms reductions, engage the new American leader, and end the Cold War.   After the successful signing of the INF Treaty at the Washington summit in 1987 eliminated that entire class of nuclear weapons, the Soviet leadership was prepared for a very quick progress on the strategic offensive weapons treaty START.  Building on the personal understanding and chemistry between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, the Soviets were counting on signing the treaty with Reagan, before the U.S. presidential election of 1988. 

Having made substantial concessions on verification and shorter-range missiles for the INF Treaty, Gorbachev was signaling Reagan throughout the spring of 1988 trying to push for faster progress on START.  But Reagan's conventionally-minded advisers – particularly Frank Carlucci at the Defense Department and Colin Powell at the White House – undercut Secretary of State George Shultz with their go-slow approach, even though Shultz saw the opportunities for radical arms reductions.  Opposition from the U.S. Navy over submarine-launched cruise missiles also stalled progress, even though the withdrawal of such missiles was manifestly in the U.S. national security interest. (Note 1) Then result was that the Americans were not ready to agree on START in time for the Moscow summit in May-June 1988.  Even after the summit, Gorbachev still kept hope alive for signing the treaty; but there was no progress, at least in part because then Vice-President Bush – in the middle of a presidential campaign where securing the conservative base of the Republican Party was key to his strategy – was not eager to move any arms control forward. (Note 2)

During the summer of 1988, gradually, the documents show that the Soviet leadership realized that the treaty would have to wait until the new administration came to power in Washington, and therefore, the most important priority for Soviet foreign policy now was not to lose the momentum and to hit the ground running with the new administration.  Georgy Arbatov in his June 1988 memo to Gorbachev [Document 1] emphasized the importance of being prepared for the new administration – not slowing down the pace of negotiations, keeping the initiative, and building a base of support in Europe – thus keeping the pressure for comprehensive cuts in conventional arms, including elimination of asymmetries and reductions of Soviet forces by 500,000.  However, in the summer of 1988, the Soviet side still saw this plan as part of mutual reductions in Europe.

In the summer of 1988, the groundbreaking Soviet XIX Party Conference discussed the main ideas that later became part of the Gorbachev U.N. address and adopted them as guidelines for Soviet foreign policy.  But even that significant ideological shift did not produce any response in the United States preoccupied with the electoral campaign.  In the fall of 1988, however, after various Soviet initiatives did not result in U.S. engagement, the Soviets felt the need to radicalize their approach if they were to achieve quick progress with the new administration.  Former ambassador to Washington and now key Central Committee official Anatoly Dobrynin in his September memorandum to Gorbachev [Document 3] suggested that the General Secretary should meet with the President-elect as early as possible, preferably during his visit to New York for the session of the U.N. General Assembly.  Dobrynin suggested that if Gorbachev delivered an address at the U.N., it would be helpful in his relations with the new administration and would have positive impact on the American public opinion. 

Late October 1988 brought a major break with past Soviet positions, when Gorbachev decided to offer deep reductions in Soviet forces in Europe as a unilateral initiative, and to deliver a major address at the United Nations.  Gorbachev conceptualized this speech as an "anti-Fulton, Fulton in reverse" in its significance – comparing it with the historic Winston Churchill "Iron Curtain" speech of 1946 in Fulton, Missouri, at the beginning of the Cold War.  Gorbachev wanted his speech to signify the end of the Cold War, offering deep Soviet reductions in conventional weapons as proof of his policy.  These reductions would address the most important Western concern about the threat of war in Europe, where the Soviets enjoyed significant conventional superiority.  This move, in Gorbachev's mind, would build trust and open the way for a very fast progress with the new American administration.  His meeting with President-elect Bush and President Reagan would take place immediately after the U.N. speech.

However, the documents show that Gorbachev and his advisers had first to convince their own military of the wisdom of making such unilateral unbalanced reductions, including the problem of what to do with the personnel being withdrawn from Europe [Document 5].  Gorbachev seemed well aware of the potential opposition to his initiative both in the Politburo and in the Armed Forces – a very sensitive issue to handle.  The decision making on the U.N. speech involved a very narrow circle of advisers, and the full scope of numbers was never discussed at the Politburo or published, partly because as Gorbachev stated in an unprecedented direct way on November 3, "If we publish how the matters stand, that we spend over twice as much as the US on military needs, if we let the scope of our expenses be known, all our new thinking and our new foreign policy will go to hell.  Not one country in the world spends as much per capita on weapons as we do, except perhaps the developing nations that we are swamping with weapons and getting nothing in return" [Document 4].   

Gorbachev's U.N. speech on December 7 explicitly endorsed the "common interests of mankind" (no longer the class struggle) as the basis of Soviet foreign policy and, significantly for Eastern Europe, declared "the compelling necessity of the principle of freedom of choice" as "a universal principle to which there should be no exceptions."  Gorbachev particularly surprised CIA and NATO officials with his announcement of unilateral cuts in Soviet forces totaling 500,000 soldiers, and the withdrawal from Eastern Europe of thousands of tanks and tens of thousands of troops.  

Reaction in the West ranged from disbelief to astonishment.  The New York Times editorialized, "Perhaps not since Woodrow Wilson presented his Fourteen Points in 1918 or since Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill promulgated the Atlantic Charter in 1941 has a world figure demonstrated the vision Mikhail Gorbachev displayed yesterday at the United Nations." (Note 3)  U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan called this speech "the most astounding statement of surrender in the history of ideological struggle," while retired Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, a former NATO commander and top aide to President Eisenhower, described Gorbachev's announcement of unilateral troop cuts as "the most significant step since NATO was founded." (Note 4)

Little of this world-shaking impact was evident in the highest-level U.S. government reaction.  At the Governors Island meeting, for example, President Reagan remarked only that "he had had a brief report on it, and it all sounded good to him"; while Vice-President and President-elect Bush remarked that he "would like to build on what President Reagan had done" but "he would need a little time to review the issues…."  Bush described the "theory" behind his "new team" as "to revitalize things by putting in new people."

But the new Bush advisers were more than skeptical of Gorbachev.  In subsequent memoirs, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft dismissed the U.N. speech when he described his staunch opposition to any early summit with Gorbachev in 1989:  "Unless there were substantive accomplishments, such as in arms control, the Soviets would be able to capitalize on the one outcome left – the good feelings generated by the meeting.  They would use the resulting euphoria to undermine Western resolve, and a sense of complacency would encourage some to believe the United States could relax its vigilance.  The Soviets in general and Gorbachev in particular were masters at creating these enervating atmospheres.  Gorbachev's UN speech had established, with a largely rhetorical flourish, a heady atmosphere of optimism.  He could exploit an early meeting with a new president as evidence to declare the Cold War over without providing substantive actions from a ‘new' Soviet Union.  Under the circumstances which prevailed [in 1989], I believed an early summit would only abet the current Soviet propaganda campaign." (Note 5)

Ironies abound in this statement.  The Soviet evidence shows that substantive accomplishments in arms control were very much on the table and available at the very beginning of the Bush administration.  These included the START agreement for 50% reductions in strategic arms that the Bush administration would not actually sign until 1991, or the withdrawn deployments of tactical nuclear weapons that President Bush did not order until the fall of 1991, to immediate reciprocation by Gorbachev.  The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, titled his chapter on this initial period of the Bush administration, "Washington Fumbles"; while Gorbachev's advisor Anatoly Chernyaev is even harsher with his chapter title, "The Lost Year." (Note 6)
Chernyaev subsequently wrote:  "Much has been written about the impression that Gorbachev made on the world in his UN speech.  But we also have to consider the impact on him of the world's response to his speech…. Having received such broad recognition and support, having been ‘certified' a world class leader of great authority, he could be faster and surer in shaking off the fetters of the past in all aspects of foreign policy." (Note 7) Regrettably, exactly those "fetters of the past" continued to restrain the highest levels of the George H.W. Bush administration from meeting Gorbachev half-way, and arguably prevented dramatic reductions in nuclear weapons, fissile materials, and conventional armaments, to the detriment of international security today.


Read the Documents

Document 1:  Arbatov memorandum to Gorbachev, June 1988

This memorandum to the General Secretary from the influential advisor to Soviet leaders and director of the U.S. and Canada Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Georgy Arbatov, provides an after-action assessment of the Moscow summit and the state of U.S.-Soviet relations.  Arbatov points to the significance of the summit as being a "discovery" of the Soviet Union by America and the West and the breaking of the enemy image.  He outlines the broad arms control agenda that remains, but cautions Gorbachev that during the last stages of the electoral campaign in the United States it would not be realistic to expect any serious progress.  Arbatov clearly believes the Reagan administration has spent its potential to make any serious steps on strategic or conventional weapons.  In one part of the memorandum, he carefully suggests that it might be time for the Soviet Union to undertake some unilateral initiative on conventional weapons in Europe, like significant reductions in tanks, which would impress European public opinion and make quick progress with the new U.S. administration more likely.

[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Fond 2.
Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya for the National Security Archive.]

Document 2:  Dobrynin Memorandum to Gorbachev on U.S.-Soviet relations. September 18, 1988
Here, the former Soviet Ambassador to the United States and future head of the International Commission of the Central Committee Anatoly Dobrynin advises Gorbachev on the next moves toward the United States.  Dobrynin explains perceptively the dynamics of the presidential campaign in the U.S. and suggests that Gorbachev should try to meet with the president-elect as early as possible, before he is inaugurated, in order to preserve the continuity and momentum in U.S.-Soviet relations.  The best time and location for such a meeting would be in New York especially if Gorbachev was making an address to the General Assembly of the United Nations.  The address then could provide a major stimulus for a new start in U.S.-Soviet relations.

[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Fond 2.
Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya for the National Security Archive.]

Document 3: Gorbachev's Conference with Advisers on Drafting the U.N. Speech, October 31, 1988
In this document Gorbachev thinks aloud in the presence of a narrow circle of foreign policy experts, in effect brainstorming with them on the content of his upcoming speech to the U.N. General Assembly.  In addition to Foreign Minister Shevardnadze and Gorbachev's foreign policy assistant Chernyaev, the circle also includes Alexander Yakovlev as head of the International Commission, former ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Dobrynin as head of the Central Committee's International Department, and Dobrynin's deputy, Valentin Falin.  The major thrust of Gorbachev's initiative, as he envisions it, is about disarmament and the gradual withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe. But the spirit is less pragmatic than messianic. The Soviet leader visualizes himself as a world figure who will not only assuage the security fears of Western countries, but will outline an entirely new cooperative global order.  When Gorbachev says, "In general this speech should be an anti-Fulton – Fulton in reverse," he means to undo the Cold War that was declared most dramatically in the "Iron Curtain" speech delivered by Winston Churchill in Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946.

[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Fond 2.
Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya for the National Security Archive.]

Document 4: Chernyaev Diary, November 3, 1988

In this diary entry, Chernyaev records a "historic" conversation at the Politburo, after the formal agenda items.  This is the first time Gorbachev presents his decision to announce deep unilateral cuts in his UN speech to the full Politburo.  Chernyaev notes that Gorbachev is "clearly nervous," because he is aware of the radical nature of the steps he is going to undertake, and because of the presence of Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov in the room, who would have to approve the cuts.  The General Secretary makes an unprecedented push for cutting Soviet military expenses and publishing the numbers as a matter of building trust.  He tries to impress the Politburo with the unreasonably high Soviet military expenses and the need to withdraw from Eastern Europe.  Gorbachev has  to walk a fine line—making the conservatives feel that they are part of the decision making process, and yet leaving them out of decisions on actual scope of the cuts—therefore he never mentions the actual numbers.  Only at the end of his intervention does Gorbachev mention that the cuts will be unilateral—a huge break with the past Soviet position, which demanded reciprocal cuts in conventional weapons in Europe. 
Chernyaev predicts this is "an event that may well take the second place of importance after the April of 1985" – referring to the party plenum when the policy of perestroika was formally announced.

[Source:  Anatoly Chernyaev Diary Manuscript, donated to the National Security Archive
Translated by Anna Melyakova for the National Security Archive]

Document 5: Chernyaev Memorandum to Gorbachev on the Armed Forces, November 10, 1988

Here, Gorbachev's foreign policy adviser and confidant Anatoly Chernyaev provides suggestions to Gorbachev in anticipation of the opposition among the military to the deep unilateral cuts that would be announced in Gorbachev's U.N. speech.  Chernyaev suggests that the initiatives should be presented in such a way that would co-opt the military as much as possible even though they were not involved in the real decision making leading to the U.N. initiative.  In addition, Chernyaev suggests taking preliminary measures to accommodate the large numbers of officers who would have to be retired before their turn, and moved to temporary housing.  The advice would never be fully followed, which indeed would lead to strong frustration and rising opposition among the military, culminated in the August 1991 coup against Gorbachev.

[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Fond 2.
Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya for the National Security Archive.]

Document 6: Director of Central Intelligence, Special National Intelligence Estimate 11-16-88, "Soviet Policy During the Next Phase of Arms Control in Europe," November 1988 (Key Judgments only)

This Top Secret SNIE, produced just two weeks before Gorbachev's speech at the U.N., demonstrates how much the Soviet leader took the US government by surprise with the unilateral cuts in Soviet ground forces (by 500,000 out of a total force of 5 million)) and the withdrawals from Eastern Europe (50,000 troops, 10,000 tanks, 8,500 artillery systems, and 800 combat aircraft).  The intelligence community consensus reflected here posits that the Soviets "prefer to negotiate with NATO to achieve mutual reductions of conventional forces" because "it makes more sense to trade force reductions, thereby retaining a balance in the correlation of forces."  The SNIE goes on to suggest that "the Warsaw Pact probably realizes that negotiating an agreement with NATO that is acceptable to the Soviets could take years – and might not even be possible" – a judgment that would become obsolete within days, yet would live on into the new Bush administration as the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, Robert Gates, would move to the White House as deputy national security advisor.  Just in case, however, the authors of the SNIE mention that "for political effect, the Soviets may also take unilateral initiatives" such as withdrawing some troops from Hungary.  But they completely misjudge the troops cuts, claiming that the "Soviets may attempt to portray force restructuring as a unilateral force reduction" but really this is "intended primarily to make units more effective for prolonged conventional combat operations against NATO."    

[Source: released by CIA for 1999 conference at George H. W. Bush Center for Presidential Studies, Texas A & M University, published in Benjamin B. Fischer, ed., At Cold War's End (CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999)]

Document 7: U. S. Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence, Soviet Task Force, Wednesday, December 7, 1988
(Testimony of Doug MacEachin, Director, Office of Soviet Analysis, CIA; Bob Blackwell, National Intelligence Officer for the Soviet Union, CIA; and Paul Erickson, Deputy Director, Office of Soviet Analysis, CIA)

This remarkable closed-door testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee by the top three CIA analysts of the Soviet Union occurs at the precise moment that Gorbachev is speaking to the United Nations on December 7, 1988.  MacEachin opens his testimony by saying "in about 15 minutes or so we may find out if one of my analytical judgments is going to turn out to be correct," referring to his prediction that Gorbachev will have to cut the proportion of Soviet resources that go to the military.  At the same time, MacEachin disparages the "plausible but totally unfounded story of very large cuts."  (page 3)  Later (page 32) he says that "Blackwell just went down the hall to watch some" of the U.N. speech on television, and (page 36) he mentions the "news bulletin" of the 500,000 troop cut, calling the discussion "analysis on the fly."

Most striking is the way this testimony illustrates the rifts within the U.S. government between Gorbachev skeptics like Robert Gates and the new national security advisor Brent Scowcroft on one side, and the career analysts like MacEachin on the other.  MacEachin remarks (page 37) that "if Gorbachev is successful he will cause major social displacement in the United States" because "[t]here are not many homes for old wizards of Armageddon, and it is kind of like old case officers trying to find employment."  And MacEachin offers a true confession in the extraordinary passage on page 38, which demonstrates how prior assumptions about Soviet behavior, rather than actual intelligence data points, actually drove intelligence findings:

"Now, we spend megadollars studying political instability in various places around the world, but we never really looked at the Soviet Union as a political entity in which there were factors building which could lead to the kind of – at least the initiation of political transformation that we seem to see.  It does not exist to my knowledge.  Moreover, had it existed inside the government, we never would have been able to publish it anyway, quite frankly.  And had we done so, people would have been calling for my head.  And I wouldn't have published it.  In all honesty, had we said a week ago that Gorbachev might come to the UN and offer a unilateral cut of 500,000 in the military, we would have been told we were crazy.  We had a difficult enough time getting air space for the prospect of some unilateral cuts of 50 to 60,000."   

[Source: published by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee in 1992 in the three-volume record of the 1991 confirmation hearings on Robert Gates to be Director of Central Intelligence]

Document 8: Memorandum of Conversation, "The President's Private Meeting With Gorbachev," December 7, 1988, 1:05 – 1:30 p.m., Commandant's residence, Governors Island, New York

This poignant transcript of the last official meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev shows the two leaders practically avoiding any substantive discussion of the momentous changes in Soviet policy Gorbachev had just announced at the U.N.  Instead, they wax nostalgic for their series of summits dating back to Geneva 1985, and Reagan presents the Soviet leader with an inscribed photograph of that meeting.  Gorbachev is clearly eager to move forward with the President-elect, who demurs that "he would need a little time to review the issues" (even after eight years at Reagan's right hand?) but "wished to build on what President Reagan had accomplished, working with Gorbachev."  Ironically, Bush says "he had no intention of stalling things.  He naturally wanted to formulate prudent national security policies, but he intended to go forward."  Yet, the transition to new hard-line advisers and the Bush White House determination to commission a months-long review of national security policy actually would stall forward progress on arms reductions and even any engagement with Gorbachev.  The two men would not meet again for an entire year (until the Malta summit in December 1989), and by that time, the world would have changed around them, the Berlin Wall would be gone, German unification would be the absorbing controversy, and Gorbachev would be losing the ability on his side to deliver more of what he announced at the U.N. that very day.

[Source: released by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, National Security Archive FOIA request]

Document 9: Yakovlev-Matlock Conversation December 26, 1988

In this conversation, requested by the U.S. ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock, the Ambassador assures Politburo member and head of the International Commission Alexander Yakovlev that there would be continuity in U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union under the new President George H. W. Bush.  Matlock praises the new President's seriousness and professionalism, compares him favorably to Reagan in terms of his experience in foreign policy, including being personally involved in developing the policy line toward the Soviet Union.  At the same time, however, Matlock states bluntly that the United States would not be ready with its approaches on strategic arms negotiations by February 15 (the deadline for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan), and that the new President needed time for an in-depth study and analysis of these issues.  Yakovlev emphasizes especially that the Soviet leadership is hoping for "enhanced continuity" and resolution on arms control issues and regional conflicts and that Gorbachev's goal in his meetings in New York was precisely to prevent a long pause in U.S.-Soviet relations after the new administration comes to power.  Yakovlev also expresses his frustration with the U.S. position on the settlement in Afghanistan: "the United States so far has not shown any desire to actually encourage the Afghan settlement."

[Source:  State Archive of the Russian Federation, Fond 100063, opis 2, delo 148
Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya for the National Security Archive]

Document 10: Politburo Session December 27-28, 1988

This is one of very few official records of Soviet Politburo proceedings that are available publicly.  This December meeting is the first after Gorbachev's return from the United States, having cut short his travels in order to deal with the results of the disastrous earthquake in Armenia.  Gorbachev devotes much time to summaries of the increasingly grave forecasts for his perestroika program by foreign analysts, but then dismisses their seriousness.  Part of the context for Gorbachev's lengthy monologues and Shevardnadze's proposals for a "businesslike" withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe is the growing bewilderment of certain military and KGB leaders who were not fully informed in advance about the scale and tempo of Gorbachev's announced unilateral arms cuts.  Still, there is no trace of real opposition to Gorbachev's course.  The Soviet party leader has learned a lesson from the military's lack of reaction to the previous discussions of "sufficiency," and he is now ramming change down their throats. Ever obedient, Defense Minister Yazov states, "everyone reacted with understanding," even after Shevardnadze aggressively attacks the military for retrograde thinking, for directly contradicting the U.N. speech, and for proposing only "admissible" openness rather than true glasnost.  Ironically, when Shevardnadze and Ligachev suggest announcing the size of Soviet reductions "publicly," Gorbachev objects: if the Soviet people and party learn how huge the Soviet defense expenditures really are, it will undermine the propaganda effect of his U.N. speech.  In yet another call for strategy vis-a-vis Eastern Europe, a conservative Politburo member, Vitaly Vorotnikov, says, "I consider the situation in a number of socialist countries to be so complicated that we should clarify our thinking in one document or another."  No such integrated strategy ever appeared.

[Source: RGANI. Published in the Russian historical magazine Istochnik, Issue 5-6, 1993.  Translated by Vladislav Zubok for the National Security Archive]

Document 11: Director of Central Intelligence, National Intelligence Estimate 11-4-89, "Soviet Policy Toward the West: The Gorbachev Challenge," April 1989 (Key Judgments only)

The remarkable section headlined "Disagreements" provides a striking contrast to President Reagan's comment in the Governor's Island summit that "we were all on Gorbachev's side concerning the reforms he was trying to make in the Soviet system."  Here, in a summary of the thinking of President Bush's own top advisers Scowcroft and Gates, the estimate says "Some analysts see current policy changes as largely tactical, driven by the need for breathing space from the competition…. They judge that there is a serious risk of Moscow returning to traditionally combative behavior when the hoped for gains in economic performance are achieved."  In contrast, "Other analysts believe Gorbachev's policies reflect a fundamental re-thinking of national interests and ideology as well as more tactical considerations…" and amount to "historic shifts in the Soviet definition of national interest" and "lasting shifts in Soviet behavior."  The evidence now available from the Soviet side, including the documents included in this posting and the others in the National Security Archive's series on the U.S.-Soviet summits, demonstrates that the latter analysts were precisely correct; yet they did not have nearly the influence on U.S. policy after the 1986 Reykjavik summit, or especially in the first year of the George H.W. Bush administration, that the hard-liners did who were so wrong because of their presumptions about the Soviet Union.  These disagreements within the U.S. side and the suspicions of top policymakers in Washington would create a kind of paralysis in the process of arms reductions after Governors Island, leaving worldwide persistence of nuclear weapons and fissile material in particular at far higher levels than the U.S. and the Soviet Union could have achieved if a more accurate U.S. view of Gorbachev's reforms had carried the day.

[Source: released by CIA for 1999 conference at George H. W. Bush Center for Presidential Studies, Texas A & M University; published in Benjamin B. Fischer, ed., At Cold War's End (CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1999)]



1. For the inside story on the Navy's shortsighted refusal of on-site verification for SLCMs, see Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Reagan and Gorbachev (New York: Random House, 2004), pp. 277-279.

2. See Jack F. Matlock Jr., Reagan and Gorbachev, p. 306.

3. The New York Times, 8 December 1988, p. 34.

4. For the Moynihan, Goodpaster and other international reaction, see Thomas Blanton, "When did the Cold War End?" Cold War International History Project Bulletin 10 (March 1998), p.184.

5. George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), p. 46.

6. Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Autopsy on an Empire (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 177; Anatoly Chernyaev, My Six Years With Gorbachev, p. 201.

7. Anatoly Chernyaev, My Six Years With Gorbachev (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2000), p. 203.


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