The Cold War had seemed like a permanent fixture in global politics, and until its denouement no Western or Soviet politician had foreseen that an epoch defined by games of irreconcilable one-upmanship between the world's most heavily armed superpowers would end in their lifetimes. Under the long, forbidding shadow of the Cold War, even the smallest miscalculation from either side could result in catastrophe. Everything changed in March 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union. Just four years later, the Cold War and the arms competition was over. The USSR and the US had peacefully and abruptly achieved an astonishing political settlement. But it was not preordained that a global crisis of unprecedented scale could and would be averted peaceably. Drawing on new archival research, Robert Service's gripping new investigation of the final years of the Cold War - the first to give equal attention to the internal deliberations from both sides of the Iron Curtain - opens a window onto the dramatic years that would irrevocably alter the world's geopolitical landscape and the men at their fore.
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Behind the scenes look at a pivotal period of time
The End of the Cold War is a detailed look at the events leading to the historic agreements between The United States and the Soviet Union and how the building trust between the two governments led to a reduction in tensions and then and end to the cold war. The book describes the background details in both the American and the Soviet governments as these agreements were hammered out. We see the heated discussions not only on the American side between Secretary of State George Schultz and Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger but also the equivalent infighting between their equivalents on the Soviet side and the coverage of those discussions is very detailed with specifics as to who thought what, why they felt that way and how the discussions were resolved. It is not unusual to see information like this about US discussions since American politicians often write memoirs concerning their time in office but it is very unusual to read the equivalent information about Soviet discussions.
The book also details the contributions of the US European allies, Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, François Mitterrand of France and Giulio Andreotti of Italy, to the final process. The book describes in some detail the concerns that the American allies had with the concept of the elimination of all nuclear weapons, a cherished goal of Ronald Reagan, and how George Bush, the President following Ronald Reagan, first opposed and then modified the American negotiating process. Since the US Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) was so central to the entire period its impact is covered in considerable detail, but there are no details about the US project itself other than a brief mention of how it was progressing.
While the book covers the discussions between the various governments in considerable detail it is also important to mention what this book is not. It is not a history of the period from 1985 through 1991 and a great deal of what happened in that period is either skipped completely or covered only lightly. 1989 was the year that the Communist governments in Eastern Europe were overthrown by their own citizens through peaceful or violent means and, while these events are mentioned, they are not covered in any detail unless the events had a direct bearing on the American or Soviet negotiating positions. Anyone interested in the events leading up to and through the revolution in Eastern Europe should look to other books for that information. This book is also not a history of the Reagan administration, the Bush administration or the Gorbachev tenure as General Secretary of the Soviet Union. However it brilliantly describes the hurdles all three had to go through in trying to end the cold war. It is also not a description of the collapse of the Soviet Union, although some general information concerning the struggle between Gorbachev and Yeltsin is covered.
The fighting between the US State Department and Defense Department over what was to be negotiated and how the negotiations were to be handled is discussed in detail as are the fighting between the Soviet counterparts and thus we find out as much about the Soviet Army’s opposition to the arms deals as we do about the American Defense Departments opposition to the same deals. And while the book is very good at covering the high points of the discussions there are also many items that are alluded to but not described in any detail and the reader is expected to either know or research on their own about the items on discussion. Thus there is much coverage of the American complaints about the Soviet radar station at Krasnoyarsk and their claim that it violated the 1972 ABM treaty, but nothing in the book describes the basis of the American complaints. Similarly actions by both the US and Soviet sides that the other thought were problems are mentioned, although there is rarely information as to why any particular action actually was a problem for the other side. One thing the book does make clear is that Gorbachev, although stating that the US SDI effort was a major stumbling block to an agreement and arguing that such an effort was doomed to failure nonetheless instituted a Soviet version of the same program.
One of the issues that Mr Service mentions as being uncertain up to the publication of this book is whether Mikhail Gorbachev was a willing participant in the nuclear reduction talks or whether he was forced into that position by the economic situation in the Soviet Union. In Mr Service's own words, whether Gorbachev “jumped” or was "pushed” into the process. The book, and the discussion of the economic plight of the Soviet Union are discussed in considerable detail and, although Mr Service himself makes no specific statement, readers are led to an obvious conclusion about how and why the cold war itself ended. This is an extremely valuable book for anyone interested in this period of time and I highly recommend it, although I also wish it covered a bit more of the secondary details that are glossed over. The actions and motives of the main participants in these events, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Schultz and Eduard Shevardnadze are covered in great detail and it is clear that Mr Service, who is British, has a great deal of respect for all of them. His comments on Ronald Reagan, in particular, were surprising to me as President Reagan has often been derided as a bumbling and ignorant figure by many in Europe. Mr Service’s views are quite different.
I think some things were left out of this picture, i.e., the book Red Horizons that changed Reagan's policy, Solidarity, Pope, etc. That said, the gist of it is here, the two icebergs breaking loose to float away. The momentum set in motion and then kept in motion ended the Cold War, and for that we should thank Reagan!