The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War

The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War

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By (author) Beth A. Fischer

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  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Format: Paperback | 192 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 229mm x 20mm | 227g
  • Publication date: 31 March 2000
  • Publication City/Country: Missouri
  • ISBN 10: 0826212875
  • ISBN 13: 9780826212870
  • Edition: New edition
  • Edition statement: New edition
  • Illustrations note: bibliography, index, tables
  • Sales rank: 933,925

Product description

It is often assumed that Ronald Reagan's administration was reactive in bringing about the end of the Cold War, that it was Mikhail Gorbachev's "new thinking" and congenial personality that led the administration to abandon its hard-line approach toward Moscow. In this study, the author demonstrates that President Reagan actually began seeking a rapprochement with the Kremlin fifteen months before Gorbachev even took office. She shows that Reagan, known for his long-standing antipathy toward communism, suddenly began calling for "dialogue, cooperation and understanding" between the superpowers. What caused such a reversal in policy? Fischer considers three explanations for the reversal. First, it was an election year and public opinion had shifted, thus forcing the administration to become more moderate. Second, new personnel, namely Secretary of State George Schultz and National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, took control of US policy and made changes more in line with their personal views. Third, Reagan himself may have redirected US policy out of his fear of nuclear war. This last option is the explanation Fischer defends as most significant. In the fall of 1983, the Kremlin mistook a NATO military exercise for the preliminary stages of a nuclear strike and prepared to retaliate. After this narrowly avoided nuclear exchange, Reagan began to re-examine his views on nuclear war. This hypothesis, explains why the US policy was reversed, the timing of the shift, and the nature of the changes made. This study challenges the conventional wisdom about the president himself and reveals that Reagan was - at times - the driving force behind US-Soviet policy. "The Reagan Reversal" should stimulate new controversy among scholars concerning the end of the Cold War.

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Author information

Beth A. Fischer is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto and is coauthor of "The Constitution and American Foreign Policy."

Review quote

"Fischer understands the realities of foreign policy and international politics. She has a political sense which enables her to connect domestic and world politics. I found it difficult to put down the book because of the unfolding story she narrates. She is a superb political analyst."-- Kenneth W. Thompson

Editorial reviews

Much energy is expended here demonstrating that Ronald Reagan's policy toward the Soviets was pro- rather than reactive beginning in 1984. According to Fischer (Political Science/Univ. of Toronto), both versions of the "conventional wisdom" about the ending of the Cold War portray Reagan as simply responding to Gorbachev's initiatives. Liberals dismiss him as the lucky man in office when the Soviet Union unraveled, conservatives praise him as the hardliner tightening the screws until the Soviets cried "uncle." Fischer's examination of events, however, points to a stark shift in Reagan administration rhetoric and policy prior to the 1985 summit with Gorbachev. The references to an evil empire and refusals to enter into serious arms negotiations were abruptly replaced by a more conciliatory attitude shorn of saber-rattling and positively seeking accommodation with the Soviets. But if the Reagan Administration was out front rather than reacting to Gorbachev, the interesting question is explaining this reversal. In good dissertation-like fashion, three hypotheses are considered: (1) domestic politics dictated a softening of ideological hyperbole prior to the 1984 election; (2) moderates within the administration became more influential in the area of foreign policy; and (3) Reagan himself decided to take relations with the Soviets in a new direction. The possibility that multiple factors were at work is ignored, and the first two potential explanations are rejected as insufficient. The third is supported through a quasi-psychological analysis in which Reagan's horror of nuclear weapons, his belief in an approaching biblical Armageddon, and a series of triggering events are posited as the basis for his leadership in reaching out to the Soviets. There is no hard evidence supporting this hypothesis, of course, but it doesn't matter: This is a purely academic exercise, somewhat akin to arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. (Kirkus Reviews)