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Cold War Endgame

Oral History, Analysis, Debates

Edited by William C. Wohlforth

Publication Year: 2003

Cold War Endgame is the product of an unusual collaborative effort by policymakers and scholars to promote better understanding of how the Cold War ended. It includes the transcript of a conference, hosted by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, in which high-level veterans of the Bush and Gorbachev governments shared their recollections and interpretations of the crucial events of 1989-91: the revolutions in Eastern Europe; the reuni¹cation of Germany; the Persian Gulf War; the August 1991 coup; and the collapse of the USSR. Taking this testimony as a common reference and drawing on the most recent evidence available, six chapters follow in which historians and political scientists explore the historical and theoretical puzzles presented by this extraordinary transition. This discussion features a debate over the relative importance of ideas, personality, and economic pressures in explaining the Cold War's end.

Published by: Penn State University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vi

this book is organized around the transcripts of the conference “Cold War Endgame,” held at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School on March 29–30, 1996. The conference was sponsored by the John Foster Dulles Program for the Study of Leadership in International Affairs, Princeton University, and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University....

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pp. 1-12

As the cold war recedes into memory it is all too easy to forget how potentially apocalyptic it was. For forty-five years the two superpowers faced each other across the globe, each dreading the consequences of ceding dominance to the other. To forestall that outcome,...

PART I. Oral History: The Princeton Conference

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pp. 13

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1. Forging a New Relationship

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pp. 15-48

This chapter presents the first session of the Princeton conference. It begins with opening remarks by James Baker and Anatoly Chernyaev that frame the debate over the causes of the end of the Cold War that recurs throughout the conference and is addressed by the scholarly chapters in Part III of this volume. The conferees...

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2. The Unification of Germany

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pp. 49-75

The fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe in the second half of 1989 and the sudden breaching of the Berlin Wall in November marked the most fundamental shift in Europe since its division into opposing camps following World War II. In August 1989 the Solidarity labor group in Poland formed the first Eastern European government not led by communists since the Cold War’s dawn...

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3. The Persian Gulf War

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pp. 77-114

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, brought the United States into conflict with a Persian Gulf state that was close to the Soviet Union geographically and had been a Soviet arms recipient. In the past, Moscow almost certainly would have defended its client and strongly opposed U.S. armed intervention near the Soviet borders. This time, in an important test of the new relationship...

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4. Countdown to the Collapse of the Soviet Union

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pp. 115-137

The final session directly addressed the crucial backdrop to all the preceding diplomacy of the Cold War’s end: Soviet domestic politics and the mounting dual crises of the communist system and the Soviet empire. The conferees discussed efforts by Bush, Baker, and Matlock to warn Gorbachev of an impending coup. The discussants...

PART II. Analysis

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pp. 139

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5. Once Burned, Twice Shy? The Pause of 1989

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pp. 141-173

“When the bush administration came into office,” recalls President George H. W. Bush’s national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, “there was already a lot of talk that the Cold War was over. . . . But to me, you know, my life spent in the Cold War, the structures of the Cold War were still in place. The rhetoric was different, but almost nothing else was different. And having been in the Reagan...

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6. Trust Bursting Out All Over: The Soviet Side of German Unification

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pp. 175-204

The transcripts of the Cold War Endgame conference throw into sharp relief many of the theoretical and historical puzzles of the end of the Cold War. Why did the Soviet Union fail to use force in 1989 to keep together the Warsaw Pact, as it had in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968? Why did the Soviet bureaucracy...

PART III. Debates

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pp. 205

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7. Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War: Different Perspectives on the Historical Personality

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pp. 207-241

It is a perennial human illusion to attribute great events to great causes. Particularly during the past century scholars have tended to attribute transitions from one historical period to another to grand, impersonal forces—shifts in balance of power, inter-imperialist contradictions, revolutions, the rise of new ideologies and social movements, and so on. In the current scholarly climate the other extreme has become...

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8. The Road(s) Not Taken: Causality and Contingency in Analysis of the Cold War’s End

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pp. 243-272

Appreciation of the element of historical contingency in the Cold War’s end—an understanding of how and when critical turning points appeared, of what plausible alternatives existed and where different choices might have led—is generally poor. In much of the literature there prevails instead a sense of inevitability, a more or less explicit assumption that by the mid-1980s the USSR had little choice...

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9. Economic Constraints and the End of the Cold War

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pp. 273-309

Debates about how the various causes of great events interact cannot be resolved conclusively, but neither can they be avoided. All arguments about the implications of the Cold War’s end for both policy and international relations theory hinge on rendering some judgment about how changing economic constraints affected this seminal event. Although scholars have spent a great deal of intellectual energy...


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pp. 311

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10. Failure or Learning Opportunity? The End of the Cold War Its Implications for International Relations Theory

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pp. 313-336

As this volume pointedly illustrates, coming to terms with the end of the Cold War continues to intrigue international relations (IR) theorists and foreign policymakers. It also presents high-stakes challenges to both groups. If we can understand why and how this conflict died away, generalizable implications for policy and for analyzing international politics should follow. The purpose...

Participants and Contributors

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pp. 337-340


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pp. 341-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780271052779
E-ISBN-10: 0271052775
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271022383
Print-ISBN-10: 0271022388

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 1 chart/graph
Publication Year: 2003