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Reviewed by:
  • Cold War Endgame: Oral History, Analysis, Debates
  • Mark L. Haas
William C. Wohlforth , ed., Cold War Endgame: Oral History, Analysis, Debates. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003. 346 pp. $60 hardcover, $25 paperback.

Cold War Endgame is an extremely valuable resource for anyone interested in the events that led to the end of the Cold War. The volume not only presents important new evidence concerning the final years of the Cold War, but uses the evidence to test central theoretical debates in the study of international relations.

The book is divided into three primary sections. The first is a transcript of a 1996 conference at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School that examined key events connected with the end of the Cold War, such as the unification of Germany, superpower cooperation during the 1991 Gulf War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Among the participants were former policymakers who played key roles in shaping the superpowers' foreign policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including James Baker (secretary of state under George H. W. Bush); Brent Scowcroft (Bush's national security adviser), Jack Matlock (U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union under Ronald Reagan and Bush), Aleksandr Bessmertnykh (Soviet first deputy foreign minister and then foreign minister), and Anatoly Chernyaev (chief foreign policy adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev). The second and third sections of the book consist of six essays by well-known scholars of international relations and history, who present divergent views about U.S. and Soviet actions during this period.

One of the themes in the book that elicits near unanimity among the conference participants is the importance of the development of trusting relationships between U.S. and Soviet leaders (pp.21, 35, 84, 144, 158, 161, 175-204). By the late 1980s, key officials on both sides came to believe that their interlocutors were trustworthy people who were genuinely committed to the establishment of a cooperative U.S.- Soviet relationship.

Soviet leaders' increased willingness to trust their American counterparts was [End Page 189] especially important because it facilitated the Soviet Union's international retrenchment. In line with the "new thinking" on Soviet foreign policy, Gorbachev and his chief aides tended to believe that the Americans would not exploit the USSR's geopolitical retreat. Former Soviet officials at the conference claimed that substantial cuts in defense spending and the abandonment of the Soviet Union's empire in Eastern Europe did not engender significant fears about Soviet security (pp.20-21, 46, 74, 234, 238). Thus, contrary to the views of offensive-realist scholars like John Mearsheimer, Gorbachev and his closest advisers did not make worst-case assumptions about U.S. intentions. Instead, they expected that U.S. leaders would be sensitive to, and even supportive of, Soviet interests.

The importance of trust in the evolution of U.S.-Soviet relations during the final years of the Cold War begs the question: What caused American and Soviet leaders to trust one another after four decades of bitter enmity? A number of participants in the 1996 conference as well as contributors to Cold War Endgame point to one possible answer: personal, repeated interaction among key U.S. and Soviet officials during Gorbachev's tenure as leader of the USSR (pp.21, 144, 158-166, 170).

Although it is clear that many former U.S. and Soviet officials believe that personal contacts were critical to the development of cooperative relations between them, this hypothesis suffers from important limitations. If personal interactions were sufficient to develop trusting relations, why did summit diplomacy and other negotiations between the superpowers during the first four decades of the Cold War not lead to outcomes similar to what we saw in the late 1980s? Why did most Soviet conservatives in the 1980s, such as Marshal Sergei Akhromeev (who participated in numerous talks with American officials), not develop a trust of U.S. leaders in the same way that Gorbachev and other "new thinkers" did? The shortcomings of the "personal contacts" hypothesis lead us to a third theme of Cold War Endgame: the importance of ideas in bringing about the end of the Cold War.

Most of the participants in the 1996 conference...