Ronald Reagan and the Cold War

A favorite conservative myth is that Ronald Reagan won the cold war when largely he was just the American president who happened to be in office at the right time. The real hero was Gorbachev who realized the futility of continuing the cold war. Ronald Reagan does deserve credit too, but not for standing up to the Soviet Union but for being willing to understand that situations had changed and his old policies no longer applied. Reagan also differed from many other hard line conservatives in also dreaming of a world without nuclear weapons. Martin Walker discusses these points in a review of books on nuclear weapons for The New York Times Sunday Book Review:

According to both Schell and Rhodes, the cold war ended not because Reagan stood firm at Reykjavik but because Gorbachev and his supporters had already decided to stop waging it, or as Gorbachev’s adviser Giorgy Arbatov once put it to this reviewer in Moscow, “to take your enemy away.” Gorbachev understood that the arms race was ruining his country. And then he learned that the radiation fallout from Chernobyl was the equivalent of a single 12-megaton bomb.

It was a wondrous accident of history that saw Gorbachev, the determined reformer of a sclerotic Soviet system, coincide with Reagan, the anti-Communist conservative who nonetheless dreamed of a world without nuclear weapons. After Reagan came the first president Bush, whose initial caution about Gorbachev gave way to such enthusiasm that he unilaterally scrapped America’s vast arsenal of land- and sea-based tactical nuclear weapons. Between them, the three men put an end to the first nuclear age.

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