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Ending the Cold War: What Shevardnadze Did

In response to:

How Did the Cold War Really End? from the March 23, 2017 issue

To the Editors:

Archie Brown’s review of Robert Service’s excellent The End of the Cold War, 1985–1991 [NYR, March 23] falsely diminishes Eduard Shevardnadze’s contribution to improved Soviet–American relations and the cold war’s sudden end. Shevardnadze not only revamped Andrei Gromyko’s Foreign Ministry, but he orchestrated the purge of the Defense Ministry, and persuaded hard-liners in the Kremlin that the time had come for rapprochement with the United States. In forging close relations with secretaries of state George Shultz and James Baker, Shevardnadze broke down the anti-Soviet cast of the Reagan administration.

Among Soviet leaders, only Shevardnadze understood the link between human rights and improved US–Soviet relations, pressing for free emigration for Jews and others. Shevardnadze was the first Soviet official to declare that Moscow would sign a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty without a separate accord to limit space-based weapons, and made sure that a giant phased-array radar unit at Krasnoyarsk, a violation of the ABM Treaty, would be dismantled. Finally, Shevardnadze had a leading role in important changes in Soviet policy, including unilateral reductions of forces from Central Europe and the acceptance of German reunification. The memoirs of both Shultz and Baker acknowledged Shevardnadze’s vitally important role.

Melvin A. Goodman
Senior Fellow
Center for International Policy
Washington, D.C.

Archie Brown replies:

I accept that Eduard Shevardnadze played a significant part in the process of ending the cold war. In my review I said that “it was certainly important that Shultz and his successor, James Baker, found Shevardnadze to be a congenial and trustworthy partner.” The influence he exercised in Moscow was, moreover, generally for the good. That does not mean that he was as important in Moscow politics as George Shultz was in Washington. To disagree with the contention that Shevardnadze was of comparable significance to Shultz, not to speak of ranking him with Gorbachev and Reagan, hardly amounts to “falsely diminishing” the Georgian.

Gorbachev devoted great attention both to developing a new conceptual base for Soviet foreign policy and to policy detail in a way in which Reagan did not. The main drafter of his foreign policy speeches was the remarkable Anatoly Chernyaev, who died recently (on March 12) at the age of ninety-five. Chernyaev was at least as important an influence on the transformation of Soviet foreign policy as was Shevardnadze, albeit less visible to Washington. It was precisely because Gorbachev was determined from the outset both to control and to change Soviet foreign policy that he appointed a neophyte, Shevardnadze, as foreign minister rather than a Gromyko protégé.

For the first five years of perestroika, Gorbachev was able to use the strictly hierarchical nature of the Soviet system to bring fundamental change to that system itself and to Soviet foreign policy. The Soviet defense establishment was no more enamored of Gorbachev than it was of Shevardnadze, but until quite late in the day it reluctantly accepted the general secretary’s ultimate authority. Only Gorbachev, not a foreign minister, could impose policies they did not like on the Defense Ministry and persuade “hard-liners in the Kremlin that the time had come for rapprochement with the United States.” Melvin Goodman is wrong to say that, “among Soviet leaders, only Shevardnadze understood the link between human rights and improved US–Soviet relations.” Several of Gorbachev’s closest advisers understood it very well, including Chernyaev and Alexander Yakovlev. Most importantly, so did Gorbachev himself.