Misinterpreting the Cold War: The Hardliners Were Right

Forty years ago the foreign policy debate in the United States revolved around the question, "Who lost China?" Today one of its most contentious issues is, "Who won the Cold War?" Advocates of the hard line feel that the events of the past five years have vindicated their strategy. They claim that it was the policy of containment, reinforced by a technological arms race, economic denial, and psychological warfare, that brought down the Soviet Union and communism. Advocates of the soft line will have none of it. They contend that, far from contributing to the demise of communism, the hard-line strategy prolonged the Cold War by arousing deep-seated anxieties in the Russians and making them even more truculent. As for the causes of communism's demise, they are less certain.

Raymond Garthoff's account of the final phase of the Cold War is meant to justify the soft line. By virtue of its massive research, it is likely to acquire the status of a primer for adherents of this approach. The book, which traces the course of U.S.-Soviet relations during the Reagan and Bush administrations, picks up, with some overlap, where its predecessor, Détente and Confrontation, left off. The two volumes, similar in approach and format, complement one another, surveying in minute detail relations between the two superpowers from 1969 to 1991. They are imposing treatises, totaling some two thousand fact-filled pages, nearly every one supported by references to the sources.

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