The annus mirabilis 1989 has made it clear that the Soviet Union and the United States now have it in their power to put an end to the cold war-the most important, expensive and dangerous phenomenon of the second half of our tumultuous century. It is too soon for historians to say that the cold war is over. There are still many unresolved tensions where mistakes on one side or the other could revive it. Moreover, excessive optimism could again be a cause of failure as it has been in the past.
Disappointed hopes about Joseph Stalin were one reason for the intensity of American responses in 1946 and 1947, and disappointed hopes for détente more than 25 years later led to the renewal of the cold war in the decade of 1975-85. If these two great nations are to make durably strong the stable peace between them that is so clearly in prospect as we enter the 1990s, the first point for both to keep in mind is that this task will take continued effort by both parties. The December meeting in Malta between Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush seems to have been a hopeful step toward such a joint effort.
Nonetheless it is right to celebrate the great events that made 1989 the best year for East-West relations since World War II. At the end of the year in Eastern Europe there was one splendid surprise after another. The Poles had a government led by the men and women of Solidarity; the Hungarians were preparing for free elections after their Communist Party changed its name and lost most of its members; the old man who had ruled Bulgaria for 35 years was forced to quit; the massive demonstrations of those who would be free ended neo-Stalinism in Czechoslovakia and overthrew Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. In the largest surprise of all, the East Germans decisively rejected their own hard-line leaders and an interim regime responded to millions of peaceful demonstrators by opening the Berlin Wall.
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