Courtesy Reuters

Superpower Balancing Acts

We met, as we had to meet," President Reagan told Congress in November on his return from Geneva. A week later General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev said to the Supreme Soviet, "A dialogue of top leaders is always a moment of truth in relations between states."

1985 became the year of the summit, of a faster tempo and a softer tone in U.S.-Soviet relations. The President’s invitation to meet, issued in March, had been his very first message to the new Soviet leader and reflected a widespread hope that the passing of the Kremlin’s "old men" might permit East-West conciliation. Yet the leaders’ more direct involvement and even their apparently amiable personal relationship could hardly resolve the contentious issues between the two sides. For this purpose, the relative strength of their bargaining positions remained decisive. In the course of the year, each side therefore sought to overcome those problems that in the past had weakened it in the superpower competition.

For the United States, two problems continued to stand above the rest: the Soviet strategic nuclear buildup and Moscow’s military engagement, both direct and indirect, in the Third World. Both preoccupations date back to the decline of détente in the late 1970s; they figured prominently in the rhetoric of candidate Reagan in 1980 and then in the policies of the President’s first term. In the past year the Administration focused on two responses that are likely to be remembered as the most distinctive elements of its diplomacy: the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and support for anti-communist insurgencies. These measures were the only foreign policy matters touched on in the President’s second inaugural address. They dominated the American foreign policy debate in 1985 (and meeting a crucial test of seriousness, acquired nicknames that have stuck—"Star Wars" and the "Reagan Doctrine").

As for Gorbachev, in the "inaugural" speeches that he gave at the outset of his tenure as general secretary, he also seemed to focus on two problems

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