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Reagan-Gorbachev III

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, October 11, 1986

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev seem to be moving warily toward their third meeting. Both leaders have an incentive for another summit: they both face major internal problems, and both need a visible success in foreign policy. Even though their motives differ, the two leaders have a common interest in keeping the arms control process alive. Yet they approach another summit from quite different positions. Gorbachev is still in the early phase of what may be an extended period of power as the Soviet leader. President Reagan is looking toward the end of his tenure. Unlike Reykjavik, this summit is being prepared slowly, with considerable maneuvering over the likely centerpiece—an arms control agreement eliminating intermediate-range ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles in Europe and the U.S.S.R.

When the Reagan Administration took office, the outlook for East-West relations was gloomy in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It would have seemed fantastic to foresee three summit meetings and an important arms control agreement. Seven years ago, the era of détente was at an end, and there were major uncertainties as to what might follow. Many feared a new series of confrontations, a breakdown of arms control and an intensification of strategic arms competition. In the early 1980s American policy seemed geared to these expectations.

Despite such apprehensions, Soviet policy was increasingly constrained in this period. Moscow was generally passive in a series of regional crises, and was unable to block the deployment of American missiles in Europe. By late 1984, rather than confronting the Reagan Administration, Moscow was seeking to negotiate with it on arms control. Although this Soviet turnabout preceded Gorbachev, it was the new Soviet leader who exploited it vigorously, agreeing not only to the first get-acquainted summit in Geneva, but hustling for the second encounter at Reykjavik.

The beginning of the Gorbachev regime coincided with the high tide of the Reagan Administration. By 1984-85 much of the original Reagan defense program had

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