Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Moscow Meeting, Gorbachev and Reagan (29 May–2 June 1988)

Summit meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held in Moscow during 29 May–2 June 1988. It was the fourth such meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev since 1985. For Reagan, the conference coincided with congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra Affair. Because of this, some critics speculated that the president was trying to divert attention from the scandal by creating a newsworthy achievement at the meeting. The major accomplishment of the summit was the signing of the already-ratified 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on 1 June 1988. It did not represent a breakthrough in arms control.

From the Soviet perspective, the 1988 summit greatly enhanced Gorbachev's domestic and international prestige. This was because of the obvious close relationship between the two leaders and Reagan's international reputation as an anticommunist hard-liner. Gorbachev's heightened prestige gave him important political capital, which was needed as he continued to move forward with his perestroika and glasnost reforms.

The meeting was carefully crafted to focus on the INF Treaty. The treaty had been forged at the December 1987 Washington summit meeting between the two leaders and was approved by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders in March 1988 and by the U.S. Senate on 29 May 1988. The treaty called for the destruction of 2,611 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with flight ranges of 300–3,400 miles. Included in the treaty were U.S. Pershing II missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles as well as Soviet SS-4, SS-12, SS-20, and SS-23 missiles. It also specified very detailed on-site inspection and verification procedures. In accordance with the treaty, by 1991 both countries would have eliminated all intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

The summit also resulted in a wide variety of smaller agreements. These covered a spectrum of topics such as student exchanges, nuclear power research, maritime rescues, fisheries, transportation, and radio navigation. Typical of these agreements was the Bilateral Ballistic Missile Launch Agreement. It called for both nations to inform the other no less than twenty-four hours in advance of any ballistic missile launch.

During the summit, Gorbachev surprised the American delegation on the first evening by handing Reagan a proposed joint declaration regarding peaceful coexistence, which Reagan declined to endorse. The declaration would have bound both countries to a pact of nonaggression and prohibited the use of force to resolve disputes. Reagan's advisors believed that the statement was too ambiguous.

Analysts were surprised by the degree of progress made toward future nuclear weapons reductions, as indicated by points of agreement on land-based mobile missile systems and air-launched cruise missiles. However, the conference revealed that the two nations were still far apart on other important arms control subjects, such as sea-based cruise missiles and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

In general, the summit was a success but did not produce any dramatic or unexpected results. Gorbachev expressed his disappointment that opportunities for more dramatic progress had been missed. For his part, Reagan continued to send a clear message regarding the importance of human rights and political reform in the Soviet Union. Indeed, his meetings with Russian religious leaders and Soviet dissidents underscored this point. A modest but important accomplishment of the meeting was to provide an effective bridge to future summits between Gorbachev and President George H. W. Bush.

Louis A. DiMarco


Further Reading
Doder, Dusko, and Louise Branson. Gorbachev. New York: Penguin, 1990.; Matlock, Jack. Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. New York: Random House, 2004.; Schweizer, Peter. Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph over Communism. New York: Doubleday, 2002.
 

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