The Foreign Service Journal, December 2011

D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 23 F OCUS ON THE B REAKUP OF THE S OV I ET U NION C OLD W AR L ESSONS eneral Secretary Gor- bachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the So- viet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” So spoke President Ronald Reagan in 1987. In the background was the Brandenburg Gate, all too visible be- hind the BerlinWall. Reagan’s stirring words, though noted at the time, came dramatically alive when the wall was lit- erally and joyously torn down in 1989. It was a gripping episode in the events that led to the end of the Cold War. Why did the wall come down and what can be learned from that historic event? The disappearance of the wall is a metaphor for the end of the Cold War, which occurred largely without bloodshed. And the lessons we should learn are potentially useful because security concerns once again threaten the freedom and prosperity of our world. One of the most important reasons for success in end- ing the Cold War was that we in the West had a strategy that we sustained for almost a half-century. The basic ar- chitecture was put in place and solidified in the Harry Tru- man and Dwight Eisenhower years, and that architecture, particularly the NATO alliance, served us well throughout the Cold War. Containment The strategy of containment was central. The West un- dertook to resist any expansion of the Soviet empire with the expectation that, sooner or later, its internal contradic- tions would cause it to look inward and, in the end, to change. As time went on, this guiding idea shifted into what was called détente — we’re here, you’re there, and that’s life — so the name of the game is peaceful coexistence. That’s a lot better than war, especially nuclear war. But Ronald Reagan preferred the initial idea. He de- nounced détente and stood by his belief that the Soviet Union would change because, as he said in his “Tear Down This Wall” speech, “In the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being un- precedented in all human history. In the communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining stan- dards of health, even want of the most basic kind— too lit- tle food.” He made some people nervous with his views and his rhetoric, but the idea that change is possible turned out to be an energizing and motivating stimulant, true to the orig- inal concept of containment. George P. Shultz was Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan from 1982 to 1989. He is currently the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. T HE R EAGAN ADMINISTRATION ’ S STRATEGY OF DIPLOMACY BACKED BY STRENGTH HOLDS LESSONS FOR TODAY . B Y G EORGE P. S HULTZ