Reagan and history: The hawk who made peace

Posted in United States | 07-Jun-04 | Author: Mikhail Gorbachev| Source: International Herald Tribune

President Reagan speaks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the White House during their Washington summit in December 1987.
Reagan and history

MOSCOW I have just sent Nancy Reagan a letter of condolence for the passing of Ronald Reagan. The 40th president of the United States was an extraordinary man who in his long life saw moments of triumph, who had his ups and downs and experienced the happiness of true love. It so happened that his second term as president coincided with the emergence of a new Soviet leadership - a coincidence that may seem accidental but that was in effect a prologue to momentous events in world history.

Ronald Reagan's first term had been dedicated to restoring America's self-confidence. He appealed to the traditions and optimism of the people, to the American dream, and he regarded as his main task strengthening the economy and the military might of the United States. This was accompanied by confrontational rhetoric toward the Soviet Union, and more than rhetoric - by a number of actions that caused concern both in our country and among many people throughout the world. It seemed that the most important thing about Reagan was his anti-Communism and his reputation as a hawk who saw the Soviet Union as an "evil empire."

Yet his second term emphasized a different set of goals. I think he understood that it is the peacemakers, above all, who earn a place in history. This was consistent with his convictions based on experience, intuition and love of life. In this he was supported by Nancy - his wife and friend, whose role will, I am sure, be duly appreciated. At our first meeting in Geneva in 1985 I represented a new, changing Soviet Union. Of course, the new Soviet leadership could have continued in the old ways. But we chose a different path, because we saw the critical problems of our country and the urgent need to step back from the edge of the abyss to which the nuclear arms race was pushing mankind.

The dialogue that President Reagan and I started was difficult. To reach agreement, particularly on arms control and security, we had to overcome mistrust and the barriers of numerous problems and prejudices. I don't know whether we would have been able to agree and to insist on the implementation of our agreements with a different person at the helm of American government. True, Reagan was a man of the right. But, while adhering to his convictions, with which one could agree or disagree, he was not dogmatic; he was looking for negotiations and cooperation. And this was the most important thing to me: he had the trust of the American people.

In the final outcome, our insistence on dialogue proved fully justified. At a White House ceremony in 1987, we signed the INF treaty, which launched the process of real arms reduction. And, even though we saw the road to a world free of nuclear weapons differently, the very fact of setting this goal in Reykjavik helped to break the momentum of the arms race.

While addressing these vital tasks, we changed the nature of relations between our two countries, moving step by step to build trust and to test it by concrete deeds. And in the process, we - and our views - were changing too. I believe it was not an accident that during his visit to Moscow in the summer of 1988 President Reagan said, in reply to a reporter's question, that he did not regard the perestroika-era Soviet Union as an evil empire.

I think that the main lesson of those years is the need for dialogue, which must not be broken off whatever the challenges and complications we have to face. Meeting with Ronald Reagan in subsequent years I saw that this was how he understood our legacy to the new generation of political leaders.

The personal rapport that emerged between us over the years helped me to appreciate Reagan's human qualities. A true leader, a man of his word and an optimist, he traveled the journey of his life with dignity and faced courageously the cruel disease that darkened his final years. He has earned a place in history and in people's hearts.

Mikhail Gorbachev is the former president of the Soviet Union. This article was translated by Pavel Palazhchenko from the Russian.