There He Goes Again
The most persuasive evidence indicates that Gorbachev viewed the Soviet military--and its fear of SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative, "Star Wars")--with circumspection until two events radically altered the Soviet political environment. The first was Andrei Sakharov's advice to Gorbachev in February 1987 that he should not allow concerns about eliminating SDI to prevent him from pursuing arms control agreements with America. The renowned physicist dismissed SDI as "a Maginot line in space."
The second was the May 1987 incursion into Soviet air space (and Red Square!) of Mathias Rust's Cessna airplane. It provided Gorbachev with the pretext of purging the military, about which he subsequently remarked: "Let everyone here and in the West know where the power is--it is in the political leadership, in the Politburo." Thus, Gorbachev had overcome a significant obstacle to his pursuit of "mutual security."
But back to Schweizer. According to him, when the "aging lion" first encountered the "young tiger" in Geneva in 1985, Reagan "established the high ground." The Soviet leader soon began "zeroing in on Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative," because it "provoked passions of fear in Gorbachev." Absent from Schweizer's epic tale, however, are Gorbachev's words to Reagan about SDI, reported in his Memoirs: "I think you should know that we have already developed a response. It will be effective and far less expensive than your project, and be ready for use in less time."
Were Schweizer concerned with facts, he would have discovered that in 1985, a Soviet protivodeistvie (counteraction) effort to defeat Reagan's SDI produced the Topol-M ICBM. Development and production of the Topol-M survived both the collapse of the Soviet Union and a decade of economic hardship in post-Soviet Russia. First deployed in 1998, it remains the principal reason that many present-day Russian officials do not fear President George W. Bush's decision to withdraw America from the ABM Treaty. They believe that the Topol-M will remain capable of penetrating any national missile defense that America might deploy during the next fifteen to twenty-five years.
So much, then, for Schweizer's claim that Reagan's SDI sowed debilitating technological doubts and exacerbated economic hardship in the Soviet Union.
Schweizer's book is riddled with other errors that render it unreliable to everyone except ideologues. For example, consider his assertion that in early 1989, "Mikhail Gorbachev, strapped for cash and no longer able to support the empire, had announced that he was cutting free the countries of Eastern Europe." According to Russia expert Archie Brown, in early 1985 moral scruple, not considerations of cash, prompted Gorbachev to tell some East European leaders that they "should no longer imagine that the Soviet Union would send tanks to their rescue if they failed to establish a modus vivendi with their own populations."
But Schweizer's book will certainly be of use to those ideologues who cite Reagan's early prescription for winning the cold war--military strength, national missile defense and a belief that "in an all out race our system is stronger, and eventually the enemy gives up the race as a hopeless cause"--as the model for today's American Empire.
To see the legacy of Reagan's early presidential years, one need only read the Bush Administration's Nuclear Posture Review (which lowers the threshold for use of nuclear weapons) or its new National Security Strategy (which not only justifies pre-emptive strikes and discounts the value of arms control agreements, but also arrogantly proclaims "that the President has no intention of allowing any foreign power to catch up with the huge lead the United States has opened since the fall of the Soviet Union."
But here's the rub: Reagan's hard-line policies did not win the cold war. Instead, it was a post-Able Archer, accommodating Reagan who permitted Gorbachev's idealistic and revolutionary policy of "mutual security" to bring the cold war to a peaceful conclusion. Gorbachev's accomplishments offered the world the prospect of a genuinely new world order. By embracing the early Reagan, however, America's "New World Order" has become but a more obnoxious form of the old.
Like Reagan before Able Archer, lesser Soviet leaders (before Gorbachev) were quite prepared to continue an arms race that increasingly jeopardized the security of the world. Unfortunately, today's world is ruled by such lesser leaders; which is why the Bush Administration's neo-Reaganism seems destined to create more enemies and arms races.