On December 7, 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev gave his dramatic speech before the general assembly of the United Nations, setting forth the principles of “new thinking” in clearest terms for the world community. This speech “certified” him as a world class leader.

On December 7, 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev gave his dramatic speech before the general assembly of the United Nations, setting forth the principles of “new thinking” in clearest terms for the world community. This speech “certified” him as a world class leader.

Gorbachev cooperated with Reagan to end the Cold War, and Reagan cooperated with Gorbachev to legitimize the democratic process with the Soviet public. But it was Mikhail Gorbachev, notRonald Reagan or George H.W. Bush, who ended Communist rule in the Soviet Union. 

Ambassador Jack F. Matlock, Jr

Mikhail Gorbachev’s “new thinking” and his economic and political reforms perestroika (restructuring leading to marketization) and glasnost (open debate leading to free multi-party elections for parliament) arguably played the most important role in ending the Cold War.  

In his dramatic speech before the United Nations on December 7, 1988,  he announced unilateral arms and troop reductions and withdrawal of the Soviet forces from its Eastern European satellites. This also indicated the abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine and the Kremlin’s determination to intervene in its bloc to save communist party rule. Gorbachev was concerned about the human and financial costs of “imperial overstretch” (Paul Kennedy) and initiated the withdrawals from Soviet imperial ambitions in the world (Africa and Afghanistan) and in its immediate sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

The abandonment of the empire spilled over into the Soviet Union and two years later rang in its collapse. His foreign minister, the Georgian Eduard Shevardnadze, was Gorbachev’s most important partner in launching his dramatic foreign policy of building a “common European house.” They never intended to abandon communism but rather aimed at a peaceful coexistence of the two dominant ideologies in the world.

Excerpt from Mikhail Gorbachev’s speech at the United Nations’ 43rd General Assembly Session, December 7, 1988.

[…] The de-ideologization of interstate relations has become a demand of the new stage. We are not giving up our convictions, philosophy,  
or traditions. Neither are we calling on anyone else to give up theirs.

[…] Our country is undergoing a truly revolutionary upsurge. The process of restructuring is gaining pace.

[…] Today I can inform you of the following: The Soviet Union has made a decision on reducing its armed forces. In the next two years, their numerical strength will be reduced by 500,000 persons, and the volume  of conventional arms will also be cut considerably. These reductions  will be made on a unilateral basis, unconnected with negotiations on the mandate for the Vienna meeting. By agreement with our allies in the Warsaw Pact, we have made the decision to withdraw six tank divisions from the GDR, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, and to disband them by 1991.

[…] Relations between the Soviet Union and the United States of America span 5 1/2 decades. The world has changed, and so have the nature, role, and place of these relations in world politics. For too long they were built under the banner of confrontation, and sometimes of hostility,  either open or concealed. But in the last few years, throughout the world people were able to heave a sigh of relief, thanks to the changes for  the better in the substance and atmosphere of the relations between Moscow and Washington. […]

Eduard Shevardnadze during a follow up meeting of the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Vienna in 1986.

Eduard Shevardnadze during a follow up meeting of the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Vienna in 1986.

Secretary of State James Baker meets Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze for an important arms control meeting.

Secretary of State James Baker meets Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze for an important arms control meeting.

PHOTO CREDITS: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP Reuter; Harald Hofmeister, Courtesy of Die Presse; Votava.