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GRIT, Gorbachev and the end of the Cold War

    • Published online: 01 April 1998

The end of the Cold War is a story that will no doubt be written and rewritten as historians discover evidence that casts light on presently unknown facts, and provide new ‘spins’ on those already known. Indeed, it is quite likely that, like its origins, the end of the Cold War will have its equivalents of orthodoxy and revisionism. Of all the players in this story it is Mikhail Gorbachev who will take the leading role; for some the hero and for others the villain. The story of the Gorbachev era is a controversial one, with the answers to many questions in dispute. Did the West win due to ‘peace through strength’? Was new thinking primarily driven by the need for economic recovery? Was the West too hesitant in its response to Soviet initiatives? For some, the end of the Cold War brought to a conclusion a tragedy in which the two superpowers had embarked upon defensive measures which had led each to believe that the other harboured malign intent; hence Robert Jervis’s assertion that the ‘Cold War may . . . have been an unavoidable tragedy rather than the result of an evil Soviet Union, as the orthodox school has it, or an evil United States, as most revisionists argue’.Robert Jervis, 'The End of the Cold War?', Diplomatic History, 17 (Fall 1993), p. 659. On this interpretation the Cold War was a security dilemma in which ‘each side, in pursuing its own clearly indicated and deeply cherished principles, was only confirming the fear of the other that it was bent on aggression’.Arthur Schlesinger, Jr, 'Origins of the Cold War', Foreign Affairs, 46 (Oct. 1967), p. 45. In this article the story of how this tragedy was ended will be told from the perspective of graduated reciprocation in tension reduction (GRIT). It will focus on whether Gorbachev employed such a strategy and whether it had a role in ending over forty years of hostility.

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The author would like to thank Nicholas Wheeler and an anonymous referee for the Review of International Studies for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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