The debate over the causes of the cold war's demise is currently raging. Given that scholars are still debating the origins of the cold war, fortyfive years after its inception, it is likely that the controversy surrounding its death will continue for some time. This article tries to contribute to the debate by focusing on U.S. Soviet policy at the very beginning of the cold war's demise-the years just before Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union. Its aim is to challenge widely held assumptions about the Reagan administration's role in bringing about the end of the cold war. The cold war began to draw to a close during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. During the mid-1980s U.S.-Soviet relations began to shift from cold war antagonism toward a rapprochement. Conventional wisdom holds that the United States played a reactionary role in bringing the cold war to an end. Gorbachev's unique outlook and style caused Washington to soften its hardline, so this argument goes, and ultimately led to improved relations between the superpowers. As one scholar has argued: "The ... milieu of East-West relations profoundly changed . .. largely because Mikhail Gorbachev changed the 'reality' of East-West relations by setting into motion fundamental reforms in the domestic structure of the Soviet Union and by introducing a radical reconceptualization of the Soviet approach to international relations."1 In short, the conventional view is that the Reagan administration merely responded to Gorbachev's revolutionary approach to international relations.
Political Science Quarterly