You are hereHIS-Fischer-1997


Doc Type: 
Historical Study
Fischer, Beth
Full Title: 
Toeing the Hardline?: The Reagan Administration and the Ending of the Cold War
Language Type: 
Political Science Quarterly 112

(Summary by Holly Decker, Harriman Institute, Columbia University)

               The piece by Beth Fischer refutes the traditional interpretation that the Reagan administration changed its foreign policy approach in response to Gorbachev’s ascendency and his new approach to Soviet leadership. Instead, she argues that the Reagan administration changed its policy towards the USSR in early 1984, before Gorbachev came to power. From this piece of evidence, she argues that this change in policy, rather than Gorbachev taking power, was the pivotal factor in ending the Cold War.

               The early years of the administration, she argues, were characterized by tough rhetoric and a military buildup. She also argues that during his first term, Reagan did not consider arms control a priority and only abided by it because he was under pressure from his allies. Fischer identifies the January 16th 1984 address as the pivotal moment when the admiration began to call for dialogue with the Soviet Union rather than attempting to restraining them. She also argues that after the speech was delivered, the administration was more interested in arms reduction.

               She argues that the Geneva Summit, which is conventionally viewed as the beginning of the end of the Cold War, was in fact the “culmination of the new policy that Reagan introduced in early 1984.”[1]


               In her analysis, Fischer dismisses the importance of Gorbachev’s role. She argues that at the time of the Geneva Summit, Gorbachev had not yet released his policies of glasnost and perestroika and for that reason; the American actions at Geneva could not have been in response to Gorbachev’s change in policy. She seems to suggest that Gorbachev’s reformist tendencies did not exist until their public articulation, which seems unlikely. Her analysis fails to acknowledge that Gorbachev played any significant and suggests that he changed his policies in response to the new American foreign policy.

               Fischer’s analysis failed to recognize the importance of the Geneva Summit as a pivotal event that changed the relationships between the U.S. and USSR. Geneva was the first time the any leader of the two superpowers had met face-to-face in over six years. She does not attribute any importance to the fact that the leaders were able to develop a personal rapport, one that assisted them in making agreements for the benefits of their respective countries.

               She also fails to recognize that Reagan was against nuclear weapons from the start and that the slogan “a nuclear war cannot be won and most never be fought,” even if not always articulated, was a fundamental component of Reagan’s foreign policy. The military buildup that Fischer identifies was a way for the United States to bargain from a position of strength.

[1] Beth Fischer, “Toeing the Hardline?: The Reagan Administration and the Ending of the Cold War,” Political Science Quarterly  112 ( 1997): 494.