George Bush on post-Cold War relations (1989)

In May 1989 US president George Bush addressed a graduating class at Texas A&M University. In his speech he laid down guidelines for US-Soviet relations in the post-Cold War world:

“Students, your parents and grandparents have lived through a world war and helped America to rebuild the world. They witnessed the drama of post-war nations divided by Soviet subversion and force, but sustained by an allied response most vividly seen in the Berlin Airlift. Wise men – Truman and Eisenhower, Vandenberg and Rayburn, Marshall, Acheson and Kennan – crafted the strategy of containment. They believed that the Soviet Union, denied the easy course of expansion, would turn inward and address the contradictions of its inefficient, repressive and inhumane system.

And they were right. The Soviet Union is now publicly facing this hard reality. Containment worked. Containment worked because our democratic principles, institutions and values are sound, and always have been. It worked because our alliances were and are strong; and because the superiority of free societies and free markets over stagnant socialism is undeniable.

We are approaching the conclusion of an historic postwar struggle between two visions – one of tyranny and conflict, and one of democracy and freedom. The review of US-Soviet relations that my administration has just completed outlines a new path toward resolving this struggle. Our goal is bold, more ambitious than any of my predecessors might have thought possible. Our review indicates that 40 years of perseverance have brought us a precious opportunity. Now it is time to move beyond containment, to a new policy for the 1990s: one that recognises the full scope of change taking place around the world, and in the Soviet Union itself.

In sum, the United States now has as its goal much more than simply containing Soviet expansionism: we seek the integration of the Soviet Union into the community of nations. As the Soviet Union moves toward greater openness and democratisation, as they meet the challenge of responsible international behaviour, we will match their steps with steps of our own. Ultimately, our objective is to welcome the Soviet Union back into the world order. The Soviet Union says it seeks to make peace with the world and criticises its own post-war policies. These are words we can only applaud.

But a new relationship cannot be simply declared by Moscow or bestowed by others. It must be earned. It must be earned because promises are never enough. The Soviet Union has promised a more cooperative relationship before, only to reverse course and return to militarism. Soviet foreign policy has been almost seasonal: warmth before cold, thaw before freeze. We seek a friendship that knows no season of suspicion, no chill of distrust.

We hope perestroika is pointing the Soviet Union to a break with the cycles of the past, a definitive break. Who would have thought we would see the deliberations of the Central Committee on the front page of Pravda, or dissident Andrei Sakharov seated near the councils of power? Who would have imagined a Soviet leader who canvasses the sidewalks of Moscow and Washington, D.C.? These are hopeful, indeed remarkable signs. Let no one doubt our sincere desire to see perestroika continue and succeed…

We must not forget that the Soviet Union has acquired awesome military capabilities. That was a fact of life for my predecessors. That has always been a fact of life for our allies. And that is a fact of life for me. As we seek peace, we must also remain strong. The purpose of our military might is not to pressure a weak Soviet economy, or to seek military superiority. It is to deter war. It is to defend ourselves and our allies, and to do something more: to convince the Soviet Union that there can be no reward in pursuing expansionism; to convince the Soviet Union that reward lies in the pursuit of peace.

Western policies must encourage the evolution of the Soviet Union toward an open society. This task will test our strength. It will tax our patience. And it will require a sweeping vision… The fulfilment of this vision requires the Soviet Union to take positive steps, including:

First: Reduce Soviet forces. Although some small steps have already been taken, the Warsaw Pact still possesses more than 30,000 tanks, more than twice as much artillery and hundreds of thousands more troops in Europe than NATO. They should cut their forces to less threatening levels, in proportion to their legitimate security needs.

Second: Adhere to the Soviet obligation, promised in the final days of World War II, to support self-determination for all the nations of Eastern and Central Europe. This requires specific abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine. One day it should be possible to drive from Moscow to Munich without seeing a single guard tower or a strand of barbed wire. In short, tear down the Iron Curtain.

Third: Work with the West in positive, practical – not merely rhetorical – steps toward diplomatic solutions to regional disputes around the world. I welcome the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Angola agreement. But there is much more to be done around the world. We’re ready. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Fourth: Achieve a lasting political pluralism and respect for human rights. Dramatic events have already occurred in Moscow. We are impressed by limited but freely contested elections. We are impressed by a greater toleration of dissent. We are impressed by a new frankness about the Stalin era. Mr Gorbachev, don’t stop now.

Fifth: Join with us in addressing pressing global problems, including the international drug menace, and dangers to the environment. We can build a better world for our children. As the Soviet Union moves toward arms reduction and reform, it will find willing partners in the West. We seek verifiable, stabilising arms control and arms reduction agreements with the Soviet Union and its allies…

Forty-three years ago, a young lieutenant by the name of Albert Kotzebue, Class of 1945 at Texas A&M, was the first American soldier to shake hands with the Soviets at the banks of the Elbe River. Once again, we are ready to extend our hand. Once again, we are ready for a hand in return. Once again, it is a time for peace.”