Today’s Throwback Thursday brings us to the 30th anniversary of the first time Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met. With the Cold War in steady engagement and delicately on the brink of turning hot, these two heads of state sat down in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss peace.
Reagan had a much stronger hand going into the talks. And he flexed his strength early on. Here is how Richard Reeves described the start in his book President Reagan; “As the Soviet leader, the younger man, stepped out of his limousine in overcoat, scarf, and hat, Reagan bounded down the stairs without coat or hat. Round one to the American, reported the world’s news-starved press.”
The Soviet system was crumbling and Gorbachev knew it was only a matter time before a full implosion. Furthering the arms race was an outcome undesirable to all parties. This meeting could have been a lot different. Reagan could have come down hard and hammered his Soviet counterpart, but he took another approach. Through his position of strength Reagan built a foundation of trust with Gorbachev. This was an important element in the how the Cold War stayed cold. Both sides had more nukes than needed to turn the other side into a crater, but the war eventually ended without a nuclear exchange.
The media covered the 1985 summit with high priority. The major broadcast networks sent Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings to host their nightly shows live from Geneva. The intense media coverage can shoulder some of the blame for the general assessment at the conclusion of the event that the talks had failed to produce anything substantive. However, our hindsight now shows us that this was a monumental meeting because it was the origin of a relationship that eventually facilitated the peaceful end to the Soviet Union.
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev got to know each other 30 years ago today and we grateful for that.