It is often a challenge for historians to find the right balance between the human factor and the historical forces at play. The value of Archie Brown’s study of the three extraordinary politicians who brought the Cold War to a peaceful end is that it does precisely this.
As the author of a book on Mikhail Gorbachev, Brown is well placed to discuss the principal player on the Soviet side. He highlights Gorbachev’s relentless attempts to reform the USSR, his willingness to end the Cold War and withdraw Soviet forces from Afghanistan, and his refusal to open fire at the protesters who took to the streets of eastern Europe in 1989. Ronald Reagan comes out as a sympathetic figure, a sincere and essentially well-meaning leader, even though in his first term his administration became deeply dysfunctional. According to his national security adviser Robert McFarlane, the relationship between the State Department and the Department of Defense had become dangerously ‘corrosive’ by the time Gorbachev appeared on the scene. Before then, Reagan had been forced to deal with three different Soviet leaders in his first four years in office.