35+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

The Last Superpower Summits

Published: Jan 23, 2017
Briefing Book #578

Edited by Tom Blanton and Svetlana Savranskaya

For more information: nsarchiv@gwu.edu, 202.994.7000

New book analyzes detailed transcripts of Gorbachev, Reagan and Bush meetings 1985-1991

Key documents show Thatcher’s endorsement of Gorbachev, Bush’s anxiety about Gorbachev’s popularity, and missed opportunities on arms control, regional conflicts, and European integration

Washington D.C., January 23, 2017 – The historic summit meetings between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and two U.S. presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, built an intensive learning process on both sides that ended the Cold War, but missed numerous other opportunities to make the world safer, according to the new book, The Last Superpower Summits, featured today in the Washington History Seminar at the Wilson Center.

The book’s authors, Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton of the National Security Archive, argue that the summit conversations that began at Geneva in 1985 and ended in Madrid in 1991 just before the USSR dissolved, dramatically reduced both sides’ sense of threat but often struggled with Cold War preconceptions that left on the table potential arms control reductions and further solutions to Third World conflicts.  Ultimately, even though the summits achieved unprecedented levels of partnership, their unfinished business left a legacy that helped prevent the integration of the former USSR into Europe.

Today’s Web posting of declassified documents include several of the most significant that are published in the book (Central European University Press), and another dozen that provide important context for the summits.  Among the highlights:

  • British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s praise for Gorbachev during her first visit to Camp David in December 1984.
  • President Reagan’s first letter to Gorbachev in March 1985 citing “our common ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.”
  • President Bush’s advice from top aide Brent Scowcroft in March 1989 about “Getting Ahead of Gorbachev,” in order to create “the image of America’s foreign policy as driven by clear objectives.”
  • The Gorbachev-Bush memcon from the Paris summit, November 1990, where neither mentions European integration, instead focusing on Bush’s plea for Gorbachev’s support in the upcoming Gulf War.


Read the documents