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Philip Zelikow <email@example.com> Mon, June 14, 2010 12:08 pm In a June 13 press release, the National Security Archive stated that its new documentary releases on the Bush-Gorbachev summit of May 1990 "contrast with subsequent published accounts claiming that the summit was a crucial turning point for German unification." The release cites the account in the 1995 book "Germany Unified and Europe Transformed" which I wrote with Condi Rice, as an illustration. The release appears to state that our book's assertions don't line up with the documentary record. Gosh. So let's take a look. What happened at the Bush-Gorbachev 1990 summit when they discussed Germany? The Archive describes a Soviet memcon for the relevant summit session that tracks exactly with our 1995 published account of it. In addition to having heard debriefs about what had been said at the time(when we were both working on this issue for the US government), our account was based on the handwritten notes of two of the participants and follow-up interviews with three of them, two US and one Soviet, all duly footnoted. Gorbachev had acknowledged to Bush that Germany could choose its preferred alliance. The statement surprised the Americans who heard him make it, and visibly distressed some of Gorbachev's colleagues at the time -- a point confirmed in the newly released Soviet record. The Archive's press release attempts to denigrate the significance of Gorbachev's statement by stating that Gorbachev had already effectively made the same concession, that a united Germany could choose freely to join NATO, to Kohl in February. That is not correct. On the NATO issue, as opposed to the idea of unification itself, Gorbachev had been more reserved in February. And Gorbachev's colleagues -- as the Archive's documents show -- had subsequently dug in their heels hard on this issue, and on the unification issue more generally. So Gorbachev's concession was noticed, and Bush took care to restate it publicly in the joint press conference (reading a precisely worded statement that Rice had previewed in advance with the Soviet ambassador). What was the significance of Gorbachev's move? Our argument did not claim that this was 'game over.' What we actually said in our book was that: "None of the reporters at the press conference appeared to notice the significance of Bush's statement. Nor did American officials call attention to it. They sensed that Gorbachev had finally turned a corner in his approach to the German question, but the situation was tentative and shaky. If the Americans whooped and gloated, Gorbachev -- embarrasssed politically -- might quickly retrench, and positions would harden, as had happened after the February meeting with Kohl." (p. 282) In his followup calls to allied leaders, Bush put it very well: "We, of course, will have to see whether this reflects real flexibility in the Soviet position." I don't see anything in the Archive's release that is in "contrast" to that argument. The question for us as scholars, going back over this episode, was whether our supposition at the time about the tentative significance of this meeting was right. We believed the best source on this was Gorbachev's aide, Anatoly Chernyayev. In addition to using Chernyayev's memoir (then available in Russian), I interviewed Chernyayev directly in 1994; Rice interviewed him again later that year. Chernyayev recalled, as we wrote, that "the Americans were correct to take the exchange on Germany's right to choose very seriously." In its press release the Archive states that we relied in this paragraph on a Hannes Adomeit interview with Chernyayev. In fact, though we later quoted what Chernyayev also said to Adomeit, we specifically cited my own February 1994 interview with Chernyayev in the footnote for the statement quoted above. And our statement judging then that this "was a turning point. From this time on, Gorbachev never again voiced adamant opposition to Germany's presence in NATO" is, I still think, factually correct. Of course, given our argument, the later July 1990 meeting of Gorbachev and Kohl was vital, especially since there had indeed been some renewed Soviet retrenchment on the NATO issue during the month of June (though, critically, not from Gorbachev himself). And the German-Soviet bilateral diplomacy, culminating in the July 1990 Kohl-Gorbachev summit meetings in Moscow and the Caucasus, was carefully detailed in our book (e.g. pp. 323-327, 333-342). We repeatedly referred to the Kohl-Gorbachev summit as a "breakthrough." And it was. The National Security Archive's contribution to scholarship is so enormous that it shouldn't need to gild its lilies by denigrating the scholarship of others. Especially when they're wrong. Philip Zelikow White Burkett Miller Professor of History University of Virginia