cover image At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War

At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War

Michael R. Beschloss. Little Brown and Company, $24.95 (498pp) ISBN 978-0-316-09281-4

This revelatory, startling and important book is a rewriting of the history of the Cold War's endgame. The authors show that George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev maintained an unusually close, confidential relationship, beginning with their shipboard meeting in Malta in December 1989 and extending through 1991. Relying on secret understandings reached in consultation with only their very closest advisers, the two leaders developed what they dubbed a ``partnership'' that helped transform East-West rivalry into cooperation. Bush, by this account, coaxed the Soviet Union to end the Cold War by convincing Gorbachev that the West would not exploit its vulnerability. Beschloss ( Kennedy and Roosevelt ) and Time foreign affairs correspondent Talbott ( Deadly Gambits ) disclose that Bush cajoled Gorbachev to agree to a reunified Germany's membership in NATO; that former Secretary of State James Baker frantically attempted to warn Gorbachev of the right-wing coup against him. The authors also reveal details of the unprecedented collaboration between Moscow and Washington in the Persian Gulf war, by which Soviet emissaries quietly conveyed Baker's demands to the Iraqi regime. When Russian troops massacred Baltic protesters in Riga and Vilnius, Bush wrote Gorbachev a private letter threatening to cut off all economic assistance, the authors maintain. This highly personal statecraft had its downside for both leaders, assert the authors: Gorbachev, basking in Bush's support, adopted a complacent attitude toward his rival Boris Yeltsin and grossly underestimated the Soviet people's discontent. And Bush was so intent on shoring up Gorbachev that he was slow to perceive that by mid-1991 the Soviet leader was largely a spent force. Critics no doubt will attack this expose since its authors, while using dozens of named sources, also use a raft of unnamed high-level informants from Washington, Moscow and Europe. Their research notes and interview records are under time-seal at the Williams College library in Massachusetts for use by future scholars. (Feb.)