Primary Sources

Gorbachev discusses De-Militarization


In the midst of a chaotic year of economic and political reforms, Communist Party General Secretary (and head of state) Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the politburo on the delicate issue of the Soviet military presence throughout Europe. Conventional Soviet military thinking was that any troop buildup by NATO countries must be met by tit-for-tat by the Warsaw Pact countries; to act otherwise was to admit weakness. Gorbachev sensed a trap—the US-inspired "arms race" of the 1980s had meant that Soviet countries were devoting steadily more and more resources to military budgets, at the expense of infrastructure. Having concluded this, Gorbachev was faced with a difficult task of selling the "humanization" of Soviet international relations, including phased withdrawal of Soviet troops from key European locations, to the politburo. To that end, he emphasizes that the Western powers want the USSR to continue its current policies, because they feel these policies will certainly lead to military "exhaustion."


Anatoly Chernyaev, Notes from the Politburo Meeting, 8 May 1987, trans. Svetlana Savranskaya, Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Policy in the main issue here. The speculations are going on. Remember, I told you about my meeting with Thatcher. She said that they were afraid of us. That we invaded Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Afghanistan. This perception is widespread among the public there. It persists in the minds of many people. Anti-Soviet propaganda is based on it. We should strengthen our policy for humanization of international relations with our actions. We should let them know that we are not just sitting or lying on our military doctrine, but we are trying to find a way to make the world more stable. Now even parity seized to be a guarantee.

Therefore, we propose to act in an appropriate fashion. And we will not be stubborn about having 27 thousand tanks and almost 3.5 million soldiers there. We overlooked a very important question-the question of sufficiency....

We are stealing everything from the people. And turning the country into a military camp. And the West clearly want to pull us into the second scenario of arms race. They are counting on our military exhaustion. And then they will portray us as militarists. And they are trying to pull us in on the SDI. These are the positions, from which we should formulate our military doctrine....

But there should be no rush—like we were going to withdraw the rest immediately. In short, we should push the Budapest initiative. We should not allow this to look like a retreat. We need to think this through, discuss with our allies, and then propose to the West during negotiations. Let them react. Maybe they will tell us that we do not need to do it. It is important for us to untie the line of trust, trust, and trust once again. The West is speaking about it all the time, and we are just cunning around. And if we are speaking about Europe: from the Atlantic to the Urals, where we will have to deal with the troop numbers, they are afraid of it, because they would have to ship the Americans over the ocean.

How to Cite this Source

Mikhail Gorbachev, "Gorbachev discusses De-Militarization," Making the History of 1989, Item #149, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:24 pm).