Primary Sources

State Department Views on European Security Prior to the 1990 Washington Summit


President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met for a four-day summit, their second together, in Washington and Camp David beginning on May 31, 1990. Discord had grown dramatically within the Soviet government concerning the drastic changes that had occurred in the Soviet bloc during the previous year. The following excerpt from a State Department report produced for Bush during preparations for the summit set out an agenda for him to pursue regarding European security issues in light of Gorbachev’s domestic difficulties. The summit resulted in some fifteen agreements, including a trade agreement and an agreement that called for the destruction of 80 percent of chemical weapons stocks and action to create an international chemical weapons ban to get rid of the remaining 20 percent. Progress also was made to resolve a dispute between the two nations on whether a reunited Germany would become a part of NATO should it desire to join. In addition, the meetings produced a joint statement vowing to accelerate talks regarding the reduction of conventional forces in Europe (CFE). A CFE treaty subsequently was signed on November 19, 1990. The Washington summit cemented the growing personal relationship between the two leaders as they negotiated thorny issues relating to the end of the Cold War.


James Baker to George H. W. Bush, 21 May 1990, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt



Gorbachev's policies have set in train events which are rapidly changing the face of Europe. Yet having opened the way for the democratization of Eastern Europe, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the drawdown of Soviet forces, and German unification, Gorbachev now faces serious domestic difficulties coping with these developments. His response has been to try to slow them down, even as the forces promoting change in Eastern Europe and Germany press all the harder to consolidate their gains in the event the current window of opportunity closes.

Secretary Baker, in his recent meetings with Shevardnadze and Gorbachev, has expressed understanding for the Soviets' concerns and has outlined the basis for arrangements which would assure the Soviet Union a secure and honorable place in a new European order. He cited your proposals, as set out in your Stillwater speech, to accelerate SNF [short-range nuclear forces] negotiations, to move rapidly into follow-on negotiations on conventional arms after signature of a CFE [conventional forces in Europe] Treaty, to revise NATO strategy, and to expand the role for CSCE [Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe]. At the same time, he made clear that we could not agree to Soviet proposals to limit the sovereignty of a united Germany, including its sovereign right to choose continued membership in NATO.

The Soviets have expressed a positive interest in our proposals for SNF, CFE and CSCE, but they have not yet proved ready to engage seriously on any of these topics. It seems unlikely that Gorbachev will come to Washington ready to drop his objection to a united Germany in NATO, or to explore in depth the broader framework for East-West cooperation we have set out. You should encourage an open discussion of the changes underway in Europe, urging upon Gorbachev the need to move expeditiously to create a new framework of European relationships in which to accommodate these developments.

The changes underway in Europe, including democratization, economic reform and German unification, are irreversible and still gaining momentum. Democratic governments have taken office throughout Eastern Europe. In a few weeks Germany will have a single currency and common economic system. We cannot slow these changes. But if we seize the moment, we can encompass them in a broader European framework in which both our countries play an important, positive role.

How to Cite this Source

Secretary James Baker, "State Department Views on European Security Prior to the 1990 Washington Summit," Making the History of 1989, Item #189, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:27 pm).