US Exclusionary Policy Post-1989

As the Berlin Wall fell, historian Mary Sarotte argues that the then exclusionist US Policy in Europe formed an ‘ordering point’ upon which the excluded Soviet Union forms its foreign policy to this day. The ‘ordering point’, according to Sarotte, is “the historical evidence now available from both Eastern and Western countries shows what alternatives ‘seemed real at the time’, and what chances they had of becoming actual outcomes of the upheaval of 1989.” What we can now see was not clear to individuals at the time, but the way in which these events played out now shapes our understanding of European-US and US-Russian relations. President George H.W. Bush’s mentality of trying to secure the US’ Cold War victory and failure to identify the long-term issues between Russia and the West provided much context for Sarotte to then justify actions for individuals such as Vladimir Putin. She believes that one can trace all of his actions involving Eastern Europe and the West back to Bush’s policies in the early 90s. With our current inability to reason with and control Putin, politicians and political pundits need to revisit the United States’ decisions during the H.W. Bush Administration and rediscover how the US’ exclusionist policies have more or less back the Russians into a corner. As ‘Baby’, their corner position has forced some of their aggressive actions, all in the name of trying to be seen and included in the world’s superpowers.

Sarotte, M. E.  “In Victory, Magnanimity: US Foreign Policy, 1989-1991, and the Legacy of Prefabricated Multilateralism”. International Politics, 48(4-5), 482-495. doi:

Sarotte, Mary. “A Broken Promise?”  Foreign Affairs, Sep/Oct2014, Vol. 93, Issue 5, 90-97

Gorbachev’s Naiveté?

Was Gorbachev either incredibly trusting or naive? Even though both Kohl and Baker verbally and somewhat transparently agreed that NATO would not extend its border east if the Germanies rejoined, it seems unreasonable to believe that these two things could happen simultaneously. How could one-half of a country belong to NATO and the other half not? Comparatively this is like saying that any state west of the Mississippi River is not to belong to NATO. A situation of further divide is unlikely terms for any forming nation. It poses too many challenges and restricts the ability to protect half of their citizens if an uprising should happen. Before further negotiations, Gorbachev should have demanded that written correspondence record this understanding.

Saying all of this, I empathize will Gorbachev for the substantial and pressing issues that his country was enduring. The Berlin Wall falling was a surprise to everyone. While President Reagan had made speeches stating that the wall must fall, it was a general assumption that it would not happen. I was 10 years old, when it was broadcast on the nightly news. My father called me into the living room demanding me to watch the TV. He fully acknowledged that I would not understand what was happening, but that in time I would. It was important to watch this historic event transpire. Many around the world watched their televisions, watching in amazement as this remarkable event transpired.

Relations with the US and Russia had made tremendous progress during Reagan’s presidency. Unfortunately, the termination of this relationship spawned from shifting and unwritten communications.


In the book, 1989, Mary Elise Sarotte used her book to look at the final days of the Soviet Union and the events that helped cause the collapse of the Soviet Union.  She argued that the events in China did not “transfer to Europe”, the easing of tensions by the Americans first and then the Soviets, the East Germans demanding a change in “the status quo”, “self confidence increase”, and “television transforms reality at a crucial moment.” ((Mary Elise Sarotte. 1989: The Struggle To Create Post-Cold War Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. 16.))

One of the more crucial points and one of the more striking things to me, that Mary Sarotte made was the impact the media, particularly television, had on the end of the Soviet Union.  During this section, using the example of the Berlin Wall, she wrote how the media scrambled to get to the wall to capture images of East and West Berliners tearing down the wall.   She discussed how the media not only observed the events but they had also publicized and personalized the events going on.  In particular, she noted two people in East Berlin, “reporter Georg Mascolo and his cameraman Rainer Marz of Spiegel-Tv” who not only took pictures but also filmed the events going on in the East. ((Mary Elise Sarotte. 1989: The Struggle To Create Post-Cold War Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. 43.)) During and after the events of the Berlin Wall, photos and footage of the events showed up in Western Media as well as in Eastern German media.  This was significant to the downfall of the Soviet Union because it not only showed the west how ugly events were getting, but it also spurred on more Eastern Germans to take part in separating themselves from the Soviet Union.

Sarotte on the Factors of the Soviet Union’s Collapse

In “1989”, Mary Elise Sarotte questions the factors at play in the fall of the Soviet Union. In her first chapter, she discusses the changes that occurred in 1989 and argues that the Soviet Union’s collapse was propelled as a result of changes within the Soviet Union’s internal status quo, unstable relations with between Americans and Soviet politicians, and changing international relations in Europe. She also points to the looming fear of nuclear warfare that characterized the Cold War and defined the era in general. She argues that “technology of both weapons and surveillance [as a result of constant threat of nuclear war]…created a unique era” (Sarotte 13). This fear led to both the United States and the Soviet Union to negotiate arms treaties and nuclear disarmament programs. These discussions were led by Reagan and Gorbachev in the 1980s and was considered internationally to be a step towards better cooperation between the two superpowers. However, despite these advances in foreign policy and relations, “the [American] public wanted more” (Sarotte 15). Sarotte argues that this step towards nuclear disarmament was perceived by subsequent president Bush as a policy in the United States’ foreign policy towards the Soviet Union, thus leading bush to refocus his political aggression back on the Soviet Union. However, Sarotte goes on to show that a European stance towards non-violence had cultivated by 1989, and thus the fear of nuclear warfare was dissipated.

In her analysis of the factors that contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union, Sarotte paints Gorbachev as a progressive leader trying to “producing a better socialism, not an imitation of social democracy” (Sarotte 14) whose reforms were stalled by Bush’s shift in his policy towards the USSR. She also claimed that Gorbachev’s new thinking policy, well-intentioned as it was, was not able to withstand the demands that it set upon itself. She claims that this policy “raised expectations among the broader population that he could not fulfill” (Sarotte 15). Openness, the opportunity to voice concerns and the doors to opposition were opened. This led to a rise of opposition parties throughout Eastern Europe, and this newly harnessed freedom gave rise to a national self-confidence (in East Germany and Eastern Europe) that led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Is Sarotte implying that the collapse of the Soviet Union was inevitable? How instrumental was Gorbachev in this collapse and how much of it was due to the underlying problems that had been stacked on top of each other for the preceding 60 years?

Post-Cold War Consumerism; Mary Elise Sarotte

Mary Elise Sarotte’s book, The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, aptly depicts the status of West/East Germany and how it was the centerpiece for the recreation of Europe after the Cold War.  Sarotte begins the book by discussing five major changes that occurred in the summer of 1989 which opened up the Berlin Wall. 1) The failure of events like Tiananmen to transfer over to a European context; 2) the choice of the American government to remove itself from the issue; 3) East Germans taking on the status quo; 4) an increase in East German self-confidence; and 5) the impact of television at this pivotal moment.  I will not go into detail for each of these, as Sarotte does so in the book, however number 5 did provoke some questions from me.  For instance, how is a media snafu like one such as this not caught or fixed before being released to the public?  Is it possible that this fumble of information was intended?

To focus on a more relevant topic of which we have been discussing, in the second chapter of Sarotte’s book, she talks about consumer goods.  The lack of consumer goods in East Germany posed a large problem for stores in West Germany as refugees settled in the West.  Stores had a difficult time managing the extreme increase in demand resulting from new consumers entering the market.  East German citizens were fleeing not only from the poor living standards but more specifically the poor economic status that contributed to it.  They were experiencing a massive demand deficit in East Germany thanks to low wages and high priced goods.  Refugees placed a large stress on the economic system of the West which could have had unpredictable effects on reunification of Germany.

The Magic Lantern: 3,2,1…

This book is a composition of 5 essays; the first four are Timothy Ash’s first- hand accounts of the East European “Revolutions” in in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and the fifth and last essay is his conclusions based on the observations he made in the first four essays.

Main points:

■ As a historical observer, Ash describes meeting opposition leaders, and the evolvement of the Solidarity movement as an opposition to the Eastern Bloc (AKA Soviet Bloc). This was a social movement in Poland that used methods of civil resistance to promote cause such as workers’ rights as well as social change.

■ Ash shows how the democratic movements succeeded one another in a way that proved inevitability. He gives perspective on the natural procession of movements throughout Eastern Europe and uses experiences from individual accounts to depict the events. He tells a story of a German who crossed the border several times just for the hell of it after the wall was taken down. He also includes narratives of East Berlin residents picking up their 100 Deutschmarks (“greeting money”), and going shopping.

■ Ash reveals his small contribution to the revolutions after meeting Václav Havel in the backroom of a pub he frequented. He had told Havel “In Poland it took ten years, in Hungary ten months, in East Germany ten weeks: perhaps in Czechoslovakia it will take ten days!”, to which Havel responded by summoning over a camera team. This opened up the doors for Ash to the “Magic Lantern” theater; the headquarters of the main opposition coalition in the Czech lands, the Civic Forum, and therefore the revolution. This allowed Ash inside access to decisions in regards to the revolutions.

■ Although Ash gives the reader a variety of plausible theories as to the cause of these revolutions, he proposes his own explanation  in three words–“Gorbachev, Helsinki and Tocqueville”; the amalgamation of Soviet liberalization, a global understanding of human rights and the absence of a rational right to rule were all factors that caused the revolutions in Eastern Europe.


■ How did Ash’s political involvement in the revolutions affect his historical account and interpretation?

■ Ash’s presentation of the natural procession of the movements makes them seem logical, even obvious. How come these changes to Eastern Europe weren’t predicted?


■ Ash never produces a complete comprehensible theory of the political shift in Europe or pretends to know the answers to the many questions it raises. He does, however, substantially articulate the questions that need answering.