Soviet Trade: In America's Best Interest?

February 10, 1989

Report Outline
Special Focus


In his inaugural address, President George Bush called it “a fresh new breeze.” Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev calls it perestroika, or “restructuring.” They are both referring to the process of economic reform currently under way in the Soviet Union. The unprecedented reforms Gorbachev has introduced during his nearly four years in power are testimony to the fact that the centralized economic structure set in place by Josef Stalin a half-century ago is no longer working. It is still uncertain what shape the new Soviet economy will assume, but it is clear that Gorbachev is looking to the Western, capitalist world for ideas and for assistance. The question now before the Bush administration is whether it is in the best interests of the United States to lend a helping hand.

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The rapid change in U.S.-Soviet relations during the 1980s has been astounding. Ronald Reagan began his presidency denouncing the Soviet Union as an untrustworthy “evil empire” bent on conquering the world. It was naive, he suggested, to engage in arms control negotiations with such a monster; only a massive buildup in U.S. military power would protect us from Soviet imperialism. Eight years and $2 trillion later, Reagan had participated in four summits with his Soviet counterpart Mikhail S. Gorbachev, signed a long-awaited treaty removing nuclear weapons from Europe, and agreed to more open contacts between the two superpowers than they had enjoyed since the end of World War II.

The reasons for this sea change in U.S. policy can be traced above all to the figure of Gorbachev himself. Since gaining power in April 1985, the Soviet leader has aggressively pursued a program of revolutionary reforms aimed at saving his country's ailing economy. Collectively known as perestroika, these reforms require a shift in Soviet resources from military to civilian uses. The signs of this shift are numerous. Gorbachev announced in December he would unilaterally withdraw a half-million Soviet troops and 10,000 tanks from Eastern Europe. Negotiations to reduce conventional, or non-nuclear, weapons “from the Atlantic to the Urals” are due to commence in March. Soviet troops are scheduled to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by Feb. 15, while Soviet-supported Cuban forces are due to leave Namibia under a peace plan signed last year.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
U.S.-Soviet Relations
Sep. 14, 1990  The Western Alliance After the Cold War
Feb. 10, 1989  Soviet Trade: In America's Best Interest?
Nov. 01, 1985  U.S.-Soviet Summitry
Jul. 09, 1982  Controlling Scientific Information
May 25, 1973  Trends in U.S.-Soviet Relations
Apr. 05, 1972  Russia's Diplomatic Offensive
Feb. 09, 1972  Trading with Communist Nations
Mar. 10, 1971  Indian Ocean Policy
Apr. 21, 1965  Negotiations with Communists
Nov. 13, 1963  Scientific Cooperation with the Soviet Union
Oct. 03, 1963  Trade with the Communists
Sep. 11, 1963  Non-Aggression Pacts and Surprise Attack
Oct. 11, 1961  East-West Negotiations
Mar. 29, 1961  Russia and United Nations
Aug. 10, 1960  Challenged Monroe Doctrine
Sep. 02, 1959  American-Soviet Trade
Jul. 03, 1959  Cultural Exchanges with Soviet Russia
Aug. 11, 1958  Conference Diplomacy
Jul. 23, 1958  Limited War
May 14, 1958  Cold War Propaganda
Feb. 26, 1958  Military Disengagement
Feb. 20, 1957  Indirect Aggression
Jul. 25, 1956  Trading with Communists
Jan. 11, 1956  Economic Cold War
Nov. 26, 1954  Peaceful Coexistence
Dec. 01, 1953  Tests of Allied Unity
Sep. 18, 1953  Negotiating with the Reds
Jun. 17, 1953  East-West Trade
Apr. 12, 1951  Non-Military Weapons in Cold-War Offensive
Apr. 20, 1949  Mediterranean Pact and Near East Security
Apr. 28, 1948  Trade with Russia
Sep. 11, 1946  Loyalty in Government
Jul. 31, 1946  Arctic Defenses
Apr. 01, 1943  American and British Relations with Russia
Feb. 24, 1933  Soviet-American Political and Trade Relations
Nov. 03, 1931  Russian-American Relations
Feb. 14, 1924  Russian Trade with the United States
Bilateral and Regional Trade
Economic Development
Regional Political Affairs: Russia and the Former Soviet Union