Alternet.org | "Suddenly, a season of peace seems to be warming the world," the New York Times exulted on the last day of July 1988. Protracted and bloody wars were ending in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia and Nicaragua, and between Iran and Iraq. But the most dramatic development was still to come.
In December 1988, the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, declared the cold war over. "The use or threat of force no longer can or must be an instrument of foreign policy," he said. "This applies above all to nuclear arms."
He proposed cutting offensive strategic arms in half, jointly safeguarding the environment, banning weapons in outer space, ending exploitation of the third world and canceling third world debt payments. He called for a UN-brokered ceasefire in Afghanistan, acknowledging that, after nine years, the Russians had failed to defeat the Afghan insurgents despite deploying 100,000 troops.
Still, he was not finished. He held out an olive branch to the incoming administration of George H W Bush, offering a "joint effort to put an end to an era of wars".
The New York Times described Gorbachev's riveting, hour-long speech as the greatest act of statesmanship since Roosevelt and Churchill's Atlantic Charter in 1941. The Washington Post called it "a speech as remarkable as any ever delivered at the United Nations".
Gorbachev saw this as a new beginning for America, Russia and the world, but US policymakers had something very different in mind, hailing it as the triumph of the capitalist west after the long decades of the cold war.