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REVIEW: The Russians and Reagan

anon — July 1984

Strobe Talbot
Foreword by Cyrus Vance
A Council on Foreign Relations Book
Vintage; $6.75

Reviewed by Matthew Clark

This little book — only eighty-five pages of original text – is about what the Soviet leadership thinks about the Reagan Administration. The subject is interesting, and the author ought to be knowledgeable, at least: Strobe Talbot is diplomatic correspondent of Time and author of two books about arms negotiations (Endgame: The Inside Story of SALT II and Deadly Gambits, a forthcoming book about the. recent strategic and intermediate-range nuclear weapons talks.) One might expect from the author either inside information or extensive research, but Talbot offers not much more than a chronological summary of new stories and speeches. Nothing in this book will be new to anyone who reads the papers.

The best part of Talbot’s own original work is his discussion of the Reagan Administration’s “transparently onesided” attitude to arms control. His summary of the SALT and SALT II negotiations is useful, but it would be much more useful if it were longer and more detailed.

Talbot’s conclusions are not comforting; as Vance says in the Foreword, “Mr. Talbot concludes there is reason to believe that at the end of last year the Soviet leadership had been persuaded ‘finally’, by the rhetoric and actions of the Reagan Administration that the United States was bent on destruction of the Soviet form of government, and that the objective of the Reagan Administration in the arms control negotiations was to turn back the clock on military parity and regain for the United States the superiority it had enjoyed before the era of detente.” I think that good evidence exists for such a conclusion; Talbot gives some but Robert Scheer is much more complete in his excellent book With Enough Shovels.

The Russians and Reagan also includes the texts of three speeches by Ronald Reagan and one by Yuri Andropov. These are important documents, and unquestionably the most valuable part of this publication.

Talbot’s topic is important and interesting — it’s unfortunate that he promises more than he delivers.