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National Security Directive 23: United States Relations with the Soviet Union


As President George H. W. Bush took office in January 1989, factions within his administration disagreed concerning the approach to take with regard to US-Soviet relations. In December 1988, Gorbachev had delivered what he called a “watershed” address at the United Nations, announcing that he planned unilaterally to reduce Soviet military forces by 500,000, cut conventional armaments massively, and withdraw substantial numbers of armaments and troops from Eastern European countries. Gorbachev had spoken of freedom, individual rights, and national self-determination, declaring that “the use of threat or force no longer can or must be an instrument of foreign policy.” Some in the Bush administration advised that the US should support Gorbachev’s liberalization efforts, while others doubted the Soviet leader’s sincerity, believing he was scheming to divide the US from its NATO allies and that Soviet force remained a real threat. In February, Bush ordered a “strategic review” of foreign policy to help determine his course. Disappointed that the vague document that holdovers from the Reagan administration presented one month later did not offer a new direction in policy, Bush’s national security advisor, General Brent Scowcroft, ordered experts on his staff to work on a national security directive. Although Bush did not sign the new directive, excerpts of which appear below, until September, the phrase “beyond containment,” coined in the document, became the slogan of his new policy—one of “testing” the Soviet commitment to reform—once he publicized it in speeches beginning in May.


U.S. State Department to the Vice President et al., "United States Relations with the Soviet Union," 22 September 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

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"National Security Directive 23: United States Relations with the Soviet Union," in World History Commons, [accessed November 26, 2021]