Primary Source

Peace for Afghanistan


On 25 December 1979, the Soviet Union deployed its army in Afghanistan, in support of the Afghan Communist government against a group of Muslim opponents. For the next nine years, the Soviet army was involved in a long-drawn out military conflict without a victory, creating a constant embarrassment for Soviet military might. The expense of causalities and supplies was a constant drain on the already weak Soviet economy. As part of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, economically and through his support of disarmament, the Soviet Union began to withdraw its troops in May 1988, with total withdrawal to be completed by 15 February 1989. In this speech by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on the eve of his Moscow summit with Gorbachev, the President celebrates the arrival of peace in Afghanistan, with a comment on the U.S.-Soviet progress toward disarmament.


The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library,, accessed 9/7/06

Radio Address to the Nation on the Soviet-United States Summit Meeting in Moscow
May 28, 1988

My fellow Americans:

As this pretaped broadcast reaches you, I'm in Helsinki, Finland, on my way to the Soviet
Union, where I arrive on Sunday. When I meet in the coming days with Soviet General
Secretary Gorbachev, it will be our fourth set of face-to-face talks in 3 years. Through
our conversations, U.S.-Soviet relations have moved forward on the basis of frankness
and realism. This relationship has not rested on any single issue, but has been built on a
sturdy four-part agenda that includes human rights, regional conflicts, arms reduction,
and bilateral exchanges. What has been achieved in this brief span of time offers great
hope for a brighter future and a safer world.

Through Western firmness and resolve, we concluded the historic INF treaty that
provides for the global elimination of an entire class of U.S. and Soviet intermediaterange nuclear missiles. Soviet armed forces are now withdrawing from Afghanistan, an
historic event that should lead finally to peace, self-determination, and healing for that
long-suffering people and to an independent and undivided Afghan nation.

It is also encouraging to hear General Secretary Gorbachev speak forthrightly about
glasnost and perestroika -- openness and restructuring in the Soviet Union -- words that to
Western ears have a particularly welcome sound. And since he began his campaign, we
can list developments that the free world heartily applauds. We've seen many well-known
prisoners of conscience released from harsh labor camps or strict internal exile,
courageous people like Josif Begun and Andrei Sakharov. Soviet authorities have
permitted the publication of books like ``Dr. Zhivago'' and the distribution of movies
such as ``Repentance'' that are critical of aspects of the Soviet past and present. Greater
emigration has been allowed. Greater dissent is being tolerated. And recently, General
Secretary Gorbachev has promised to grant a measure of religious freedom to the peoples
of the Soviet Union.

All this is new and good, but at the same time, there's another list that the West cannot
ignore. While there are improvements, the basic structure of the system has not changed
in the Soviet Union or in Eastern Europe, and there remain significant violations of
human rights and freedoms. In Asia, Africa, and Central America, unpopular regimes use
Soviet arms to oppress their own people and commit aggression against neighboring
states. These regional conflicts extract a terrible toll of suffering and threaten to draw the
United States and the Soviet Union into direct confrontation.

These and related concerns will be at the top of my agenda in the days ahead. I shall say,
among other things, that the Soviet Union should fully honor the Helsinki accords. In
view of that document, signed in Helsinki in 1975, it is difficult to understand why
almost 13 years later cases of divided families and blocked marriages should remain on
the East-West agenda or why Soviet citizens who wish by right to emigrate should not be
able to do so. And there are other issues: the recognition of those who wish to practice
their religious beliefs and the release of all prisoners of conscience.

In working for a safer world and a brighter future for all people, we know arms
agreements alone will not make the world safer; we must also reduce the reasons for
having arms. As I said to General Secretary Gorbachev when we first met in 1985, we do
not mistrust each other because we're armed; we're armed because we mistrust each
other. History has taught us that it is not weapons that cause war but the nature and
conduct of the Governments that wield the weapons. So, when we encourage Soviet
reforms, it is with the knowledge that democracy not only guarantees human rights but
also helps prevent war and, in truth, is a form of arms control. So, really, our whole
agenda has one purpose: to protect peace, freedom, and life itself.

We would like to see positive changes in the U.S.S.R. institutionalized so that they'll
become lasting features of Soviet society. And I would like to see more Soviet young
people come here to experience and learn from our society. And that's why we're ready to
work with the Soviets, to praise and criticize and work for greater contact and for change
because that is the path to lasting peace, greater freedom, and a safer world.

I'm grateful for your prayers and support as I embark on this journey. Until next week,
thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President's address was recorded on May 23 in the Library at the White House
for broadcast on May 28.


Ronald Reagan, "Radio Address to the Nation on the Soviet-United States Summit Meeting in Moscow," speech, The White House, Washington, D.C., May 28, 1988, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Public Papers, Reagan Library (accessed May 15, 2008).

How to Cite This Source

"Peace for Afghanistan," in World History Commons, [accessed September 28, 2022]