Reagan ‘Tear Down This Wall’ 20th Anniversary

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s famous, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” pronouncement. Robert Stacy McCain reports that it almost didn’t happen.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. spencer says:

    James Mann from Johns Hopkins did an informative article yesterday that put the speech in perspective. Part of what he said was:

    Yet the speech reflected an important shift in Mr. Reagan’s thinking, one that put him at odds with the Washington establishment: it acknowledged that Mr. Gorbachev represented something significant and fundamentally different in Moscow; that he was not merely a new face for the same old Soviet policies.

    So while the speech reasserted the anti-communism on which Mr. Reagan had based his entire political career, it also gave recognition to the idea that the Soviet system might be changing. “We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness,” Mr. Reagan said. “Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state?”

    While the speech did not attempt to answer that question, it did go on to establish a new test for evaluating Mr. Gorbachev’s policies:

    “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

    When viewed strictly as foreign policy doctrine, Mr. Reagan’s speech didn’t say anything overtly new. After all, it was a longstanding tenet of American policy that the wall should come down. Mr. Reagan himself had already said so before, on a visit to West Berlin in 1982 (“Why is that wall there?”) and on the 25th anniversary of the wall in 1986 (“I would like to see the wall come down today, and I call upon those responsible to dismantle it”). The new element in 1987 was not the idea that the wall should be torn down, but the direct appeal to Mr. Gorbachev to do it.