Why did Gorbachev choose the United Nations as his forum for his speech in 1988?

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Mikhail Gorbachev came to the United Nations to issue a major speech regarding a change in direction for his country. He wanted to announce this change in a forum where many representatives of the nations of the world would be present, so they would be able to directly hear his message. The United Nations had been directly involved in many actions dealing with the Cold War since the end of World War II. Thus, this was an appropriate place to announce some major shifts in policy.

There were several key points in his speech. He recognized that the use of nuclear weapons was no longer a reasonable foreign policy goal. He also indicated the Soviet Union would cooperate in dealing with several issues. These included establishing an international space station, dealing with the issue of international debt, working on environmental issues, bringing the war in Afghanistan to an end, and beginning a process of disarmament. All of these issues were ones that could involve and impact the member nations of the United Nations. The Soviet Union was signaling that it wanted to reduce tensions with other countries, especially with the United States. Thus, this was a very appropriate forum in which he could give this speech.

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Mikhail Gorbachev was firmly invested in his idea to improve transparency and begin the restructuring of the Soviet Union. However, to proceed smoothly with his plans, Gorbachev needed funds and a larger budgetary allocation for the restructuring process. Military expenditure was very high at the time because of the arms race with the United States. Gorbachev realized that for his agenda to succeed, he had to pursue a disarmament process followed by the cessation of hostilities with the United States. His plan was to divert funds meant for the military to improve the economic and social well-being of the Soviet Union.

He succeeded in reaching out to the American administration and persuaded them to reconsider their position on hostilities with the USSR and the arms race. Both governments made a few concessions, but according to Gorbachev, the most important was disarmament, an issue that remained elusive. During the Moscow summit, the issue of disarmament was raised, but no conclusive agreement was made. The situation forced Gorbachev to seek a better forum to address the issue, and he settled on the United Nations forum. He was motivated to use the United Nations forum because it offered him an international platform to directly demonstrate the Soviet Union’s genuine commitment to world peace.

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When USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev spoke to the United Nations in 1988, his country and the United States were still very much in the midst of the Cold War. Although some impasses had been made during the period of "glasnost" (openness and transparency) that Gorbachev had started in 1986, there was still a lot of tension between the USSR and much of the rest of the world.

Gorbachev began his speech to the United Nations by acknowledging the reason why he chose to come speak to them:

We have come here to show our respect for the United Nations, which increasingly has been manifesting its ability to act as a unique international center in the service of peace and security.

During his speech, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe and along the border of China would be significantly decreased. He also announced that, in total, the military would be reduce by half a million soldiers in the next two years.

By announcing these sweeping disarmament reforms on the world stage, Gorbachev was able to show how seriously he and the Soviet Union were about resolving the conflicts of the Cold War. This forum also allowed him to speak about the need for other countries — such as the United States — to reduce its nuclear and conventional weapons.

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