TEN YEARS AFTER after the Communist side gave up and let Berliners spontaneously knock down the Berlin Wall, there is still a pervasive sense of wonder that so large and authentically historic an event could take place so casually. One day the hated keystone of Moscow's empire was there. The next day the concrete was rubble. Suddenly European communism was gone, the Soviet Union was gone, the Soviet Communist party was gone, Europe was no longer divided, the threat of nuclear war was gone, and freedom was beginning to ring where it had not rung in a generation or two or more.
We know that some of the high expectations people held for the end of the Cold War did not come to pass. The event did not altogether unify the continent it reunited, did not distribute equally the fruits of a democratic society and a free-market economy, did not pull all the poison of the nuclear scorpion or terminate the reflex of military confrontation, did not undo a chamber of political, ethnic and environmental horrors.
But there was so much more that requires no asterisk of conditionality. After a great war against a common foe, Americans and Soviets found themselves locked in a competition of power and ideology in which each side believed that not only its security and prestige but its values and way of life were at stake. But the Soviet side was finally hollowed out by a cynical ideology and a system that could not stand up to post-industrial, information-age challenge. The American side had come to be widely seen as a society of values honorable and serviceable for challenge. Ronald Reagan by intuition and Mikhail Gorbachev by logic set the dissolution on course. Others, including George Bush and Helmut Kohl, saw it through.
A debate still rages over whether the Cold War was waged at excessive cost and risk. Some ask whether it had to be waged at all. Ten years is too soon to assess conclusive judgments of that magnitude. But 10 years is not to soon to apply the new grant of security, opportunity and dignity that became available to hundreds of millions of people in many countries. The work of moving on from the Cold War remains at the core of the global agenda.