End of the Cold War


Ronald Reagan and US Foreign Policy - 1980s

Policy objectives, 1981
1) Weaken the position of the USSR 2) Restrict trade with USSR 3) Increase US defence spending

Reagan Doctrine 

  • Provided support to anti-communist freedom fighters, e.g. Mujahideen in Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This prolonged the war in Afghanistan, and drained the Soviets of resources, weakened support for Soviet government + was unpopular internationally for USSR. 

Trade restrictions 

  • December 1981 - restricted Soviet acess to energy exploration tech. June 1982, restricted Soviet access to oil + gas and related technical data. Exposed the weaknesses of the Soviet economy in the minds of the Soviet leaders, and thus led to a crisis of confidence at the top of the Soviet government. 

SDI - "Star Wars"

  • 1984. Put USA in position of strength. Provided a shield against Soviet missiles. Forced the USSR to consider nuclear weapons as a real threat as they realised USA had a clear military advantage. Thus, Soviets began to consider a negotiated end to the arms race. 
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Weakening Soviet control over Eastern Europe

Poland - 1980

Economic problems - low standards of living, food shortages in 1980, and food prices rose. 

Political unrest - May 3rd 1980, Polish people took to the streets to complain about price increases. In August, Solidarity organised the Gdansk Strike. 

Goverment response - December 1981 Polish Premier introduced marial law, arresting 200,000 people. Increased prices further. 

Significance - Brezhnev couldn't send in troops due to international outrage at Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Couldn't impose economic sanctions: trade with Poland was extremely valuable. 

Role of Pope John Paul II - 1979, first Polish pope to be elected. Visit to Poland in 1979 helped anti-communist feeling. During the 1980s, the Pope continually signalled his support for Solidarity. Gave protesters greater authority. 

The Poland protests happened before the Brezhnev Doctrine ended in 1988-9, and so began the fall of communism before Gorbachev was elected. 

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Soviet leadership + Gorbachev

Ineffective Soviet leadership

  • Gerontocracy - succession of old and infirm leaders. 
  • Between 1980-82, Brezhnev was very ill. He died in late 1982. 
  • Replaced by Yuri Andropov - who attempted to start domestic reform, however also had health problems and died in 1984. 
  • Replaced by Chernenko, who was also ill and died March 1985. 

Gorbachev's 'New Political Thinking' - 1985

  • Perestroika - a restructuring of the economy to promote production, effeciency and high quality goods. 
  • Glasnost - a policy of openness that encouraged the population to put forward new ideas
  • Democratisation - an attempt to get more people involved in the Communist party and political debate.
  • Additionally, Soviet foreign policy was 'normalised' - it would no longer be an instrument for furthering the interests of world communism.
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Nuclear diplomacy

Geneva Summit - November 1985

  • Established personap rapport between the two leaders. Gorbachev proposed a 50% cut in the total number of US and Soviet nuclear weapons if the USA would stop developing SDI. Reagan refused. 

Reykjavik Summit - October 1986

  • Gorbachev proposed to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2000 if the USA would stop SDI. Reagan refused. 

Washington Summit - December 1987

  • The INF agreement was signed, leading to the scrapping of all intermediate-range ballistic missiles. This meant a reduction of 1750 Soviet missiles and 850 US missiles. It was the first time superpowers had agreed to arms reduction rather than arms control. 

Moscow Summit - May 1988

  • Agreement to extend trade and technology links. Further cuts in Soviet arms. Gorbachev met George Bush, who was to become US president the following year. 
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The Fall of Communism

Brezhnev Doctrine 

  • Set up in 1968 under Brezhnev. Idea that whenever hostile forces attacked a Socialist country, it would be a concern for all Socialist countries.
  • Gorbachev offically abandoned this policy during 1988-9. Significantly led to the collapse of communism. 

The fall of the Berlin Wall 1989 

  • Poland + Hungary - first to test end of Brezhnev Doctrine. 
  • Hungary opened its borders with the West, allowing East Germans to travel via Hungary to West Germany. 
  • In September alone, 10,000 East Germans fled to the West. 
  • The East German government agreed to open Checkpoint Charlie. 
  • Berliners from East and West flocked to the wall and began to tear it down. 
  • Elections were held in March 1990 and Germany was reunited in October of that year. 
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The collapse - individual countries

Hungary, January 1989
January 1989 = Communist Party announced multi-party elections. Democratic government = April 1990. 

Poland, September 1989 
Following the wave of strikes in 1988, the Communist government was forced to negotiate with Solidarity. Solidarity won an overwhelmingly large victory in 1989 free elections, September 1989 - non communist Prime Minister in Poland. Peacefully ended communism. 

East Germany, 1989 
Fall of Berlin Wall in 1989. Elections held in March 1990. 

Czechoslovakia, November 1989 
The Velvet Revolution of Nov 1989 handed power peacefully to a democratically elected gov. Began with students protesting peacefully, but evolved into something bigger. Led by the Civic Forum, which encouraged protests throughout the country. Nov 27th, 75% of Czech pop participated in a two-hour general strike. 

Romania, December 1989 
The Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was overthrown on Christmas Day, 1989. The only Eastern Bloc who overthrew government violently. 

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The collapse

Gorbachev's role in the collapse 

  • Ending of Brezhnev Doctrine.
  • Once freed of Russian influence, communism quickly collapsed. 
  • During 1989, Gorbachev became more radical; actively encouraging communist governments to negotiate with opposition groups. 
  • He even advised the East German government to open its border with the West.

The US role in the collapse 

  • During 1989, Bush welcomed the changes in Eastern Europe. He was praised for not gloating. 

The fall of the USSR

  • To prevent the break up of the USSR, Communist hard-liners staged a coup in August 1991, temporarily removing Gorbachev from power, however, the coup failed.
  • Gorbachev resigned on the 25th December 1991, and the USSR ceased to exist a day later.
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Why did it end? - Ronald Reagan

During his first term, Reagan was uncompromisingly anti-communist; 1983; 'evil empire' 
Reagan's policies imposed enormous economic and military pressure on USSR. 
USSR could no longer compete with US defence spending - abandoned Cold War. 


  • 53% increase in the US defence budget (October 1981) 
  • The announcement of SDI in 1984.
  • Implemation of the Reagan Doctrine. 
  • 'Anti-Soviet' attitude
  • Reagan become more supportive in 1984 (with arrival of Gorbachev) 


  • Prolonged Cold War by hardening Soviet resistance 
  • Soviet scientists concluded that the SDI was impractical, imposed little pressure. 
  • Reagan and Bush's policy of constructive engagement with Gorb produced results. 
  • In debates + discussions, hardly a mention of a race to catch up with US weapons. A top general was fired in 1984 for suggesting it. 
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Why did it end? - Ronald Reagan + Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher 

  • An important, if secondary, role. 
  • Anti-communist.
  • Allowed Reagan to station nuclear weapons in Britain. 
  • Thatcher was also one of the first Western leaders to meet Gorbachev. 
  • Her willingness to deal with Gorbachev, summed up in her 1983 comment 'We can do business together' was one factor that persuaded Reagan to take the new Soviet leader seriously.
  • Thatcher later endorsed perestroika and acted as an effective diplomatic link between Gorbachev and Presidents Reagan + Bush. 
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Why did it end? - Gorbachev

Became leader of the Soviet Union in March 1985.


  • Pursued arms redctions to lower the risk of nuclear war - INF Treaty in 1987 and the START agreement in 1991, which reduced overall nuclear arsenals by 30%.
  • Removed ideological basis of the Cold War + promoted glasnost and perestroika: landmark speech at UN (1988) abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine, endorsed freedom of choice and dismissed Marxist-Leninism as irrelevant. Glasnost gave freedom to the Soviet satellite countries.
  • Ended old-style Soviet aggression. 1988 - Soviet forces in Eastern Europe reduced by 500,000. Withdrew Soviet forces from Afghanistan by 1989. Refused to suppress popular protests.


  • Could be argued that Gorbachev 'caved in' to the West due to economic pressure.
  • More emphasis on people power? It was not Gorbachev's aim to collapse communism.
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Why did it end? - Economic factors

Early 1970s, Soviet economy was at a stand still due to; arms race, Five-Year-Plans, inefficient central planning, corruption within the Soviet elite. e.g. Annual growth rate for industial output was 5.25% in 1967 - 2% in 1980.
Reasons the USA were in a stronger position: The Soviet economy was 50% smaller.


  • In 1974 the USA banned the sale of advanced computers to the USSR.
  • Soviet system discouraged technology process as they wanted complete control. e.g. early 1980s, 50,000 PCs in the USSR compared with 30 million in the USA.

The Soviet empire

  • Soviet energy and raw materials were sold to socialist states at very low prices in return for low-grade industrial or consumer goods.
  • Between 1981-86, the USSR provided Vietnam with $6 billion in aid and oil subsidies.
  • The Warsaw Pact countries recieved yearly subsidy of $3 billion in cheap oil.

The arms race

  • By the mid 1980s, the military budget accounted for about 25% of Soviet GDP and 40% of state budget.
  • Gorbachev + Senior Red Army officers realised the level of military spending was unsustainable.
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Why did it end? - People Power

The interpretation

  • The 1980s witnessed growing popular discontent in Eastern Europe.
  • Popular opposition had secured concessions e.g. Solidarity and the Catholic Church in Poland 1980-1.
  • Change occured rapidly and peacefully (expect for Romania).

Why did popular discontent grow in the 1980s?

  • Growing trade links during detente - aware of Western living standards + the free market.
  • East European living standards declined in the 1980s because of economic problems.
  • Pope John Paul II + Solidarity: PJP made visits to Poland in 1979, 1983 and 1987. 'Do not be afraid' - 1979. In January 1981, Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader, was blessed by the Pope in Rome. Had a signifcant influence in Poland + Catholic countries.
  • The growth of nationalism
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Why did it end? - People Power continued...


  • The speedy and largely peaceful removal of all the satellite states + regimes indicated an almost total collapse of popular legitimacy.
  • When the Polish government registered Solidarit, a wave of strikes occured. Influenced Hungary to become the first satellite state to set free elections for 1990.
  • Gorbachev abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine and advocated 'freedom of choice' (1988), which served as a clear signal to Europe.
  • Events in Poland were before Gorbachev's rule + end of BD.


  • Underestimates influence of Gorbachev - may have been less likely without the ending of the Brezhnev Doctrine.
  • Underestimates the consequences of Reagan's militarist counter-revolution and subsequent accomodation with the USSR for Cold War relations.
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