History Theme 7: The 'Second' Cold War 1980 - 1985

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Reagan's Attitude towards the USSR

  • During his Presidency, Reagan adopted a tougher, more ideological attitude towards the Soviet Union
  • In 1983, Reagan addressed the USSR as an evil empire, reviving the Cold War ideological tensions 
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US Militarism

  • Reagan's foreign policy was heavily focused on regaining the 'lost' military power of America during detente 
  • At the end of Carter's presidency, the US military budget was $17.6 billion. Reagan increased this to $300 billion by 1989, spending $26 billion on the Strategic Defence Initiative (1983) alone
  • The USA felt that it had given too many concessions over nuclear weapons during detente to the USSR and Reagan wanted to negotiate with the USSR in the 1980s from a position of strength
  • There were the Squeezers and the Dealers in Reagan's government; the Squeezers wanted to put pressure on the Soviet economy by increasing US military spending (because the USSR would have to match this) and the Dealers wanted to be able to make deals with the Soviet Union from a position of strength
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INF Talks 1987

  • These talks established an agreement over intermediate nuclear forces (INF)
  • Reagan proposed the zero option which was the idea that the USA would not deploy Cruise and Pershing II missiles into Europe if the Soviet Union removed their SS-20 missiles from Europe, which had been deployed in 1977
  • This offer had originally been made in 1981, but the USSR rejected it; the offer only dealt with land-based missiles and not sea and air missiles - this would have allowed the USA to expand in these areas and therefore strengthen its strike capability against the USSR. The British and French systems were also left out of the Treaty, meaning that they could expand in all areas of the Arms Race which was a threat to the USSR
  • However, they accepted the offer in 1987 because they could no longer afford to compete in the Arms Race
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START Talks 1982

  • START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks/Treaty) did not begin until mid-1982
  • A proposed limit of 5,000 missile warheads would have meant a cut of about a third for each side
  • The problem lay with the proposals on limits of ICBMs - meant a cut of half for the Soviet Union ICBMs and two thirds of Soviet SS-18 and 19 warheads
  • All other US strategic modernisation programmes would have continued, including Pershing II systems in Europe
  • This would have greatly increased the vulnerability of Soviet land-based missiles
  • The Soviets didn't think that the USA was capable of making agreements that were mutually beneficial 
  • The talks collapsed in 1983, making way for the introduction of Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative
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Changes in the Soviet Leadership

  • The Soviet Leadership appeared stagnant and unstable in the beginning of the 1980s, whilst American leadership was firm and consistente
  • Brezhnev died in 1982
  • Yuri Andropov took over but died shortly after in 1984
  • Chernenko was Premier for only a few months when he died in 1985
  • Eventually Mikhail Gorbachev took power in 1985
  • Gorbachev was a breath of fresh air for the Soviet Union, as he was younger (at 54, he was the youngest Premier in decades - the average age of a Soviet leader was around 75)
  • He had radical reforms in mind to resolve the Soviet economic problems - but did these help bring about the end of the Cold War and of communism as a whole?
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