The Ending of the Cold War


Reagan's counter militarised-revolution

1)    Increase nuclear arms:

 Reagan convinced US congress to increase military spending on a scale that was bigger than ever before.

 The actions of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the decision of the U**R to deploy the more accurate **-20 nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe were used to support Reagan’s reasoning.

 Defence spending increased by 13% in 1982 and new methods of deploying nuclear weapons were developed, including Trident submarines.

 SDI (strategic defence initiative) or ‘star wars’ was announced in 1983. It was central to the arms build up. It was a system that would require vast sums of money and resources to develop, and in order for the U**R to keep pace with this they would face bankruptcy.

 The aim of this arms programme was to regain US military supremacy against the Soviet Union to the extent that they would not be able to continue the cold war. 

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The Reagan Doctrine

  The Reagan doctrine was the decisive measures that Reagan took in order to halt the growth of the SU’s influence in the developing world. The term was given to the policy of sending assistance to anti-communist insurgents and anti-communist governments.

  In El Salvador the USA supported an unpopular right-wing government facing a growing popular revolt by the left.

  The Reagan doctrine was designed to weaken the Soviets ‘at the edges’ and to supply counter –revolutionaries with enough support to ensure that the soviet support for revolutionary regimes would entail a much greater military, political and economic cost.

  The advantage for the US was that it led to very few instances of direct use of American troops.

  In Afghanistan stringer anti-aircraft missiles were supplied to the mujahedeen who were fighting the Soviet air forces.

  In Europe radio broadcasts such as ‘radio free Europe; were used to encourage those living in Eastern Europe to protest against their communist governments. 

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The Reagan Doctrine continued

 The Reagan doctrine was not always popular with the wider world.  US actions in Grenada and El Salvador showed the apparent willingness of the USA to interfere in the internal politics of other countries. These actions were often criticized by liberal and socialist in the west as a threat to the freedom of people to choose their own destiny. 

 However, some were supported by the US like the Marcos government in the Philippines, may have been anti-communist but they had a very poor human rights record.

 The Reagan doctrine showed the SU that the US was prepared to take forceful action against communism and its expansion.

 What made Reagan’s approach more effective was the support he received from Margaret Thatcher. The two leaders shaped the view of the USSR as the ‘evil empire’ and Thatcher was labelled by the SU as the ‘iron lady’. Her agreement to allow US nuclear missiles to be based in Britain was of vital importance in putting pressure on the Soviet Union.

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Economic Issues with the USSR

v  By the 1980s there were clear signs that the socialist economies of Eastern Europe were unable to deliver the degree of prosperity evident in the West.

v  Since the 1950s most of the countries of Eastern Europe had concentrated their resources on heavy industry rather than consumer goods, and as a result food, clothing and industry rather than consumer goods, and as a result food, clothing and housing were in short supply and often inadequate. And industrial pollution was strong enough to have a serious effect on the heath of the people in the region.

v  By the 1980s technology in the Soviet Union had become rapidly out of date and fell behind to the west.

v  Living standards in Eastern Europe had long fallen behind those of the West, but by the 1980s the expectations of its population were different. On the boarders of East Germany, West German television channels could be received and they witnessed images of life under capitalism.

v  Not only did western-style capitalism seem more attractive but the failures of socialism to provide the living standards expected was evident to more and more of the citizens of Eastern Europe.

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Political Issues in Eastern Europe

 By 1980 the regimes of Eastern Europe were led by men who were increasingly out of touch with the needs of their country. They were leaders who were reluctant to change a system that worked for them. With communist parties dominant and the use of a repressive police network, opposition in these countries was severely limited.

  East Germany (DDR) had an effective system of surveillance which was the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, which kept files on 5.5 million east German’s. The leadership of Erich Honecker had little respect for his own people. There were attempts to forge a sense of national unity through sporting achievements had produced lots of medals but also popular resentment at the privileges given to athletes by the government.

  Most East Germans adapted an attitude of resignation, making the most of life under a regime they had little choice but to accept.

In Romania the leadership of Nicolae Ceausescu was firmly entrenched by the early 1980s. Despite his growing paranoia and megalomania. 

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Political Issues in Eastern Europe

  His regime was one of the most repressive in Europe. He had a secret police that ruthlessly crushed any opposition. There was a very tight system of censorship. Government propaganda was the only source of information for the vast majority of Romanians.

  In the 1980s he introduced a policy of ‘systematisation’ which involved the demolition of whole villages to be replaced with agro-industrial complexes.

 Although he had been courted by the west because of his independent stance in foreign affairs, by 1985 he had alienated virtually the entire Romanian population, with the exception of the police.

  Attempts by the Polish government to increase prices as a response to economic problems were met with unrest. This unrest was strengthened by the emergence of Solidarity, an illegal, independent trade union in 1980-1.

Those seeking to challenge communist rule were encouraged by the visit from Pope John Paul 2. His message was ‘’ don’t be afraid’ and gave courage to solidarity.

 Lech Walesa the leader of solidarity was popular enough to wield considerable influence over the industrial workers. 

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Political Issues in Eastern Europe

 Gierek, the polish communist party leader, decided to negotiate with Solidarity, leading to an agreement that gave solidarity legal status as an independent trade union.  The USSR was worried that this concession would encourage groups elsewhere within the soviet bloc and threatens the hold of communism over Eastern Europe.

  General Jaruzelski was the new polish leader that declared martial law in 1981 and used the army to settle the unrest. Although many polish people despised his action, he knew that otherwise the Soviet Union would invade and settle the unrest. Solidarity was abolished but there were still many groups working together underground. They hoped that circumstances would become more conducive to change the future.

 Prospect of change were limited at the beginning of the 1980s, but it was not long until external factors were transformed to give encouragement to those forces seeking reform.

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Soviet leadership 1980-85

  Reagan’s election resulted in foreign policy changes. The soviet policy in the early 1980s grounded to a halt. No new initiative was possible from the soviet leadership because of the nature of its leaders during this period. A succession of old and inform leaders, sometimes referred to as a gerontocracy, resulted in inertia in decision-making. The aged and confused Brezhnev died in 1982 and his physical incapability had prevented any change in the direction of Soviet foreign policy.Brezhnev’s successor Andropov was 7 years younger and attempted to start a domestic reform but he was an ill man and died of kidney failure in 1984.

  He was then replaced by Chernenkov who represented the desire of the majority of the politburo to avoid reform. He was unable to have a major effect on policy and died after a year in office.  Reagan commented “how am i supposed to get any place with the Russians, of they keep dying on me?”. An example of the impact inertia had on relations between the superpowers is shown through the shootings down of the Korean airliner KAL 007 by soviet fighters in 1983. This incident cost 269 lives and outraged the West. The Soviet Union assumed it was a spy plane and shot it down.Old age and illness had rendered the Soviet leadership incapable of action; it was unable to respond to the incident in any meaningful manner. The 1970s had shown that the best method of improving relations was by face to face meetings between the US and the Soviet leaders; the condition of Andropov made this impossible during KAL 007 affair.

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Mikhail Gorbachev- New Thinking

    As a committed communist, Gorbachev’s aim was to make the soviet system more productive and responsive. He recognised that in order to achieve change within the USSR, military spending had to be reduced. This could only happen if arms limitation talks were reopened with the US.

  His approach was strengthened by like-minded individuals. One of which was Shevardnadze foreign minister. And together they launched a charm offensive on the West with their New Political Thinking. Margaret Thatcher met Gorbachev in 1984 and declared “this is a man of who i can do business”.

  To Gorbachev, confrontation between the superpowers was unproductive as it led to an escalation in arms and retaliatory measures that increased insecurity.The Soviet experience in Afghanistan led to a re-evaluation of Soviet intervention in the affairs of other countries. The Afghan war had dragged on and highlighted the cost of making a commitment to supporting communist regimes($8 billion per annum). Supporting communist regimes in Cuba, Vietnam and Afghan had become a drain on soviet resources - this money could be used to promote domestic reforms. Gorbachev concentrated on promoting the interests of all people and the values of human rights the soviet Union would no longer be an instrument for furthering the interests of world communism. 

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Summits 1985-89

o   November 1985: Geneva summit: Reagan and Gorbachev met. Little was decided, but it was important in establishing personal rapport between the two leaders. Reagan hated everything the Soviets stood for but liked Gorbachev. The Geneva summit was important in laying down foundations for future negotiation in an atmosphere of cordiality.

o   October 1986: Reykjavik summit: Gorbachev proposed phasing out nuclear weapons and offered a series of ever-increasing concessions that took the US leadership by surprise. The price of these concessions would be to withdraw from US SDI programme. But Reagan was not prepared to put SDI on the negotiating table and no agreement was reached.

o   December 1987: Washington summit: the deadlock was broken. The INF (intermediate Nuclear Forces) agreement was signed, leading to the scrapping of intermediate-range ballistic missiles. It was the first time the superpowers had agreed to arms reduction rather than arms control.

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Summits 1985-89

o   May 1988: Moscow summit: Reagan and Gorbachev signed agreements on the more complex detail of the INF Treaty. They met in New York and announced suture cuts in Soviet arms.

o   December 1989: Malta summit: the two leaders established a good working relationship. No agreements were made but both leaders declared that the Cold War was over. Shevardnadze announced that both superpowers had “buried the Cold war at the bottom of the Mediterranean”.

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Gorbachev's reforms

Perestroika: a restructuring of the economy involving efficiency and higher quality goods.

Glasnost: a policy of openness that encourages the population to put forward views and show initiative.

Democratisation: an attempt to get more people involves in the Communist party and political debate.

The result of these polices led to a more critical approach towards communism, and this encouraged reformers to push for further liberalisation. By 1988 ‘Gorby mania’ was sweeping much of Eastern Europe as those pushing for change called for Gorbachev’s ideas to be implemented in their own country. In 1989 a non-communist government was elected in Poland and the floodgates opened. What made these changes different to previous attempts to liberalise was the changed attitude of the USSR towards Eastern Europe. In 1985 Gorbachev had made it clear that he would not uphold the Brezhnev doctrine. 

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The Brezhnev Doctrine

The Brezhnev doctrine made it clear that “whenever internal and external forces hostile to socialism try to revenge the development if a socialist country... this becomes a concern to all other socialist countries”.

 Gorbachev however, decided he would not uphold this intervention because:

 There was growing disillusionment with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

 Supporting unpopular regimes in the Soviet sphere was costly.

 Gorbachev had a genuine belief that the way to rejuvenate socialism was by introducing a degree of liberalism.

 He believed that the use of armed intervention was, in most cases, morally wrong. He refused to use force to keep the population under control.

 Without the tensions generated by the Cold War, there was no longer a need for the USSR to exert control over Eastern Europe. The end of the Brezhnev doctrine meant that people of Eastern Europe could now choose their own governments. The consequences of this change were to be spectacular. 

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The Ending of the Brezhnev Doctrine

 Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR led to attempts by some governments in Eastern Europe to reform in response to the new soviet lead and to an increase in the pressure for change from the public.

 This trend gathered momentum and the pace of events took many by surprise and those governments who resisted these trends were to become quickly isolated.

  The ending of the Brezhnev doctrine posed a particular problem for those Eastern European    leaders who wanted to resist reform.

  They couldn’t rely on soviet military intervention to buttress their regimes.

 Evidence of Gorbachev putting his plans to action was in 1989 when Hungary adopted a multi-party system and Polish elections returned a non-communist government. The USSR took no action; Gorbachev even offered his encouragement. The result was to be the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

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Eastern Europe out of Soviet Union


1981- Solidarity banned by Martial Law.

1983 & 87- Pope visits and supports Solidarity movement due to economic problems in Poland.

1989- Communist party looses out to Solidarity by a landslide- communist party collapses due to lack of support.


1989- Communist party leader Kadar was sacked. New government full of reformers decided to open the countries' borders to the West.


1989- Pressure to conduct reforms and new government is elected over communist party. No violence- known as the 'Velvet Revolution'.

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Eastern Europe out of Soviet Union

East Germany:

1989- Gorbachev visits as reformer and the people want reforms but Hockner refuses to conduct any. Mass demonstrations were conducted, and a new leader, Krenz, emerges (non communist leader).

1989- Berlin Wall is dismantled.


1989- Leader Ceausescue leaves country after winning election for communist party. A Romanian priest broke the law, but crowds demostrated supporting him.

1989- Ceausescue sent the army on the demonstrators, but after seeing this the public booed him and he and his wife were arrested- the communist leader had been overthrown. 

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End of the Cold War- Reagan's role

  The hard-line approach of the USA in the early 1980s as providing the pressure that caused the Soviet economy on the brink of bankruptcy.

  Unable to match the increased defence spending of the USA, the USSR had no choice but to call an end to the arms race and the Cold War.

   Reagan’s approach was strengthened by the support he received from Thatcher which enabled his to deploy nuclear missiles in Europe as tangible evidence of his new anti-communist approach.

   The importance of Reagan and Thatcher’s hard-line stance against communism has been highlighted by historians of the right who see firm action as the only effective way of standing up to aggression.

   This perpective often comes from those who supported Reagan’s stance against the Soviet Union and see it as the main factor that produced the US ‘victory’ in the Cold War. 

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End of the Cold War- Gorbachev's role

 His reforms were designed to strengthen the USSR by revitalising its economy and providing a clear political leadership.

 However, critics argue that Gorbachev’s change in intensions and attitude to working with the West was the key factor that reduced mistrust and fear, and therefore international tension, between the superpowers.

 Some historians see Gorbachev as the Hero who brought about the end of the Cold War. These sympathise with his New Political Thinking and the concessions he was prepared to offer the USA.They argue that if Reagan had listened to the more conservative elements of his administration. He would not have taken the opportunities offered by Gorbachev but continues a policy based on mistrust and fear.

 Some historians argue that the USA won because of pressure exerted on the USSR through subversive activities, often organised by the CIA. Due to this pressure, Gorbachev gave in and ‘surrendered’ to the west. The foreign policies of Gorbachev have been defended by himself and key members of his administration. They highlight the importance of New Political Thinking as an alternative to the conduct of superpower relations based on fear and confrontation. 

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End of the Cold War- Pope's role

  His speeches gave encouragement to those living under communist rule to stand up for human rights. The fact that he was polish gave him considerable influence over the predominantly catholic population of his home country.

Yet the role of the Catholic Church in leading opposition to the communist regimes of Eastern Europe can be overstated.

Catholicism was strong in Poland, but elsewhere in Eastern Europe Protestantism or Orthodox Church had more followers. 

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End of the Cold War- Internal Factors

Domestic changes within the Soviet system have been highlighted by the ‘ideational school’. Some historians point to the fact that Soviet leaders had already come to the conclusion that superpower rivalry was counterproductive before the arms programme of Reagan.

Soviet scientists didn’t consider SDI to be a realist policy – rather, something in the realm of science fiction.

The soviets had a long standing problem of over-committing resources to the military, a problem that burdened the US as well. The afghan commitment had been an enormous drain even in the days before Reagan. Thus Reagan’s arms programme created little additional pressure.

Reagan’s policies may have delayed the end of the Cold war by giving conservative elements within the Soviet leadership a better case for continuing the conflict by highlighting the hostility of the enemy.

 Thus, Gorbachev’s polices produced a chain of events that took almost everyone by surprise and resulted in an end to the Cold War.

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End of the Cold War- Internal Factors

Historians focusing on internal factors that undermine the Soviet system claim that the inefficiencies in a state-controlled economy and the inability of a communist system to meet the needs of its people would eventually lead to crisis.

The development of popular protest movements –‘people power’ – across Eastern Europe in 1989 was certainly a consequence of the failure of communist regimes , if not communism as an ideology.

 By the 1980’s the regimes in Eastern Europe had become so entrenched that they had lost touch with much of their own population and even with members of their own party. People power is demonstrated through people dismantling the Berlin wall. Yet the popular movements that brough about the collapse of communism were only possible because of the changes brought about by the Soviet leadership. Change from above was to be the catalyst for change from below.

Gorbachevs encouragement of new ideas for reforming communism couples with a refusal to use force to support unpopular communist regimes was to transform the context within which change was to become not only possible but develop life of its own. 

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