Unit 1: International Relations. Section 6: Failure of Detente and the collapse of Communism 1970 - 1991

These are revision cards for the following topic in the first paper of the AQA History B GCSE specification, as described below.

Unit 1: International Relations: Peace and Conflict in the 20th Century (AQA). Section 6: Failure of deente and the collapse of communism.

  • Why did detente collapse in the 1970s and the 1980s?
  • Why did communism collapse in Central and Eastern Europe? 
  • Created by: L Lawliet
  • Created on: 13-04-14 17:33

Motives for Detente

Detente was an easing of tensions between the superpowers from 1969 to 1979. Each superpower had several motives for doing this:


  • To drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and China, which would be to America's advantage in the fight against Communism in Vietnam (because the Soviet Union and China co-operated in supplying North Vietnam with supplies).
  • America's leaders were keen to set up realistic working relations with Moscow and Peking


  • President Brezhnev was keen to extend 'peaceful co-existence'.
  • Brezhnev saw detente as a way to increase Soviet trade with the West and so develop the Soviet Union's economy in order to improve living standards within the USSR.
  • To decrease defence spending.
  • To persuade the West to accept the post-war situation in Eastern Europe.
  • To avoid the Soviet Union being the odd one out in the '2 against 1' line up: America, the USSR and China. The Soviet Union was keen to create better relations with the USA.
1 of 33

Motives for Detente II


  • Her motives were forced upon her by the actions of the other two Great Powers.
  • America had been hostile to China - her policy in South East Asia first over Korea, then Vietnam worried China.
  • Ever since the 1960 split with the Soviet Union, China feared the Soviet Union. China looked to America for friendship to isolate the Soviet Union.
  • China's leaders wanted to modernse the country - especially farming, industry, science, technology and defence. Increased trade with the West would help to modernise China more quickly.

By 1970, both superpowers had begun to realise the dangers of war in the nuclear age. They had accepted each other’s sphere of influence. The arms race was proving to be expensive for both sides. The nuclear balance had shifted from America’s advantage to the USSR’s advantage, and the Warsaw Pact countries had more forces in general. Each side had suffered major setbacks - the Soviet Union over Cuba, America over Vietnam and China over the Soviet Union. America was shocked by the Vietnam War and wanted to stay out of world affairs. There was also a vociferous CND movement (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in the West. The price of oil rocketed in the 1970s, and both superpowers experienced economic problems. 

2 of 33

Helsinki, 1975

The high point of American-Soviet détente was the Helsinki Agreement of 1975. At Helsinki, in Finland, 35 states, including America and the Soviet Union, agreed that the frontiers of the post-1945 Europe should be permanent. This pleased the Soviet Union.

The Helsinki Agreement was interpreted differently by the key nations involved. The Soviet Union thought it meant that the West accepted the Iron Curtain as a fact of life and that Soviet influence in Western Europe could not be questioned.

It was also agreed, at the demand of America’s President Carter, that all the states should respect ‘human rights’ such as freedom of thought and religion. By this, the West hoped that people in Communist countries would be given more freedom to express their views without fear or imprisonment.

3 of 33

SALT I, 1972

SALT is short for ‘Strategic Arms Limitation Talks’; this is an agreement that limited the number of ballistic missiles each side could have. The aim was to slow down the arms race by limiting the construction of new middle-range nuclear weapons. There were two SALT agreements; SALT I was signed in 1972 and SALT II was signed in 1979.

Both America and the Soviet Union remained locked in a vastly expensive Nuclear Arms Race. But America was falling behind. In conventional armed strength, the Soviet-controlled Warsaw Pact forces in Europe easily outnumbered the NATO forces. In 1969, America and the Soviet Union began SALT talks, which covered ICBMs, SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles) and ABMs (Anti-Ballistic Missile defences). The number of land a submarine missiles and aircraft able to deliver nuclear warheads was frozen.

The Soviet Union was allowed to have more missiles, in total, than America. This was because many American missiles were capable of carrying several warheads, each aimed at separate targets. Each side was only allowed to have 100 ABMs on each of two sites. This cut down defence costs for both countries, since a complete shield of ABMs was almost impossible and very expensive. Each side was allowed to use spy satellites to check that the other was not breaking the arms limits. SALT I was signed in 1972. Despite the SALT agreement, the arms race continued.

4 of 33

SALT II, 1979

Since the SALT I agreement was only for five years, further talks were needed. SALT II began, first with President Nixon, then Ford and then Carter. The new talks were very complicated; America and Russia were trying to agree on arms limits involving new weapons not covered in SALT I.

Although SALT II was signed in June 1979, world events took a hand. The whole process of détente was thrown into confusion when, on Christmas Day 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Cooperation between America and the Soviet Union was at and end. The SALT II agreement was forgotten, which is why America never ratified it, and détente was over.

5 of 33

Events of Detente

1966 - 1973 (E-W): West German Leader wanted to improve relations with Eastern Europe, especially East Germany. His Eastern Policy achieved great success. Agreements on frontiers and treaties were signed between West Germany and Warsaw Pact countries.

1971 (USA-C): In Peking, Chinese and American table tennis teams played against one another. Chinese leaders visited America, and USA was ready to recognise Communist China as a legal government, leading to trade increasing. 25/10/71: China joins the UN. The delegate from Communist China took China's seat at the UN.

1972 (E-W): Basic Treaty between West and East Germany signed. (USA-USSR):  President Nixon was the first US President to visit Moscow. 23/03/72: Three US astronauts met up with two Russian cosmonauts in space. (USA-C): Return match in USA, 'Ping-pong diplomacy'.

1975 (USA-USSR): Helsinki Agreement.

1969 - 1979 (E-W): East-West tensions eased because of the poor relations between USSR and China. (USA-USSR): Both made efforts to reduce the areas of tension between them. There were many aspects e.g. political, cultural, sporting, economic and scientific. (USA-C): They worked to create a measure of friendship after their 20 years of hostility.

6 of 33

Causes of the Afghanistan Invasion

  • In January 1979, a Muslin revolt had overthrown the pro-American ruler of Iran and set up a Muslim government, which could spread to Afghanistan. The USSR wanted to protect Afghanistan from this.
  • There were 30 million Muslims in the USSR who could be encouraged to rebel if another Muslim state were set up in Afghanistan.
  • Strategically, Afghanistan would bring the USSR closer to the Middle East and the Soviets could put pressure on the oil supply route from the Middle East to Europe and the USA.
  • The Soviets later claimed that they wanted to fight against the secret involvement of the USA in Afghanistan. No one believed this at the time, but the USA had been sending help to the rebels for 6 months before the Soviet invasion.
  • The USSR was afraid that President Amin of Afghanistan was becoming too friendly with the West and other countries. There was evidence that he had sought support from the USA, China and Pakistan. The USSR thought that since he had taken control, he was eliminating opponents within the party, many of whom were Soviet supporters.
  • The USSR wanted to expand its influence in Asia to balance that of the USA and China, who both supported Pakistan.
  • The preservation of the Communist government in Afghanistan which had appealed to the USSR to provide troops to preserve its security and help it in the fight against the mujahidin. The apparent collapse of the Afghan army was of great concern to the Soviets, who were afraid of losing their influence in the area.
7 of 33

Reactions to the USSR's Invasion of Afghanistan

President Brezhnev dismissed all criticism, as he felt that the UN did not have the authority to involve itself in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.

US President Jimmy Carter felt the invasion was an act of interference and a threat to world peace. He would resist any attempt to gain control of the Persian Gulf by opposing forces (The Carter Doctrine).

The Secretary General of the UN (Kurt Waldheim) condemned the invasion and saw it as a threat to peace, which is why he felt that UN should be involved and concerned about those events.

The Premier of China, Deng Xiaoping, felt the invasion was just another way for the Soviet Union to unnecessarily gain territory and power. He wanted to support the USA, as China did not approve of the USSR.

The President of Pakistan, Muhammad Zia Ul Haq, believed that it was wrong for the USSR to prevent people from expressing their loyalty to the Muslim faith.

8 of 33

Events of the Afghan Invasion

January 1979, Afghanistan: The USA was supporting the USSR's opposition by financing and supplying them, as they tried to support all anti-Communist movements.

June 1979, SALT II: The agreement was signed by Soviet and American leaders, but never ratified by the Americans. At the US Senate in Jan. 1980, the US Senate had not conformed SALT II, and President Carter had advised them to ratify it.

December 1979, Early Invasion: 24/12/79: Soviet troops capture Kabul airport. 27/12/79: Soviet army crosses the northern border into Afghanistan, 28/12/79: Brezhnev informs President Carter that Soviet troops had been 'invited in' to protect the country. KGB squad assassinated Prime Minister Amin. Around 80,000 Soviet troops entered Afghanistan. 01/01/78: New Communist government set up under Babrak Karmal.

Jan 1980, the UN: General Council of the UN voted 104 to 18 in favour of a resolution condemning the invasion. Brezhnev dismissed this. Opposition came from China and other Islammic countries.

July 1980, Moscow: The USA led a boycott of the Moscow Olympics which was supported by 60 other nations but not supported very well in Europe.

By the end of 1980, in Afghanistan, the USSR had total control of the air, but the mujahidin remained in control of the countryside, which made up almost 80% of the country, and so were able to resist.

9 of 33

Why the mujahidin were so successful

Why the mujahidin were so successful:

  • The mujahidin were extremely familiar with the mountainous state of Afghanistan and so engaged in guerilla warfare, which the Soviets had no experience with.
  • They attacked the Soviet supply routes quickly and then disappeared into the mountains.
  • Opposition to the Soviets was spread throughout the whole of Afghanistan, so the Soviets had no real centre to attack. It was difficult to eliminate this type of opposition, as the mujahidin received support from most of the population, who often housed them. This led to the Soviets bombing villages and destroying homes, farms and families, which resulted in hardship and starvation.
10 of 33

Changes to US Policy

Why US policy changed:

  • The events in Afghanistan and the fact that SALT II was never ratified.
  • The election of President Ronald Reagan in the USA, who promised a hard line against Communism and had massive support from the US citizens.
  • Reagan had a strong ally in Margaret Thatcher.
  • The 'Evil Empire' speech to US citizens in March 1983.
  • Reagan spoke to British Parliament condemning Communism in June 1982

The results of the change in policy were:

  • Soviets boycotted the LA Olympics in 1984.
  • New Arms Race began.
  • Return to Cold War stage after detente.
11 of 33

Reagan's Plans to undermine Communism

Measures to threaten the USSR:

  • Massive increase in medium to short-range missiles.
  • Dollar aid to countries defending human rights.
  • Secret help for reform movement in communist countries e.g. Solidarity in Poland.
  • Assisted the mujahidin in the fight in Afghanistan against the USSR by providing them with money and arms.

A measure to protect the USA was the use of American radio stations to transmit anti-Soviet propaganda.

Measures for both:

  • Trade agreements cancelled. Western technology into the USSR stopped.
  • Massive increase in military spending between 1980 and 1987.
  • Restarted the development of the neutron bomb in 1981.
  • Investing funds in the building of two bombers.
  • Speeded up the development of the Peacekeeper missiles
  • Installed Cruise missiles in Europe in 1983.
  • Announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983.
12 of 33

'Star Wars'

As expected, the ‘Space Race’ between the Great Powers had military links. The arms race was extended into space. Both superpowers experimented with methods of destroying one another’s missiles and satellites from space. America spent billions of dollars on laser and beam weapons designed to knock out Soviet long-range missiles before they could reach their target.

In 1983, Reagan announced America’s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) which was designed to build a protective laser shield around America against the possibility of Soviet missile attack. These weapons based in space gained the nickname of ‘Star Wars’. Although vastly expensive, research was stepped up. In a test in January 1984, America successfully destroyed a missile in flight from space.

America’s ‘Star Wars’ plan worried the Soviet Union. Despite the cost, the Soviet Union began its own programme of research into Star Wars. Before SDI, both Great Powers were equally vulnerable to nuclear missile attack. This new dimension to the arms race would be certain to make any future arms talks between the two Great Powers even more complicated and difficult.

SDI could also have meant the end of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). This upset the balance of forces between the two superpowers at the time ad made the USSR feel more vulnerable.

13 of 33


In Britain, various protest groups against war and nuclear weapons had existed, such as CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), which was formed in 1958. Its traditional activity was a 50-mile march every Easter from London to an atomic weapons research site at Aldermaston. As Great Power relations worsened in the 1980s, both superpowers looked to deploy new short and medium nuclear devices across the Iron Curtain in Europe.

As soon as the Americans announced their plans to deploy 464 Cruise missiles on NATO bases a wave of anti-nuclear protests in Western Europe began.

CND itself gained more members and increased its activities. As well as marches, mass ‘die-ins’ and huge demonstrations took place. In October 1983 a CND rally attracted a crowd of 400,000 and brought central London to a standstill. On another occasion, demonstrators joined hands to link the Soviet and American embassies in London.

14 of 33

Greenham Common

Greenham Common in Berkshire was one NATO base chosen to receive 96 American Cruise missiles in 1983. From September 1982 onwards, the whole site was the scene of a remarkable ‘embrace-the-case’ round the clock vigil by thousands of peace-loving women.

The Greenham Common women’s main peace tactic was that of ‘passive resistance’ - in stark contrast to the deadly nuclear hardware about to be deployed. Instead of bombs, they made their protest by using the wire of the base to pin baby’s clothes, balloons and children’s toys, which, to them, represented the future of the planet.

As time went by the Greenham Common women protesters received much publicity. Many people thought they were either stupid, naïve or unpatriotic. Worse still, others thought they were pro-Communist. What cannot be denied is that the women were sincere in their beliefs and committed to their cause.

Once the Cruise missiles arrived on transporters, the women attempted to block the path of the missiles through the base. At times, the women in the camps faced eviction by the authorities.

Eventually, the Cruise missiles arrived. The women stayed and attempted to disrupt the ‘off-base’ tactical deployments. In one sense, the women’s campaign failed. Yet today at Greenham Common, where Cruise Missiles once stood, the former NATO base has been returned to common land and wild animals roam free.

15 of 33


Amongst the Communist Great Powers, military parades were annual features. The restrictive nature of the USSR and China made it difficult to organise public protests. Both Communist superpowers tried to restrict any individual dissidents who dared to criticise the state and its priorities. Nevertheless, brave individuals did protest about the growth of nuclear weapons and the effects of nuclear tests on the environment. Often, dissidents faced exile and imprisonment in remote parts of the Soviet Union.

16 of 33


Solidarity was a camaign that rose in 1970 out of anger at food and fuel shortages, high prices and goods in short supply. They wanted: independent trade unions, an end to censors, more freedom of the Roman Catholic Church and better health care for all the people.

In 1980, opposition showed itself in the Gdansk shipyard after two popular workers had been dismissed nad the government increased the prices of meat whilst not allowing wage increases. The workers refused to work and locked themselves in the shipyard. Despite censorship, word of the strike spread throughout, and this led to many demonstrations crippling the North Coast as factories shut down due to strikes in ports. 

In Gdansk agreement, the government agreed to accept the 21 demands put forward by Lech Walesa on behalf of the people. Solidarity was recognised by the Polish government. This was because the USSR felt stung by worldwide reaction to its invasion of Afghanistan and America threatened the Soviet leaders that if they invaded Poland, America would sell weapons to China.

At first, working conditions improved and Solidarity's popularity increased. Its membership totalled over 9 million in 1981. People joined because they trusted it to improve their lives in general.

17 of 33

Divisions in Solidarity

Divisions began to appear within the trade union itself. Whilst Lech Walesa was keen for Solidarity to remain a non-political movement to improve working and living conditions, when there were food shortages in 1981, there were groups within Solidarity that felt that Walesa needed to push more.This meant the USSR feared that Solidarity was beginning to act like a political party. In December 1981, Soviet troops began to gather on the border, forcing the Polish government to take action to prevent the break-up of Poland and a gap appearing in the Warsaw Pact. As a reult, a new Polish leader, General Jaruzelski, declared martial law in Poland.

  • Overnight, 5000 members of Solidarity were arrested, including Walesa. 
  • Strikes were dealt with by the riot police, sometimes resulting in death.
  • Solidarity was declared illegal in 1981, but continued as an underground movement with its own secret radio and publications supported by the West.

After this, Walesa was released in 1982 during November, and martial law was lifted in July 1983, but food rationing remained. Unrest continued and members of Solidarity were victimised when they were released. In 1984, the secret police abducted and murdered Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a Catholic priest who was popular with the people.

  • America gave support to Solidarity whilst they were operating in the open.
  • They prevented an invasion of Poland by threatening the USSR.
  • They helped Solidarity stay alive as an underground movement.
  • In 1983, they placed trade sanctions on Poland.
18 of 33

Gorbachev and the problems he needed to solve

Gorbachev took over leadership in 1985. He charmed the West with his energy. friendliness, good sense of humour and intelligence. When he came into power at the age of 54, he had many problems to solve.

Internal problems:

  • Central planning, which was inefficient and corrupt
  • Industrial production was falling
  • Farming was inefficient, so there were food shortages
  • Shortages of consumer goods and housing
  • Inflation
  • Workforce become slipshod in their approach to work
  • Alcoholism and an increase in crime

External problems:

  • High cost of arms race, controlling satellite states in Eastern Europe and the Afghanistan war
  • USSR no longer able to keep up with technology industries
  • Conflict in the Middle East, which affected Russia's oil supplies
19 of 33

Glasnost and Perestroika

Glasnost and Perestroika were Gorbachev's twinned policies to solve the problems the USSR faced.

Glasnost meant 'openness'. The Soviet Union and its citizens should: 

  • Be more democratic
  • Have more freedom from government control
  • Have more freedom of speech and more media freedom
  • Have leaders who should listen to people’s views and accept criticism

Perestroika meant 're-structuring'. The Soviet State should be rebuilt:

  • To stamp out corruption
  • To provide goods people wanted at a price they cost to make
  • To remove the central planning by the government in economics
  • For everyone to do their job properly

Some in the Soviet Union would have been pleased with the introduction of glasnost, as it gave the Russian citizens more human rights. However, some loyal communists may have seen it as bringing about the end of communism and moving Soviet politics in a new direction away from socialism. The peoples of Eastern Europe may have viewed the prospect of glasnost as an exciting opportunity for gaining more rights and independence from communism, which they wanted in most instances to improve their standard of living.

20 of 33

Why the USSR were so unsuccessful

  • The Communist government set up by the Soviets in Afghanistan was unable to gain the trust of the people, and there appeared to be no hope of victory.
  • The Soviet army was affected by disease and unable to cope with the guerilla warfare.
  • The war remained unpopular abroad, they didn't have much support from the Warsaw Pact countries, and Gorbachev wanted to give a better image of the USSR.
  • The Afghan army, who they were allied with, were inefficient.
  • The rebels had more motivation, since they were fighting to turn Afghanistan into a Muslim country and for the freedom of their country.
  • The mujahidin were well equipped with weapons supplied from America and China, who objected to Soviet actions.
  • Citizens of the USSR and many of the soldiers did not support the invasion.
  • In Czechoslovakia and Hungary, they had attempted to keep an existing system, not set up a new system as in Afghanistan.

As a result, in 1986, Soviet tactics in Afghanistan changed. They became far more defensive and there were few major offensives. The USSR concentrated mostly on using the air, but the USA supplied the mujahidin with anti-aircraft weapons from 1987 and these lef to a further Soviet loss of life and equipment. Gorbachev announced that he was beginning the withdrawals of troops in 1986, but the first withdrawals were replaced. It was not until Feb. 1988 that he announced the full withdrawal of the USSR. This was completed in 1989.

21 of 33

Consequences of the Afghanistan War

Soviet consequences:

  • Around 15,000 Soviet troops were killed, with over half a million casualties.
  • The USSR lost much heavy equipment including planes, tanks and armoured vehicles.
  • The enormous expense crippled the Soviet economy.
  • The war proved that the Red Army was not invincible, so it could no longer be relied on to keep the Soviet Empire together. Questions would be asked in the USSR regarding the huge cost of maintaining an armed force that could not defeat the Afghans.
  • The effect on the army and the economy contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe.

Afghan consequences:

  • Over 1 million Afghans died, including children being killed by Soviet mines. This increased the Afghan's hatred of foreigners. The Soviet withdrawal did not end the war: the Civil War continued until 1992 when the mujahidin captured Kabul from the communist government.
  • Afghanistan became a centre for terrorist activity.
22 of 33

Summits and Arms Treaties

1985: Gorbachev becomes Soviet Leader
November 1985: Reagan and Gorbachev meet in Germany. Agree in principle to cut offensive weapons by 50%
1986: Reagan and Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik, Iceland
1987: Gorbachev visits Washington. USA and USSR sign an Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
1988: Reagan visits Moscow. INF Treaty ratified.
December 1989: Gorbachev meets new American President George Bush. Sign two arms control pacts - one to halt stategic nuclear weapons, other to reduce conventional forces in Europe. Declare the Cold War at an end.
1991: Gorbachev and Bush sign START treaty (talks began in 1982) - they agree to destroy about a third of their nuclear weapons.

23 of 33

Summits and Arms Treaties II

Gorbachev had several motives for peace with the West:

  • He wanted peace between East and West, along the lines of 'peaceful co-existence'
  • He wanted to end the expensive and dangerous arms race
  • In 1986, he proposed a fifteen year scheme to rid the world of nuclear weapons by AD 2000 
  • He was concerned about Reagan's 'Star Wars' scheme
  • He realised that despite Soviet attempts to respond, it did have either the budget or the technology to compete
  • He realised that the Soviet Union needed to spend much less on arms and far more on improvements at home

The effects of the INF Treaty were as follows:

  • In America and Western Europe, Pershing Missiles were destroyed and Cruise Missiles were withdrawn
  • Work on 'Star Wars' research was halted
  • In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, **-20 missiles were withdrawn and destroyed
  • Bombers were dismantled
24 of 33

The collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe

Hopes of the satellite states:

  • Wanted glasnost and perestroika in their own countries
  • Improved living conditions
  • Improved relations with the West
  • Economic recovery

Fears of the satellite states:

  • Some hard-line Communist leaders were afraid of change
  • Uncertainty as to whether the reforms would work
  • Possibility of uprisings

Sinatra Doctrine: In 1986, Gorbachev announced that Soviets would relax their control over Communist governments and Soviet weaponry would not support them. The people were allowed to choose their own form of government and go their own way.

25 of 33

The collapse of Communism in Poland

  • Solidarity had continued 'underground' after being made illegal in 1981
  • 1988 - unofficial strikes took place in Poland
  • Influenced by Gorbachev's reforms and under pressure from the strikes, the POlish government entered talks with Walesa in September 1988
  • Partially free elections - Walesa's party successful
  • Jarulzelski tried to persuade Walesa to form a coalition with the communists but failed
  • 1989 - first non-communist government established
  • December 1990 - Jarulzelski resigned and Walesa became President of Poland
26 of 33

The collapse of Communism in Hungary

  • Ruled by Kadar from 1956 - 1988, during which he had made refors to the economy and began to trade with the West
  • Reformers admitted to Communist party after Kadar's resignation
  • Measures similar to glasnost introduced
  • 1956 - Popular uprising
  • June 1989 - Nagy's body publicly buried in Budapest
  • August 1989 - Hungary opens border with Austria; first break in the Iron Curtain
  • October 1989 - Communist Part allowed other parties to stand for election
  • 1990 - Hungarian Republic declared and free parliamentary elections held
  • 1991 - Last Soviet troops left Hungary
27 of 33

The collapse of Communism in Czechslovakia

  • After the Prague Spring in 1968, Czechoslovakia was ruled by Husak, under whom Czechoslovakia had some reforms, but the secret police still existed
  • Many of teh opponents emigrated to the West and internal opposition was limited to small groups
  • March 1987 - Communist Government announced it was committed to reforms similar to those of Gorbachev
  • Progress with reforms was slow, which led to demonstrations in Prague and Bratislava in 1988 and 1989
  • November 1989 - Police used violence to break up a demonstration in favour of democracy
  • Formation of a group campaigning for change, led by Havel (who was supported by Dubcek in 1989)
  • Unpopularity of the government and the demands of the USSR for reform resulted in a speedy collapse of Communism called the Velvet Revolution
  • Husak resigned; 29. December 1989 - Havel elected President
  • Dubcek became Chairman of Parliament
  • 1990 - Free elections held; massive victory for pro-democracy parties
28 of 33

The collapse of the Berlin Wall

The leader of East Germany, Honecker, refused to put Gorbachev’s reforms into effect in East Germany. In August 1989, thousands of East Germans took advantage of Hungary opening its border with the West and fled through the West through Hungary. Others showed their opposition by a series of demonstration and protest marches. Gorbachev visited the country and urged the communist government to carry out reforms, but Honecker refused.

On the 18th October, Honecker was forced to step down as leader and was replaced by Krenz. This was an attempt by the government to get rid of the opposition, but it failed. Rallies in favour of democracy were held and East Germans continued to move to West Germany through Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

The Communist government resigned on the 7th November and on the 9th November, the border with West Germany was opened, because the Soviets realised that change was necessary and it was ridiculous to keep the two peoples apart. This was significant, because it marked the re-joining of the two peoples and significant progression in the policies of the USSR, who were now willing to let their Iron Curtain be lifted in order to reconnect families. In Berlin, crowds marched to the Berlin Wall and began pulling it down. The Brandenburg Gate was opened on the 22nd December and free elections were held in East Germany on 18th March 1990. The old East Germany collapsed and on the 3rd October 1990, East and West Germany were once again united.

29 of 33

The End of the Cold War

The beginning of the end of the Cold War was at the Summit Meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1986, when President Gorbachev proposed enormous reductions in the number of nuclear weapons held by the USA and the USSR. Although this approach failed, the move to disarmament was confirmed in the Washington Treaty signed at the end of 1987.

Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR and the movement to increased democracy in Eastern Europe did much to further improve relations between the USA and the USSR. The collapse of the Berlin Wall meant an end to the Iron Curtain. Shortly after this, the leaders of the two superpowers met at a Summit Meeting held in Malta at the beginning of December in 1989. It was the first Summit Meeting for the new American President, George H. W. Bush, who had been Reagan’s Vice President and then replaced him as President in 1989. Although no agreements were actually signed at the Summit, after the meeting Gorbachev and Bush made statements that are often regarded as the end of the Cold War.

30 of 33

The collapse of the USSR

Gorbachev had been praised in the West for the part he played in ending the Cold War, and reforming the USSR. However, he was less popular in the USSR. Although his new policies were greeted enthusiastically, his popularity was soon reduced. His economic policies failed because the old structures of the USSR acted against them. Food shortages remained, resulting in rationing of some goods. Gorbachev probably thought that Communism would be reformed by his policies; he did not expect it to collapse. Many communists considered that Gorbachev had betrayed the movement and saw the end of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe as a disaster. Others who supported the reforms, such as Boris Yeltsin, who had been promoted within the party by Gorbachev, thought that Gorbachev was moving too slowly. They wanted more political democracy and more power passed to the separate republics that made up the USSR.

Gorbachev’s own views on reform added to his problems. His policy of glasnost meant that criticism became public. The removal of censorship led to the media commenting on the weaknesses of the Soviet economy. For over half a century, the Soviet people had only been given positive news by the media; now the removal of communist control of the media meant that they were receiving negative reports. They began to lose all faith and trust in their political system. The movement to greater independence in Easter Europe also affected the individual states of the USSR. Gorbachev was faced with demonstrations all over the USSR from people who wanted further reform and independence.

31 of 33

Yeltsin becomes President of the Russian Federatio

Yeltsin had been dismissed from the Politburo by Gorbachev, but in 1990 he was elected Chairman of the Russian Parliament. In June 1991, Yeltsin was elected President of the Russian Republic, defeating Gorbachev’s preferred candidate. In August 1991, extreme communists opposed to Gorbachev rebelled against him and tried to seize power. Gorbachev was placed under house arrest, but Yeltsin rallied the people and stood up to the rebels. Yeltsin’s action caused the coup to collapse. Gorbachev returned to power, but his position was weakened.

With demands for independence coming from its member states, the USSR was collapsed. On 25th December 1991, Gorbachev resigned and the USSR was formally dissolved the next day. Boris Yeltsin became the President of the Russian Federation, which replaced the USSR in the UN.

32 of 33

The collapse of Communism in satellite states

  • Estonia: Opted for independence on the 21st August 1991 after the coup failed. It is a full member of the UN.
  • Latvia: Declared independence on the 21st August 1991.
  • Lithuania: Declared independence on the 11th March 1990.
  • Ukraine: Voted for independence on the 24th August 1991, effective after the referendum of the 1st December.
  • Georgia: Declared independence on the 9th April 1991.
  • Russia became part of the USSR in 1922. In July 1990, restoration of sovereign rights was proclaimed.
33 of 33


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The Cold War resources »