End Of Cold War Essays

How And Why Did The Cold War End?

There were many factors that brought about the conclusion of the Cold War. The declining Soviet economy, the rise of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the initiatives take by the U.S. and the Soviet Union were all influential determinates that helped bring the Cold War to an end.

The Soviets had enjoyed great achievements on the international stage before Reagan entered office in 1981. These achievements included the unification of their socialist ally, Vietnam in 1976, and a string of socialist revolutions in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa, however the country's strengthening ties with Third World nations in the 1960s and 1970s only masked utter weakness next to the United States.

The Soviet economy suffered severe structural problems. Reform stalled between 1964-1982 and supply shortages of consumer goods were becoming notorious. The 1980s saw weak leadership in the Soviet Union. In 1982 Leonid Brezhnev died to be replaced by the short-lived Yuri Andropov and then Konstantin Chernenko who also quickly died, to be replaced by a rising politician, Mikhail Gorbachev.

East-West tensions eased rapidly after the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev. After the deaths of three elderly Soviet leaders in a row since 1982, the Politburo elected Gorbachev Soviet Communist Party chief in 1985, marking the rise of a new generation of leadership. Under Gorbachev, relatively young reform-oriented technocrats, who had begun their careers in the prime days of "de-Stalinization" under reformist leader Nikita Khrushchev (1953-1964), rapidly consolidated power, providing new momentum for political and economic liberalization, and the impetus for cultivating warmer relations and trade with the West, which would eventually bring about the close of the Cold war.

The Cold War's end was brought closer thanks to the renewed friendlinss taking place between The USSR and the USA. On October 11, 1986 Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland, in an effort to continue discussions about scaling back their intermediate missile arsenals in Europe. The talks broke down in failure, however, afterwards, Soviet policymakers increasingly accepted Reagan administration warnings that the U.S. would make the arms race a huge burden for them. The twin burdens of the Cold War arms race on one hand, and the provision of large sums of foreign and military aid, which their socialist allies had grown to expect, on the other possibly left Gorbachev's efforts to boost production of consumer goods and reform the stagnating economy all but impossible, and the bleak prospect of the Soviet Economy declining even more than it already was was a major catalyst in pushing the Soviets towards a...

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In 1985 the Cold War seemed like it was an established fact of life in Europe, with two armed camps still facing each other across the Iron Curtain. Yet within a remarkably short space of time, the political structure changed dramatically: the Cold War which had split Europe in two for the previous 40 years suddenly, in the space of a few short years, came to an end. The pressures of the Cold War in Europe partly brought about the unexpected change and the change itself brought an end to the Cold War. During the 1970's and early 1980's, the Soviet economy deteriorated under the cumulative effects of a centralized bureaucratic system, the burdens of an increasingly costly arms race, and a failed war in Afghanistan. This proved to be a vital factor in the ending of the Cold War however it is by no means the only one; indeed a variety of different factors ultimately caused the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and thus the end of the Cold War.


The economic decline of the Soviet Union over the 1980s was an essential reason for the end of the Cold War. Various factors explain the Soviet Union’s economic crisis which led to its collapse. The Soviet soft power (that is to say its political, social and culture influence) was undercut by the exposure of Stalin's crimes in 1956 and by the repression in Hungary in 1956. Communist ideology aimed to establish justice for all, however, the lethal purges and gulags of the Stalinist era led to a general loss of confidence in the system and thus a low level of motivation in the work force. With lack of faith in the system the Soviet economy slumped.

To add to this, the Soviet system was particularly inept at handling information. The deep secrecy of its political system meant that the flow of information was slow and cumbersome. An over-centralised government led to bureaucracy and corruption. Economic globalisation created turmoil throughout the world at the end of the 20th century, but the Western market economies were able to reallocate labour to services, restructure their heavy industries and switch to computers. The Soviet Union could not keep up. According to one Soviet economist, by the late 1980s, only eight per cent of Soviet industry was globally competitive. It is difficult for a country to remain a superpower when the world doesn’t want 92 per cent of what it produces.

The huge Soviet defence budget, needed to continue an arms race against the United States, began to undermine other aspects of Soviet society. For example healthcare cuts and the continued presence of heavy-industry in polluted cities created a health care crisis and standards of living deteriorated dramatically: indeed between 1970 and 1986, the mortality rate in the Soviet Union increased from 8.2 per 1,000 to 9.8 per 1,000. In a continuous attempt to try and match the military and political the USSR made unreasonable concessions in other fields leading to its downfall.

The Soviet Union’s economic problems in its country were coupled with the collapse of the Eastern bloc of the USSR. Indeed from the start of the 1970s countries in the Eastern bloc suffered economic crises due to huge debts towards the West (for example in 1972 Poland had a debt of over $17 billion). The economic problems in the satellite states of the Soviet Union led to various opposition movements such as the Solidarity movement in Poland. Suffering from an economic crisis at home, Russia was no longer able to financial support her satellite states which further intensified the economic crises in the Eastern Bloc. To add to this, the role of the satellite states was to feed the Soviet Economy through a supply of raw materials, this proved to be inefficient; Polish coal, for example, was imported into Russia at a loss. The economic crisis in the Eastern bloc and in Russia itself led to a weak consumer base, growing shortages of basic commodities and a growing unpopularity of the regime. Economic problems in Russia therefore played a key role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Long term economic problems in the USSR led to a “domino effect” which led to the superpower’s collapse; however it did not have to collapse so quickly. Gorbachev's humanitarian tinkering contributed greatly to the timing. Gorbachev policies of Glasnost and Perestroika accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union. Glasnost did away with the strict censorship, which the government had practiced for decades. Russian for "openness," glasnost allowed Soviet citizens to speak openly about their society's problems. Gorbachev has replied to Russian who shout abuse at him for causing the fall of the Soviet Union: "Remember, I am the one who gave you the right to shout." Glasnost was only the first step in Gorbachev’s reforms, the next reforms came through policies of perestroika or "restructuring." Through his policy of Perestroika, Gorbachev was not an attempt by Gorbachev to destroy communism, but an attempt to end the inefficiency and corruption that had led to its decline. For example through perestroika some features of private enterprise were returned.Gorbachev reforms came too late to revive the Soviet economy which had negative GNP growth by the time he gained power.

Gorbachev also made dramatic changes to Soviet foreign policy, which he called "new thinking", this also contributed to the Cold War's end. Gorbachev said that security was a game from which all could benefit through co-operation this is why in 1987 he met with Ronald Reagan and signed the Immediate Nuclear Forces (INF) abolition treaty. He also made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe and in 1989 announced the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Aware that Gorbachev would not send in Soviet tanks there were demonstrations against communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. This in turn led to the fall from power of the communist government in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany a few months later.

The War in Afghanistan was a social, political, economic and military disaster for the USSR. The war in Afghanistan that lasted 10 years (1979-1989) cost the Soviet Union over $80 billion which further weaken its already fragile economy. The war proved unwinnable for the Soviet Union, this was partly due to the United States’ funding of the anti-Soviet guerrilla terrorist organisation, the Mujahedeen. The USSR also suffered heavy losses, between 40,000 and 50,000 Soviet troops lost their lives. Through the war in Afghanistan the Soviet Union found itself economically and militarily over-stretched and not able to cope with competition from the West.

The Cold War is generally regarded as a quest for global hegemony, an ideological confrontation and a massive military arms race between two powerful countries with opposing political systems. One can thus argue that Gorbachev’s policy of Glasnost ended the Cold War since in allowed for the cooperation of the USSR with the West. Even though given the state of the Soviet economy one could argue the Gorbachev was forced to cooperate with the West, it exposed the reality of life in the Soviet Union and thus triggered the collapse of the USSR.

Despite this, one cannot say that Soviet economic decline can explain all of Gorbachev policies and thus say that Gorbachev played no significant role in the fall of the Soviet Union. Indeed some of the causes for the USSR’s rapid collapse stemmed from Gorbachev’s miscalculations, after all Gorbachev’s aim was to reform communism not to replace it. The drastic nature of Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Pestroika reforms quickly snowballed into a revolution driven from below rather than a less dramatic steady change controlled from above. Indeed in trying to repair communism, which in some historian’s eyes was beyond repair, he punched a hole in a dam which tore apart the system. Gorbachev can therefore be placed as an important cause of the end of the Cold War. However, if the Communist Party's Politburo had chosen one of Gorbachev’s much more conservative competitors in 1985, it is plausible that the declining Soviet Union could have held on for another decade or so; but the USSR was ultimately deemed for collapse. Gorbachev must therefore be regarded as a trigger for the collapse of the Soviet Union rather than an underlying cause.

Although relatively small compared to the effects of the decline of the Soviet economy and Gorbachev’s policies, the West also played a role in the fall of the Soviet Union. Indeed US policies of neo-conservatism and the promotion of the Reagan Doctrine both placed pressure on the Eastern bloc to gain independence and promoted the idea of winning the Cold war. The supporting of anti-communists movements in the Eastern bloc and terror organisations such as the Mujahedeen by the United States meant that the USSR could not suppress the movement thus further pushing the Soviet Union into economic decline ultimately leading to their collapse.


Even though one cannot say that Soviet economic decline was the only cause of the end of the Cold War it was a crucial one since one can attribute the majority of other causes to this underlying cause. During the end of the 1970s, so as not to allow the United States to gain a military edge, the Soviet Union choose the boost its short term military power at the expense of long term economic stability. Ultimately, the deepest causes of the Soviet collapse were the decline of communist ideology and economic failure; this would have happened even without Gorbachev. Even though the Soviet Union may have been doomed when Gorbachev took power in 1985 one must not discount the importance of his role in ending the Cold War, the world has Gorbachev to thank for the fact that the empire he oversaw collapsed without a bloody conflagration. The economic decline of the Soviet Union was thus crucial for the ending of the Cold War however the relatively peaceful and rapid collapse can be attributed to many others causes, most notably the role of Gorbachev.

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