The Cold War, 1975-1991

The Cold War, 1975-1991

  • The SALT II treaty, signed in 1979, aimed at curbing the arms race between the US and USSR, though it was never ratified by the US Senate due to the subsequent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
  • In 1979, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan marked a major escalation of the Cold War and led to the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It also set the stage for a ten-year conflict that depleted Soviet resources and morale.
  • In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration in the US adopted a hardline stance against the USSR, promoting a policy of ‘rollback’ rather than containment and initiating a significant build-up of the US military.
  • The ‘Second Cold War’ or ‘New Cold War’, lasting from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, saw a resurgence of Cold War tensions and the end of the détente period.
  • The 1983 Korean Air Lines Flight 007 incident led to escalated tensions between the US and USSR, with both sides accusing each other of provocation and aggression.
  • The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), commonly known as ‘Star Wars’, was a proposed missile defence system intended to protect the United States from attack by ballistic strategic nuclear weapons.
  • The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 not only had significant environmental and health impacts but also exposed the inefficiencies and corruptions of the Soviet system, contributing to growing calls for reform.

Key Figures of the Cold War, 1975-1991

  • Leonid Brezhnev (Soviet leader, 1964-82) continued his policy of détente until the late 1970s, when he authorised the invasion of Afghanistan.
  • Ronald Reagan (US President, 1981-89) adopted a more aggressive stance against the USSR, initiating a military build-up and championing the Strategic Defense Initiative.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev (Soviet leader, 1985-91) introduced the policies of ‘glasnost’ (openness) and ‘perestroika’ (restructuring) in an attempt to reform the Soviet economy and political system.

Major Themes of the Cold War, 1975-1991

  • End of détente: The invasion of Afghanistan marked the end of the détente period and triggered a resurgence of Cold War tensions.
  • Arms race: The US and USSR continued to compete in the development of nuclear and conventional weapons, with the US launching the Strategic Defense Initiative and both sides developing ‘second-strike’ capabilities.
  • Economic competition: The economic strain of the arms race and of maintaining global commitments led to economic crises in both the US and USSR.
  • Transformation in the USSR: Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika reflected a shift in Soviet ideology and led to significant, though ultimately unsuccessful, attempts at reform.
  • End of the Cold War: The combination of internal pressures in the USSR and the relaxing of East-West tensions led to the dissolution of the USSR and the end of the Cold War in 1991.