The end of the Cold War, 1985-91

The end of the Cold War, 1985-91

The Final Years of the Cold War

  • Gorbachev’s leadership: Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, bringing new policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). He desired more open political discussion and economic liberalisation.

  • Reagan and Gorbachev: US President Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev developed a strong diplomatic relationship, which led to a de-escalation of Cold War tensions in the late 1980s.

  • Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’: Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983. Also known as ‘Star Wars’, the programme aimed to use ground and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. It alarmed the Soviet Union and was a major point of negotiation between Reagan and Gorbachev.

  • INF Treaty (1987): The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed by Reagan and Gorbachev. It marked a significant disarmament agreement where both the USA and the USSR agreed to eliminate their stocks of intermediate-range and shorter-range (or “medium”) land-based missiles (but not sea-based or air-based weapons).

Collapse of the USSR

  • Satellite States’ Revolutions (1989): Several Eastern European states including Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia experienced revolutions, breaking away from Soviet control and ending Communist rule.

  • Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989): The East German government announced that all East Germans could visit West Germany and West Berlin, leading to huge crowds that broke down the symbolic divide - the Berlin Wall.

  • Baltic Independence (1990-1991): Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia declared independence from the Soviet Union. This event was significant as it marked the dissolution of the Soviet Union’s control over its satellite states.

  • Coup Against Gorbachev (August 1991): Hardline Communists within the USSR attempted a coup against Gorbachev in an attempt to halt the changes, but the coup failed largely due to the efforts of Boris Yeltsin, the Russian Federation’s President.

  • Dissolution of the Soviet Union (December 1991): Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union was officially dissolved, symbolising the end of the Cold War. This led to the rise of Russia and 14 other independent countries.

Repercussions of the Cold War’s End

  • End of Ideological Conflict: With the disbandment of the USSR, the ideological conflict between capitalism and communism largely came to an end, signifying the ‘victory’ of western democracy and capitalism.

  • Change in World Power Dynamics: The USA emerged as the sole superpower, significantly altering global power dynamics.

  • Changes in NATO and Warsaw Pact: The Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991 following the end of the Cold War. NATO however, despite losing its main purpose of containing communism, adapted its purpose and continues to exist.

  • Yugoslav Wars: The end of the Cold War sparked a series of bloody civil wars in Yugoslavia, leading to intervention by NATO in the 1990s and early 2000s.

  • Challenge of Post-Soviet Transitions: The newly independent countries emerging from the USSR faced significant political, economic, and social challenges in transitioning from Communist rule.

  • Nuclear Weapons: Despite arms reduction treaties, many nuclear weapons remain, posing ongoing challenges for international relations.