Question 10
Quick revise

Why did the Cold War in Europe come to an end?

  • 1979-1986 a new Cold War developing
  • Soviet invasion of Afghanistan convinced the US that the Soviet Union hadn’t changed after 30 years and was still trying to impose itself on other states
  • Soviets felt threatened by US deployment of new weapons such as cruise missiles in Europe
  • Third World conflicts also affected East-West relations especially in the Middle East and Latin America
  • Another factor was the emergence of new leaders in both countries
  • Brezhnev died 1982 and was followed by Andropov and Chernenko in quick succession
  • Both of them were old and unwell
  • Their unexpected deaths took place quickly causing instability in both the USSR and in relations with the US
  • The 1980 election in the US brought in a new President and with him, a great impact on the Cold War

Ronald Reagan

  • Carter’s Foreign Policy had been weak and indecisive
  • The Republican Reagan brought in an aggressive, patriotic Foreign Policy
  • Believed the US should support its friends even if they were dictators
  • US should oppose its enemies and use force if needed
  • Called the USSR ‘the evil empire’
  • Said all the troubles in the world could be traced back to the Soviets who were bent on world domination
  • How much he really believed that they were an ‘evil empire’ is debatable
  • Reagan’s supporters say he knew the USSR was getting weak internally, its economy was in poor condition and the war in Afghanistan was putting a strain on it and on Soviet society
  • Thus if the US put them under further pressure, they could be forced to negotiate over arms and begin reform of the USSR
  • Others feel that Reagan did believe the USSR was behind most of the world’s troubles
  • He was a fervent capitalist who detested the communist system
  • They had been increasing their influence in Africa and Latin America, so he was convinced they were trying to take over the world
  • Whatever the truth, Reagan pursued an uncompromising Cold War policy

Arms Reduction

  • The USA under Reagan embarked on the biggest arms build-up in its history
  • 1980s, $550 billion a year was being spent on conventional and nuclear weapons
  • New systems were being developed e.g. the Stealth Bomber and the neutron bomb (called the capitalist bomb by the Soviets because it would kill people but not property)
  • 1983 cruise missiles were sent to bases in Europe
  • This made these areas targets
  • It led to protests including the 7 year protest at Greenham Common in England
  • Reagan was also willing to talk about arms control
  • He knew that the US had to negotiate from a position of strength or it would be seen as weak and would be vulnerable to attack

1982 Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START)

  • Began in Geneva but failed to reach agreement
  • Basic problem – the two sides didn’t trust each other
  • During the talks, the Soviets clamped down on ‘Solidarity’, a democratic trade union movement in Poland
  • In 1983 Soviets shot down a Korean passenger plane killing 269 people
  • Reagan saw it as typical communist aggression
  • Soviets distrusted the Americans because during the talks they refused to include NATO in arms reduction – they seemed to want more than they were willing to give up

Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI)

  • 1983 Reagan announced SDI, nicknamed ‘star wars’
  • Its job was to be a defence shield to destroy missiles fired at the USA while they were still in space
  • Although some scientists thought it wouldn’t work, if it did work, Soviet missiles would be useless while the USSR would still be open to attack
  • To them, it appeared that the USA was talking peace but this wasn’t reflected in their actions

How Gorbachev affected the Cold War

  • 1985, Gorbachev became the new Soviet leader
  • Launched new programme of reform in USSR
  • US feared these would strengthen USSR and improve its position in the Cold War
  • Prime Minister Thatcher said she could ‘do business’ with Gorbachev but early meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev didn’t go well
  • Meetings in Geneva (1985) and Reykjavik (1986) produced no real agreement on arms
  • They discussed the types of weapons to be limited and whether current agreements were being kept
  • Real bone of contention was SDI
  • 1987 signed Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
  • This was a major achievement because for the first time there were to be reductions in weapons
  • Intermediate-range weapons were to be dismantled and there were to be inspections to ensure that both sides were keeping to the deal
  • 1988 the first weapons were dismantled

Why was there an improvement?

  • Some credit Reagan’s military expansion with forcing USSR into a position where it couldn’t afford to keep up with the US
  • The build up also worried America’s allies and the public about the number of nuclear weapons in existence
  • The concern about nuclear proliferation increased in 1986 with the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine which polluted land and atmosphere as far away as Wales
  • An important factor was the relationship between Reagan and Gorbachev which had become very productive
  • Reagan saw that Gorbachev really wanted a better relationship with the West and so he altered his stance on the ‘evil empire’ to more compromising
  • Relations improved further when Reagan visited Moscow in 1988
  • However the INF treaty only cut out one class of missile –there were still thousands in existence – but it was a start

Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?

  • The roots of this lay in Soviet and Russian history, but the Cold War played an important part
  • The American policy of containment over the previous 49 years meant that the USSR had to spend huge sums on arms – thus this money was not available to improve the living conditions of the people
  • Reagan’s huge increase in arms spending meant that this got worse
  • To carry out his reforms Gorbachev had to reduce the Soviet military
  • This encouraged the satellite states to reform too without fear that the Red Army would intervene this time
  • Change began to happen rapidly from 1989
  • The border between Austria and Hungary was opened allowing people to travel from East Germany to the West through Hungary and Austria
  • Because this movement became a flood, Gorbachev advised East Germany to open the Berlin Wall so that they could travel directly to the West
  • 9th November 1989 the Wall was opened – the end of the Cold War had started

The American response

  • The new President George Bush was slow to react especially when the Warsaw Pact collapsed at the end of 1989
  • Bush was intelligent and well-travelled and he saw that the change in Eastern Europe was so rapid that it would be best for the US to move slowly and avoid serious errors
  • The USSR still had its nuclear weapons and one of the most powerful armies in the world
  • During 1989 there were meetings between Secretary of State James Baker and Russian Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze
  • They talked about the ongoing changes in the Soviet Union and the East, and discussed beginning the START talks again
  • This time the Soviets said they would accept US development of SDI, thus removing a major obstacle to an agreement
  • June 1990 Bush and Gorbachev met in Washington
  • Cuts were agreed in chemical weapons and long-range nuclear weapons
  • This was made formal in July in START 1
  • Both countries were limited to 1,600 nuclear delivery vehicles (bombers and submarines etc) and 6,000 nuclear devices
  • This was a reduction in weapons and allowed for verification
  • There were to be greater contacts between the two powers and increased trade


  • Spring 1990, the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania declared independence from Moscow, followed by the Ukraine
  • In Romania, East Germany and elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc dictators were being pressured into resigning and were being replaced by democratic governments
  • Gorbachev became a victim as he was too closely identified with the old regime
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