The End of the Cold War

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The early 1980s witnessed a final era of friction between the United States and the USSR, resulting mainly from the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a Communist regime and from the firm line assume by U.S. president Ronald Reagan after his 1980 election. Reagan saw the USSR as an “evil empire.” He also supposed that his rivals in Moscow respected strength first and foremost, and thus he set about to add deeply to American military capabilities. The Soviets at first viewed Reagan as an implacable foe, committed to subverting the Soviet system and perhaps willing to risk nuclear war in the process.

Then in the mid-1980s Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR. Gorbachev was resolute to halt the increasing decay of the Soviet system and to shed some of his country’s foreign policy responsibility. Between 1986 and 1989 he brought a revolution to Soviet foreign policy, discarded long-held Soviet assumptions and seeking new and far-reaching agreements with the West. Gorbachev’s efforts basically altered the dynamic of East-West relations. Gorbachev and Reagan held a series of summit talks beginning in 1985, and in 1987 the two leaders agreed to eradicate a whole class of their countries’ nuclear missiles—those capable of striking Europe and Asia from the USSR and vice versa. The Soviet government began to reduce its forces in Eastern Europe, and in 1989 it pulled its troops out of Afghanistan. That year Communist regimes began to collapse in the countries of Eastern Europe and the wall that had divided East and West Germany since 1961 was torn down. In 1990 Germany became once again a unified country. In 1991 the USSR dissolved, and Russia and the other Soviet republics appear as independent states. Even before these dramatic final events, much of the ideological basis for the Cold War competition had departed. However, the collapse of Soviet power in Eastern Europe, and then of the USSR itself, lent a devastating inevitability to the end of the Cold War era.

 

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