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The end of the cold war

period 8



Rutvij Bhatt

United States History II

Mrs. Jacqualyn J. Newman

Stroudsburg High School

March 17, 1997

period 8

TOPIC:The End of the Cold War

Thesis Statement: What role did the United States play in the ending of the Cold War

The cold war was a post-World War II struggle between the United States and its

allies and the group of nations led by the Soviet Union. Direct military conflict did not

occur between the two superpowers, but intense economic and diplomatic struggles

erupted. Different interests led to mutual suspicion and hostility in a rising philosophy. The

United States played a major role in the ending of the cold war. It has been said that

President Ronald Reagan ended the cold war with his strategic defense policies.

In the year1949, Germany was divided by the victors of World War II and they

occupied different zones. The western regions united to form a Federal republic and the

Soviet eastern region became communist East Germany. The cold war had begun. Berlin,

the former capital of Germany was divided into East Berlin and West Berlin but was

located deep inside the soviet controlled zone.1

Then, in 1961, the Soviet government built a wall which separated the two halves

of the city. It was not until the 1980s that cold war tensions eased through the glasnost

(openness to public debate) polices of soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Finally, in

November 1989, the wall crumbled under the hands of the Germans and the cold war


The downfall of the cold war started when Ronald Reagan came into office in

1981. Reagan had two main priorities. He wanted to cut taxes and increase defense

spending. He felt that the United States of America should take a confrontational

approach towards Russia.3

Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of Russia in 1985. He wanted to improve the

Russian economy. He also wanted to improve relations with the United States. He used

his glasnost (openness to public debate) policy and perestroika (restructuring) to help the

Russian economy.4

Both leaders wanted a "margin of safety". Reagan took a tough stand against

Russia and it's allies. The soviets could clearly see that when Reagan said he wanted a

"margin of safety", he meant that the United States should be superior to Russia. Moscow

would not let this happen. They wanted equality.5

Reagan also believed that military power and respect for America abroad were

inseparable from economic strength. However, Reagan's defense policy resulted in the

doubling of the debt of the United States. He used the money for new strategic programs

and for expensive conventional programs such as expanding the navy from four hundred

to six hundred ships. Reagan also received increases for the CIA and other intelligence

agencies so they could aid anti-Russian forces in Afghanistan and other Third-World


Reagan's administration did not have strong or consistent policies towards Russia.

It was divided between people who favored careful negotiations and people who strongly

opposed efforts to deal with "the enemy." The negotiators were centered in the State

department. It included George Schultz, Richard Burt, and Secretary of State Alexander

Haig. The other side included Caspar Weinberger, Richard Perle and Senator Henry


Soviets became frightened by the United States' policies. They were going to

negotiate with Reagan at first but because of military buildup, lack of interest in arms

control, Soviets were afraid Reagan would attack the nation. Soviets kept the KGB

(Russia's version of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) on alerted from 1981 to 1983 just

in case.8

A Russian military plane had shot down a South Korean civilian airliner that was

flying over Soviet territory. The plane was traveling from Anchorage, Alaska to Seoul


Korea. Sixty-one Americans were killed on the flight. When the United States heard

about this; Reagan was furious. He denounced that the "Korean airline massacre" was a

"crime against humanity" for which "there was absolutely no justification legal or moral..."


Soviets said that they thought it was a spy plane and when they inquired who it

was, they received no answer. That is why they shot it down. This crisis gave more tension

to the cold war situation. 10

On September 23, 1985, Andropov, the Soviet leader at the time, issued "one of

the most strong anti-American statements since the Stalin Era".12 He accused the United

States of pursuing a militarist course that is designed to achieve "dominant positions in the

world without reckoning with the interests of the other states and peoples".11

Soviet leaders thought that the United States' response to the airliner incident

combined with the continuing lack of progress on arms control, was proof that they should

not improve relations with the United States. That December, they withdrew from the

arms control negotiations in Geneva. For this reason negotiations that would end the cold

war were halted.12

Reagan proposed a program called "Strategic Defense Initiative (Also known as

"Star Wars")." The program was where an experimental rocket was launched off a remote

island and intercepted an incoming ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) warhead that

was about one hundred miles above earth. This was a demonstration of the Pentagon's

ability to solve the problems of ballistic-missile defense.13

What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that

their security did not rest upon the threat of instant United

States retaliation to deter Soviet attack; that we could

intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they

reached our own soil and that of our allies? 14


(President Reagan commenting on "Star Wars")

It was Reagan's support for "Star Wars" that enabled Gorbachev to take the

initiative soon after coming to power in spring of 1985. Most Western Europeans derided

"Star Wars" as "a pointless escalation in the arms race" and Gorbachev thought this way

also. Gorbachev denounced "Star Wars" and tried to show that Russia was a peaceful

nation. He reduced the number of 22-20 missiles aimed at Western Europe and also

announced a moratorium on underground nuclear testing. Russia also offered to make

deep cuts in it's missiles if the United States would stop researching "Star Wars."

Gorbachev arranged a summit meeting in Geneva with Ronald Reagan which is where

they had talks about "Star Wars." Little progress was made on arms control and Reagan

was held responsible.15

Gorbachev and Reagan also met in Reykjavik. Gorbachev challenged Reagan to try

to negotiate a comprehensive arms control agreement that weekend. Gorbachev offered a

few significant ideas. He agreed in principle to the 1981 United States proposal to

eliminate medium range missiles from Europe and suggested that there be a fifty-percent

cut in strategic weapons for the next five years.16

Then, Reagan proposed that they destroy all ballistic missiles for the next ten years

and Gorbachev responded by suggesting they abolish all nuclear missiles. Reagan agreed

but then Gorbachev made it clear the any further research of SDI (Strategic Defense

Initiative) should only be done in the laboratory. Reagan then said that this restriction

would "kill" SDI. When Gorbachev refused to move his position, Reagan left. Reagan was

forced to choose between "Star Wars" and a deal that would end Soviet nuclear threat

through disarmament, Reagan's basic partialism and distrust of Russia won.17

In February, Gorbachev offered to separate the European intermediate range

missile issue from strategic and space weapons issues and said that he supported the long


standing United States proposal to remove all Soviet and United States intermediate range

missiles from Europe. Reagan responded positively to Gorbachev's speech and he resumed

talks with Gorbachev .18

The modern world has become much too small and fragile for

wars and policy of force. It cannot be saved and preserved if

the thinking and actions built up over the centuries on the

acceptability and permissibility of wars and armed conflicts

are not shed after all...[If the arms race continues] The

situation in the world may assume such a character that

it will no longer depend on the intelligence or will of

political leaders. It may become captive to technology,

to technocratic logic. 19

Mikhail Gorbachev

Reagan agreed with Gorbachev and the United States signed a nuclear arms treaty

eliminating all the intermediate-range missiles stationed in Europe. This was the first ever

agreement that eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons. American officials were sent

to Russia to make sure that any violations were detected.20

In his speech to the United Nations on December 8, 1988, Gorbachev announced

the withdrawal of fifty-thousand Soviet troops in Eastern Europe. The withdrawn forces

were tanks and units with bridging equipment. The West conceded that the Eastern

section had stronger non-nuclear forces and that to move toward equilibrium in Europe

required deeper reductions on the Eastern side than the Western side.21

The Soviet Communist Party agreed to let Poland have a democratic election on

June 5 1989. In the elections, Solidarity (a labor union) won a landslide victory. Despite


Solidarity's win Communists still regained control of the Parliament. The reason was that

election rules guaranteed it a majority of seats. However Solidarity won almost all the

seats it was allowed to compete for. This Polish election that allowed the opposition to

share power with the Communist Party was a major part of the historic movement for

political reform in the Soviet Union.22

On November 11, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. This marked the end of the

cold war. East Germany has announced that all border restrictions were lifted. President

Bush wanted to "seize every chance" to promote democracy in Eastern Europe Secretary

of State James Baker called the lifting of the German travel restrictions "the most dramatic

event in East-West relations" since World War II.23

George Bush had comments on the Berlin Wall also. He went to Mainz, Germany

where he said a few words.

For 40 years, the seeds of democracy in Eastern Europe lay dormant,

buried under the frozen tundra of the Cold War. And for 40 years the

world has waited for the Cold War to end. And decade after decade,

time after time, the flowering human spirit withered from the chill of conflict

and oppression. And again the world waited. But the passion for freedom

cannot be denied forever. The world has waited long enough. The time is

right. Let Europe be whole and free. 24

George Bush

The United States of America played a huge role in the ending of the cold war.

Though we made relations worse, we also helped end it. Reagan's "Star Wars" policies

made Russians very nervous.


1 Walter Lippman, The Cold War: A Study in U.S. Foreign Policy (New York:

Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1947) 48-52.

2 Charles S. Maier, ed., The Cold War in Europe: Era of a divided Continent (New

York: Markus Wiener Publishing, Inc., 1991) 27.

3 Ralph B. Levering, The Cold War (Illinois: Harlan Davidson, INC.,1988) 169.

4 Levering, 169

5 Levering, 169

6 John Young, Cold War Europe 1945-1989 (New York: Edward Allen, 1991)


7 Levering, 171-2

8 Levering 173

9 "The End of the Cold War" 2 Feb.



11 Young, 28

12 Young, 28

13 Tom Morganthou, "Reagan's cold war 'sting'?", Newsweek 32 August 1993: 32

14 Levering, 180

15"Ending the Cold War", Foreign Affairs Spring 1988: 24-25

16 Young, 28

17 Young, 29

18 Young, 29

19 Levering, 187-188

20"Ending the Cold War", 27

21 "Ending the Cold War", 28

22Brinkley, Alan An Uneasy Peace 1988-, Vol. 10 of 20th Century

America, 10 vols. (New York: Grolier 1995):22

23Brinkley, 30

24"George Bush addresses Europe" 13

March 1997.

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