Cold War (1985–91)
The Cold War period of 1985–1991 began with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev as leader of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was a revolutionary leader for the USSR, as he was the first to promote liberalization of the political landscape (Glasnost) and capitalist elements into the economy (Perestroika); prior to this, the USSR had been strictly prohibiting liberal reform and maintained an inefficient centralized economy. The USSR, facing massive economic difficulties, was also greatly interested in reducing the costly arms race with the U.S. President Ronald Reagan, although peaceful confrontation and arms buildups throughout much of his term prevented the USSR from cutting back its military spending as much as it might have liked. Regardless, the USSR began to crumble as liberal reforms proved difficult to handle and capitalist changes to the centralized economy were badly transitioned and caused major problems. After a series of revolutions in Soviet Bloc states, and a failed coup by conservative elements opposed to the ongoing reforms, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Thaw in relations
After the deaths of three successive elderly Soviet leaders since 1982, the Soviet Politburo elected Gorbachev Communist Party General Secretary in March 1985, marking the rise of a new generation of leadership. Under Gorbachev, relatively young reform-oriented technocrats, who had begun their careers in the heyday of "de-Stalinization" under reformist leader Nikita Khrushchev, rapidly consolidated power, providing new momentum for political and economic liberalization, and the impetus for cultivating warmer relations and trade with the West.
On the Western front, President Reagan's administration had taken a hard line against the Soviet Union. Under the Reagan Doctrine, the Reagan administration began providing military support to anti-communist armed movements in Afghanistan, Angola, Nicaragua and elsewhere.
The Reagan administration also persuaded the Saudi Arabian oil companies to increase oil production. This led to a three-times drop in the prices of oil, and oil was the main source of Soviet export revenues. Following the USSR's previous large military buildup, President Reagan ordered an enormous peacetime defense buildup of the United States Military; the Soviets did not respond to this by building up their military because the military expenses, in combination with collectivized agriculture in the nation, and inefficient planned manufacturing, would cause a heavy burden for the Soviet economy. It was already stagnant and in a poor state prior to the tenure of Mikhail Gorbachev who, despite significant attempts at reform, was unable to revitalise the economy. In 1985, Reagan and Gorbachev held their first of four "summit" meetings, this one in Geneva, Switzerland. After discussing policy, facts, etc., Reagan invited Gorbachev to go with him to a small house near the beach. The two leaders spoke in that house well over their time limit, but came out with the news that they had planned two more (soon three more) summits.
The second summit took place the following year, in 1986 on October 11, in Reykjavík, Iceland. The meeting was held to pursue discussions about scaling back their intermediate-range ballistic missile arsenals in Europe. The talks came close to achieving an overall breakthrough on nuclear arms control, but ended in failure due to Reagan's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative and Gorbachev's proposed cancellation of it. Nonetheless, cooperation continued to increase and, where it failed, Gorbachev reduced some strategic arms unilaterally.
Fundamental to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Gorbachev policy initiatives of Restructuring (Perestroika) and Openness (Glasnost) had ripple effects throughout the Soviet world, including eventually making it impossible to reassert central control over Warsaw Pact member states without resorting to military force.
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union, Central and South-East Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate; Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
While the aging communist European leaders kept their states in the grip of "normalization", Gorbachev's reformist policies in the Soviet Union exposed how a once revolutionary Communist Party had become moribund at the very center of the system. The growing public disapproval of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the socio-political effects of the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine increased public support for these policies. By the spring of 1989, the USSR had not only experienced lively media debate, but had also held its first multi-candidate elections. For the first time in recent history, the force of liberalization was spreading from West to East.
Revolt spreads through Communist Europe
Grassroots organizations, such as Poland's Solidarity movement, rapidly gained ground with strong popular bases. In February 1989 the Polish government opened talks with opposition, known as the Polish Round Table Agreement, which allowed elections with participation of anti-Communist parties in June 1989. Also in 1989 the Communist government in Hungary started to negotiate organizing of competitive elections which took place in 1990. In Czechoslovakia and East Germany, mass protests unseated entrenched Communist leaders. The Communist regimes in Bulgaria and Romania also crumbled, in the latter case as the result of a violent uprising. Attitudes had changed enough that US Secretary of State James Baker suggested that the American government would not be opposed to Soviet intervention in Romania, on behalf of the opposition, to prevent bloodshed. The tidal wave of change culminated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, which symbolized the collapse of European Communist governments and graphically ended the Iron Curtain divide of Europe.
The collapse of the European governments with Gorbachev's tacit consent inadvertently encouraged several Soviet republics to seek greater independence from Moscow's rule. Agitation for independence in the Baltic states led to first Lithuania, and then Estonia and Latvia, declaring their independence. Disaffection in the other republics was met by promises of greater decentralization. More open elections led to the election of candidates opposed to Communist Party rule.
In an attempt to halt the rapid changes to the system, a group of Soviet hard-liners represented by Vice-President Gennady Yanayev launched a coup overthrowing Gorbachev in August 1991. Russian President Boris Yeltsin rallied the people and much of the army against the coup and the effort collapsed. Although restored to power, Gorbachev's authority had been irreparably undermined. In September, the Baltic states were granted independence. On December 1, Ukraine withdrew from the USSR. On December 26, 1991 the USSR officially dissolved, breaking up into fifteen separate nations.
There is a fundamental difference in which former communist countries managed during the first quarter of the century after the collapse of the Soviet empire. The countries like Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia, at the expense of their social policies, experienced reconstruction of the economies, growth and fast integration with EU and NATO while their eastern neighbors usually created hybrids of free market oligarchy system, post-communist corrupted administration and dictatorship. The territory behind the EU and NATO borders gradually to a greater or lesser extent came back to the economic and military dependency on Russia.
Russia and the other Soviet successor states have faced a chaotic and harsh transition from a command economy to free market capitalism following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A large percentage of the population currently lives in poverty. GDP growth also declined, and life expectancy dropped sharply. Living conditions also declined in some other parts of the former 'Eastern bloc'.
In addition, the poverty and desperation of the Russians, Ukrainians and allies of post–Cold War have led to the sale of many advanced Cold War-developed weapons systems, especially very capable modern upgraded versions, around the globe. World-class tanks (T-80/T-84), jet fighters (MiG-29 and Su-27/30/33), surface-to-air missile systems (S-300P, S-300V, 9K332 and Igla) and others have been placed on the market in order to obtain some much-needed cash. This poses a possible problem for western powers in coming decades as they increasingly find hostile countries equipped with weapons which were designed by the Soviets to defeat them. The post–Cold War era saw a period of unprecedented prosperity in the West, especially in the United States, and a wave of democratization throughout Latin America, Africa, and Central, South-East and Eastern Europe.
Sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein expresses a less triumphalist view, arguing that the end of the Cold War is a prelude to the breakdown of Pax Americana. In his essay "Pax Americana is Over," Wallerstein argues, "The collapse of communism in effect signified the collapse of liberalism, removing the only ideological justification behind US hegemony, a justification tacitly supported by liberalism's ostensible ideological opponent."
Some historians, including Professor of history John Lewis Gaddis argues that Reagan combined a policy of militancy and operational pragmatism to bring about the most significant improvement in Soviet-American relations since the end of World War II. This bloc, known as the 'Reagan Victory School' constitute a different historiographical perspective to the end of the Cold War.
The space exploration has petered out in both the United States and Russia without the competitive pressure of the space race. Military decorations have become more common, as they were created, and bestowed, by the major powers during the near 50 years of undeclared hostilities.
Territorial gains and losses
Nations that gained territory after the Cold War
Nations that lost territory after the Cold War
- Russia (as the successor state of Soviet Union)
- Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (as the successor state of Socialist Yugoslavia)
- Ethiopia (at the end of Eritrean War of Independence)
- South Africa (with the transference of Walvis Bay to Namibia at the end of the Apartheid regime)
Timeline of main events
- January 20, 1985 – Ronald Reagan is sworn in for a second term as President of the United States
- March 10, 1985 – General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Konstantin Chernenko dies
- March 11, 1985 – Soviet Politburo member Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the General Secretary of the Communist Party
- March 24, 1985 – Major Arthur D. Nicholson, a US Army Military Intelligence officer is shot to death by a Soviet sentry in West Germany. He is listed as the last US casualty in the Cold War.
- February 25, 1986 – Anti-communist dictator Ferdinand Marcos is ousted from power as a result in the People Power Revolution in the Philippines.
- January 1987 – Gorbachev introduces the policy of demokratizatsiya in the Soviet Union
- March 4, 1987 – In a televised address, Reagan takes full responsibility for the Iran-Contra Affair
- June 12, 1987 – "Tear down this wall" speech by Reagan in West Berlin
- December 8, 1987 – The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is signed in Washington, D.C.
- February 12, 1988 – Hostile rendezvous off coast of Crimea in Black Sea when the Soviet frigate Bezzavetnyy rammed the American missile cruiser USS Yorktown
- February 20, 1988 – The regional soviet of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan decides to be part of Armenia, but the Kremlin refuses to do it. The following Nagorno-Karabakh War would be the first of the internal conflicts in the Soviet Union that would become the post-Soviet separatist conflicts
- August 8, 1988 – 8888 Uprising in Burma
- August 17, 1988 – Pakistani president Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq dies
- August 20, 1988 – End of Iran–Iraq War
- September 17, 1988 – Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea; first time since 1976 that both Soviet Union and the United States participate
- October 5, 1988 – Chilean president Augusto Pinochet is defeated in a nationwide referendum
- January 20, 1989 – George H. W. Bush becomes president of the United States
- February 1989 – End of Soviet war in Afghanistan
- June 3, 1989 – Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini dies
- June 4, 1989 – Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in Beijing, People's Republic of China
- June 4, 1989 – Solidarity's decisive victory in the first partially free parliamentary elections in post-war Poland sparks off a succession of anti-communist Revolutions of 1989 across Central, later South-East and Eastern Europe
- August 14, 1989 – South African president Pieter Willem Botha resigns in reaction to the implementation of Tripartite Accord
- August 23, 1989 – Soviet Politburo member Alexander Yakovlev denounces the secret protocols of the Hitler-Stalin Pact
- August 24, 1989 – Tadeusz Mazowiecki becomes the Prime Minister of Poland forming the first non-communist government in the Communist bloc
- November 9, 1989 – Fall of the Berlin Wall
- December 2–3, 1989 – Malta Summit between Bush and Gorbachev, who said, "I assured the President of the United States that I will never start a hot war against the USA."
- December 25, 1989 – Execution of Nicolae Ceauşescu
- December 29, 1989 – Václav Havel assumes the presidency of Czechoslovakia at the conclusion of Velvet Revolution
- January 13, 1990 – End of Stasi, the secret police of East Germany
- March 15, 1990 – Inauguration of Gorbachev as the first President of the Soviet Union
- April 25, 1990 – Violeta Chamorro is sworn in as president of Nicaragua, ending the Sandinista rule and the Contras insurgency
- May 22, 1990 – South and North Yemens are unified
- July 13, 1990 – The 28th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union announces the end of its monopoly of power
- August 2, 1990 – Beginning of Gulf War
- September 12, 1990 – The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany is signed in Moscow
- October 3, 1990 – Official reunification of Germany
- November 6, 1990 – Hungary become the first Soviet Bloc country to join the Council of Europe
- November 19, 1990 – NATO and Warsaw Pact sign the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe
- November 28, 1990 – Margaret Thatcher falls from power as UK Prime Minister; John Major takes office
- December 22, 1990 – Lech Wałęsa becomes president of Poland; Polish government-in-exile ends
- January 1991 – Money transfers from the Czech budget to Slovakia are stopped, beginning the process that would lead to Velvet Divorce
- February 28, 1991 – End of Gulf War
- May 29, 1991 – End of Eritrean War of Independence in Ethiopia
- June 27, 1991 – Beginning of the Yugoslav Wars in Slovenia
- June 28, 1991 – The last Comecon council session take place in Budapest; the organization decides to dissolve itself
- July 1, 1991 – End of the Warsaw Pact
- July 10, 1991 – Boris Yeltsin becomes president of Russia
- July 31, 1991 – Ratification of START I treaty between United States and the Soviet Union
- August 19, 1991 – Beginning of the Soviet Union coup d'état attempt
- August 21, 1991 – End of the Soviet Union coup d'état attempt
- August 24, 1991 – Gorbachev resigns from the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
- September 6, 1991 – The Soviet Union recognizes the independence of the Baltic States
- November 6, 1991 – End of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet KGB
- December 8, 1991 – The Belavezha Accords are signed by the leaders of Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, sealing the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of CIS
- December 25, 1991 – Gorbachev resigns as Soviet President and the post is abolished; the red Soviet flag is lowered from the Moscow Kremlin, and in its place the flag of the Russian Federation is raised.
- December 26, 1991 – The Supreme Soviet recognizes the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
- December 31, 1991 – All Soviet Institutions cease operation.
- History of the Soviet Union (1982–1991)
- History of the United States (1980–1991)
- Reagan Doctrine
- Timeline of events in the Cold War
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- Gaddis, John Lewis. The United States and the End of the Cold War: Implications, Reconsiderations, Provocations (1992)
- Gaddis, John Lewis. Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War (1987)
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- Cold War International History Project: The End of the Cold War
- Cold War Files: The End of the Cold War
- Jeffrey W. Knopf "Did Reagan Win the Cold War?"
- Cold War Air Museum: Aircraft from this period of the Cold War