End of the Cold War

views updated

End of the Cold War

O n December 25, 1991, U.S. president George Bush (1924–; served 1989–1993) proclaimed the end of the Cold War, calling the occasion a "victory for democracy and freedom." Bush credited Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) for his "intellect, vision, and courage" in ending the rivalry and seeking much-needed economic and political reforms as the Soviet Union's empire dwindled. Gorbachev had attempted to reform the Communist Party and create a limited democracy in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but his efforts caused a much more dramatic change: the collapse of communism. Communism is a system of government in which a single party, the Communist Party, controls almost all aspects of society. In a communist economy, private ownership of property and businesses is not allowed. Instead, the government controls business and production so that goods produced and wealth accumulated can be shared equally by all.

The struggling Soviet economy

U.S. president Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89) was inaugurated for his second term of office in January 1985. Soon after, on March 10, Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko (1911–1985) died. The Soviet leadership had changed hands a number of times during the previous three years. A series of aging leaders—Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982), Yuri Andropov (1914–1984), and Chernenko—had all died in office. These leaders all represented old-guard, or conservative, communism. The Communist Party had grown out of touch with Soviet society. Under old-style communism, the Soviet Union was sliding into economic stagnation. Industries were in desperate need of modernization.

Brezhnev suffered from increasing senility, a loss of mental faculties due to old age, the last few years of his rule. The next two leaders, Andropov and Chernenko, were both in ill health and only held the Soviet leadership position for about one year each. Without dynamic leadership, major Soviet social problems—such as increasing worker absenteeism, alcoholism, and infant mortality rates—went unaddressed and led to low public morale and rising discontent. Unsympathetic in regard to these issues, the Communist Party continued to silence critics within Soviet society, even as their numbers grew. For example, award-winning novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–) was deported, or legally expelled from the country, and nuclear physicist Andrey Sakharov (1921–1989) was placed in exile in an isolated region of the Soviet Union, each for criticizing the government.

The aging Soviet leaders continued to emphasize expansion of Soviet influence in far-flung areas of the world. Maintaining the Soviet empire, which consisted of Eastern Europe and many Third World countries, was expensive; many of these countries heavily relied on the Soviets for economic aid. (The term Third World refers to poor underdeveloped or developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Economies in Third World countries are primarily based on agriculture, with few other industries.) Besides their large foreign economic assistance budget, the Soviets had a very large budget for nuclear weapons development because they wanted to keep up with the United States in the arms race. These major expenses, combined with little economic growth, caused a rapid decline in the Soviet economy. Continual shortages of raw materials and supplies, caused by wasteful manufacturing processes, led to very low industrial productivity.

With the decline in so many areas, public acceptance of communist rule among Soviet and Eastern European citizens was at a new low. One result was increased ethnic tensions

within the ethnically diverse Soviet Union, which had included one hundred nationalities when it was formed.

A major obstacle to economic growth was the Soviets' inability to keep pace with the Western world in developing computer technology. High technology was proving to be the basis for substantial economic expansion in other advanced industrial countries, such as the United States, West Germany, and Japan. Such technological innovation could not flourish under communist rule. The Eastern European nations and the Soviet Union were becoming more detached from the newly forming global economy. They continued to rely on arms sales and exports of oil and natural gas to sustain their economies.

A new Soviet vision

Following Chernenko's death in March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed Soviet leadership. At fifty-four years of age, Gorbachev was much younger than the previous three leaders, and unlike the others, he was college-educated and personally dynamic. Outgoing, intelligent, and articulate, Gorbachev presented a new kind of Soviet leadership. However, he faced a difficult task, because the Soviet Union needed extensive reforms, or widespread changes. In May 1985, Gorbachev appointed Eduard Shevardnadze (1928–) as foreign minister. Shevardnadze replaced Andrey Gromyko (1909–1989), another aging member of the Soviet Communist Party. Gromyko had been Soviet foreign minister since 1957, when Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) was the Soviet leader. Shevardnadze would play a crucial role in promoting Soviet reform by improving international relations and reducing military competition—in other words, by ending the Cold War. His goal was to reduce Soviet military spending so Gorbachev could direct more funds to critical domestic needs.

Gorbachev adopted a plan for economic reform, called perestroika, and a plan for greater freedom of expression, called glasnost. Because it allowed people to speak up in favor of his reforms, glasnost would help Gorbachev over-come hard-line communist opposition to perestroika. However, the new policy allowing freer speech also extended to Gorbachev's opponents. Glasnost also pardoned past offenses against the old-style communist regime. For example, Andrey Sakharov, an exiled scientist, was allowed to return from exile. As part of perestroika, Gorbachev reduced military spending and cut back economic aid to Third World countries, including Nicaragua, Cambodia, Angola, and Ethiopia. He also began withdrawing Soviet forces from Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union had already suffered over thirty thousand casualties. Gorbachev even proposed to end the arms race and renew talks with the United States, with the hope of receiving much-needed technological assistance.

Gorbachev accepted that communism was the basic cause for falling Soviet productivity and lack of economic growth. But he did not want to end communist rule; instead he wanted to redefine communism. This meant pushing the Soviet economy toward capitalism. (Capitalism is an economic system in which property is privately owned. Production, distribution, and prices of goods are determined by competition in an open market that operates with relatively little government intervention.) Shifting to capitalism meant selling state-owned properties and businesses, eliminating some government control of prices, and becoming more active in the world market with a new currency, or money.

Making peace

In trying to end the Cold War, Gorbachev began to distance himself from previous Soviet leaders by denouncing their communist policies. However, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher (1925–) was the only Western leader who was initially receptive. President Reagan was at first suspicious of Gorbachev's intentions. But with strong encouragement from Secretary of State George Shultz (1920–), Reagan began to listen more to Gorbachev's offers of arms reduction and trade. While pursuing a hard-line anticommunist approach in his first four-year term of office (1981–85), Reagan did not meet with any Soviet leader. However, Reagan and Gorbachev would meet on at least four occasions between 1985 and 1988 to resolve differences between the two superpowers.

The first meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev took place in Geneva, Switzerland, in November 1985. It primarily served to build a personal relationship between the two leaders, and they agreed to continue talks. The next meeting was in October 1986 in Reykjavík, Iceland. To the Americans' surprise, Gorbachev brought a sweeping, detailed plan for arms reductions, a Soviet response to the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) proposed by President Reagan in the early 1980s. Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program, however, continued to be a major obstacle to these early talks. The SDI was a system of missiles, rockets, and a protective shield of laser-aimed satellites in space that would destroy enemy missiles fired toward U.S. targets. Reagan created

another obstacle in 1986, when he decided to quit conforming to the informal Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) and begin arming B-52 bombers with cruise missiles. Nonetheless, Reagan and Gorbachev discovered some common goals at Reykjavík. These goals included a desire to eliminate all intermediate-range missiles from Europe, eliminate all ballistic missiles in a ten-year period, and make other major reductions involving bombers and tactical weapons.

When the two leaders left Iceland, they each went home to figure out how to achieve these goals.

Four months later, in February 1987, Gorbachev dropped his demands for Reagan to abandon SDI. That cleared the way for eliminating all intermediate-range nuclear force (INF) missiles in Europe. These included the controversial Pershing and cruise missiles in Western Europe and the Soviets' SS-20s in Eastern Europe. Reagan and Gorbachev signed the INF treaty on December 8, 1987, in Washington, D.C., at their third meeting.

The INF treaty was truly historic. For the first time, the two rivals not only agreed to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in existence but to eliminate certain types altogether. Under INF, the United States would destroy approximately 850 missiles and the Soviet Union almost 1,800 missiles. In total, the United States would dismantle almost one thousand warheads and the Soviet Union over three thousand. The U.S. Senate approved the treaty on May 29, 1988. In another startling development, Soviet foreign minister Shevardnadze declared on July 25, 1988, that both the arms race with the United States and the invasion of Afghanistan were mistakes.

For the fourth meeting, Reagan traveled to Moscow in June 1988, after Senate approval of the INF treaty, to show support for Gorbachev's reforms. He was the first U.S. president to visit Moscow since Richard Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) went there in 1972. While visiting, Reagan gave a speech in front of the tomb of Communist Party founder Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), a striking image that indicated the Cold War was at an end. The two leaders discussed many topics, from religious freedom in the Soviet Union to civil strife in Latin America.

Gorbachev proposed that the next step in arms reduction was to decrease conventional forces deployed, or strategically spread, in Europe. The negotiations to achieve this reduction, called the Conventional Forces (CFE) in Europe, included twenty-three North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact countries. Established in 1949, NATO is a military defense alliance of Western European nations and the United States and Canada. The Warsaw Pact was an alliance of Eastern European nations under Soviet influence, including East Germany. It was created in 1955 for the mutual defense of its members.

In December 1988, Gorbachev traveled to New York City to meet with Reagan and President-elect George Bush and to speak before the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. Gorbachev gave a dramatic speech to the UN, promoting democracy and individual liberty. To get momentum going on CFE, on December 7, 1988, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union on its own would reduce 10 percent of the Soviet forces in general, or about five hundred thousand troops and ten thousand tanks, including those in East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Reagan pressured Gorbachev to do more: While visiting West Berlin earlier in the year, Reagan had challenged Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, withdraw all Soviet forces from Eastern Europe, withdraw all remaining support for the largely communist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, and complete the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. In his UN speech, Gorbachev responded by announcing that all Soviet troops would be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan by February 1989.

In July 1986, while seeking to improve relations with the West, Gorbachev had also begun efforts to improve relations elsewhere. He had proposed talks to settle a longstanding border dispute with the People's Republic of China (PRC) and reduce Soviet troops stationed in Mongolia along the lengthy border between the PRC and the Soviet Union. In May 1989, Gorbachev visited the PRC, the first Soviet leader to do so since Nikita Khrushchev. Gorbachev also restored diplomatic relations with Israel and Egypt.

A cautious new president

George Bush, Reagan's vice president from 1981 to 1989, was inaugurated as president on January 20, 1989. Though the Cold War was clearly winding down, Bush had taken a hard-line stance against Gorbachev during the 1988U.S. presidential campaign. Bush was reluctant to bargain with the Soviets; he believed Reagan had gone too far too fast in his discussions with the Soviet leader. Bush's secretary of defense, Richard Cheney (1941–), predicted in April 1989 that Gorbachev's reforms would fail and the Soviet Union would revert to hard-line communist policies. Meanwhile, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger (1923–) and former president Reagan worried that the Bush administration was missing key opportunities to create major world change. George Kennan (1904–), a longtime U.S. Cold War advisor, testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Soviets were no longer a military threat. In Western Europe, French president François Mitterrand (1916–1996) and West German chancellor Helmut Kohl (1930–) also pressured Bush to be more supportive of Gorbachev.

To follow up on the progress he had made with Reagan, Gorbachev asked Bush to discuss further nuclear arms control measures. Gorbachev wanted to tackle the issue of short-range nuclear force (SNF) weapons still stationed in Europe. Bush rejected the proposal to remove them because it would leave NATO without any nuclear deterrents. Gorbachev responded by making cuts in Soviet SNFs without U.S. participation. This brought Bush under increasing pressure from Western allies to do the same. By late May 1989, Bush responded with a plan that focused on reductions in conventional forces stationed in both the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. Though his plan did not address SNFs, the European countries eagerly accepted it.

Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) resumed in mid-1989, and in early December 1989 Bush and Gorbachev traveled to the European nation of Malta for a summit meeting. On his way to the meeting, Gorbachev stopped in the Vatican City and made a historic visit to the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II (1920–), a major foe of communism, and promised religious freedoms for Soviet citizens. The Malta meetings covered a wide range of topics, from nuclear arms control to trade relations to Third World conflicts. Many historians consider the Malta meetings as marking the end of the Cold War. Both Gorbachev and Bush came away from the meetings with an understanding that they were no longer enemies.

The fall of communism in Eastern Europe

President Bush began more actively supporting Gorbachev's reform efforts when fears arose that stalled reform might create impatience, turn into rapid revolt in the Soviet empire, and lead to severe political instability in Europe and elsewhere. Nonetheless, change did come quickly in Eastern Europe, in a sort of reverse "domino effect," as reforms rippled from one country to the next. By the end of 1989, communism was out in Eastern Europe. Gorbachev and people all around the world were stunned by the rapidity of these major events.

Change first came in Poland. In early 1989, as part of perestroika, Polish leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski (1923–) invited Solidarity, the popular workers' union, to become part of a coalition, or combination, government still to be led by the Communist Party. Solidarity accepted the offer. General elections for the Polish parliament were set for June. The communists were stunned when Solidarity's candidates won 160 of the 161 seats up for election in the lower house of the Polish parliament and 99 out of 100 in the upper house. Given the overwhelming victory, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa (1943–) excluded communists from the new government and named Tadeusz Mazowiecki (1927–) as the new Polish prime minister. Mazowiecki became the first noncommunist government leader in Eastern Europe since the Czech democratic government was overthrown in 1948 (see Chapter 2, Conflict Builds). Walesa himself was elected the new president of Poland in 1990. Rather than sending in Soviet forces to restore the Communist Party to power as past Soviet leaders would have done, Gorbachev encouraged the Polish Communist Party to support the new government. Gorbachev realized that the use of force would likely trigger riots and jeopardize the Soviet Union's chances of getting much-needed economic aid from the West. The Brezhnev Doctrine, which declared the Soviet Union's right to intervene in the affairs of other nations in order to support communism, had lost its force. Eastern European nations were now free to pursue their own course of reform.

Poland was a model quickly followed by other Eastern European countries, at a far faster pace than Gorbachev ever envisioned. Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania would all undergo rapid governmental changes. Gorbachev and other communist leaders greatly underestimated the popular disdain for communist rule. Rather than reforming communism, perestroika was leading to a complete communist collapse.

In February 1989, the Hungarian parliament dropped prohibitions against noncommunist political organizations. In March, Hungary became the first Eastern-bloc country to open its borders to Western Europe by opening border crossings to Austria. Sixty thousand East Germans flooded into Hungary, most intending to cross into Austria and continue on to West Germany. In April, János Kádár (1912–1989), who had gained power in a bloody communist revolution in 1956, was removed by the Communist Party. Communist leaders more supportive of perestroika were installed. Free elections in Hungary were held in 1990. The Communist Party, renamed the Socialist Party, received less than 10 percent of the vote. A noncommunist government took over.

On October 7, 1989, Gorbachev visited East German leader Erich Honecker (1912–1994) to promote reform in East

Germany. East Germans cheered for Gorbachev as they demonstrated against their strict communist government. On October 18, the East German Communist Party replaced Honecker and opened East German borders to West Germany. Thousands poured into West Germany. The most dramatic moment came on November 9, when the East German government opened the Berlin Wall. Hundreds of thousands of East Germans jubilantly streamed into West Berlin (see Chapter 3, Germany and Berlin). On that same day, Bulgarian Communist Party leader Todor Zhivkov (1911–1998), who had led Bulgaria since 1961, was removed. Demonstrations in East Germany steadily increased; the people were demanding free elections. The communist leaders finally promised elections for March 1990. Like the communist candidates in Poland and Hungary, the East German communists suffered an overwhelming defeat, and a noncommunist coalition government was installed.

Similar events unfolded in Czechoslovakia. On November 17, 1989, a massive demonstration took place in Prague, the capital city; Czechoslovakians gathered in the city's main square and demanded greater freedoms. Two days later, two hundred thousand protesters demanded free elections and the resignation of hard-line communist leaders. Milos Jakes (1922–) resigned from his leadership position five days later. After millions of Czech workers went on strike on November 28, the Czech government gave in and legalized noncommunist political parties. A new cabinet, or group of top advisors, led by noncommunists, was formed on December 10 as part of an interim government; a noncommunist president was installed on December 29, 1989. Free elections held in June 1990 brought victory by large margins for the noncommunists. Noted author and human rights activist Václav Havel (1936–) became the new Czech president and would serve in that role until early 2003. As in Poland, communists were not elected to any government positions.

Communism came to a violent end in Romania. In December 1989, Romanian communist authorities sought to evict from his church a priest who was a dissident, an individual who disagrees with the ideas of those in power. Thousands of demonstrators protested the government's decision. In response, Romanian security forces killed hundreds of the protesters, triggering even larger demonstrations. The highly unpopular Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu (1918–1989) began losing control of the military; the soldiers were starting to support the demonstrators instead of defending the government. On December 22, Ceausescu and his wife attempted to flee but were captured and executed on December 25.

Communism challenged in the Soviet Union

Shortly before the cascade of events in Eastern Europe, Gorbachev pressed for political reform in the Soviet Union. He revised the Soviet constitution in early 1989. The revisions established a new parliament called the Congress of People's Deputies. Elections were held in March 1989 to elect representatives from the various Soviet republics. As in Eastern Europe, old-guard communist candidates lost badly. Among the newly elected officials was Boris Yeltsin (1931–), who represented the Moscow district of the republic of Russia. Though a communist, Yeltsin was not a supporter of the old-guard, ultra-conservative Communist Party establishment. The elections immediately decreased the influence of the Communist Party, something Gorbachev had not anticipated.

The new Congress of People's Deputies now took precedence over the Communist Party. By February 1990, demonstrations against Communist Party domination were growing; hundreds of thousands of Russians in Moscow gathered to protest communist rule. Like some Soviet leaders before him, Gorbachev was both leader of the Communist Party and leader of the Soviet Union's government. This dual role put him in a very difficult position: Therefore, Gorbachev created a Soviet presidency that was separate from the Communist Party. Gorbachev moved into the president position which gave him more distance from his Communist Party association. He also legalized noncommunist political parties.

By mid-1990, it was clear Gorbachev's perestroika had failed to preserve communist control; neither had it revived the Soviet economy. Still, Gorbachev tried to keep the economic change somewhat in control. He feared too rapid of a shift to a free market economy, or economic conditions dictated by open competition, would cause a rapid rise in prices and in unemployment; this could cause even greater public unrest. He left many government price supports in place to keep prices from going up further. Nonetheless, with the collapse of the old communist-controlled economic system and no new system in place, the Soviet economy was headed for crisis. Productivity was declining, prices were escalating, and shortages were occurring more frequently. Meanwhile, Gorbachev was enjoying great popularity abroad; in 1990, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his reform efforts and Time magazine's "Man of the Year" award. Moscow was chosen as the location for a human rights conference for the following year. However, Gorbachev's popularity at home was plummeting.

Through 1989, Gorbachev had witnessed the loss of the Soviet empire—all the communist-controlled countries in Eastern Europe had ultimately rejected communism. And tensions were rising within the borders of the Soviet Union itself. In the Soviet republic of Estonia, citizens had attempted to declare independence in 1988. Though Gorbachev was willing to let Eastern European countries break free from Soviet control, he felt differently about the Soviet republics. An early indication of this came in April 1989 when Soviet troops killed nineteen demonstrators, including sixteen women, in the republic of Georgia. Gorbachev's resolve to keep the Soviet Union together was tested again in early 1990. On March 11, the parliament of the republic of Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union. Gorbachev sent Soviet troops, established an economic blockade, and threatened to disband the government.

By mid-1990, President Bush and his advisors were still debating how hard they should try to keep Gorbachev in power and maintain the Soviet system. A primary concern was the stockpile of nuclear weapons scattered about the Soviet Union. The various ethnic factions within the Soviet Union could start a civil war in their quest for independence, and the security of the weapons could be jeopardized. (The Baltic States—the Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—had been the most active in opposition to Soviet rule. These former independent nations had been forcibly brought into the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin [1879–1953] in the 1940s.) However, as nationalist independence movements within the Soviet Union began to grow, Bush found it harder to justify helping Gorbachev maintain the Soviet Union. In response to Gorbachev's military actions against Lithuania, Bush placed economic trade restrictions on the Soviet Union and warned Gorbachev against further use of force. Still seeking a most-favored-nation trade status with the United States, Gorbachev responded by lifting economic restrictions on Lithuania. (Most-favored-nation trade status lowers taxes on goods exported to the United States, making it much easier for a foreign country to sell goods to American consumers and businesses.) However, Bush still denied Gorbachev improved trade conditions, yet he granted the privilege to the PRC, even though PRC forces had massacred more than two hundred pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989. Gorbachev was angered by Bush's decision to limit economic aid to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but Bush had little choice in the matter: The United States was suffering an economic recession, or reduced economic activity, and the public was unlikely to support sending substantial aid to an inept Soviet government. The Soviet Union did not receive most-favored-nation trade status until 1992.

German reunification

Gorbachev traveled to Washington, D.C., for a summit meeting with Bush on May 31, 1990. A key topic was the reunification of Germany. Gorbachev was not pleased with the trend toward reunification since the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous November. Like Stalin and other former Soviet leaders, Gorbachev feared having a strong, unified Germany near the Soviet western border. Gorbachev proposed reunifying Europe instead—that is, dissolving the NATO and Warsaw Pact divisions—and keeping Germany divided into two nations. However, the major election defeat of communist candidates in East Germany in March 1990 made eventual reunification with the noncommunist West Germany a certainty. The new, noncommunist East German government immediately pressed for reunification with West Germany.

Conceding that reunification was inevitable, Gorbachev wanted guarantees that a reunified Germany would not become a member of NATO. However, Bush insisted that only Germany, reunified, could make that decision. At the Washington summit meeting, Bush did provide Gorbachev several other key assurances. He promised that (1) NATO forces would not be placed in the former East Germany; (2) Germany's borders would not be moved back to pre-World War II (1939–45) locations; (3) the former West Germany would not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons; (4) Germany would provide economic assistance to the Soviets; and (5) arms control talks concerning European conventional and nuclear forces would proceed.

The NATO member nations held a meeting in July 1990 to make additional assurances to Gorbachev. They offered formal relations with Warsaw Pact countries and pledged not to attack the Soviet Union or Eastern European countries. In response to Gorbachev's proposals to limit short-range nuclear force weapons (SNFs), NATO offered to eliminate nuclear artillery shells if the Soviets would agree to do the same. NATO also agreed to further reduce conventional forces. Given the various assurances from Bush and NATO, on July 14, 1990, Gorbachev agreed to accept a reunified Germany and accept its membership in NATO. In return, German chancellor Helmut Kohl promised substantial economic aid to Gorbachev. Gorbachev set a timetable of four years for withdrawal of all Soviet forces from the former East Germany. Also in July, the two German governments agreed to an economic merger. In August, the East German parliament voted to merge East Germany and West Germany on October 3, 1990.

A new Europe

The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe paved the way for major changes in the region. In yet another momentous event, the four allied powers of World War II (the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain) and the two German governments signed a peace treaty on September 12, 1990, bringing an official end to World War II. The emerging Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union in the late 1940s had blocked final negotiations at that time (see Chapter 1, Origins of the Cold War). The new treaty was called the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany.

A new European organization was formed and began taking quick action on several issues. The thirty-five member nations of NATO and the Warsaw Pact joined in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The CSCE signed a Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty on November 21, 1990, reducing conventional forces of both NATO and Warsaw Pact nations. However, the agreement allowed NATO nations to maintain larger military forces than the Warsaw Pact nations. The military rivalry of the Cold War was clearly over. The CFE Treaty reduced a broad range of weapons, including tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery,

combat aircraft, and combat helicopters. The CSCE also signed the Charter of Paris, which declared an end to the old Cold War split and proclaimed a new Europe. The charter declared support for democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, social justice, and economic liberty. These common values would give the nations of Europe a sense of shared security.

In another major change, the Warsaw Pact began dissolving during 1990. In June, Hungary became the first country to announce it would pull out by the end of 1991. Other countries soon followed, leading the Warsaw Pact to suddenly decide on February 25, 1991, that it would disband, effective in one month.

Gorbachev under fire

By late 1990, following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and growing tensions in the Soviet Union, Gorbachev was struggling to maintain his leadership position. On the one hand, he was trying to please the reformers led by Boris Yeltsin; they were pushing hard for a free market economy. On the other hand, he was also trying not to alarm the old-guard communists who were becoming very upset with the direction Gorbachev's reform efforts were going. Yeltsin kept pushing. He introduced a plan calling for the Soviet republics to become more independent and individually control their own economies, including taxation, natural resources, currencies, and trade.

Gorbachev could not support Yeltsin's plan because if he did, there would be no further need for a centralized economic structure—the very thing the Communist Party had always provided. Deciding to reassure his communist critics, Gorbachev backed off from his reforms and appointed communist hard-liners to several key government positions. In protest, Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze resigned on December 20, 1990. In January 1991, Gorbachev approved a plan to overthrow the new Lithuanian pro-independence government. While reeling back glasnost, he also reestablished restrictions on Soviet television and radio news programs. Gorbachev even attempted to remove Yeltsin as president of Russia. However, mass public demonstrations blocked Yeltsin's removal. The large size and angry mood of the demonstrations convinced Gorbachev that there was no way to turn back from reform.

Borrowing from Yeltsin's idea, Gorbachev now decided to salvage the Soviet Union by redefining it as a federation of republics. He proposed a new national cabinet elected by the republics and a more democratic Soviet Communist Party. However, Yeltsin continued to press for full democracy and capitalism. Gorbachev finally gave in to Yeltsin's pressure: In early July 1991, Gorbachev promoted privatizing (selling to private owners) most of the Soviet-owned industries. The nine Soviet Slavic and Muslim republics were allowed to develop their own economic reform plans.

An attempted Soviet coup

On July 17, 1991, at a London meeting of world leaders, Bush and Gorbachev finally came to an agreement on arms control. Bush traveled to Moscow two weeks later to sign the treaty with Gorbachev. The treaty required a reduction in the nuclear warheads already deployed by each country; each country was limited to six thousand.

Noting Gorbachev's renewed push for sweeping reforms and his participation in a substantial arms control agreement in July 1991, Soviet communist hard-liners decided to take action against Gorbachev. In late August, Gorbachev left for Crimea, on the Black Sea, for an annual vacation. While he was away, the hard-liners attempted a coup (short for coup d'état; an illegal or forceful change of government). On August 19, they placed Gorbachev under house arrest (confinement in one's home rather than prison) in his vacation home and publicly announced that he was being removed for health reasons. They then declared a six-month state of emergency to "restore law and order." However, the highly popular Yeltsin came to Gorbachev's rescue. On August 21, Yeltsin denounced the emergency government as illegal. Despite orders from the coup leaders, Soviet troops refused to arrest Yeltsin or the Russian parliament. Deciding their efforts were futile, the coup leaders gave up and were placed under arrest, except for one who committed suicide.

Ironically, the coup by the communist hard-liners led to the end of Communist Party rule in the Soviet Union. A rapid sequence of events followed the failed coup: On August 22, a weary Gorbachev returned to Moscow and reasserted control over the government to continue his reforms. However, the last credibility of the Communist Party had vanished with the failed coup. On August 23, Yeltsin suspended Communist Party activities in the Russian republic and seized its property. He also dismissed Russian ministers appointed by Gorbachev and appointed new ones. Other Soviet republics followed, banning the Communist Party in their regions. Seeing the dramatic change, Gorbachev resigned from the Communist Party and suspended further party participation in the Soviet government. Communism in the Soviet Union had essentially come to an end. On August 24, Yeltsin extended formal recognition of independence to the Baltic States—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The Ukraine declared independence on the same day. In September, Gorbachev extended Soviet recognition of independence to the three Baltic nations also; these were the first nations to leave the Soviet Union.

Throughout the coup attempt, President Bush was slow to respond. He did not condemn the attempted coup until Yeltsin begged him to. Then he chose not to join Yeltsin in recognizing the independence of the Baltic States, waiting for more nations, and Gorbachev in particular, to do so first. Bush expressed preference for the more cautious Gorbachev to Yeltsin. This led to criticism that he was supporting a communist leader over the leading Russian advocate for democratic reform.

Collapse of the Soviet Union

Through the fall of 1991, political developments in the Soviet Union were getting increasingly beyond Gorbachev's control. In reaction, Bush began making bolder moves by late September. With the ongoing decline of the Soviet Union, Bush feared that nuclear weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists or a remaining out-of-control hard-line communist. He announced that the United States would remove or destroy all tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe and Asia and on U.S. warships. He also suspended deployment of the MX missile system and ended the twenty-four-hour alert status of the Strategic Air Command, a unit established by the U.S. military with the goal of identifying targets in the Soviet Union and being ready to deliver nuclear weapons to those targets. Bush also proposed a plan to reduce ICBMs and other nuclear weapons. Gorbachev responded to Bush's actions with similar reductions of tactical nuclear weapons. The Baltic States and the twelve remaining Soviet republics formed an alliance for defense and control of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. By October, they had also formed a new economic union. In November, the U.S. Congress provided up to $400 million to assist the union in destroying its nuclear weapons.

In a last effort to salvage a political union, Gorbachev went to work creating a new transitional government, with himself and the presidents of the various republics as its leaders. However, acceptance of the new union depended on the approval of the Ukraine, the most populous former Soviet republic aside from Russia. In a public vote on December 1, the Ukraine voted for full independence rather than joining the new proposed government. The other former republics followed suit, voting for independence instead of Gorbachev's union. The Ukraine and Belarus (and later Kazakhstan) transferred their nuclear missiles to Russia, which took on a new official name, the Russian Federation.

After Gorbachev's failed attempt to create a new union of countries, Yeltsin moved to create a new alliance, called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Un-like the Soviet Union, it would not act as a formal government. Eleven of the former Soviet republics joined the CIS. Yeltsin also requested that NATO accept Russia as a new member, but he was turned down. On December 25, Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union and transferred the Soviet nuclear arsenal over to Yeltsin, president of Russia. The Soviet Union ceased existence on December 31,1991. All Soviet embassies around the world became Russian embassies, and Russia took over the Soviet seat in the United Nations. Even with the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia still had the largest conventional military force in the world.

The swift collapse of the Soviet empire stunned everyone worldwide, even foreign policy experts. The Cold War and the Soviet Union had lasted for so long that everyone had believed it would last at least decades more. Now it was replaced with a loose alliance of countries that had large conventional and nuclear forces and critical economic and political problems.

Almost single-handedly, Gorbachev had peacefully ended the Cold War. He had made major cuts in the size of the Soviet military, renounced past foreign policies of expanding Soviet influence, and encouraged basic economic reform. He pressured U.S. presidents Reagan and Bush into two arms control treaties, the INF Treaty and START. However, he had certainly not intended to end Communist Party rule in the Soviet Union or dismantle the Soviet Union itself.

Cold War costs

U.S. leaders claimed victory in the Cold War. However, the United States paid a heavy price in the long, four-decade struggle. First and foremost, tens of thousands of American troops were killed in Cold War–related conflicts, particularly in Korea and Vietnam. Careers were ruined from suspicion of communist involvement. Many U.S. citizens lived in continual fear and suspicion of communist infiltration or nuclear war. The country went to the brink of nuclear war at least once, during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and had threatened nuclear war on several other occasions.

Financial costs were also large. By the late 1980s, the United States had become a debtor nation. During the Cold War, the U.S. government was restructured with an emphasis on national security rather than domestic needs. The arms race and economic aid to friendly countries were expensive priorities, creating a debt of $4 trillion. The U.S. infrastructure of roads, bridges, and public buildings suffered from too little funding. Inner cities began to decay, slums spread, and unemployment and crime increased. With much of its budget dedicated to Cold War costs, the United States lost some of its lead in new technology development; Germany and Japan, countries that were unable to spend on their militaries because of the conditions of their surrender in World War II, made major technical gains. Considering both the human and financial costs the United States incurred, Gorbachev commented that the Soviet Union and the United States had both lost the Cold War.

Russian citizens suffered severe economic hardships, especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin moved to sell state-owned businesses and remove market and trade restrictions. However, the change to a free market economic system proved much more difficult than expected. The highly inefficient Russian businesses proved noncompetitive in world markets. With the economy suffering, the Russian parliament rebelled against Yeltsin's economic policies in 1993, but Yeltsin maintained control. He disbanded the parliament and created a new Russian constitution that gave him expanded powers.

Widespread economic hard-ships and frustrations with capitalism continued in Russia. Political support for the Communist Party increased as the Russian parliamentary elections approached in December 1995. The communists received the largest percentage of seats—22 percent—among the competing political parties. Despite disappointment with his economic programs, Yeltsin managed to win reelection in 1996 as Russian president over the challenge of Gorbachev. Continued financial problems led to increased bankruptcies among Russian businesses, and the country defaulted on, or was unable to pay back, foreign loans in 1998. Yeltsin's popularity finally began to decline, and on December 31, 1999, he resigned. Vladimir Putin (1953–), a former KGB (secret police) intelligence officer, replaced him as interim president and then secured the office in a public election in 2000. The country began experiencing some economic growth, but concerns rose over Putin's increased exercise of control in some troublesome regions and his new restrictions on media outlets.

Ethnic conflicts and world terrorism

Ironically, with the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, global politics became less stable. Historians even began referring to the Cold War as the "Long Peace." During the Cold War, the balance of power between the Soviet Union and the United States, including their mutual fear of nuclear war, ensured a certain stability. By the late 1980s, ethnic rivalries kept in check by the Soviet

rule burst forward. In Yugoslavia, the four republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia declared their independence, leading to a bloody war between ethnic groups through the 1990s.

Ethnic conflicts also occurred elsewhere, such as in Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Armenia. Chechnya, a member of the Russian Federation, declared independence in 1991. Unwilling to recognize Chechnya's independence, Russia sent troops into Chechnya in late 1994 to reclaim control. The Russians captured Chechnya's capital, Grozny, in 1995. However, in 1996, Chechen forces pushed the Russians out of Grozny, and a cease-fire resulted. After several bombings in Russia were attributed to Chechen rebels, Russia reasserted control over Chechnya and sent forces in once again. Guerrilla warfare followed.

Left as the lone superpower, the United States began serving as a peacekeeper in various violent internal conflicts around the world—in the African nation of Somalia, for example, in Haiti (part of the West Indies), and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. International terrorism also escalated through the 1980s, marked by the sabotage of a Pan Am 747 airliner in flight over Scotland in December 1988, which killed 270 people. Terrorists supported by Iran, Libya, and Syria had carried out the bombing in response to a U.S. ship mistakenly shooting down an Iranian airliner carrying more than one hundred civilians. The threat of terrorism became a major global concern in the 1990s. With the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, the United States assumed a leading role in fighting terrorism globally.

For More Information


Ash, Timothy G. The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague. New York: Random House, 1990.

Ashlund, Anders. Building Capitalism: The Transformation of the Former Soviet Bloc. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Ciment, James. The Young People's History of the United States. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1998.

Kaplan, Robert D. The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War. New York: Random House, 2000.

Kelly, Nigel. Fall of the Berlin Wall: The Cold War Ends. Chicago: Heineman Library, 2001.

Litwak, Robert S. Rogue States and U.S. Foreign Policy: Containment after the Cold War. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Mandelbaum, Michael. The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-First Century. New York: PublicAffairs, 2002.

Matlock, Jack F., Jr. Autopsy of an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union. New York: Random House, 1995.

Newhouse, John. Europe Adrift. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997.

Stokes, Gale. The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Web Sites

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu (accessed on August 13, 2003).

President Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. Website: http://www.mikhailgorbachev.org (accessed on August 13, 2003).

Words to Know

Capitalism: An economic system in which property and businesses are privately owned. Prices, production, and distribution of goods are determined by competition in a market relatively free of government intervention.

Cold War: A prolonged conflict for world dominance from 1945 to 1991 between the two superpowers, the democratic, capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. The weapons of conflict were commonly words of propaganda and threats.

Communism: A system of government in which the nation's leaders are selected by a single political party that controls all aspects of society. Private ownership of property is eliminated and government directs all economic production. The goods produced and accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all. All religious practices are banned.

Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE): Alliance of the thirty-five member nations of the former NATO and Warsaw Pact countries.

Glasnost: A plan for greater freedom of expression put into place by Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): A peacetime alliance of the United States and eleven other nations, and a key factor in the attempt to contain communism; the pact meant that the United States became the undisputed global military leader.

Perestroika: A plan for economic and governmental reform put into place by Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s.

Warsaw Pact: A mutual military alliance between the Soviet Union and the Eastern European nations under Soviet influence, including East Germany.

People to Know

George Bush (1924–): Forty-first U.S. president, 1989–93.

Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–): Soviet president, 1985–91.

Ronald Reagan (1911–): Fortieth U.S. president, 1981–89.

Eduard Shevardnadze (1928–): Soviet foreign minister, 1985–90.

Boris Yeltsin (1931–): Russian president, 1989–99.

New Allies

On the heels of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and while the Soviet Union was struggling for survival, the first major post–Cold War military conflict erupted. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and gained control of that nation. Fearing Iraqi control of larger amounts of Middle East oil, President George Bush condemned the invasion and vowed to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait. In the new post–Cold War world, the United States looked to the Soviets for assistance in responding to Iraq. Eager to receive U.S. aid, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev readily agreed to help. However, remaining Communist Party hard-liners sharply criticized Gorbachev for siding with the United States against Iraq, a longtime ally of the Soviets. In response to his critics, Gorbachev provided support through the United Nations (UN) rather than directly to the United States. The UN established embargoes, or trade restrictions, against Iraq. Soviet military leaders refused to provide the United States military assistance.

On August 6, Bush launched Operation Desert Shield, sending two hundred thousand U.S. troops to protect Saudi Arabia from any further Iraqi aggression. The American soldiers were stationed only seven hundred miles (1,126 kilometers) from the Soviet border, which caused uneasiness among the Soviet military. Unable to convince Iraq's ruler, Saddam Hussein (1937–), to withdraw from Kuwait, Gorbachev supported a November 29 UN resolution to use force to free Kuwait from Iraq occupation. Supported by the UN, the United States launched an air attack on January 17, 1991. That was followed by a ground invasion on February 23 known as Operation Desert Storm. In less than seventy-two hours, U.S. soldiers forced Iraqi troops out of Kuwait and southern Iraq. Iraq lost thousands of troops and tanks. Bush refrained from completely destroying Iraqi forces and capturing Iraq because he did not want to bring stronger Soviet criticism on Gorbachev or make Iraq vulnerable to a takeover by Iran.

Expensive Weapons

During the Cold War, nuclear military systems came with no clear price tag. However, estimates in 1998 revealed that the United States spent $2 trillion (in 1996 dollars) for nuclear technology during the Cold War years, from 1945 to 1991. Nuclear submarines took a good part of that total, costing over $320 billion.

Where Are They in 2003?

Nuclear weapons development and buildup was a major feature of the Cold War. Though the Cold War ended, nuclear weapons had come to stay. By early 2003, seven nations were known to have nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, Pakistan, India, and the People's Republic of China. Israel was on the verge of having nuclear weapons. South Africa had nuclear weapons but claimed to have destroyed them. Three former republics of the Soviet Union—the Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan—had nuclear weapons but had either destroyed them or turned them over to Russia. Three nations either had or were still developing nuclear weapons: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Some nations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) did not have nuclear weapons programs of their own but had U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in their countries. These nations included Belgium, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, and Turkey.