Cold War Essay, Research Paper
Politicians and citizens alike during the early 1970s viewed d tente as the first step towards ending the Cold War. This agreement to a cooling off of East-West tensions, initiated by U.S. President Nixon and Soviet Premier Brezhnev, gave hope for the first time that the two superpowers could coexist. In addition to political acknowledgement of each other s spheres of influence, d tente consisted of armaments limitations and reductions agreements starting with SALT in 1972. Moreover, economic ties began to formulate during this era as the USSR allowed Eastern European markets to be opened to Western imports. However, the Cold War was a long way from being over. Despite the apparent truths between the superpowers, a combination of several factors prolonged the Cold War.
First, as long as the ideologies behind the two governments continued to exist as they were, the Cold War could never come to a close. More important than any other factor, either the U.S. or the USSR had to change their tenets and practices before the Cold War could come to a close. Both still sought to spread their influence around the globe, despite any agreements made in respect for each other s spheres of influence. As long as the two superpowers continued in their competition for influence worldwide, the Cold War would continue to wage on. Therefore, it seems as if that from the beginning a misunderstanding existed between the U.S. and the USSR over d tente. The U.S. believed that d tente prevented the USSR from challenging it outside its own spheres of influence. The U.S. conceded recognition of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe and in turn expected the USSR to respect U.S. predominance in areas such as the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. The Soviets, however, saw d tente as only a relaxation in relations with the U.S. (Keylor) The USSR saw competition for influence, particularly in the Third World, as an acceptable and necessary part of Soviet foreign policy and well within the provisions of d tente. The Soviets felt justified in this approach since the U.S. had been preventing them from peacekeeping and expansion into the Middle East. As a result, regional conflicts continued to hamper the relationship between the superpowers. The Arab-Israeli conflict served to demonstrate just how volatile d tente really was. The two superpowers continued to arm and support their clients in the region, viewing the complex tangle of rivalries there through the lenses of the Cold War. (Keylor, p.396)
In addition to competition in the Middle East, Africa in the late 1970s began to transform into an area of strategic competition. The response of the United States to the escalating Soviet involvement in Africa underwent a gradual transformation in the course of the second half of the 1970s. (Keylor, p.422) At first, the U.S. was reluctant to involve itself in Africa, as it was still recovering from Vietnam. But when Soviet backed actions in Libya and Zaire threatened to undermine the security of pro-Western regimes on the continent and jeopardize American access to their strategic resources, the U.S. was left with no choice except to compete with the USSR by increasing its aid and assistance to dependent African states. (Keylor, p.422)
A third frontier where competition increased was in Latin America. In a 1983 speech, President Reagan addressed the issue of Soviet influence spreading so close to American borders. The problem is that an aggressive minority has grown in its [Latin America s] lot with the Communists, looking to the Soviets and their own Cuban henchmen to help them pursue political change through violence. Nicaragua, right here, has become their base. (Reagan, Document 77) Reagan looked to abolish Soviet influence in Central America by strengthening relations with U.S. anti-Communists allies in the region. Thus, it is clearly visible that so long as the U.S. and the USSR continued to engage in such regional competition, the Cold War could not come to an end.
Aside from regional conflicts, another factor that rekindled the hatred between the superpowers was the renewal of the arms race in the late 1970s. USSR testing of a MIRVed missile and deployment of a new long-range bomber, the Backfire, raised concerns amongst U.S. leaders about their nation s national security. (Keylor, p.385) Armaments tensions further heated when Soviet and American delegates failed to reach an agreement at the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) talks. At the end of 1983, the Soviet delegates waked out of the INF talks and the United States began to deploy the Pershing and cruise missiles at the designated European sites. (Keylor, p.386-387) As both sides continued their conventional, nuclear, and strategic arms build up, it further divided them in their quest for non-proliferation.
There is a great deal of irony surrounding the preceding causes for the prolongation of the Cold War as they each served a dual purpose in that they not only lengthened the Cold War but also contributed to its end. The Soviets made the mistake of equating expansionism with defense as they believed it necessary to sustain such governments, whatever the effect on the Soviet economy, on relations with the West, or on Moscow s overall reputation in world affairs. (Gaddis, p.120) The Soviets decision to support its third world allies at all costs and for guns over butter placed an enormous hindrance on their already fragile economy and further impoverished the nation.
What brought about the end of the Cold War more than anything else was the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Granted, President Ronald Reagan s
hard-line approach towards the Soviets yielded some degree of success, but until the Soviets admitted that they needed a change in ideology, which Gorbachev did, the Cold War would never come to a close. His policies of new thinking (novoe myshlenie), restructuring (perestroika), and candor (Glasnost) were a direct challenge to Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe. Gorbachev sensed the urgency in which the Soviets needed to reshape their policies and economy. His new thinking gave way to sincere attempts to remove nuclear threats. In meeting with Reagan in 1986, Gorbachev proposed the abolition of all nuclear weapons within ten years, thus moving his original deadline from the year 2000 to 1996. (Gaddis, p.128) Relations between the superpowers rapidly improved with Gorbachev at the helm. A December 1988 earthquake that killed 25,000 Soviet Armenians gave way to a tremendous outpouring of aid from the United States and other Western countries, something that was unprecedented since the Lend-Lease Act. (Gaddis, p.129) Of central importance was his call for democratization in order to spread economic decision-making outside the party. Gorbachev encouraged independent business within the USSR and he greatly reduced the central control of the Soviet economy. In order to achieve such economic reform, political restructuring was in need. June of 1988 witnessed the replacement of the Supreme Soviet with a new Congress of People s Deputies, which was to be selected mostly (two-thirds) by democratic means. From this body a new Supreme Soviet was to be elected. (Keylor, p.458) The political and economic turmoil of Gorbachev s policies led the official breakup of the USSR in 1991 and put an end to the Cold War.
Gorbachev s policies made possible for the revolutionary events of 1989 to take place. In Poland free elections were held and the Communist government was ousted. Similar situations arose in both Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where acknowledgement of non-communist political parties and negotiations for the removal of Soviet troops took place. Whereas Khrushchev had regarded them as indispensable allies against NATO, Gorbachev had come to view them as liabilities that received enormous economic benefits from the USSR (in the form of trade subsidies, loans, cheap energy, and raw materials) while giving little in return. (Keylor, p.454-455) The Warsaw pact became obsolete as relations with the West were constantly improving. More important than any other event in 1989, the opening of the Berlin Wall, for all intents and purposes, signified the end of the Cold War.
As stated earlier, the Cold War could never end until either the U.S. or the USSR experienced a change in ideology. It is for this reason why the Cold War didn t end during d tente. Despite attempts at cooperation during these years, both sides still were seeking to expand their influence so as to subdue the other. Not until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR did the necessary prerequisite for the end of the Cold War come about. The changes made during his tenure served to foster friendly relations between the superpowers and allowed for the democratization of the former Soviet Union. Only at this point could the long and bitter rivalry come to a close.