Many believe Ronald Reagan alone didn’t win the Cold War but say that his policy of peace through strength was most critical in addition to his superb leadership. The Soviet Union collapsed of its own weight, but Reagan’s initiatives accelerated their fall. Reagan described the Soviet Union as an evil empire. With the scare of the Soviets nuclear weapons, Reagan developed the “Star Wars” program which forced the Soviets into an expensive arms race they couldn’t afford. During Ronald Reagan’s eight year presidency, his determination to put an end to communism and the Soviet Union was the highlight of his term in office. While the collapse of the Soviet Union was inevitable, the role of Ronald Reagan in acceleration its fall is not insignificant. The rest of the essay will foray into the prevailing political circumstances and crucial diplomatic events that were initiated by the Reagan Administration, which eventually precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union and put an end to the Cold War.
To begin with, a short overview of the cold war is quite relevant here. History will show that the European nations after Second World War were divided geographically as well as ideologically as belonging to the western democratic bloc or the eastern communist bloc. Long-time partner and a trusted lieutenant of the United States, namely Great Britain, is the leading representative of this western coalition. Other nations that aligned with the United States were Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, etc. The countries of Eastern Europe were imposed with communist governments and hence came under the influence of the Soviet Union. Some of them were Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belarus, etc. Germany was deemed a key prize in the spoils of the Second Great War and so its reigns were bitterly contested. In the end both superpowers had to strike a compromise and divide Germany into their respective halves. This event was a key flashpoint in the years immediately following the end of the War. Appropriate to the strategic significance of Germany, history will mark the breaking of the Berlin wall as a landmark event in the establishment of a new world order, with the United States at the helm. And Ronald Reagan’s political maneuvering in the days leading up to the breaking of Berlin Wall will be deemed by historians as legendary.
Having said so, there were other brewing imbalances of power which contributed to the breakdown of the Soviet Union. For instance, the long confrontation between the United States and U.S.S.R. backed proxies in Afghanistan had frustrated and weakened the latter. During the 1980’s the U.S.S.R. was going through a severe economic slump as well. At this juncture, the Soviet Union was no more in a position to strengthen its war machinery, which gave its rival undisputed advantage, bringing an end to the Cold War.
In spite of the clever diplomacy exhibited by the Reagan Administration, there was another crucial factor that proved decisive in the subsequent unfolding of events. More specifically, the deteriorating economic conditions stirred the people of the Soviet Union to openly demonstrate against their government’s failure, which by the late 1980’s had reached abysmal levels. People from the communist bloc nations were making desperate attempts to flee to countries in Western Europe. Likewise, people from East Germany were attempting to escape to the more prosperous West Germany in order to avail of better economic and social prospects. The upper echelons of the Soviet government were facing tremendous pressure to act decisively and quickly. The only option left was to dismantle the Union and open the countries to political and economic reforms. Bringing down the Berlin Wall in 1990 was the symbolic act that ushered in a new post-cold war era in the world.