The ascent to power of Ronald Reagan was to prove crucial in the lead up to the end of the cold war. Ronald Reagan devised a grand defense strategy, popularly called the Star Wars initiative. The implementation of this strategy would give the United States a decisive advantage over their superpower rival. The Soviet Union on the other hand neither had the resources nor the political will to respond to this threat – due mainly to their uncertain economy and growing domestic unrest. Thus, Reagan’s brain child, the Star Wars initiative, proved an important factor in putting an end to the Soviet Union.
In Michael Gorbachev, the Soviet Union had a reformist and practical leader. He saw the folly of continuing the cold war efforts and drafted policies facilitating a transfer to more democratic and capitalistic forms of government. Reagan’s agenda for his meeting with Gorbachev is related to his vision of a nuclear defense mechanism. In other words, “Reagan’s vision of SDI—a shield that would render nuclear weapons obsolete—was scientifically preposterous but, by all accounts, genuine. Many of his hawkish aides (most notably the still-active Richard Perle) scoffed at it; they liked SDI because it would scare the Russians and, if it worked, might give us nuclear superiority. But Reagan believed what he said”.
At their one-on-one meeting of October 1986, Reagan went far beyond his Russian counterpart’s proposal of a fifty percent “strategic-arms cut”. To the concern of some members of his administration, who were excluded from the decision making process, he proposed a nuclear deterrent program and supplement it with the implementation of the SDI. Though Gorbachev was at apprehensive about such an agreement, this proposal helped lift the image of Reagan within the Kremlin and he came to be seen as someone trustworthy. Hence, though Reagan’s role is not tangible, certain subtle diplomatic victories by his administration had helped a great deal in bringing an end to the Cold War.
Parallel to the efforts of Reagan, some European leaders such as Lech Walesa, the polish politician, played a small but significant role in bringing the Cold War to an end. When the 10th plenary session of the communist party ended, Walesa played a crucial role in organizing Roundtable talks with the party members. His energetic and enthusiastic campaign for Solidarity ensured that it was eventually given legal recognition and opportunity to contest elections. In a way, Walesa paved the way for reforms in other countries by taking the first step. In hindsight, the Roundtable talks and the success of the Solidarity proved very important for further developments in the Soviet bloc.
In a last ditch attempt to save the Soviet Union, its military generals tried to overpower Gorbachev and take control of the governance. The failure of this plan proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the Union. Subsequently, Boris Yeltsin became the premiere of the Russian Republic and the satellite states of the communist bloc were given political autonomy. The newly independent countries of Eastern Europe encouraged privatization of many services and adopted a western model of democracy.
The collective diplomatic efforts of the NATO countries under the guidance of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher pressured the U.S.S.R. towards a more appropriate model of economic and political organization. But public discontent and disillusionment had already grown to unmanageable proportions that dismantling the union was the only option left. This radical final step effectively put an end to the Cold War and had given peace and hope to the world community.
So, in the final analysis, the question of who ended the Cold War could be answered thus: Recently released declassified documents leave no doubt about Ronald Reagan’s pivotal role in the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. Through a combination of “hostile rhetoric and a massive arms buildup, which the Soviets knew they couldn’t match, Reagan’s conservative succeeded in bringing an early end to the USSR. But nevertheless, without Reagan too, the Soviet Union would have collapsed anyway, probably a decade later, due to the economic turmoil that it was in.