How Did The Cold War End Essay With Question

Why did the Cold War in Europe come to an end?

  • 1979-1986 a new Cold War developing
  • Soviet invasion of Afghanistan convinced the US that the Soviet Union hadn’t changed after 30 years and was still trying to impose itself on other states
  • Soviets felt threatened by US deployment of new weapons such as cruise missiles in Europe
  • Third World conflicts also affected East-West relations especially in the Middle East and Latin America
  • Another factor was the emergence of new leaders in both countries
  • Brezhnev died 1982 and was followed by Andropov and Chernenko in quick succession
  • Both of them were old and unwell
  • Their unexpected deaths took place quickly causing instability in both the USSR and in relations with the US
  • The 1980 election in the US brought in a new President and with him, a great impact on the Cold War

Ronald Reagan

  • Carter’s Foreign Policy had been weak and indecisive
  • The Republican Reagan brought in an aggressive, patriotic Foreign Policy
  • Believed the US should support its friends even if they were dictators
  • US should oppose its enemies and use force if needed
  • Called the USSR ‘the evil empire’
  • Said all the troubles in the world could be traced back to the Soviets who were bent on world domination
  • How much he really believed that they were an ‘evil empire’ is debatable
  • Reagan’s supporters say he knew the USSR was getting weak internally, its economy was in poor condition and the war in Afghanistan was putting a strain on it and on Soviet society
  • Thus if the US put them under further pressure, they could be forced to negotiate over arms and begin reform of the USSR
  • Others feel that Reagan did believe the USSR was behind most of the world’s troubles
  • He was a fervent capitalist who detested the communist system
  • They had been increasing their influence in Africa and Latin America, so he was convinced they were trying to take over the world
  • Whatever the truth, Reagan pursued an uncompromising Cold War policy

Arms Reduction

  • The USA under Reagan embarked on the biggest arms build-up in its history
  • 1980s, $550 billion a year was being spent on conventional and nuclear weapons
  • New systems were being developed e.g. the Stealth Bomber and the neutron bomb (called the capitalist bomb by the Soviets because it would kill people but not property)
  • 1983 cruise missiles were sent to bases in Europe
  • This made these areas targets
  • It led to protests including the 7 year protest at Greenham Common in England
  • Reagan was also willing to talk about arms control
  • He knew that the US had to negotiate from a position of strength or it would be seen as weak and would be vulnerable to attack

1982 Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START)

  • Began in Geneva but failed to reach agreement
  • Basic problem – the two sides didn’t trust each other
  • During the talks, the Soviets clamped down on ‘Solidarity’, a democratic trade union movement in Poland
  • In 1983 Soviets shot down a Korean passenger plane killing 269 people
  • Reagan saw it as typical communist aggression
  • Soviets distrusted the Americans because during the talks they refused to include NATO in arms reduction – they seemed to want more than they were willing to give up

Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI)

  • 1983 Reagan announced SDI, nicknamed ‘star wars’
  • Its job was to be a defence shield to destroy missiles fired at the USA while they were still in space
  • Although some scientists thought it wouldn’t work, if it did work, Soviet missiles would be useless while the USSR would still be open to attack
  • To them, it appeared that the USA was talking peace but this wasn’t reflected in their actions

How Gorbachev affected the Cold War

  • 1985, Gorbachev became the new Soviet leader
  • Launched new programme of reform in USSR
  • US feared these would strengthen USSR and improve its position in the Cold War
  • Prime Minister Thatcher said she could ‘do business’ with Gorbachev but early meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev didn’t go well
  • Meetings in Geneva (1985) and Reykjavik (1986) produced no real agreement on arms
  • They discussed the types of weapons to be limited and whether current agreements were being kept
  • Real bone of contention was SDI
  • 1987 signed Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
  • This was a major achievement because for the first time there were to be reductions in weapons
  • Intermediate-range weapons were to be dismantled and there were to be inspections to ensure that both sides were keeping to the deal
  • 1988 the first weapons were dismantled

Why was there an improvement?

  • Some credit Reagan’s military expansion with forcing USSR into a position where it couldn’t afford to keep up with the US
  • The build up also worried America’s allies and the public about the number of nuclear weapons in existence
  • The concern about nuclear proliferation increased in 1986 with the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine which polluted land and atmosphere as far away as Wales
  • An important factor was the relationship between Reagan and Gorbachev which had become very productive
  • Reagan saw that Gorbachev really wanted a better relationship with the West and so he altered his stance on the ‘evil empire’ to more compromising
  • Relations improved further when Reagan visited Moscow in 1988
  • However the INF treaty only cut out one class of missile –there were still thousands in existence – but it was a start

Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?

  • The roots of this lay in Soviet and Russian history, but the Cold War played an important part
  • The American policy of containment over the previous 49 years meant that the USSR had to spend huge sums on arms – thus this money was not available to improve the living conditions of the people
  • Reagan’s huge increase in arms spending meant that this got worse
  • To carry out his reforms Gorbachev had to reduce the Soviet military
  • This encouraged the satellite states to reform too without fear that the Red Army would intervene this time
  • Change began to happen rapidly from 1989
  • The border between Austria and Hungary was opened allowing people to travel from East Germany to the West through Hungary and Austria
  • Because this movement became a flood, Gorbachev advised East Germany to open the Berlin Wall so that they could travel directly to the West
  • 9th November 1989 the Wall was opened – the end of the Cold War had started

The American response

  • The new President George Bush was slow to react especially when the Warsaw Pact collapsed at the end of 1989
  • Bush was intelligent and well-travelled and he saw that the change in Eastern Europe was so rapid that it would be best for the US to move slowly and avoid serious errors
  • The USSR still had its nuclear weapons and one of the most powerful armies in the world
  • During 1989 there were meetings between Secretary of State James Baker and Russian Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze
  • They talked about the ongoing changes in the Soviet Union and the East, and discussed beginning the START talks again
  • This time the Soviets said they would accept US development of SDI, thus removing a major obstacle to an agreement
  • June 1990 Bush and Gorbachev met in Washington
  • Cuts were agreed in chemical weapons and long-range nuclear weapons
  • This was made formal in July in START 1
  • Both countries were limited to 1,600 nuclear delivery vehicles (bombers and submarines etc) and 6,000 nuclear devices
  • This was a reduction in weapons and allowed for verification
  • There were to be greater contacts between the two powers and increased trade


  • Spring 1990, the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania declared independence from Moscow, followed by the Ukraine
  • In Romania, East Germany and elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc dictators were being pressured into resigning and were being replaced by democratic governments
  • Gorbachev became a victim as he was too closely identified with the old regime

This is a ‘factor’ question. By being asked to assess the validity of the view presented in the question, we are being asked to analyse other factors that could have brought the Cold War to an end. Then, to decide which factor, if any, was the most important. This will help us to assess the validity of the claim that it was Reagan who ended the war.

When approaching a question of this nature it is important to begin by understanding what it is the question is actually asking. So step one should always be highlight or underline the key words/ phrases.

‘It was Ronald Reagan who brought the Cold War to an end.’ How valid is this view with reference to the years 1985 to 1991?

A good rule of thumb is to underline names and dates so we know who the question is referring to and what scope of evidence we need to use. This process will also ensure that we do not misread the question. We can then make some brief notes as to why these people/ dates are significant.

Ronald Reagan was the president of the USA from 1981 to 1989. Considering the Cold War was a conflict between the USA and USSR, it stands to reason that the president of America might have had a hand in bringing the conflict to an end.

The dates given in these questions are vital for two reasons: firstly, we must be sure to include evidence from across the full time frame, secondly, the dates the examiner has chosen often indicates what it is that the question is truly getting at. Why 1985? Why 1991? What happens in between? The next sept is answering these questions:

 - 1985 was the year Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The fact that the examiner has singled this date out probably means Gorbachev is an important aspect of answering this question.

  • 1991 marked the collapse of the Soviet Union. When thinking about who or what brought the Cold War to an end, one way to look at the question is thinking about what brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Without an enemy for USA to ‘fight’ the Cold War ended.

  • The time between these dates marked the end of Détente and, some would argue, the renewal of the Cold War by America’s revival of the arms race.

Now that we have figured out what happens during these dates we can begin to think of other factors that could have brought the Cold War to an end. It is always best to try and have at least four main points in your essays. We have already been given one factor – Raegan – it is always a good idea to start with the named factor, that is the one in the question.

(1) Reagan.

 so we must now think of at least three more factors:

(2) President Bush from 1989.

(3) By giving us the date 1985, it is clear that the question wants us to assess Gorbachev’s role in bringing about the end of the war.

(4) The rise of Nationalism

(5) The Soviet Union’s Economy

Once we have the factors we want to proceed with, it is a good idea to jot down some evidence for each now so as to ensure that we remember to use as much evidence as possible when actually writing our answer:

(1) Reagan. Reagan’s role in bringing about the end of the Cold War boils down to the peace-through-strength policy of his administration and his determination to end détente, as well as his work with Western Europe to strengthen the alliance with America. Some evidence we could put in this paragraph incudes:

(a) His statement justifying brining about the end of détente arguing that it was a ‘futile prolongation’ of the war.

(b) He increased America’s military budget from Carter’s $17.5bn to $300bn by 1989

(c) He refused to ratify SALT II (this was a talk that began during Détente)

(d) He increased both military and economic pressure on the Soviet Union through exploring the SDI programme

(e) INF talks and ‘zero option’

(f) Yet Reagan was still willing to engage with Gorbachev e.g. the Washington Summit in 1987

(g) Reykjavik Summit in October 1986.

(h) Commitment to Western Europe

(2) Bush. Reagan was only president until 1989, this question is asking us about events until 1991 so it is important to realise there was a change in president and the significance of this in regards to whether it was Reagan who truly brought about the end of the Cold War. Some evidence that it was in fact Bush who ended it includes:

(a) Malta Summit 1989 (declared the war over)

(b) START 1 (ended the arms race)

(3) Gorbachev. There were two ways in which Gorbachev can be argued to have ended the cold war:

(a) Externally – Bridging the ideological gap

i.East German Government, 1989

ii.Formed a personal relationship with Reagan at the Geneva Summit, 1985

iii.Announced reduction in Soviet Arms, 1988

(b) Internally – Policies



(4) Nationalism. Gorbachev’s policies inadvertently allowed for the rise of nationalism in the East. Evidence includes:

(a) Hungary

(b) Poland

(c) Solidarity

(5) Soviet Economy. There is also the argument that the Cold War ended because the Soviet Union’s economy just could no longer support it. Examples to use:

(a) GDP, 2.7% in 1980

(b) Recession 1979-1982

(c) Grain shortages

(d) Afghanistan

At this point we have:

(1) Underlined the key words/ phrases in the question

(2) Made notes on these key words

(3) Come up with at least three more factors (plus the named factor) that we are going to explore in our essay

(4) Figured out lots of evidence that we could use to back up each of our points

The final step is to write our introduction. In order to achieve the higher marks in exams, it is important to come up with a nuanced thesis which will help our argument and demonstrate that we have really thought about the question. There are two, go-to ways that we can achieve this:

1.Split the dates. We can make our thesis nuanced by saying that the statement only applies up until a certain date, after which another factor becomes the most important. For example:

Reagan was the main reason for the Cold War beginning to come to an end up until 1989 when he resigned from office. After 1989, it was Bush who actually ended the Cold War. (Splitting the dates does not work particularly well for this question but it is still a method that can be employed with others.)

2. Alternate factor. Another method is presenting another factor. In this case, for example, Gorbachev being the reason the war ended. For example:

Ronald Reagan was important in bringing about the end of the Cold War. He ended détente and increased pressure on the Soviet Union both economically and militarily. However, this statement neglects the actual reason the Cold War ended. It was Gorbachev and his actions that actually ended the war. Gorbachev’s policies inadvertently exposed flaws in the communist regime and facilitated the growing realisation that communism was not working. This resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union which brought the Cold War to a definite end. (This method works far better for this style of question)

Of course these are not the only ways to write an introduction, they are just go-to options to help create that nuanced judgment that gets the higher levels.

QUICK TIP – Sustaining your argument is an important part of writing these essays. In order to have an argument to sustain, it is important that you state your thesis in your introduction. This helps the examiner to follow your essay and, as long as your conclusion matches your introduction, ensures you will always have a sustained argument.

Now that you have written your introduction and outlined the other factors that you will discuss in the essay, all that remains it to actually write it. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *