Tasks 1. Account for the emergence of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s.
2. How successful was Solidarity in challenging the power of the communist regime in Poland?
Section 16: The end of détente
The Reagan presidency
Ronald Reagan became president of the United States in January 1981. Relations with the USSR had already deteriorated badly due to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Under President Reagan, for a time, things became worse, with people speaking of a ‘second’ Cold War developing between the Superpowers, after the progress during the détente period of the 1970s.
Reagan was a politician of strong political convictions, who was totally opposed to communism and all that it stood for. In 1983, in a widely-publicised speech, Reagan denounced the Soviet Union as an ‘Evil Empire.’ This seemed very clear. The USSR was the enemy of the United States, and would be opposed with vigour.
Reagan’s views were simple and clear-cut. He believed that the period of détente in the 1970s was a mistake, and that it had the result of making the Russians behave more aggressively as in Afghanistan, believing that the USA had grown weak. He argued that that the only thing the Russians understood was strength, and embarked on an extensive programme of expanding and improving the USA’s armed forces, including its nuclear weapons.
New intermediate range nuclear weapons
The USA began to deploy a new generation of intermediate range nuclear missiles in Western Europe. These missiles, known as Cruise and Pershing, were in response to new Soviet SS-20 missiles deployed in Eastern Europe.
To many observers, this looked like a return to the frantic days of the arms race of the 1950s and early 1960s. Not surprisingly, many people began to grow distinctly uneasy, particularly in Europe. The risks of direct conflict between the Superpowers now seemed to be increasing.
Attempts to begin discussions on arms limitation between the Superpowers ended in failure in 1982.
Strategic Defence Initiative: ‘Star Wars’
In 1983, President Reagan announced the Strategic Defence Initiative, popularly known as ‘Star Wars.’ This scheme involved using laser and particle beam weapons, fitted to satellites, to protect the USA from incoming nuclear missiles. Reagan was very enthusiastic about the scheme, arguing that it was purely a defensive development, that it did not threaten the USSR, but protected the USA.
The USSR took the SDI scheme very seriously because, if it worked, it could mean that the USA would be safe from an attack by nuclear missiles. Up to this point, both Superpowers had assumed that a nuclear war was unthinkable – Mutually Assured Destruction – there would be no winner!
Was the USA now suggesting something different? That a nuclear war could, in fact, be won?
Tasks 1. To what extent did the presidency of Ronald Reagan see a major shift in American relations with the Soviet Union?
2. Why was the Soviet Union so concerned about the development of the American Strategic Defence Initiative?
Section 17: The Endgame
Historians will debate for many years the processes and tensions which led to the end of the Cold War, and the final collapse of the USSR. After the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev to the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, events seemed to move incredibly quickly.
Gorbachev became Soviet leader in 1985. At that time, the USSR still appeared, to all intents and purposes, to be the same vast, monolithic Superpower it had always been. It still appeared to share domination of the world with the USA, as it had done since the 1950s. The first half of the 1980s had not been a happy time in international relations, with greatly increased tension between the USA and the USSR, and the start of a new, and even accelerating, nuclear arms race. And yet, by 1991, the Soviet Union had ceased to exist as a state, communist control over Eastern Europe had collapsed and the Cold War was over.
The reasons for these immense changes are complex, and beyond the scope of this booklet. However, as we bring the story of the Cold War to its conclusion, it is possible to consider, relatively briefly, some of the factors and issues involved.
Gorbachev realised that the USSR could no longer continue as it had been doing. The country simply could no longer afford the cost of the never-ending rivalry with the Americans.
The USSR was an immensely powerful country, but it was also a very poor and backward one. The Russian economy was very good at producing the mechanisms of combat: nuclear missiles, jet fighters and bombers, the famous Kalashnikov assault rifle, etc. It had achieved great success in space technology.
However, the quality of Russian consumer goods was a disaster. Simple products such as a half-decent car, a personal computer, a hi-fi system, a pair of jeans… Russia simply could not match the standards of the West. In major
areas of the economy such as housing, healthcare, transport, modern industry, the things which were central to the lives of ordinary people, Russia was weak, and falling increasingly behind.
Gorbachev knew that the only way to improve life in Russia was to devote more of the country’s resources to modernising the economy, and less to other areas – principally, the USSR’s vast defence budget.
Therefore, Gorbachev worked hard to improve relations with the USA, with the clear intention of securing a series of arms agreements, which would allow the USSR, at last, to concentrate on internal matters.
The Rekyavik Summit, October 1986 Gorbachev and President Reagan held talks in Iceland. The discussions centred on attempts to remove all medium range nuclear missiles from Europe
Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, December 1987 For the first time in history, the USA and the USSR agreed to reduce their stocks of nuclear weapons. Both Superpowers agreed to remove their nuclear missiles from Eastern and Western Europe. It was agreed that some of the missiles should actually be destroyed.
Nuclear Weapons Reduction Treaty, 1989 This time, the Russians and Americans began to talk seriously about reducing strategic nuclear weapons, the most powerful weapons on the planet.
The changes introduced by Gorbachev were highly dramatic. In March 1989, Gorbachev met all the leaders of the satellite states and informed them that the Soviet army would no longer help them to stay in power – they were on their own. The Brezhnev Doctrine had been brought to an end. The USSR simply could not afford to prop up the communist governments in Eastern Europe. It had neither the resources, nor the inclination to do this.
In the months that followed, the communist governments of Eastern Europe simply collapsed. In Poland, after the departure of Soviet troops, free elections were held, resulting in a massive victory for Solidarity. In Czechoslovakia, political prisoners were released in November 1989 – by the end of the month, the communist government had gone.
The most dramatic moments came in Berlin, with the opening of the Berlin Wall, on 9 November, amid scenes of widespread cheering and demonstrations, as the division of Germany finally came to an end.
The collapse of the Soviet Union
By 1990, the USSR was the only communist state left in Europe. Here, too, changes were taking place, as Gorbachev encouraged the ideas of Perestroika (reconstruction) and Glasnost (openness). Russians were being encouraged to speak freely and discuss and debate issues with their government. The people were keen to bring their problems and worries out into the open, something that would have been impossible in the past.
Gorbachev was now facing opposition from within the Communist Party in Russia. His opponents feared the collapse of all communist authority, and the break-up of the Soviet Union.
On 18 August 1990, Gorbachev was placed under arrest by a group of hard-line communists, who attempted to gain control with the support of the army. However, this led to massive protest demonstrations in the streets of Moscow, with thousands of ordinary Russians taking part. Under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic within the USSR, the crowds confronted detachments of soldiers who had been ordered by the conspirators to disperse the crowds. After some moments of tension, Yeltsin persuaded the troops not to take action to disperse the crowds. The attempt by the hard-line communists to seize power, and to reverse the reform movement, was over.
Gorbachev was released from captivity but, by now, the Russian people had also had enough of communism. Gorbachev had hoped that some kind of reformed communist system might be established in Russia, but it was not to be. The people did not want it.
In August 1991, the Communist Party was declared to be illegal inside Russia.
In December 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was dissolved. It was replaced by a new structure – the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Finally, Mikhail Gorbachev finally resigned as leader of the Soviet Union. It was now only a formality – he was the leader of a state that no longer existed.
It was with Gorbachev’s resignation that the Cold War finally, and conclusively, came to an end.
Reference sheet 1, Source 1, p.25
How useful is Source 1 as evidence of the nuclear arms race between the Superpowers at the time?
This is a question which is asking you to evaluate the source. The exam gives you some guidance as to how you should approach this type of question. You should think about:
Let’s try this out and see if we can find enough points to earn some serious marks.
Origin The source is clearly secondary – it’s from a book called The Cold War, written in 1996 by J W Mason. You could argue that this makes the source useful because it has been written by a historian who has studied the Cold War.
Possible purpose Why do historians write books? Because they find they find the topic interesting? Remember, you are given some advice about how to use the source… but it does not follow that each of the headings has the same weight or value in your answer. In this case, it is probably difficult to find much that can be gained from writing about the source’s purpose.
Content Here we find some substantial pieces of evidence about the nuclear arms race, and you should get some useful marks here. This source is useful because of the information it contains:
1957–62: the time of the greatest danger of nuclear war
the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I
this had serious military implications, with the USSR in possession of a rocket powerful enough to carry a nuclear warhead against targets in the USA
the USSR had now changed the East–West strategic balance.
Recall The source is concerned with one fairly specific aspect of the nuclear arms race. The source is certainly useful, but there are many aspects of the nuclear arms race that it does not mention. You can supplement the first part of your answer with some substantial quantities of relevant, recalled knowledge, but which are highly important:
the development of hydrogen bombs by both Superpowers
the development of ICBMs – long-range nuclear missiles
the first stages of the development of submarine launched missiles – from nuclear submarines that were almost impossible to detect
long-range bombers armed with nuclear weapons
tactical nuclear weapons, designed for use on battlefields.
Reference sheet 2, Source 1, p.38
How useful is Source 1 as evidence of the pressure for reform in Hungary at the time?
Origin There are some good points here. The date of the source is 23 October 1956 – the time when the pressure for reform in Hungary was building up strongly – this makes the source useful.
The source has been produced by students: young, educated people were in the forefront of the reform movement – again making the source useful.
Possible purpose You could argue that the purpose of the list of demands was to publicise the demands for reform – to whip up support. Again, some useful points to be made.
Content The source is very useful because it sets out some of the reforms that the students wanted:
evacuation of all Soviet troops
election by secret ballot of all Party members
a new government to be led by Imre Nagy
the removal from power of the ‘criminal leaders of the Stalin–Rakosi era’
Recalled knowledge Now explain some of the pressures for reform, not in the source.
Hungary had been forced to join the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet-dominated military alliance – the people hated the presence of Soviet troops.
The Hungarian state was cruel and repressive – people were frightened of the secret police, the press was heavily censored – people could be arrested for criticising the government.
The standard of living was low: prices were high, and there were often shortages of the most basic of items.
Trade unions were controlled by the Communist Party, and did nothing to help the workers.
No trade was allowed with the West.
Reference sheet 3, Source 2, p.40
How fully does Source 3 explain the reasons for the Soviet action in Hungary?
Source Koniev claims that the Hungarian uprising was started by counter-revolutionaries trying to destroy the people’s democratic system, that is the communist system.
He claims that fascists, extreme right-wingers, were taking part and were a direct threat to the USSR, and to the socialist system. He argues that the Hungarian government had asked for help. The Soviet troops were carrying out their obligations as allies – aiding the Hungarians in preserving the achievements of socialism.
Koniev’s views are extremely biased: he is giving the Soviet slant on the action taken. It could be a good idea to state in your answer that you recognise this.
Recall The USSR was worried that communism could collapse in Hungary and Western-style democracy could develop there.
There was very strong support in Hungary for the government led by Imre Nagy, and its reforms. The Russians were worried that these ideas would spread – to other East European countries, and possibly to Russia
Hungary had announced that it was leaving the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet-dominated military alliance, and was becoming a neutral state. The USSR could never permit this – it would weaken Russia’s power in relation to the West.
The Russians might have allowed Hungary a bit more control over its internal affairs, as they had done with Poland, so long as Hungary stayed within the Soviet system. However, the Hungarians had gone much further than this, and Russia simply could not allow things to continue.
You have now used both the source and your recalled knowledge to answer the question. You should now be able to write a balanced and structured answer to the question.
Reference sheet 4, Sources 2 and 3, p.40
Compare the views expressed in Sources 2 and 3 on the situation in Hungary at the time.
Overall comparison It should, of course, be very clear that the sources disagree very strongly about the situation. Source 2 is very critical of the Soviet action, while Source 3 is very supportive of it.
Detailed comparison A number of detailed points of comparison can be made.
In Source 2, the radio station claims that Soviet troops are attacking Hungary, for the second time in two weeks – the people are facing fire from tanks and bombers.
In Source 3, Marshall Koniev does not use the words ‘attack’ or ‘aggression’ – Soviet troops are simply carrying out their obligations as allies, on the basis of the Warsaw Pact.
Source 2 claims that the Russians first interfered at the request of a government which the people hated.
Source 3 to an extent supports this when it states that the Soviet troops interfered at the request of the Hungarian People’s republic. However, it says nothing about whether or not the people hated this government.
In Source 2, the radio station states very clearly that the Hungarian people supported Imre Nagy, who had proclaimed their wish for independence and neutrality – the people are still behind him.
Source 3 takes a very different view, claiming that the uprising was started by counter-revolutionaries, trying to destroy the people’s democratic system and to restore the capitalist system, and this was also supported by fascists.
So your answer to this question would have an overall comparison, followed by three substantial comparisons relating to specific sections of the sources.
Because of the nature of the subject matter, the Cold War makes use of specialist vocabulary, which is often heavily political in nature. This glossary is provided to assist students in understanding this.
Hatred of Jews
Rocket designed to carry a nuclear warhead
Theory developed by Leonid Brezhnev in 1968, following the intervention in Czechoslovakia, to justify Soviet intervention in any of the satellite states.
Political and economic system based on the ideas of private enterprise
Ruling body of Communist Parties, in the USSR and Eastern Europe
Extreme form of right-wing nationalism
Collectivisation of agriculture
Communist form of agricultural organisation – farms are owned collectively by a group of farmers, rather than by individuals
Council for Mutual Economic Assistance – Soviet dominated system intended to encourage economic growth and co-operation in Eastern Europe