Ronald Reagan is one of the most respected and well-liked presidents in the history of the United States and one of the most important accomplishments that he is accredited with is ending the Cold War. During this 50-year period in time, two of the world’s greatest superpowers were at odds, both having the power and ability to annihilate the other at any given moment. People at this time were forced to live in fear and terror, not knowing what the next day would bring or if they would even live to see tomorrow. The Cold War began, arguably, with several stands taken by the United States to aid the global community post World-War II, such as the Marshal Plan and the creation of NATO1. It can be argued that the Cold War also ended with several platforms originated from the United States. The man at the helm of the operation was Ronald Reagan. History shows that the strides this president took towards seemingly ending the war actually prolonged it. Strategies like brinkmanship and positive nuclear proliferation did not portray the message of a man whose goal was to end a war, but rather a man who had no problem continuing a war until his country won. Thus, Ronald Reagan did not end the Cold War. Reagan escalated the arms race, took a hostile approach to the Soviet Union, and was not as crucial as Gorbachev in ending the war.
At the beginning of Reagan’s presidency, he was a self-proclaimed nuclear abolitionist. He pleaded for peace in his speeches and ordered his subordinates to write studies on its application. Therefore one would assume that this desire would help him to end the war. Yet if that were true, he would not have pushed so hard for the institution of the Strategic Defence Initiative, a project that dealt directly with nuclear weaponry. Past presidents had mostly used détente as a means of dealing not only with the Soviet Union, but with all external countries. This policy had worked quite well until John F. Kennedy’s time in the Cuban Missile Crisis when he was forced to slowly climb up the escalation ladder to brinkmanship in order to ensure the safety of his nation. The next time that this harsh and unnecessary policy would be brought to the United States would be during Reagan’s presidency. “Push it to the edge”2 was his policy and the only result this brought was a war that went on far longer than necessary. Brinkmanship dictated that the United States continue the arms race and hold nuclear weaponry against the Soviet Union. Meagan’s hope was to put them into a position where they had no choice but to surrender. This was a fruitless dream since the Soviets already knew they could not enter war and were smart enough to try to make peace before it was too late. In trying to end the war, Reagan was purposely sabotaging the stiff relations with the Soviets in order to force them to implode on themselves, crippling the status quo of the nation and thus proving the hegemonic power of the United States. However this president discounted one important element: the Gorbachev factor. Ronald Reagan came to power years earlier than Mikhail Gorbachev did and in that time he managed to cripple his country’s economy, enlarge the already increasing budget deficits and national debt of his country, and completely alienate the Soviet Union, calling them ``the evil empire``3. Gorbachev’s political and economic reforms remain unmatched in Soviet history. It is true that the USSR was in turmoil after World War II, but Gorbachev became the new voice of the Soviet Union and brought hope and change into the hearts of the people. Through policies like glasnost and perestroika, this president was doing far more for his country than Reagan was during wartime. He disassembled the previously dominant Communist party in his country and made headway for democracy in the Soviet Union4. The changes he made for his country during the Cold War were far more significant. Gorbachev knew the Soviet Union would not be able to last through another war and he took the necessary steps to end it, unlike Ronald Reagan. Some critics suggest that the war would have ended regardless of the steps taken by Reagan. In fact, Mikhail Gorbachev was the only one who realized the imminent danger that a war could bring not only to the Soviet Union but to the rest of the world as well. Gorbachev was willing to end the war as quickly as possible to end the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Therefore Ronald Reagan cannot be recognized as “the man who ended the war”5 – he was merely in office when it ended.
Cold War historians and Reagan supporters alike give the credit for ending the Cold War to Ronald Reagan. According to Washington Post writer David E. Hoffman, by switching from détente to brinkmanship, Reagan left no room for relations between the US and the USSR to remain at a standstill as they had been for years before. The war ended because Reagan was willing to take relations a step further, something past presidents were too afraid to do6. This is why CBS reporter Jamie Holguin believes the war did not end with presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt or even John F. Kennedy. Reagan managed to fight for his Strategic Defence Initiative dream which he believed would be able to protect his beloved United States in the case of a nuclear attack.7 An article published in The Los Angeles Times stated that:
“though this strategy would come under attack by critics on several occasions, it was the best idea that the Reagan administration could come up with to ensure the maximum security of the country in a time where the world could have been blown up at any given moment.”8
His creative and ingenious idea for this project showed just how devoted he was to ending the war. Within his near decade of presidency, Reagan managed to create new legislations for his country to increase employment and decrease inflation. He also mended international relations and promoted peace and the abolition of nuclear weaponry, says occasional Cold War historian Fred Kaplan. “In fact, his hard line tactics in dealing with nuclear proliferation were what saved his country from MAD”.9 His absolutist views led the country to success because he was unwilling to give up on winning the Cold War and allowing the US to once again be on top in the global community. Reagan refused to settle for anything less than the full surrender of all nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union and in the end he achieved his goal.10 Published author James Mann notes that through the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) treaty of 1987, Reagan managed to stop the production of all nuclear artilleries, which was a large accomplishment considering the global arms race that had been brewing since the end of the second World War in 1945.11 It is commonly believed and generally accepted that Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War because he was able to complete a task that no other president could: ending a war while remaining on good terms with the opposition. Of Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev said this: “You know, you can’t really explain it. I felt something and he felt something – that we could talk to each other.”12 After Reagan’s presidency ended and George H.W. Bush took over, relations between the Soviet Union and the United States took two large steps back13, onlookers such as John Lewis Gaddis report. For these reasons, it can be said that Ronald Reagan was mostly responsible for the conclusion of the Cold War. However, there are several arguments to be made for the opposite opinion.
Reagan critics believe that the past president had a spell of good luck when the war ended. After all, it was Mikhail Gorbachev who received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in restoring his country through political and economic reforms, not Reagan. The president hid behind his nuclear abolitionist attitude when in reality he was willing to use as many nuclear weapons as possible to beat the Soviet Union in this war. “There is no other way to explain why he would receive letters from little children who wanted to know why he was trying to blow the world up,”14 author Allan M. Winkler suggests. Furthermore, it is believed that Reagan was the hero of the signing of the INF treaty when truthfully, CBS news reporter Dan Rather acknowledges, he determined the timing of that document by using his wife’s astrologer to read USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s horoscope first15. It was no secret that Reagan disliked the USSR and this was made blatantly transparent in his speech on June 12th, 1987 regarding the Berlin Wall, where he pleaded with the General Secretary to “Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”.16 William Blum notes that Reagan criticized the Soviet Union for using the Berlin Wall as a defence tactic and refusing to tear it down when he was doing the same thing with the SDI when he refused to give it up. He held on to this “Star Wars” dream so ardently that when the time came for peace to be made and all signs of nuclear weaponry to be set aside, he was averse to doing so.17 Cold War onlookers, such as citizen Jack Mackdaniel, believed that Reagan’s strong dislike for the Soviet Union and more importantly its communist regime led him to put his own country in jeopardy in favour of trying to stop the spread of communism to the rest of the world.18 Even though approaches like the iron curtain and containment had failed, Reagan was not going to give up until he had completely destroyed the USSR and communism. “This can be seen by looking at his switch from détente to brinkmanship early on in his presidency,” describes writer Laura Miller. “Reagan believed that the only way to bring the war to a stop was to push the buttons of the Soviets until they gave in to the United States”19. Some critics will say that the USSR folded like a house of cards, but this is untrue. The state of the Soviet Union was poor at the time and that is why Gorbachev was willing to compromise with Reagan – he was looking out for his country and what was in their best interests. The General Secretary himself said: “[We] cannot hope to win if war breaks out.”20 Therefore it cannot be said that Reagan took the initiative and ended the war on his own. The Soviet leader outsmarted President Reagan and knew that his country was economically unstable and would not be able to last through another war. Lastly, author James Mann had this to say on Reagan’s abilities to end the war: “… it is quite odd that this president supported brinkmanship so strongly at the beginning of his presidency when in his second term he strayed far away from this policy in dealing with the Iran-Contra Affair. A man who could not stick to one political policy during his eight-year reign could surely not have been the sole contributor to the end of a war that could have been disastrous.”21
This is a hotly debated issue because some see Reagan’s actions during this time period as necessary and cleverly executed while others see them as superfluous and precarious. It was not necessary to switch from détente to brinkmanship in order to attain peace when brinkmanship was, in fact, a violent and hostile approach, notes Reagan hawk Whittaker Chambers22. Writer Stephen Kotkin believes that holding on to the SDI so fervently was a hindrance in the long road to peace during the war.23 Finally, promoting the use of nuclear weaponry in an attempt to tear down the Soviet Union and its communist regime were all strategies that did not help to end the Cold War24, says historian and author Michael A. McFaul. Thus Ronald Reagan did not end the war. Historians have argued this issue since the end of the war nearly twenty years ago and there is still no consensus on who was primarily responsible for the cessation of this era of panic and fear. This time period was highlighted by the new involvement of nuclear artillery in the global community and inclusively the escalation of the arms race.
"I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering those nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete."25
Ronald Reagan spoke these words on March 23rd, 1983 when he first introduced his idea of the SDI to the United States. Initially one’s reaction to that quote would be to assume that the president held true to his nuclear abolitionist status and had hopes for peace in the world. However, this assumption would be incorrect as this quote is harshly misleading. The Strategic Defence Initiative, dubbed “Star Wars”, was started by Ronald Reagan as a defence tactic intended to be used against the Soviet Union and their ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles). Though the project gained initial approval from the US Congress in the mid 1980s, this president’s dream would soon be shattered. The monumental costs and unfeasible technicalities would doom the SDI. According to Dr. Ernest Partridge, the SDI could never have worked even if it had been completed. The space shield would only protect against ICBMs, which were only a small portion of nuclear armaments that could have been used to attack the United States26. The project failed to account for bombers, offshore submarine missiles, or even perhaps tramp steamers. Furthermore, many Soviets saw the introduction of the SDI as a hostile act on the part of the US that signalled they were preparing for an imminent war. Author Frances Fitzgerald notes that the USSR was afraid of the SDI and what it could mean for the world. Between 1985 and 1987 Gorbachev spent a great deal of time trying to convince the Reagan administration to drop the project before it was too late. At this point, Reagan would offer a strange compromise – to share the SDI in an effort to ensure that a nuclear revival never happened. To this Mikhail Gorbachev replied: “You don't want to share even petroleum equipment, automatic machine tools, or equipment for dairies”27. Needless to say, simply the idea of creating an SDI was a step taken by the United States in preparation for war. By definition it was a form of nuclear proliferation to which the Soviets had no choice but to respond with their own research on lasers and other weaponry to combat this multi-million dollar mechanism. Simply put, the SDI was created to further the arms race. The USSR had no choice but to respond with their own nuclear armament to protect their own country in the case of an outbreak of war. In trying to end a war and truly “give [us] the means of rendering those nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete”28, Reagan actually escalated an arms race that was already in the works. He had the intention of using the SDI to combat nuclear attacks and anyone who anticipates such a form of aggression and violence must be preparing for a war and wanting to win. Ronald Reagan was setting up the country to fight in a nuclear war. Not only that, but he was going to make sure that they won. For no other reason would one imagine a far-fetched idea like Star Wars – an idea that any reasonable thinking individual would deem precarious and unnecessary. This is not to say that the president did not try to convince the American people that the SDI was for their own protection. That being said, protecting the citizens from hardware in space is not promising them much. Therefore the SDI was one hundred percent a fallacy that was only initialized to satisfy the purpose of a man who was strategizing to go to war. Escalation of the arms race was all that was conceived from this project.
Reagan’s escalation of the arms race can also be seen through his obscene military spending that would eventually leave his country in an economic downturn. Journalist Wyatt Andrews reports that early on in his presidency, Mr. Reagan had spent over 1 trillion dollars building up the US military29. Surely that much money was being put into the defense budget for a purpose – perhaps it was because the president knew that he was involved in an arms race unlike any that the world had seen before and he knew he needed to step things up if he was going to win the race and eventually, the war. Within Reagan’s first term as president, the defense budget more than doubled between 1980 and 1985. It skyrocketed from 142.6 billion dollars to 286.8 billion dollars. The US Navy also saw an increase in its artillery from 479 combat ships to 525 combat ships. New advancements were being made with the introduction of new tanks and new attack aircrafts as well. Reagan had the Pentagon working double time to train a larger number of soldiers and acquire as many new forms of nuclear weaponry as possible. His spending became so appalling that he basically put his country into a recession. This period of economic turmoil would later be referred to as “Reaganomics”. The president was more than content to keep adding onto the budget deficit and even run the country bankrupt, which he nearly did, so long as he could have the upper hand over the Soviets and their military.
Gorbachev and his people received the message and naturally they started to work on bulking up their military as well. There was nothing else they could do in case a war did break out. Reagan was making decisions and taking actions based upon the assumption that the Soviet Union would be unable to keep up with the United States and would eventually give up. In 1978 he was quoted as saying “the Soviet Union cannot possibly match us in an arms race”30. Therefore it would seem that Reagan had nothing to lose. He knew he could beat them if war were to arise. He packed up the US military budget and organized his country for the fight to win the arms race. On Reagan’s intense desire to build up his military, his secretary of defence at the time, Caspar W. Weinberger stated that: “He [Reagan] said this is a Cold War that needs to be won. It was a matter of demonstrating to them [the Soviets] that they couldn't win a war. In order to do that we had to regain our strength.31” Little did Reagan know when he was putting such a strong focus on nuclear concessions and weaponry attainment that by wanting to win a war he was not considering what the best way to achieve peace was or what the best plan of action would be to save the greatest number of civilian lives. He was not thinking of the effects that winning the war would have on the US, the USSR, or the world in general. This arms race could have become a hot war that would have resulted in millions of civilian totalities and total global terrorization; and Ronald Reagan was the one who escalated it. The actions taken by President Reagan were not the actions of a man who wanted to end a war. They were the actions of a man who was indifferent to whether the war ended or not, so long as he had won. A part of this strategy to triumph over the Soviets was his switch from détente to brinkmanship.
Détente: the easing of tensions or strained relations between nations as by negotiation or tacit understandings32. Brinkmanship: the practice of seeking advantage by creating the impression that one is willing and able to push a highly dangerous situation to the limit rather than concede33. The United States of America had been living in an era of détente for twenty years thanks to presidents such as Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. However, when Reagan came to power in 1981, a change in political policy for the country happened. The president made the conscious decision to move his country from détente to brinkmanship. By its very definition, brinkmanship was a much more aggressive approach to international relations and how they should be handled. By making this alteration to the country’s foreign policy, Reagan sends a message to the Soviet Union that he is willing to go to the brink to win the war, regardless of the cost or number of civilian lives put in jeopardy. Détente was a strategy that dictated peaceful negotiations and compromise as a method of dealing with conflict. Mr. Reagan did not discover that compromise is the best way to end a divergence of such large proportions. “Sticking to détente would have meant a quicker end to the Cold War. Brinkmanship did nothing but prolong poor relations with the USSR,” says Cold War historian Archie Brown34. By looking at this switch in political policy, it can be seen that Reagan is preparing to fight a war. Yes, the Cold War ended, but that was not the original intention of this president. A man who was trying his best to end a war would not have taken such a hostile approach to the enemy, as Reagan did. During the time before Ronald Reagan became president, the war had remained cold – no bomb had been used. This was because détente was the political policy in place during those years. A calm, peaceful way of dealing with the Soviet Union was the only way to ensure that a hot war did not break out. Reagan took an enormous chance in switching to brinkmanship, a strategy that could have brought war to the United States and total annihilation to the rest of the world within seconds. To say that the hostile approach taken by Ronald Reagan towards the Soviet Union was for the protection of the country and for the good of the people would be a fallacious lie. By waving the red flag in front of the bull’s face, the president was taking a chance that the bull would fight back, thus leaving the lives of American and Soviet civilians in the balance.
President Reagan inherited poor relations with the Soviet Union when he was elected to his first term in office and he made his disdain for the USSR and their policies blatantly obvious. In his March 8th, 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as “an evil empire”35 and called the arms race “[a] struggle between right and wrong and good and evil”36. These are not the words of a peaceful man. As far as Reagan was concerned, ending the Cold War was insignificant so long as he defeated communism. Author Peter Schweizer notes that “It was a struggle that consumed more of his attention than any other endeavour…death threats while waging it left him sitting up at night…and it brought him three assassination attempts.”37 Even before Reagan came into office he had a predisposed dislike towards the USSR. In examining his forty-year battle with communism, it can be seen that this disinclination affected his actions in trying to end the Cold War. Past presidents had their own ideas on how the Cold War should end. Immediately after WWII, Harry S. Truman instituted two failed policies in trying to deal with the spread of communism via the Soviet Union. Containment was a policy that was trying to contain communism in the West; while the iron curtain was a strategy to separate the countries split up in the Warsaw Pact and the creation of NATO. Both were failed attempts at trying to “slay the Soviet dragon”38. Reagan had no intention of keeping relations between the two feuding nations civil and amiable. Instead he referred to General Secretary Gorbachev as a “hardline Bolshevik”39 (referring to a harsh political party in the Soviet Union that included Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin), basically calling Gorbachev as bad as an evil tyrant. In general, Reagan should not have been called the man who ended the war but rather the crusader for the end of communism in the war. On communism, Reagan said this: “The years ahead will be great ones for our country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization. The West will not contain Communism, it will transcend Communism.”40 Here Reagan implies that communism is the opposite of freedom and civilization, that communism is the epitome of all things erroneous in the world. Even before a hot war broke out, Reagan’s preconceived notions towards the Soviet Union were flooding through his decision making process. His antagonistic approach to the USSR did not help to end the war. It only prolonged it. Reagan did not have a positive outlook on his opposition and a mindset for peace instead of warfare and this eventually hindered his chances of ever being able to claim he ended the war.
Reagan’s intense desire for the cessation of the spread of communism in the West was what drove most of his actions during his presidency. Just because he did not agree with communism did not mean that it was his job to destroy it. In examining the decisions made by this man during the war, it is shown that Reagan has no respect for the organization of his opponent country and had every aim to tear down their structure and beliefs. An example of this is the Berlin Wall. It was built in 1948 with the purpose of protecting the city of Berlin from the Allied forces. Several civilians were unable to exit the city of Berlin and thus the United States took an aggressive stand and began the Berlin Airlift. Several years later, Reagan delivers one of his most famous speeches at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12th, 1987. In it he says:
“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”41
However inspiring this speech was for the people within the city at the time, it did not affect any immediate change for the Soviets. The Berlin Wall was not torn down until 1989 - two years after Reagan made his speech. This shows that Reagan’s interference in Soviet affairs with the Berlin wall had no impact on the state of affairs. His unsympathetic address to Mikhail Gorbachev did no good. In fact, Mr. Gorbachev had every intention to “tear down this wall”42. When asked in a press conference if he would ever see the Berlin Wall fall he answered “Why not?”43. Simply put, the president’s entire front towards the Soviet Union was unfruitful and vain.
Ronald Reagan did not end the Cold War using his hostile tactics towards the USSR. His menacing speeches and deep disdain for the country and its policies was manifested in his every move and every word. Peace was not an objective of this president as can clearly be seen in his switch from détente to brinkmanship. The lives of all Americans were put into jeopardy because of this man’s deep desire to crush the Soviets. Both countries had nuclear power, and both countries could have blown each other up in seconds, but that knowledge did not stop Ronald Reagan from pushing his opposition to the edge and ensuring that they knew how serious he was about winning the war. Some may say that the Cold War would have continued for several more years had this president not taken a stand and switched to brinkmanship. After all, détente was doing no good for past presidents in the effort to end the war. However, taking such an aggressive stance against the opposition was not the best way to ensure peace for both countries and for the global community. Brinkmanship was harsh and unnecessary. Moreover, most of Reagan’s actions towards the Soviet Union throughout his presidency were unwarranted and superfluous. Historian John Gross suggests that “threatening the enemy to attain a reaction, as Ronald Reagan did in his brinkmanship policy, is no way to make peace.”44 The one man whose actions did well for his country and who saw change occur under his leadership was Mikhail Gorbachev.
Reagan and Gorbachev are the two men who were most in the public eye during the Cold War. The world was looking at them for a solution After World War II most of the Western countries were in poor shape. Knowing this, the US initiated programs they thought they could use to help, including the Marshall Plan. As far as the Soviet Union was concerned, reviving themselves after the war was an internal job. That is why the role of Mikhail Gorbachev in Soviet history is so crucial. It is through his ingenuity that reforms came to the nation. A principal example of this is in glasnost and perestroika. By definition, glasnost means “openness” and perestroika means “restructuring”. Gorbachev mentioned these two terms several times in his speeches throughout his ruling years and they became two key themes to his time as president. Perestroika referred to the economic and political reform that the general secretary hoped to implement in the country. It would mean a revolution for the nation including the contesting of new political parties in the country, the development of the governing role of the Soviets, and the promotion of democracy in the Communist Party. On the effects perestroika has on the economy, in his 1987 book Perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev says that:
“Perestroika is the all-round intensification of the Soviet economy, the revival and development of the principles of democratic centralism in running the national economy, the universal introduction of economic methods, the renunciation of management by injunction and by administrative methods, and the overall encouragement of innovation and socialist enterprise.”45
Perestroika was an initiative taken by Gorbachev with the intention of rebooting the economy and the political spectrum of his beloved USSR. On the other hand, glasnost was a strategy that is equivalent to what other countries in the world enjoy to be “freedom of the press” and “freedom of speech”. According to the Communist regime, these two concepts were totally foreign and in Joseph Stalin’s opinion, “utterly worthless”46. Mikhail Gorbachev detested lies and wanted the people of the Soviet Union to learn the truth about their history. He believed that the country could not prosper without help from the people themselves. Democracy was foreign to them due to a past filled with fraudulent leaders, such as Vladimir Lenin and Mikhail Gorbachev’s predecessor Yuri Andropov. “Without glasnost there is not, and there cannot be, democratism, the political creativity of the masses and their participation in management.”47 That is what Gorbachev says about his policy and the ramifications it has on the people. During the late 1980s it is vividly evident that both the US and the USSR were not in top form. Both countries needed strong leaders to implement change in the country. While Reagan had SDI to offer to his country, a project that never got itself off the ground, Gorbachev had policies of freedom and democracy for his people. Some critics, including Cold War specialist Raymond L. Garthoff, believe that glasnost and perestroika were failures. Glasnost led the USSR to have too much freedom that could not be kept under control by the government. Perestroika carried too much weight and failed because such radical changes were totally thwarted by the hardliners in the Gorbachev cabinet who believed the communist way of doing things was just fine48. That being said, these two policies are a distinctive factor in why Mikhail Gorbachev is a more important figure in the end of the Cold War than Ronald Reagan. While Reagan offered an escalation in the arms race and the total fear of MAD, Gorbachev offered economic, political, and social change that would be revolutionary for his country. Most importantly, these two policies were based internally in the USSR and required that the people of the country work together with their leader to get themselves out of the economic recession. Glasnost and perestroika were key in the presidency of this man as they were life-changing policies for the people of the Soviet Union that would lead to Gorbachev being one of the most popular leaders in the history of the nation.
Under Gorbachev’s rule, the Soviet armed forces were cut by ten percent, a significant decision made by the leader to show President Reagan that he had no desire to fight a full-blown war. Furthermore, 50,000 troops were withdrawn from Eastern Europe in an effort to make peace with that end of the world as well. If that was not enough, the number of Soviet tanks in Hungary, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia were reduced by 50 percent49. These actions showed that Gorbachev was a man that was yearning for peace. Though he contended that, “by including the 'nuclear component' in world politics, and on this basis unleashing a monstrous arms race -- and here the initiator was the United States, the West -- 'defence sufficiency was exceeded’ as the lawyers say,”50 Gorbachev remained unwilling to continue in an arms race. His speeches called for severe cuts in military defence spending and the profuse reduction of tanks and other military weaponry in outside countries. He knows that the USSR has several enemies and is willing to come to terms with these countries to ensure the maximum safety for his people.
Peace is a word that can be associated with Mr. Gorbachev. He met with President Reagan on four separate occasions with the intention of signing a treaty and reducing the armaments in both countries to ensure a rapid end to the war. From the first meeting in Geneva in November of 1985, Gorbachev came to the table with hopes of peace with the United States. He opts to get Reagan to reaffirm commitment to the SALT II treaty (a strategic defence agreement to set limits on the use of nuclear armaments). Reagan denies this request. The next year the two political figureheads meet in Reykjavik, Iceland to once again discuss the eradication of nuclear weaponry from both countries. Talks lasted for a week and it seemed to the watching world that negotiations would be fruitful. The two men came very close to signing a treaty on nuclear proliferation but the accord sizzled after Reagan remained unwilling to give up his SDI dream. Lastly, something that had “universal significance for mankind”51 (according to Mr. Gorbachev) happened. On December 8th, 1987, the INF Treaty was signed. Though Ronald Reagan is generally seen as the hero of the INF Treaty, in examining the circumstances of these three meetings, it is clear that President Gorbachev had the intention of making peace with President Reagan from the beginning in 1985. It takes two to tango and without Gorbachev’s aspiration for harmony, the treaty would never have been signed. He persevered through failed peace talks until the US leader was ready to realize that the obliteration of the majority of nuclear weapons in both countries was the best and most effective way to end the Cold War. Gorbachev was willing to give up his country’s nuclear armaments a long time before Reagan was. Different from Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev had no desire to win the war. His performance in his summit meetings with the US president show that he was, in fact, one of the larger figureheads in ending the war without the world being blown up. This shows that not only did Gorbachev manage to stabilize relations with the US but managed to rectify the poor situations in his own country as well.
The USSR had been a communist party since the time of the Bolsheviks and had been put under the leadership of such famous Communists as Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. All this changed when Gorbachev came to power. Credit for the introduction of democracy to this nation goes to none other than this man. Though he was a member of the Communist party himself, through his policies, such as perestroika, he was willing to introduce capitalism and democracy to the country. As much as an accomplishment as that was, history dictates that it was actually Boris Yeltsin who was the first democratic leader of the USSR52. While that may be true, it was Gorbachev who introduced this foreign idea to the country. Treaties made during the Cold War era were only made possible by Gorbachev’s open mind and his willingness to learn from past mistakes made by his predecessors. Once again, it is apparent that this man’s actions ended the Cold War.
Most important of all in Mikhail Gorbachev’s role in the end of the Cold War was that he was aware that his country could not fight another war. Praise is given to Reagan for taking down the Soviet empire, but what is unbeknownst to the general population is that Mikhail Gorbachev was more than knowledgeable on the situation at hand in the USSR. Their economy was short of a depression, their military was frazzled and spread out all over the globe, and the people were unwilling to enter into another war after World War II. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 was inevitable – it was not a result of the decisions made by President Reagan. Mikhail Gorbachev had no choice but to end the Cold War. In fact, the US leader did not leave his country much better off after his presidency. His military spending eventually wracked up and he left his successor George H. W. Bush with a load of debt. The difference between the economic situations in both countries was that the US was in a better position to recover from an economic downturn because they had a capitalist market. The knowledge that the Soviet Union was in trouble and Gorbachev’s attempts to help his country did not stop it from falling apart in 1991 at the end of his term as President. The shift from the Soviet Union to Russia occurred during the reign of Yeltsin but it would never have happened had it not been for Gorbachev. He knew that the country was headed for separation, which can be seen by his rationale in creating glasnost and perestroika. Through all this, Mikhail Gorbachev remains level headed and his desire for peace remains the same. Gorbachev did not want to fight a war where Reagan did. Looking back, it can be seen that he knows what is good for his country and he acts upon that knowledge. He revolutionized the country and gave them the beginnings of democracy53. Ronald Reagan cannot say that he gave his country as much. His legacy was a troubled economy and a failed dream of SDI. Though Reagan was one of the most well liked presidents in American history, it can be seen that ending the Cold War was not one of his highest and greatest achievements when the success goes to the Soviet leader Gorbachev instead.
The Cold War was a period defined by mistrust and fear. At no other time in history has the world been so close to being obliterated by nuclear concessions. This forty-year battle between the United States and the Soviet Union began at the end of the Second World War and went through several leaders until it ended in the 1990s. The end of the Cold War was overseen by two powerful men of the time, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. That said, only one of those men is given the credit for ending the Cold War altogether. That man is Ronald Reagan. However, did Ronald Reagan really end the Cold War? Some historians would answer that he did. He pushed the Soviets to the limit of their abilities and got them to surrender. He realized that a détente strategy was tiptoeing around the problem that was most imminently faced by his country and changed the policy in order to affect change. He created the SDI – a project that would revolutionize defensive tactics for his country.54 This project was a labour of love for the president who never got to see the venture executed. He instituted a hard line policy in dealing with the rapid growth of nuclear proliferation. Reagan was a nuclear abolitionist who believed in the complete obliteration of nuclear weapons both in the US and the USSR. It was his dream to see a world where he could sign a treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev and end the war and that dream came true. Looking back at the late Ronald Reagan’s presidency, there is absolutely a case to be made that his greatest accomplishment was ending the Cold War55. Nevertheless, an even stronger argument can be made for the opposition.
Various Cold War historians who have taken an extensive look at the battle and how it came to an end declare that it was not Ronald Reagan who actually ended the war. His Strategic Defence Initiative was nothing but a fanciful dream that was impractical in its applications. It would not have protected the American citizens as Reagan advertised. In actuality, it would put the lives of the people in jeopardy, as it was a sign of war and taken as such by the Soviet Union. Reagan was preparing for a war; there is no other reason to be considering the defence of a country. Furthermore, Reagan’s policies on nuclear concessions were largely hypocritical. He claimed to be anti-war and yet his defence spending cost the country to be enveloped in gross debt. By putting such a large focus on nuclear armaments and other weapons of war, he escalated the arms race between the US and the USSR. His personal feelings towards the Soviet Union hindered his judgement and did not allow him to end the war as quickly as possible. His greedy desire to stop communism was more important to him. In the end, it was not Reagan who defeated the Soviet Union at all. They were already at a disadvantage and their collapse was inevitable regardless of any actions or inactions from Ronald Reagan. Finally, Ronald Reagan was not responsible for ending the Cold War because he did not contribute as much as Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviet Union was in turmoil since the end of World War II and the leader knew that they could not afford to get into another war56. He continuously pushed for peace and the eradication of all nuclear weapons from both countries. His policies altered the way his country ran while the policies Reagan introduced left his country with nothing changed and nothing gained. Mikhail Gorbachev was the true hero of the Cold War.
From this era of trials and tribulations for two of the world’s greatest superpowers, one can learn that an eye for an eye will only leave both parties blind. The Cold War ended because one person was willing to stand up and say that they would not walk into a dark abyss that would leave the world with no stars to look up to. Emphasizing defence tactics and political strategies is not the way to end a war, but Ronald Reagan did not realize this. Where this president went wrong was in his approach to peace. He wanted to beat the Soviets and tear down their communist ways. Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to compromise on shared interests and pave a way for his country to live without further conflict57. In a situation where so much is at stake, not only for the two parties involved, but also for the global community as a whole, care must be taken to ensure that the most effective solution is found. Ronald Reagan did not do this and therefore was futile as the man who supposedly ended the war.
To conclude, the Cold War was a relatively recent example of what heated tensions between two nations can amount to. The same situation could occur at any moment in time. There could be another Cold War tomorrow if the people who are in charge, our nation’s leaders, do not consider peace first. It is crucial that the world learns from the mistakes made during the Cold War and that they are never repeated. To ensure that the fear experienced during the Cold War will never be relived, countries need to compromise and work together. Leaders need to work with the citizens of their countries and come up with a solution that benefits the country as a whole. When people work together, common goals can be achieved. Mikhail Gorbachev said it best when he said: “The end of the Cold War is our common victory.”