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How Did the Cold War End?

Important Contributing Factors on How the Cold War Really Ended

There is no definitive answer as to how did the Cold War end, because such overwhelming acts of human brutality and distrust do not occur overnight. Many small events inevitably lead to such major shifts, and the end of the Cold War was also littered with a confluence of such happenings.
Rahul Thadani
Last Updated: Mar 2, 2018
Marine Corps Memorial Statue With American Flag
One of the most distressing and threatening wars in the history of mankind was the Cold War. What made this war so unique was that it was not an all out battle between two nations. Rather, it was a time of tense hostility and suspicion between the two strongest nations at the time, the USA and the erstwhile USSR. The Cold War was a constant thorn in the development of these nations, because they both viewed each other with undisguised suspicion, and the name of the game was to collect as many arms as possible to showcase their individual superiority, to get as many allies as possible on each side, and to carry out intense espionage. Numerous lives were changed due to this event, and the fact is that the whole world was on the brink of a devastating war for many years, and there was no telling how much damage this could have actually done.
To understand the causes and effects of wars is an impossible task, since it is a confluence of several factors that lead to such a situation. There is no one single event that leads to such occurrences, and the same can be said when a certain war ends as well. Today, it would be very easy to simply attribute the War's end to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but the reality is far from this. Several different factors contributed towards the end of the Cold War, and we will be discussing these events in this article.
How the Cold War Ended
When Mikhael Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union as the General Secretary of the Communist party in 1985, he changed the face of the world. The Soviet Union was going through a torrid phase at the time, owing to several different reasons, and the dissenting voices against the very costly arms race and the rule of the Communist party were growing strongly. Gorbachev took it upon himself to end the strife his nation was suffering, and started a reform process that would convert Russia into a democratic state. He put into place several treaties and movements which literally ended the Cold War, but unfortunately, resulted in the breakdown of the Soviet Union into 16 different countries as well. This was not something that he had envisioned, but it can also be said that the War would not have ended so abruptly, if this disintegration has not taken place.
Failing Russian Economy
Oil prices saw a rapid decline in the 1980s, and this drastically affected the foreign earnings of the Soviet Union at the time. This prompted Gorbachev to undertake several reformative measures with the sole aim of uplifting the economy. He introduced the concepts of Perestroika, or restructuring, and Glasnost, or openness, to counter the secrecy that surrounded the workings of the Government of the Soviet Union. Moreover, with the aim of getting one over the United States in terms of weapons and arms, the Soviet Union was spending billions of dollars to collect such arms, and this was also leading to a fall in the economical state of the nation. All this led to many liberal reforms in the nation which were not handled properly nor taken well by the member states, and this led to several revolutions which ultimately destroyed the USSR.
War in Afghanistan
Between 1979 and 1989, the Soviets were aiding the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan fight against the Afghan Mujahideen and other Arab-Afghan infiltrators. Eventually, the United States also got involved in this war, with the sole purpose of opposing the Soviets. The loss of personnel and equipment suffered during the 9 year war was too much to take for the general public, and there were several public outcries at the time to put a stop to the madness.
Effect on Other Nations
Whenever there was a conflict between two other nations, they always approached either the Soviet Union or the USA for help. As a result, almost the entire world was divided into two blocs, and this was affecting both these nations. They found themselves embroiled in several conflicts that did not involve them at all, and this eventually led to severe backlashes in both nations.
Enhanced Communication Between USSR and USA
For many different reasons, the relations between the USA and the Soviet Union started thawing and many unilateral talks were held. Ronald Reagan, who was the President of the United States at the time, agreed to hold several economic discussions with the Soviet Union, and the focus ultimately shifted to the reduction in the arms race that had carried on for decades. In 1985, the first of such meetings was held in Geneva, Switzerland, and this marked the beginning of the end of the War. The final meeting was held in Moscow, where Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush signed an arms control treaty, and in 1989, at the Malta Summit, the Cold War was officially declared as over.
The underlying cause of the end of the war, however, was the growing resentment in Soviet World about a war that was costing lives and money, and prohibiting genuine economic development. The harsh rule of the Communists in the Soviet Union also contributed towards feelings of resentment, and all these factors combined together to end the Cold War, which had led to the most hostile and suspicious times that humanity had ever seen.