The end of the Cold War is often deemed as the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991. However, the true end of the confrontation between the United States and the USSR was actually declared two years earlier. Through joint diplomatic efforts, Moscow and Washington were able to ease the tension that had been growing between them throughout the 1980s. This trust not only led the United States to consider integrating the USSR into the international relations system of the 1990s, but also motivated them to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Although the last decade of the Cold War did not play out in favor of the USSR, as their economy suffered from the protracted arms race, the Soviet leadership sought a compromise with the United States. However, this initiative was ruined by Ronald Reagan’s infamous speech labelling the USSR as an “evil empire” following the tragic downing of a Korean Air Lines Boeing 747.
When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, he made the first move towards ending the conflict. In 1985, the Soviet Union imposed a unilateral moratorium on the deployment of operational-tactical missile complexes in European countries. Then, in January 1986, the USSR announced a step-by-step nuclear disarmament campaign. Gorbachev’s actions were an attempt to establish peace, but also reflected the Soviet Union’s desire to slow down the arms race and ease the economic burden it placed on the country.
This set the stage for a special relationship between Gorbachev and Reagan, and the two countries moved towards a more radical disarmament policy. In December 1987, the leaders signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which banned short and medium-range missiles. They pledged to destroy all ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles within the specified ranges and committed to not producing or deploying such missiles in the future.
At the Malta Summit in late 1989, Gorbachev and Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, announced the end of the Cold War. The Yalta Agreements of 1945, which divided Europe into areas of influence, were replaced by what the Soviet Union called the “Sinatra Doctrine,” giving Eastern European satellite nations the freedom to do things “their way.” In 1990, the USSR agreed to the reunification of Germany within NATO, marking the absorption of the socialist East by the capitalist West. The USSR also signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), which significantly reduced the number of Soviet troops in Europe and prevented large-scale surprise attacks.
Gorbachev’s policy was not without criticism. Some in the United States believed that the Soviet Union was being treated too favorably. However, the White House preferred negotiations with the socialist regime rather than risking its collapse and the potential dispersion of its nuclear arsenal. The US feared that if a civil war were to break out in the USSR, the nuclear weapons could end up in the wrong hands.
In August 1991, Bush delivered a speech in Ukraine, making it clear that the United States did not support the separation of the Ukrainian SSR or other Union republics from the USSR. This stance disappointed those hoping for US support for democratic trends in the republic, as the White House believed that independence driven by ethnic hatred would only replace one form of tyranny with another.
In conclusion, the end of the Cold War was not solely marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was a result of years of joint diplomatic efforts between Moscow and Washington. Gorbachev’s willingness to make concessions and the trust established between him and Reagan and later Bush led to arms limitations, treaties, and a change in the relationship between the two superpowers. Although not without criticism, the decision to prevent the collapse of the USSR and work towards a peaceful resolution showed the desire to avoid further conflict and secure global stability.