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These Are Main Reasons For The End Of The Cold War

Cold War [1985-1991]

By Saul Mcleod, Last Updated: May 23, 2022

The two global superpowers, USA and USSR, along with their allies formed a union to fight against a common enemy, Adolf Hitler, in World War 2. But this alliance broke down after the defeat of Nazi Germany, thus resulting in the start of the Cold War. 

The cold war was a period of tension between the US and the Soviet Union. They did not enter into an actual war of arms, but instead, tormented each other with economic reforms, propaganda, proxy wars, etc.

Let us do a deep dive into history and discuss the major events of the cold war and the causes that led to its end. 

1. The Fall of The Berlin Wall

In 1958, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, angered by the increasing migration of people from East Germany to West Germany, wanted to merge both regions to form a demilitarized free city, which was to be ruled by the Soviet system under a communist regime. 

When the US, Great Britain, and France refused to leave, Khrushchev addressed the migration problem by constructing the infamous Berlin Wall. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed this event as the “descent of an iron curtain” and condemned the Soviet Union’s policies. 

November 9, 1989, was a focal point in the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. The Berlin wall had finally fallen because of the Soviet reforms under the leadership of Gorbachev and the increasing pressure from the people of Eastern Europe. 

This pivotal moment in history also paved the way for German reunification. 

2. End of Soviet War in Afghanistan

On December 24, 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan and installed a communist government. Islamic groups, called Mujahideen, within Afghanistan were nationalists and against the communist ideology. They were heavily armed and funded by the US and China. 

The USSR spent an estimated amount of 50 billion dollars, while the country was in economic stagnation due to the tactics deployed by the Reagan administration. USSR experienced a heavy decline in morale, military force, and economic pressures. 

The red army withdrew its troops in 1989, as ordered by Gorbachev, and signed a peace treaty. 

3. Role of Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev

The 8th leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, abandoned the Marxist-Leninist ideology and embraced capitalism in the west. He was the first leader of the new generation and had very different ideas from the previous Soviet leaders. 

He introduced two major policies for the reconstruction of the USSR. Gorbachev’s reforms were instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Union. 


The policy of Perestroika was about reforming the government and the economy. It aimed to boost the living standards of the Soviet citizens and for small businesses to thrive. It also meant reducing expenditure on arms and the military. 


Glasnost meant transparency and freedom of speech. Gorbachev wanted to include the people of the Soviet Bloc in its activities and encourage them to voice their problems. 

The uncensored and free media unveiled the truth of events like the Afghan war, Chernobyl, etc. The openness shown by the Soviet government eased countries across the world from the threat of nuclear war and led to the de-escalation of the cold war.

4. Role of US President Ronald Reagan

After being elected, Reagan approached the cold war by playing offense. He struck USSR where it hurt the most, their crumbling economy.

The US significantly increased its military spending, drawing the Soviet Union into an expensive arms race, which they could not afford. 

The US also isolated the USSR from the world economy, driving the oil prices to the lowest they had ever been. Without the oil revenue, their economy declined furthermore. 

Important Events In The Cold War

These are some of the important events that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war.

The Korean War

The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953. The Soviet Union provided aid to the North Korean forces in the form of military weapons like guns, tanks, and fighter jets. And the US, which aided South Korea, spent 67 billion dollars in the war.

The war came to an end with a truce between North Korea and South Korea, which kept them divided with a demilitarized zone in between. 

Cuban Missile Crisis

During the cold war, the US and the Soviet Bloc were oriented toward strengthening their defense by developing ballistic missiles. In 1962, the Soviets secretly constructed a nuclear missile base in Cuba, ready to launch an attack on the US.

President Kennedy called for the removal of the nuclear weapons and formed a naval blockade around Cuba to extort the Soviet leader, Khrushchev. He, in return, sent Soviet ships near where the US ships were situated. 

This conflict could have led to a nuclear war but both countries were skeptical to use missiles for fear of mutual destruction. And the lack of Soviet ships to match the US defense also played a part in Khrushchev backing down. 

The Vietnam War

North Vietnam, backed by the Soviet Union and the guerrilla fighters known as the Viet Cong, aimed to unite Vietnam under communist regimes

The US formed a military alliance with South Vietnam and supplied over two million troops. Despite having a humongous force, the longevity of the war resulted in wavering public support and loss of morale. Half a million soldiers deserted the military and many protests broke out in the country. Seeing this, the US signed a peace treaty with North Vietnam.

After the North Vietnam army overran Saigon in 1975, the war came to an end. The war was a victory for North Vietnam. South Vietnam has remained under communist rule ever since.

Another major crisis of the cold war was the Berlin Blockade and Airlift.

Here is some more information about the cold war between the united states and the soviet union.

What Effect Did the Cold War Have on the Soviet Union?

The cold war ended when the Soviet Union collapsed. It put an end to the arms race between the US and the USSR. The policies by Gorbachev gave rise to nationalism and opposition to Soviet tactics in Eastern Europe. 

Who Won The Cold War?

Many historians agree that the US won the cold war. Their victory was a result of their wealth and manpower. They have a larger economy than the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy could not keep up with US’s military spending and thus bled their coffers dry.


The cold war started in 1945, right after World War II, and lasted till 1981. Gorbachev and George Bush restored the provisions of the Yalta conference at the Malta summit of 1989, which was a step towards the new free world. And Russia recognized the dissolution of the Soviet Union. 

Cite this Article (Chicago Style)

Mcleod, S. "These Are Main Reasons For The End Of The Cold War." World History Blog, May 23, 2022.

About the Author

Saul Mcleod is a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has recently worked as a psychology teaching assistant for The University of Manchester, Division of Neuroscience & Experimental Psychology

He previously worked for Wigan and Leigh College, where he was a psychology lecturer for ten years, primarily teaching A-level psychology and sociology.

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