(Sources) - How far do you agree with the view that Reagans actions to roll back the Soviet empire led to the ending of the Cold war?
Use Sources J, K and L and your own knowledge. How far do you agree with the view that Reagan’s actions to roll back the Soviet empire led to the ending of the Cold war?
After Carter’s failure in dealing with yet another Soviet aggression; Reagan’s anti-communist ideas had appealed greatly to the American population resulting in a victory for Reagan. A staunch right winger, his hatred of communism was well known. Reagan saw the USSR and communism in unsophisticated moral terms as the embodiment of evil. His forthright hostility towards the USSR symbolised the change in American public opinion caused by the growing disillusionment with Détente. American right wing encouraged Reagan’s new foreign policies to be the essential factors in rolling back the Soviet empire. However to what extent the Reagan Doctrine was successful and whether or not it was responsible for the ending of the Cold War cannot be solely explained by this Triumphalist view presented in source J. The role of Gorbachev and the East Europeans themselves had also played a vital part in the ending of the Cold War as outlined in source K; but as Zubok explains in source L, that the end of the Cold War was a by-product of many factors all linking in with each other. One explanation on its own isn’t enough because, although pressure from the West did allow the tensions to rise to the surface; the “process of liberalisation inside the Soviet Union” was already undermining the communist system from within, causing the collapse of communism later on.
The Triumphalist views mentioned by Frances Fitzgerald in source J suggest that the rise of neoconservatives i.e. “Reagan’s advisers” caused the attitudes to change of the American public as they were “going back to the roots” to “create a ‘revolution’ in government”. Thus the re-enactment of a hard-line approach to communism was introduced through the establishing of the Reagan Doctrine to provide necessary pressure on the USSR causing it collapse therefore “winning the Cold War”. This was heavily supported by the American right wingers arguing that an aggressive stance against communism and its expansion would show the Soviet Union how serious and effective the USA is. According to J. L. Gaddis, the re-evaluation of the arms programme was what crippled the Soviet Union’s economic state so they had no choice but to call an end to the arms race and the Cold War. He also argues that the SDI programme was the final straw for the Soviet economy to become on the brink of bankruptcy. However, the views highlighted by the Ideational School suggest that Soviet scientists did not consider SDI to be a realistic policy – rather, something in the realm of science fiction so it can be argued that the SDI programme wasn’t significant in pressurising the Soviet Union but rather unnecessarily expended enormous amounts of dollars which could’ve been put to better use. Regardless of the limited successes of the SDI programme, Reagan’s approach was strengthened by the support he received from Thatcher; she enabled him to deploy nuclear missiles in Europe, as having US nuclear missiles based in Britain was of vital importance in putting pressure on the Soviet Union since it was tangible evidence of Reagan’s new anti-communist approach.
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On the contrary, historians writing at that time may have been biased towards Reagan’s policies as they saw firm action as the only effective way of standing up to aggression. This was reinforced by events such as the war in Iraq against the dictator Saddam Hussein – using the end of the end of the Cold War as a justification for the foreign policies of Reagan. But Zubok discusses, in source L, how “the pressure from the West revived Cold War tensions, but it is hard to see it as a decisive factor” and this is because the critics of Triumphalists i.e. George Shultz, argues that US pressure did little to help win the Cold War since a hard-line stance against communism had proved ineffective when applied in Vietnam in the 1960s. On the other hand, Schweitzer argues that the end of the Cold War was due to Reagan turning away from the policy of Détente towards a more aggressive stance; his policy marked a change from that of previous US administrations but he based most of his research on interviews with Triumphalist writers who served in the Reagan administration making him more favourable to Reagan.
In source K, Clifford argues that it was Gorbachev’s change in intentions and attitude to working with the West was the key factor that reduced international tension between the superpowers: “It was Gorbachev... who... ended the Cold War”. This view is also emphasised by critics of Triumphalists; Raymond Garthoff argues that the end of the Cold War was due to Gorbachev’s New Political Thinking and the concessions he was prepared to offer to the USA. Similarly, in the Ideational School, Triumphalist views had been challenged by historians who point to the fact that Soviet leaders had already come to the conclusion that superpower rivalry was counterproductive before the arms programme of Reagan. Soviets had decided that they have been over-committing enormous amounts of resources to the military e.g. the Afghan commitment had been a huge drain before Reagan so his arms programme created little additional pressure. According to M. Bowker: Reagan’s policies “may have delayed an earlier Soviet move toward détente” (as stated in source K by Clifford) by giving conservative elements within the Soviet leadership a better case for continuing the conflict by highlighting the hostility of the enemy. Contrarily, critics of communism argue that internal factors undermined the Soviet Union more than anything else. The key factor being that weaknesses were inherent in the ideology of communism and therefore the collapse of communism was inevitable. Source K mentions that “East Europeans themselves” were also responsible for the breakdown of communist regimes as it mentions examples such as Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement in Poland, and Vaclav Havel’s ‘Velvet Revolution’. In Poland, support remained high for Solidarity despite it being outlawed due to a failure of the government to solve economic difficulties. The support was reinforced by Papal visits in 1983 and 1987. By 1988 the government was prepared to introduce some reforms due to Gorbachev’s new policies in the USSR hence Solidarity was legalised and defeated the Communist Party in the 1989 general elections causing the communist party to collapse as an organisation altogether. In the Czechoslovakian ‘Velvet Revolution’, the public organisation which emerged to coordinate the campaign to get rid of the communist government was successful under severe public pressure forced the communists to cave in and introduce reforms in 1989. These events provide evidence for people power and revolutions against communism.
In source L, Zubok also remarks people power as the “process of liberalisation inside the Soviet Union” to be what “unleashed” and later allow the fall of communism. The development of popular protest movements – ‘people power’ – across Eastern Europe was a consequence of the failure of communist regimes and evidence for this is what was previously mentioned and photographs of large crowds physically dismantling the Berlin Wall in November 1989. However in source K, it accentuates the role of Gorbachev as it discusses that popular movements which brought about the collapse of communist regimes were only possible because of changes brought about by the Soviet leadership i.e. Gorbachev’s policies acted as a catalyst for changes thus resulting in the end of the Cold War. The date source L was published can be significant as it was published in 1992, which was just after the end of the Cold War when the Soviet archives were also recently being published so making this a good revision on some of the previous views on the ending of the Cold War.
In conclusion, sources J and K all link in with source L as source L discusses how the pressures from the West and people power from the East has played a role, alongside the eroding communist regimes to produce a by-product which is the end of the Cold War. Reagan’s actions to roll back the Soviet empire could therefore be argued to only have limited successes because other factors, such that were argued in source K and L, have contributed to the failure of the communist regimes. Zubok has drawn attention to this factor by arguing that the generational shift in society was to be reflected by the generational change amongst the leadership. However, he criticises Gorbachev to have “failed terribly” domestically as he became increasingly unpopular in the USSR and his policies for economic restructuring had failed to improve the living standards of the Soviet population. As a result food queues; strikes by workers in key industries who had not been paid wages for months; inflation and rising crime were all features of Soviet life by 1988. But even his failures had played an important role alongside the “progressive paralysis” of the Soviet Union. Zubok, being a new Russian historian, argues that Soviet archives has allowed a re-evaluation of the impact of national experiences and ideology on policy-making therefore making it possible to provide a balanced view rather than biased views present in sources J and K. weighing everything up, it is allowed to come to a conclusion that source L outweighed the other sources and gave its own interpretation altogether; suggesting that Reagan and his anti-communist policies were only a small contribution to the demise of communism and thus the end of the Cold War.
A2 History Essay