The collapse of the USSR was caused by internal problems and had nothing to do with the Cold War. Assess this view.
“The collapse of the USSR was caused by internal problems and had nothing to do with the Cold War”. Assess this view.
In 1991, after over half a century of communist rule, the USSR ceased to exist as a political entity after many years of decline. This statement asserts that the cause for this cessation was only due to the effects caused by issues, policies and the framework within the USSR itself, and had absolutely no relation with regards to the external problem of the Cold War - defined by Ann Lane as a state of tension, conflict, hostility and competition which characterized US-USSR relations though not amounting to an actual war; this subscribes to the Soviet Initiative school of thought. However, this statement is unfair insofar that the collapse of the USSR was not only the result of trouble within its territorial boundaries, but rather a combination of factors both internal and external, including the foundational weakness of the Soviet economic system coupled with the long term pressure brought forth by the US policy of containment, the Reagan Doctrine as a catalyst, the turning point in USSR’s history with Gorbachev’s reforms and finally the immediate effect of the August 1991 coup d’etat that characterized the USSR’s decline. As such, this essay espouses that it was an amalgamation of both factors both within and outside the USSR that served as a foundation, catalysis, turning point and trigger that resulted in the disintegration of the USSR.
The decline of the USSR which resulted in its eventual breakdown found its roots all the way back to its inception and foundation. The Soviet economic system, based on a command economy whereby the state determined its course rather than the market based economy which the rest of the world adopted was inherently flawed. With its obsession to meet unattainable targets, it often produced goods of inferior quality and had a lack of focus on other sectors like consumer goods, making it highly unbalanced. This economic inefficiencies coupled with impartiality within the economy resulted in substantial wastage of resources and manpower, and a lower standard of living in the USSR as compared to other superpower nations. This unsustainable economic model served as the foundation for the buildup of the various factors that crippled the nation which eventually led to its demise. Another foundational facet of the containment policy. The US’s policy of containment introduced after WWII in 1947, as part of the Cold War, which pledged to “reduce Soviet expansionism without liberating already occupied areas, fracturing the communist as far as possible”, among other things kickstarted the arms race which in turn resulted in the USSR devoting a huge amount of its budget on its military. This crippled the USSR’s ability to sustain and develop herself, which resulted in the protracted decline of the USSR and after some time its collapse. Thus, it is evident that the foundational factors of the Soviet economy, an internal factor, and containment, an external factor as part of the Cold War jointly shaped and influenced the course of the USSR’s road to collapse.
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In addition, it was the product of external factors, derived from the Cold War, that served as a catalyst for the USSR’s decline and eventual disintegration. The Reagan Doctrine, a strategy orchestrated and implemented under the Reagan Administration which defined USA’s foreign policy towards the USSR, exerted external pressure towards the USSR and thus exacerbated the the latter’s decline. Star Wars, introduced in 1984 as part of the doctrine, was an advanced defense system which relied on a combination of ground and space based systems. This breakaway from nuclear warfare which the USSR just managed to achieve parity with the USA alarmed the USSR, causing her to rapidly ramp up her military spending, exacerbating the strain on her already flawed and stressed economy. Additionally, the policy of rollback as part of the doctrine resulted in USA’s covert intervention in the 1979 Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan only served to further exhaust the Red Army and the USSR’s resources, accelerating the decline of the Soviet Union. Thus, we can observe that the effort of the Reagan Doctrine which manifested as part of the Cold War would serve to catalyze the demise of the USSR, building upon the foundational weaknesses of the Soviet economy and the increasingly confrontational stance of the USA’s foreign policy towards the USSR which first saw light in containment, thus leading to its eventual collapse in 1991.
Furthermore, the reforms brought forth internally in the USSR in the final years of her existence placed the Soviet Union at the crossroads of her history, radically changing her political and economic affairs which commenced the nation’s final lap to her demise. Gorbachev’s reforms, marking a dramatic shift of the USSR’s policies, instituted the policy of Glasnost. Glasnost allowed for the first time in USSR’s history open criticism of the Soviet political, economic and social system. This resulted in an explosion of disenchantment and anger among the general populace, making the weaknesses and failures of the country more apparent. Consequently, this relaxation of freedom of speech led to the separation of eastern Europe satellite states in 1989. Thus we can see, Glasnost acutely diminished the prestige and legitimacy of the CPSU and the USSR as a whole, pushing the country towards its collapse a few years later. Demokratizatsiya, introduced alongside Glasnost, also brought forth dire effects towards the survival of the USSR. The first ever election of a legislative body in March 1989 further exacerbated the effect of glasnost, eliminating many communists from its legislation and instituted the revelation of every scandal and shortcoming within the Soviet system. This further decayed whatever power and authority held on by the CPSU, making communism in USSR a lame duck waiting for its collapse.
Finally, we also have to take into account the immediate trigger in the collapse of the USSR, which was the result of the culmination of both internal and external factors, coupled with the USSR’s sudden reform as party of the Gorbachev Administration. In August 1991, the attempted coup d’etat by the hardliners met with resistance from the army and failed. This was significant as this was met with a huge outcry within the country, with massive protests throughout major cities within the USSR. This served as a clear indication that the the people overwhelmingly disapproved of the CPSU and their rule in the USSR, further chipping away whatever legitimacy they still had and spearheaded the independence of various Soviet socialist republics. As a result, we can distinctly observe that the failed 1991 coup served as a trigger, sparking off the result decades of factors both internal and external, causing the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In essence, we can see that the collapse of the USSR was not an implosion, caused only by the result of inefficiencies, policies, and struggles that manifested at home. Rather, it was the combined effort of factors originating within its borders coupled with pressures which found roots externally, that provided the foundation, that catalyzed, that altered its course and finally elicited the collapse of one of the most colossal superpowers of the 20th century.
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This essay points out most of the important factors in the USSR's downfall. There is a good balance between internal and external pressures. The main missing point is any reference to Eastern Europe- by 1948 the USSR controlled Eastern Europe and was exploiting its resources, but by the 1980s it was a political and economic liability (e.g. rising unrest in Poland). But to get a really high grade the writer would need to weigh the argument in the question more. The US liked to claim that its hardline policies under Reagan had forced the USSR into an rams race it could neither afford financially or match technologically. Other historians would argue that the USSR knew it had to reform, and it was Gorbachev's attempts to do this that finally finished the USSR off. In nay case the final paragraph should develop this point rather more directly than it does, because that is what the question is asking.