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Mikhail Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War

Earlier this month, Mikhail Gorbachev celebrated his 75th birthday with a concert and conference at his foundation in Moscow. Unfortunately, he is not popular with the Russian people, who blame him for the loss of Soviet power. But, as Gorbachev has replied to those who shout abuse at him, “Remember, I am the one who gave you the right to shout.”

When he came to power in 1985, Gorbachev tried to discipline the Soviet people as a way to overcome economic stagnation. When discipline failed to solve the problem, he launched perestroika (“restructuring”). And when bureaucrats continually thwarted his orders, he used glasnost, or open discussion and democratization. But once glasnost let people say what they thought, many people said, “We want out.” By December 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

Gorbachev’s foreign policy, which he called “new thinking,” also contributed to the Cold War’s end. Gorbachev said that security was a game from which all could benefit through cooperation. Rather than try to build as many nuclear weapons as possible, he proclaimed a doctrine of “sufficiency,” holding only a minimal number for protection. He also believed that Soviet control over an empire in Eastern Europe was costing too much and providing too little benefit, and that the invasion of Afghanistan had been a costly disaster.

By the summer of 1989, East Europeans were given more degrees of freedom. Gorbachev refused to sanction the use of force to put down demonstrations. By November, the Berlin Wall had fallen.