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american history

the end of the cold war


*ronald reagan restored americans’ confidence and pride in themselves and their country.  he did this partly be building up the military in a new arms race with the soviet union, which reagan called an evil empire.  this not only made the us capable of defending ourselves and our allies from attack, but it also forced the ussr to spend money to keep up with american military spending.  the soviet union, however, was not truly able to afford this, particularly because of its commitment in afghanistan.


*reagan not only built new bombers and missiles, but he promoted the strategic defence initiative (sdi) or star wars, a plan for land- and space-based lasers to shoot down enemy missiles, potentially making the us and our allies safe from nuclear attack.


*reagan also funded anti-communist groups around the world.  he supported the mujahedeen in afghanistan.  he sent troops to invade the caribbean island of grenada when pro-communist forces overthrew its government. 


*he also sent money, weapons, and advisors to the anti-communist contras in nicaragua.  however, this led to the iran-contra affair, a scandal that developed when it was discovered that the us had secretly sold military equipment to our enemy iran to get money to support the contras.


*reagan also sent the marines to lebanon to try to stop a civil war there, but pulled them out after a suicide bomber drove a truck with explosives into their barracks. 


*reagan later bombed libya after terrorists supported by libya bombed a nightclub in berlin that was popular with american soldiers (two of whom were killed in the blast).


*by reagan’s second term, the soviet union was under enough pressure from the west and from its own people to consider reform, partly because it had a new, young leader, mikhail gorbachev.


*gorbachev began policies of perestroika (reform) and glasnost (openness—limited freedom of the press).  he did this partly because he truly believed that the soviet government was not taking care of its people (especially its farmers) as it should, but also because the soviet economy was falling apart. 


*between 1985 and 1989, reagan and gorbachev met four times.  together they worked out the strategic arms reduction treaty (start) which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons each country owned.


*in 1987, ronald reagan visited berlin, and gave a speech in front of the berlin wall.  although he praised gorbachev’s reforms, he said they had not gone far enough and directly addressed the soviet leader:  'mr gorbachev, tear down this wall!'


*as soviet citizens began to experience some freedom and to have more exposure to the luxuries of the west (like levi's jeans, pepsi-cola, and mcdonald's) they wanted reform to come even faster than the government was allowing it to, even though gorbachev pulled soviet troops out of afghanistan in 1989. 


*the soviet union's satellite countries began to demand greater freedom, too.

*in 1989,
hungary elected a non-communist government and opened its border with austria, and soon people from all over eastern europe, especially east germany, went to hungary, then austria, then west germany or elsewhere in europe.

east germany pressure for reform led to demands to allow free travel between east and west berlin, and when the government agreed (but did not specify how it would work) jubilant crowds took matters into their own hands.  the flooded the checkpoints on 9 november, 1989, and within days, began tearing down the wall.  on 3 october, 1990, germany was re-unified.


*the other communist countries of europe also overthrew their communist governments between 1989 and 1991, and czechoslovakia and yugoslavia even broke up into different countries.  czechoslovakia did so peacefully, but yugoslavia broke up during a civil war characterised by ethnic cleansing by most sides.


*on the other hand, demonstrations in tiananmen square in beijing in 1989 were brutally crushed by the chinese government.


*in august 1991, hard-line politicians and military officers in the soviet union attempted a coup, arresting gorbachev.  they did not have the support of the people or many members of the government, and the president of the russian soviet federative socialist republic (and former mayor of moscow) boris yeltsin led opposition to the coup, which quickly collapsed.  gorbachev was released, but had lost his authority.

*in august and september, 1991, all the republics of the
union of soviet socialist republics (except russia, although it also considered it) declared independence from the ussr.  on christmas day, 1991, gorbachev resigned.  on the 26th, the ussr dissolved. 

*boris yeltsin went on the serve as president of
russia until 1999, during which time he oversaw democratisation, economic liberalisation, and friendship with europe and the united states, even supporting the us in the 1991 war in iraq


*ronald reagan is generally given credit for the collapse of the soviet union.  his consistent support of anti-communist groups and his military spending was too much for the ussr to keep up with.


*by the time the soviet union fell, george h. w. bush, reagan’s vice-president, had become president of the united states. 


*it seemed a hopeful time:  not only was communism was collapsing around the world, but latin american countries were developing more democratic governments (although in panama this only happened after bush sent 12,000 troops to overthrow dictator manuel noriega), and south africa ended its policy of apartheid, allowing black south africans to vote (in 1994 they elected nelson mandela, the nation’s first black president).


*even a major crisis seemed hopeful, as both western and eastern european countries (including russia) allied with middle-eastern countries (both moslem countries and israel) in a us led coalition to defend kuwait.


*in 1990, iraq invaded kuwait, which it had once owned, and wanted back.  in 1991, a coalition of 34 nations with a un mandate threw them out of kuwait and invaded iraq, but did not overthrow iraq’s dictator, saddam hussein.  however, an embargo was imposed, and large portions of northern and southern iraq were declared ‘no-fly zones’ where iraq could not send planes.  this let the kurds become fairly independent.


*following the persian gulf war, president bush was popular.  however, saddam hussein continued to threaten to disrupt the middle east.  the american economy also suffered a recession.  furthermore, bush tried to reverse america’s budget deficit, but had to raise taxes to do it, breaking one of his promises in the 1988 election.  all these things would work against bush when he ran for re-election in 1992.


this page last updated 12 december, 2009.
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