The Cold War


Heather Rowland
AUCW 212 Final
May 1, 2000

    The Cold War was sparked by the differences in ideals between the Soviet Union and the western world and is said to begin at the Yalta Conference (Schoenherr).  It would not be until the collapse of the Soviet Union in1991, 46 years later that the Cold War would end.  Although the Cold War spanned through the administrations of ten United States presidents, the work of 4 presidents made dramatic changes in the outcome of the War.  These presidents, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Bush, were key players in the events leading to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

    The meeting of The “Big Three”, Stalin, Churchill, and Eisenhower, at the Yalta Conference was prompted by the fact that Stalin had already taken control of Poland.  “This meeting of the "Big Three" at the former palace of Czar Nicholas on the Crimean southern shore of the Black Sea took place February 4-11, 1945 (Schoenherr).” In fact, he had already planned to attack Berlin on the third of February but ordered the attack paused for the Yalta Conference.

    Five presidential administrations later, Nixon took lead.  Despite the fact that his name will forever be attached to Watergate and having to resign from his presidential chair along with many of his close advisors, President Nixon accomplished incredible breakthroughs in foreign policy.  His Secretary of State, Henry Kissenger, was the only prominent member of Nixon’s inner circle who emerged unscathed from the Watergate scandals.  President Nixon had the undivided-startled attention of the world when he did what others believed to be impossible.  He arranged to meet with two powerful communist leaders, Mao Zedong of China and Khrushchev of the Soviet Union.  Nixon showed his clever talent in international affairs when he deducted that the Soviet Union and Peoples Republic of China were not one great Communist entity.  Rather, they were two individual Communist countries.  If the right negotiations were drawn with one, nervous-uncertainty could invite the negotiations of another.

    In July of 1971, Kissinger secretly planned to bring President Nixon to Peking, China.  An “agreement in Nov. 1971 to sell $136m wheat, and $125 oil drilling equipment to Russia” was established by the Nixon administration to invest in Siberian gas (Schoenherr).  On February 21, 1972 Nixon, a well-known anti-communist, shook hands and bowed with Mao Zedong, China’s communist leader.

    The Soviet Union saw the prospect of Sino-American détente.  This would mean that the relationship between China and America would understand that they would continue to disagree but seek to reduce the amount of conflicts that occurred.  Almost as if choreographed by Nixon himself, the Soviet Union invited Nixon to Moscow in the spring of 1972.  At his visit, Nixon negotiated the first strategic arms limitation talks (SALT), a treaty that would begin to control the amount of nuclear power and arms control that each side was allowed to have.  Although this treaty did not specifically accomplish its task of deescalating the arms race, it “did provide the precedent for future arms control negotiations (Rosenberg 236).”  In 1973, Brezhnev was welcomed in the United States and Nixon returned to Moscow the year after.

    Unlike the previous result of Nixon’s meeting with China, only to begin détente, President Carter “established formal relations, and over the next year (the United States and the People’s Republic of China), signed a number of cultural, scientific, and economic agreements (Rosenberg 245).”  With the economic relations working to enhance trade the United States became China’s fourth largest trading partner.  Carter arranged to establish “full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China and completed negotiation of the SALT II nuclear limitation treaty with the Soviet Union (Presidents).”

    With the SALT II negotiations there were a few setbacks.  The Soviet Union had decided to invade Afghanistan in December of 1979.  With this invasion, Carter ordered the halting of both grain and technology exports to the Soviet Union.  In addition, Pakistan was supplied with military equipment, a trip to China was highlighted by the press to once again play off the Soviet-China differences, and a boycott of the Summer 1980 Olympics that would be held in Moscow was organized.  Not only were the previous actions taken but also the Senate withdrew the SALT treaty and reinstituted the draft registration.  Despite Carter’s moves to influence the decision of Soviet Union, Americans believed he was diminishing the power of America and allowing communist Soviet power to take control (Rosenberg 246).

    Carter’s response to the attack on his tactics with the Soviet Union, he began to change the United States’ strategic plan.  The strategy used by the United States in regards to military action left the Russians speculating if limited nuclear attacks were still in effect.  Carter “began refurbishing military bases throughout the world, ...increased defense spending and promised more emphasis on new high-technology weapons systems (satellites and lasers), and ...strongly backed a new controversial and costly missile system called the MX (Rosenberg 247).”  With the help of Kissenger Carter also was able to exclude the Soviet Union from any influence in the Middle East.

    Unfortunately for Carter, even the additional measures he took towards the Soviet Union did not help the people’s outlook on his presidency.  “Only 23 percent of the Gallup Poll’s sample thought the President was doing a good job” in August of 1980 (Rosenberg 254).  In the 1980 presidential campaign Carter ran against Republican Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California.  Reagan pledged, “to restore the great confident roar of American progress, and growth and optimism (Presidents).”  Towards the end of 1980, Reagan was inaugurated as President of the United States.
Reagan’s domestic plan included cutting taxes and government expenditures towards many social programs.  He gut school lunch programs, Aid to Dependent Children, and Head Start (Clark).  Despite his cuts, President Reagan brought the government into a large federal deficit by increasing the strength of the defense.  He defended this tactic as “peace through strength (Presidents).”  Through two terms in office, Reagan managed to increase defense spending by 35 percent.  One result of the increased defense budget came the Strategic Defense Initiative, otherwise known as Star Wars.  The fundamental idea of Star Wars was to “escalate the arms race by funding a new generation of space-based weapons and anti-missile technologies (Schoenherr).”  This program eventually became a “$17 billion program and become the major stumbling block to arms control talks with the Soviets (Schoenherr).”  According to Rosenberg, although this “space-based system…would supposedly shield the United States from incoming warheads”, the practicality of Star Wars was filled with controversy as the estimated total of the project was to be a trillion dollars.

    While Reagan may have increased the defense budget he fundamentally believed in improving the Soviet-American relation.  In meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev negotiations to reduce intermediate-range missile forces (IMF) were approved in December of 1987.  This treaty brought about an agreement which would “eliminate short- and medium-range missiles from Europe (including those that the Reagan administration had earlier pushed so hard to install) (Rosenberg 276).”  Though the IMF treaty only slightly altered the strategic balances of the Soviet Union and the United States, “it signaled a major shift away from the arms race of the cold war (Rosenberg 276).”

    Further thawing of the Cold War came from the changes that Mikhail Gorbachev made to the Soviet Union.  In response to the disappearing economy, the expense of maintaining a cold war atmosphere was no longer feasible.  Therefore, Gorbachev, “part of a younger generation committed to major structural transformations in the Communist system” introduced policies such as glasnost, perestroika, and also withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan.  These initiatives brought Gorbachev sympathetic press coverage (Rosenberg 276).

    Before the policy of glasnost came into effect in the Soviet Union, traveling in and out of the country was a challenge.  This led to serious technical and economical stagflation (Clark).  Glasnost brought in an open policy, which then allowed the people to travel in and out of the Soviet Union.  In addition, Gorbachev said that the states could choose whether or not to have a communist government.

    Perestroika brought restructuring to the Soviet Union.  The citizens of the Soviet Union were now given freedoms that had been suppressed for too many years.  Gorbachev declared, “ Freedom of choice is a universal principle (Rosenberg 294).”  The people, with perestroika, were able to have free speech.  Eastern Europeans, as early as the summer of 1989, began testing these declarations of glasnost and perestroika.  Poland cast out its communist rule in favor of Solidarity, a non-communist labor movement.  The East Germans made an impact on history when they tore down the imprisoning Berlin Wall, “forced their Communist government to resign, and quickly moved toward reunification with West Germany.  Hungarians, Romanians, and Bulgarians all mounted massive street demonstrations, tossed out their Communist rulers and then struggled to establish new systems with market economies and parliamentary governments (Rosenberg 294).”  The Romanians went even as far as murdering their Communist rulers (Clark).

    Soon after the announcement of glasnost and perestroika rule, the Communist Empire broke up and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.  In August of 1991, former Communist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, was taken prisoner by hard-line members of his own administration in a coup d'‚tat to prevent the signing of a treaty that would unite the countries.  With this incident at hand, a man named Boris Yeltsin stood up and successfully dismantled the group’s acts.  This victory earned him the adoration of many of his people as the President of the new state of Russia.

    With the former Soviet Union, now known as the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), broken up into many states, the Bush administration began to form new foreign policies in this post cold war era.  The United States then had “the task of opening new embassies and developing diplomatic relations with dozens of new nations (Rosenberg 295).”  Although the Cold War was not only between the Soviet Union and the United States, these two countries played major roles in this era.  The Cold War could not have ended without the decisions of Nixon, Carter, Reagan, or Bush.  The outcome would also be most different if Mikhail Gorbachev did not establish the grounds of glasnost and perestroika.  Other events that occurred during the time of Cold War in other parts of the world include: the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

    While the administrations of the presidents during the Cold War had exceptional abilities in foreign affairs, especially during the Nixon and Reagan administrations, the domestic relations these presidents had was not as good.  The “Space Race”, the dismantling of social programs, and the massive defense buildup brought the nation into an economic debt.  Through the leadership of President Clinton, domestic issues, which had not been the issues of a president since Johnson, once again became an important issue.  The unemployment status fell over 1 percent from 1992 to 1994 and the federal deficit began to decrease.  The Brady Bill was passed making a five-day waiting period mandatory before purchasing a handgun, and the health care system was debated in depth.

    While we may not need to worry as much about Communist rule seeing as how the majority of the Russian states became non-communist states, within the Race of Arms and the Space Race, many environmental issues were ignored for the advancement of technology.  In addition, the nuclear threat still looms.  There are many nuclear missiles still present around the world, along with atomic weaponry.  While negotiations, such as SALT I, II, and the IMF, have started the path towards creating a nuclear free world, further negotiations must continue.  If the environmental issues are not addressed future generations will not be able to live in this world.


Clark, Professor.  Discovering America 1945-present.  University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT.  Spring 2000.

Presidents of the United States of America.  April 2000.

Rosenberg, Emily and Norman Rosenberg.  In Our Times: America Since World War II.  New Jersey: Prentice-Hall,

Schoenherr.  Cold War Policies 1945-1991.  19 May 1999. <>