It is difficult to identify exactly when the demise of the Cold War occurred because it came in steps. The tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signaled that the Soviet Union was willing to relax its control over Eastern Europe, but it was not until the USSR as an empire collapsed in 1991 that the transformation from Cold War to uneasy peace was complete.
It is also difficult to pinpoint exactly when it began. Some place the date as early as August 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, acts that the Soviets supposedly interpreted as a threat to them. The adherents of that theory underrate the extent of the American determination to end the long and bitter struggle they had waged against their Japanese enemies. The possible effect on the Soviets was not part of the decision to drop the bomb. A Russian friend whom I highly respect has given a more plausible theory. The Soviets, he says, viewed the Cold War as beginning with Sir Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946. It was at that time, my friend says, that the Soviets began to feel threatened by the West. Up to that time, he says, the tight control that the USSR exercised over Eastern Europe was seen by the Soviets as an inevitable sequel to the end of the war in Europe.
Relationships between the United States and the Soviet Union had always been shaky. Admittedly, the Russian Revolution that overthrew Nicholas II in March 1917 was at first viewed favorably by Americans, who bore no love for any absolute monarch. But the moderates who took power were soon themselves toppled by the Bolsheviks in a second revolution. The Bolsheviks withdrew Russia from the war with Germany and threatened to spread their communist doctrine to other countries. At that point, all the West became alarmed. When the German emissaries met with the Allies at Compiègne in November 1918 to conclude the armistice that ended World War I, they warned Marshal Ferdinand Foch, obviously as a ploy, of possible Bolshevik revolutions in France and Britain if the terms were too harsh on Germany.
The Americans shared the distrust of Bolshevism so prevalent in France and Britain, but to a lesser degree. The United States supplied troops to the ill-fated Allied occupations of Vladivostok, Archangel, and Murmansk in the later days of World War I, but we got out as soon as possible. Yet it was an astonishing fifteen years after 1918 before the United States, under the newly inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt, recognized the Soviet government. The general Western mistrust of the Bolsheviks did much to engender suspicion of continued Soviet hostility.
During the six years after extending diplomatic recognition the Americans paid little attention to the Soviet Union, principally because of the expansionist policies of Adolf Hitler. In late August 1939, however, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression treaty that gave Hitler free rein to launch an attack on Poland. A week after that pact was signed, Hitler sent German troops into Poland, and on 3 September 1939 France and Britain declared war. On 16 September, acting under secret terms of the nonaggression pact, the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Hitler and Josef Stalin then divided the country between them.
Eight months later, freed by the pact with the USSR from the danger of a two-front war, German troops overran Norway and Denmark and then France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, thus occupying most of Western Europe. The Americans, who viewed this with dismay, blamed Hitler above all but also blamed Stalin, as Hitler's accomplice, almost as much.
World War II (1939–1945)
Six months later, in December 1941, the United States found itself the Soviet Union's actual ally in the war against Hitler. Japanese carriers attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December, and Hitler declared war against the United States a few days later. We were all in the same boat, to quote Roosevelt: Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States fighting a common enemy.
It was and remained an uneasy alliance. The Soviets could never quite accept the idea that the West was attempting to aid them in their struggle for survival against Germany without harboring some ulterior motives of their own. Yet the Allies, and certainly the Americans, were sincerely doing everything in their power to come to the aid of their beleaguered ally. Even while the Americans and British were undergoing costly and humiliating defeats at the hands of the Japanese in early 1942, General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army chief of staff, was advocating an Anglo-American invasion of France with the object of forcing Hitler to withdraw vital divisions from the Eastern Front. Although that operation was never executed, the Allies sent supplies to Archangel and Murmansk in dangerous and costly convoys. We managed to deliver a great deal—for example, a half million General Motors 2½-ton trucks. The Lend-Lease supplies we sent may not in themselves have saved the Soviet Union from defeat, but they went a long way to help.
Throughout the time they fought as allies, the United States, Britain, and the USSR attempted to coordinate their war efforts. The relationship between the United States and Britain was extremely close, and the Soviets cooperated as best they could within the restrictions imposed by their secret society. It is important to note that American political policy, laid down by President Roosevelt, was one of complete friendship with the Soviets in their joint war against Germany. That policy explains many actions the Allies later took that appeared naive once the spirit of wartime cooperation ended.
It is interesting to note Roosevelt's exaggerated confidence in what he was sure would be his ability to contend with the Soviets after the shooting stopped. "Don't worry," he promised, "I'll take care of Uncle Joe." That bit of hubris has usually been quoted in a humorous context. And yet it is intriguing to conjecture whether the Cold War might have been averted had Roosevelt survived. As it was, he died at Warm Springs on 12 April 1945, just a month short of victory in Europe.
My personal exposure to the Soviets started out on a rather frightening note. As a lieutenant in the 1st Infantry Division in Czechoslovakia, I joined four other officers a few days after the end of the war for a joyride to Carlsbad, behind Soviet lines. As we drove into the town and turned a corner, we encountered a handsome but very dirty young Russian soldier, who although drunk was sober enough to recognize our party as Americans. Exuberantly, he tried to kiss all five of us. I was spared because of my position in the jeep. But we were careful. He was brandishing a Luger, and a dead German civilian was lying in a pool of blood beside us.
Later exposures were more pleasant. In August, three months after V-E Day, my father, General Eisenhower, was invited to visit Moscow in his capacity as supreme commander for the Western powers in the war just finished. He sent for me to accompany him as his aide.
The striking aspect of the visit was the lavish reception the Russians gave the commander of a foreign nation's army. Georgi Zhukov, General Eisenhower's Soviet counterpart in Berlin, met us at Tempelhof Airport for the flight to Moscow in Ike's C-54 (DC-4) four-engine aircraft. Zhukov, as the official host, was the soul of hospitality and congeniality. By this time the two commanders, Eisenhower and Zhukov, had been representing their countries in the four-power government of Germany, and they had become friends—as close of friends as public life permits.
In Moscow the party first attended a parade. Significantly, my father was invited to undergo a four-hour ordeal atop Vladimir Lenin's tomb with Zhukov and Stalin. He was, I later learned, the first foreigner ever accorded that honor. One evening, the entire party was entertained at dinner, with Stalin himself officiating, acting friendly enough but mysterious as always. During the following three days, there were tours of collective farms, aircraft factories, and even the Moscow subway. Together at the American embassy during the evening of 15 August (V-J Day), Soviets and Americans celebrated the news of Japan's surrender. In Leningrad the ceremonies drew to a close.
As a final gesture, my father invited Zhukov to pay a return visit to the United States. Ike could not accompany the marshal, he said with regret, but he would provide his personal airplane and send me along as Zhukov's aide. Zhukov was delighted. "If Lieutenant Eisenhower goes along with me," he said, "then I know the plane will not go down in the Atlantic."
It was not to be. In mid-September 1945, almost the day of the scheduled departure, word came from the Soviets that Marshal Zhukov had become sick and could not make the trip to the United States. To my mind, although the term "Cold War" had not yet been invented, this represented the end of the honeymoon.
The Early Days of the Cold War
Early 1946 saw the forces in Europe preoccupied with the trials and execution of the top Nazis in Nuremberg. In the United States, however, the big news was Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech at Fulton. The United States continued to enjoy a monopoly on the atomic weapon, and we unrealistically hoped we could keep that monopoly indefinitely. In fact, the Soviets had begun working on the project and tested their first weapon in 1949.
The year 1946 also witnessed another event: the formulation of American policy for dealing with the Soviets during the years ahead. Based on a telegram by George Kennan from the U.S. embassy in Moscow, it visualized simply holding the communist world within the borders it then occupied. The West would not attempt to take aggressive action against the Soviet empire but would do everything possible to prevent its expansion, even in countries outside its borders. The world would live for years in a state of tension.
Exactly what accelerated the tensions is unclear, at least to me. The Soviets certainly had nothing to fear from the small U.S. and British occupation forces in Europe. After the mad rush to bring our soldiers home from overseas following the war, we finally left only one American infantry division, the 1st, to occupy the American zones of both Germany and Austria. That division was supplemented by a constabulary about the size of a combat command of an armored division, but together they constituted little threat. The United States possessed the atomic bomb, to be sure, but nobody outside the inner circles of government knew how many atomic bombs. Had war come, we presumably could have destroyed Moscow, but the powerful Red Army in Eastern Europe could overrun all of Western Europe with no difficulty. At the same time, psychological factors were at work in the form of books and other information leaking out of the Soviet Union. Books such as Viktor Kravchenko's I Chose Freedom and Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon revealed aspects of the inner Soviet Union that Americans in general had not previously known. The tensions between the two societies were now ideological as well as military.
In 1948 the Soviet Union had its first real confrontation with the United States and Britain. Red Army forces cut off all ground communication between the Western sector of Berlin and the part of Germany occupied by Western forces. Although it can be argued that the occupation of Berlin had become an anachronism, the Western powers had developed an obligation to the people of West Berlin to protect them from the Soviets, and the Allies decided that they had to stay.
President Harry S. Truman, with the advice and counsel of Marshall, the great soldier-statesman, took a moderate course. Although the United States was still the sole possessor of the atomic weapon, Truman and Marshall decided to wait out the siege and feed the population in the western zone of Berlin by supplies sent in by aircraft.
The result, which comprises a story in itself, was a spectacular feat. For eleven months, planes flew into Tempelhof Airport around the clock; a major city was fed and provided coal by air. The Soviets, unwilling to push the Allies further, raised the siege after eleven months. The world was astounded, although many of our citizens had a feeling that the United States was being pushed around and that the initiative in the East-West confrontation belonged to the East.
In 1949 China joined the Soviet Union, adding millions of people to the communist bloc. The corrupt regime of the Nationalist Chinese President Jiang Jieshi fell to Mao Zedong's communist regime. Although the partnership between the Soviets and the communist Chinese regime was never as close as the West imagined, they comprised, in the Western mind, a solid bloc. This supposition did much to affect the actions of the West in dealing with both countries.
The Korean War (1950–1953)
President Truman acted promptly. He committed American air and sea power immediately to lend support to the South Koreans, and a couple of days later he sent the ill-fated U.S. 24th Infantry Division from occupation duty in Japan across to join the battle. The 24th Infantry was nearly wiped out, and its commander was captured by the North Koreans.
Like the Berlin airlift, the Korean "police action" constitutes a story in itself. Both sides built up strength, and the North Koreans were finally stopped in the southeast corner of the Korean Peninsula. They were then roundly defeated by a breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, coupled with an amphibious landing at Inchon, near Seoul. It seemed as if the war was over until the Chinese intervened and pushed back United Nations (UN) forces from North Korea. After three years, two of them being fought while peace talks were on, the two sides wound up along a line almost identical to the original 38th Parallel. Others may argue, but to me the Korean War was a success. The objective had always been professed as being only to liberate South Korea.
The Korean War, however, produced consequences of great political import. The overt communist aggression demonstrated to the West that serious consequences could result from lack of preparedness. Congress gave the president authority to raise American ground forces in Europe from one division to six divisions. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), previously a pact of little consequence, was transformed into a military organization with headquarters in Paris, with General Eisenhower called from retirement to command it. The United States had been restrained in its policy for fighting the war in Korea for fear of drawing the Soviet Union into a third world war if we bombed its ally, China. For dissenting against national policy in public, General Douglas MacArthur was removed from the Korean command, with serious consequences for the remaining eighteen months of the Truman administration. What had begun with tensions after World War II had now grown into a life-and-death affair.
The Crisis Years (1950s)
A word of explanation is in order for my contention that the 1950s were the most dangerous years. Those were the years in which the two blocs—East and West—were developing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, but strategists on both sides were considering the possibility of winning a war using a first strike by aircraft and missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Winning, however, meant completely destroying the enemy while at the same time having a part of one's own country survive. That hope, ridiculous as it was, was held by some people, and that is what made the 1950s such a dangerous period.
The immediate danger was drastically reduced, however, not by a reduction of terror but by the invention of a new weapon, the virtue of which eliminated any hope of survival of an atomic exchange, even by the aggressor. By 1960, the United States had developed an operational submarine-launched atomic missile that was capable of being deployed anywhere on the seven seas and firing missiles to hit targets thousands of miles inland while at the same time remaining virtually invisible under water. Thus, any unrealistic dreams that a preemptive strike could leave an attacker with "acceptable" losses disappeared. A new term, "mutual assured destruction," eventually grew from this new development.
Fortunately, during this period of greatest danger, the leaders of both the Eastern and Western blocs were sane men, and mutual assured destruction as well as mutually assured unacceptable losses had been quietly recognized early. But the danger arose from the combination of conventional and atomic wars. Even if the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a war that was initially confined to conventional weaponry, the eventual use of nuclear weapons seemed inevitable. If the survival of one or the other nation was deemed to be doomed in a conventional war, that nation might use the nuclear weapon as a last resort. For that reason, the Western nations and the Soviets never fought directly throughout the entire Cold War. Surrogates such as Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan did fight, however.
President Eisenhower attempted to deal with the Cold War in two ways. The first was his sincere effort to develop understanding between the two nations by means of cultural exchanges. The other was to keep America (and the Western Allies) protected against a surprise Soviet attack. (It would also protect the Soviets from surprise attack from the West.) With the death of Stalin in early 1953, Eisenhower held hopes that Stalin's successor—whoever he might turn out to be—might feel a little less hostile to the West and be willing to find a reasonable way of approaching the problem. In one respect, Eisenhower was right: the Soviets desired a conference as well. Therefore, as a token of mutual trust, the four powers occupying Austria—the United States, the USSR, Britain, and France—agreed to neutralize the country by withdrawing all their military forces from it. With that visible evidence of mutual goodwill, the four powers met at Geneva, Switzerland, in the summer of 1955.
The Geneva Conference produced much rhetoric, but Eisenhower put forth one concrete and dramatic suggestion commonly called the Open Skies Proposal. Both East and West, according to this scheme, would exchange blueprints of their armed forces. In addition, both sides would be cleared to make extensive aerial reconnaissance over the other's territory. In that manner, surprise attack would be at least deterred.
Three of the four members of the Soviet delegation stalled briefly, expressing interest. One man, Nikita Khrushchev, did not. Although theoretically only one of the four so-called equals—the Soviets were supposedly being governed by Khrushchev, Zhukov, Nikolai Bulganan (nominal chief), and Vyacheslav Molotov—Khrushchev refused outright, almost angrily. Eisenhower was not overly surprised. Much of what would be disclosed on the Western side was already easily available to anyone; the Soviets were unwilling to give up their secret society. But at least the West had found out who was in charge of the Soviet government—Khrushchev.
After his Open Skies Proposal had died at Geneva, Eisenhower resorted to unilateral action. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) completed development of a high-altitude reconnaissance plane called the U-2. A remarkable aircraft, it flew at such a high altitude that for a time, at least, it was deemed safe from known Soviet antiaircraft missiles. During the years it operated, the U-2 Program carried out overflights of Russia and provided much valuable intelligence. In so doing, it enabled Eisenhower to conduct foreign affairs in a more daring manner than would have been the case had he not possessed that intelligence.
The U-2 Program was illegal from the viewpoint of international law. President Eisenhower, however, deemed it essential. Furthermore, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had always insisted that even if a U-2 were to be shot down, Khrushchev would never admit that flights had been going on for some time over Soviet airspace.
Those years were fraught with secondary confrontations and scares. The crisis over the Chinese islands of Quemoy and Matsu, just off the coast of the mainland but occupied by Jiang's Republic of China (Taiwan) seemed touch-and-go. Of more public notice was the Soviet launching of the first Earth satellite, Sputnik, in late 1957. That feat, which proved that the Soviets had developed missiles of greater thrust than any developed by the United States, caused a near panic in the public. Eisenhower assured the public that the satellites bore no relationship to our national defense, which was based on smaller missiles posted in European locations. Before the furor had calmed down, Eisenhower had organized NASA, the Marshall Space Center at Huntsville, and the Science Advisory Council in the White House.
The greatest East-West crisis of the 1950s, however, was the confrontation over the status of West Berlin, an issue then more than ten years old. At Thanksgiving 1948, Khrushchev issued an ultimatum for the withdrawal of Western troops from the city of Berlin; the consequence for failure to do so could mean war. He gave a deadline of six months.
Here Eisenhower realized that the West could never win a conventional war in Europe against the gigantic Soviet force deployed there. The Soviets surrounded Berlin, so the West's occupation forces in the city were insignificant. Eisenhower therefore made it known, sometimes subtly, that the United States had no intention of fighting a conventional war in Europe. He would respond to a Soviet move to cut off the city by using atomic weapons. In early March 1959, I attended a White House meeting with congressional leaders during which Ike assured his astonished and frightened audience that he was going through with a prearranged, scheduled cut of 30,000 men despite the current tensions. If Khrushchev went through with his threat, we would unleash the Strategic Air Command's bombers—or so the tea leaves read.
The meeting had a sobering effect on the assembled participants, and frankly it frightened me. I have mulled the matter over in my mind many times and have never been certain whether the president would have gone through with that threat. After long consideration, I have concluded that he would not. It would be better to lose not only Berlin but even all of Western Europe than to destroy Earth. But Ike was a great poker player, and the deterrence worked. Khrushchev could not have been unaware that his six-month ultimatum had slipped by while the diplomats exchanged words around the conference tables.
For a while it appeared that a real understanding might be developed between Khrushchev and the West. A visit of the Soviet premier to the United States resulted in a temporary era of good feeling between the two superpowers. But that period came to an end when the unthinkable occurred: a U-2 was shot down over Sverdlovsk, near Moscow. The results were severe, although we never came close to going to war. After much furor, including a shoe-banging exhibition by Khrushchev in the UN, the international situation calmed. The chance for détente was gone, but Khrushchev's ultimatum over Berlin had been neutralized.
One more major crisis, perhaps the most serious, was yet to be played out, however. In January 1961, President John F. Kennedy came into office. Although inexperienced, he was determined to take action. His first target was Fidel Castro's Cuba. In April, Cuban rebels, openly trained and supported by the United States, landed at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba's southern coast only to be overwhelmed and captured by Castro's troops. The resulting embarrassment to the United States, reinforced by the lack of Western resistance to his building the Berlin Wall in December 1961, apparently gave Khrushchev an unrealistic confidence that he could bulldoze Kennedy under any circumstances. In late October 1962, Khrushchev decided that he could take the bold step of installing missiles, supposedly nuclear-armed, on the soil of his ally Cuba.
In this instance, however, conventional military forces proved their supremacy in a practical world. President Kennedy proclaimed a blockade of Cuba and ordered the U.S. Navy to intercept the Soviet ships carrying the missiles. Ultimately Khrushchev backed down, and both sides made concessions. But both powers felt a relief. They had stepped up to the brink, and both now realized that they had been spared Armageddon. The Cold War continued formally for almost two more decades, but from then on it was defanged.
The Years of Confrontation (1962–1989)
Within a year or two of the Cuban Missile Crisis, however, the attention of the United States turned from the large-scale threat of general war to what was, by comparison, a small war, the American misadventure in Vietnam. This was not the kind of war for which the American arsenal of superweapons had been designed. Yet it was, in a way, an auxiliary part of the Cold War, because it was waged between a communist nation—the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, North Vietnam)—and the United States. More important, it was perhaps the last military action based on the basic American policy of containment, set forth in 1946. The United States lost the Vietnam War without suffering defeat in any pitched battle. It all came about by an American misunderstanding of the Vietnamese. In Vietnamese minds, it was not a war of ideology; it was a war simply of national independence.
In 1979, the reverse occurred when the Soviet Union made the error of invading Afghanistan with similar disastrous results. Again, that conflict was not strictly a part of the Cold War, although the United States unabashedly armed the Afghans against the Soviet invaders, hardly an act of friendship toward the Soviet Union.
At the time of the end of the Vietnam War, I had an experience that gave me some idea of the reasons for the mistrust of the Soviets by the West, perhaps only one of many causes for the beginning of the Cold War.
On 8 May 1975, I was a member of a diplomatic delegation to Moscow headed by former Ambassador W. Averell Harriman. The purpose was to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Nazi surrender in Europe. The Western delegations were studded with prominent military leaders: Generals Alfred M. Gruenther and Lyman L. Lemnitzer, both former supreme commanders in Europe under NATO, and Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, one of the most prominent British figures of the war.
In most respects, the diplomatic visit was both routine and pleasant. The memorable moment, however, came at the ceremony itself. Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, before an audience of thousands, spent what seemed like an interminable time berating the Western powers for their supposed delay in crossing the English Channel in World War II. The Soviets, in desperate straits in early 1942, had believed that the Allies could have come to their aid much earlier than they did. In their minds, the Allies, Winston Churchill in particular, were indifferent to the prospect of the Soviets being bled white.
In a way the scene had slightly amusing aspects. The most notable memory, to me, is that of Lord Mountbatten, up on the stage, resplendent in a white uniform and every decoration imaginable. He was forced to sit unhappily and listen to the tirade with no prospect of replying. Yet outside the Great Hall, the atmosphere was relatively friendly. I, for one, was happy to have a short visit with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, whom I had come to know slightly from other diplomatic encounters. Those of us present had no idea that a period of relaxation of tension—détente—was about to begin.
In July 1975, only a month after the visit to Moscow, the Western powers and the Soviets signed a treaty in Helsinki, Finland, that was destined to produce serious and unexpected consequences. The purpose of the treaty was to create some stability in Europe, and to that end both sides reluctantly made uncomfortable concessions. The West agreed to language that seemed to recognize the permanency of Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe (which everyone at that time knew was a hard fact of life). The Soviets, on the other hand, allowed a paragraph to be included that mentioned human rights, apparently in the hope that such an innocuous and general paragraph would go unnoticed.
Neither concession went unnoticed. Many Americans and British were enraged at our officially recognizing the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe. In the USSR, where ferment was already beginning, the language of that one paragraph encouraged dissent. Boris Pasternak in 1948 and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974 had been persecuted for their Nobel Prize-winning books about the abuses of the Soviet regime. But neither had been exterminated. That would not have been the case under Stalin. The movement toward individual freedom in the Soviet Union was under way.
In the period of confrontation, both sides made efforts to ease the tension. As early as 1969, East-West talks on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) were begun, followed some time later by SALT II. These disarmament talks, in themselves, were forlorn efforts—both sides had far too many deliverable thermonuclear weapons, and neither could be expected to leave the other side at an advantage. Nevertheless, the spirit behind the talks—the realization that a nuclear exchange would be insanity—made holding them worthwhile.
In 1986 an event occurred at Chernobyl in the Ukraine that did more, in my view, than any other to bring the Cold War to an end. A nuclear power plant there began a meltdown that besides taking many lives affected much of Europe, reaching all the way to Denmark, and cast atomic energy in a new light. The Chernobyl reactor was small, only a twenty-kiloton plant, and the contrast of that small nuclear explosion with a single (one-megaton) thermonuclear weapon, of which each side had thousands, apparently helped the world to come to its senses. The Cold War could not go on forever.
Although it was not readily apparent to observers in the West, the Soviet Union's control over occupied Eastern Europe was far from uniform. The country enjoying the greatest latitude within the Soviet Union was Poland, where trouble began fermenting at about the time of the Helsinki Accords. There an obscure electrician by the name of Lech Wałęsa began organizing resistance in the Gdansk shipyards.
In June 1979, Pope John Paul II, a Pole, paid a visit to his native land. The fact of his being permitted into a nominally atheistic country seemed a sure indication that Soviet control over its satellites was loosening even more.
And so it did. The next year Wałęsa and two other men organized a trade union called Solidarność (Solidarity), which survived. His activities became known in the West, so much so that Wałęsa was named "Man of the Year" by Time magazine in 1980.
Wałęsa's rise in Poland was paralleled by that of Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who shares the credit with Wałęsa as being most responsible for the end of the Cold War. Gorbachev became secretary-general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1986. Long aware of the weakness in the Soviet economy and political structure, Gorbachev initiated two programs: glasnost, meaning openness, and perestroika, meaning restructuring. He initiated his reforms gradually. Perhaps his most important single act was taken in June 1988, when the CPSU launched radical reforms to reduce party control over the governmental apparatus. He also renounced the Brezhnev Doctrine, thus allowing the East European nations more latitude in determining their own affairs.
The loosening up of the Soviet Union—and therefore the end of the Cold War—was prompted by economic difficulties in the Soviet Union. The peoples who had heretofore been held under rigid control were now enjoying new freedoms, but the pressures of a collapsing economy encouraged Georgia, the Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) to make further moves toward true independence. Gorbachev's attempt to establish a voluntary federation failed. On 13 November 1989 the Berlin Wall was broken down, and Brandenburg Gate was officially opened the next month.
Though Gorbachev was—and still is—a hero in the West, he was removed from power by a more aggressive Boris Yeltsin in 1991. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a thing of the past, and the Cold War was over.
There are secondary questions, however, such as who was responsible for the Cold War—the Soviets, the West, or both? It is not a matter of fixing blame. The answer is of importance simply as a guidepost to the future. We must ensure that such a confrontation does not occur again. Unfortunately, we cannot disinvent thermonuclear weapons. (In fact, there are nations today, far less reliable than the old Soviet Union, that now possess them.) Nations that have them in their arsenals are never going to destroy them as long as other nations still have them. It is necessary, then, that policies affecting the family of nations must be such that the world will never again come to the brink of nuclear war.
In the early days of the Cold War, beginning in 1945, there was no doubt in the minds of the Western nations that the instigators were the Soviets. After all, U.S. policy (and to a lesser extent British policy) was to extend the hand of friendship to our Eastern ally. During World War II we sent vast quantities of supplies to the Soviet Union. Sometimes the West made concessions that have been criticized from a political perspective, as with General Eisenhower's decision, late in World War II, to halt the Western armies on the lines of the Elbe and Mulde Rivers rather than race the Soviets to Berlin. Regardless of military considerations, that decision was totally consistent with President Roosevelt's desires. Since the West was generous, we argued, that fault must lay with the Soviets.
Some years after the war, however, some historians came up with the revisionist view that trade policies and other considerations forced the Soviets' hands and made them feel on the defensive. So the blame was laid, at least for a while, on the West. And later still, a group of postrevisionists, led by the prominent historian John Lewis Gaddis, have come to lay the causes at the feet of both sides, although they emphasize the belligerent attitude of Stalin as being a major factor.
The important thing right now is the future. Happily, the West has joined the Russians in working together in many fields. Russian acceptance of NATO expansion to the East, including even the Baltic states, is a development unthinkable only a few years ago.
We should not, however, view the end of the Cold War as a Western triumph in the spirit of winning or losing a football game. I understand that some years ago a NATO commander, visiting the Soviet Union, boasted about how the West had "won" the Cold War. Such an attitude can be nothing else than counterproductive.
In these pages I have said little about the role played by the U.S. government, particularly the presidents and the troops who held the line in Europe, in bringing the Cold War to an end. I have avoided that issue principally because it is loaded with American politics, and in my opinion the Western nations did little of a positive nature to accelerate the march of change in the Soviet Union. The idea has been touted that President Ronald Reagan's promotion of the Strategic Defense Initiative, the ambitious and expensive antimissile program, frightened the Soviet leaders so as to bring about their economic collapse. I reject that theory. The disintegration of the Soviet Union had begun too long before.
This introduction has attempted to furnish an outline only. The entries in this encyclopedia will provide the reader with discussions of detailed facets of the problems of the Cold War. In many cases the experts will disagree with my thoughts, which are admittedly affected by my own experiences. But this much is certain: the fact that the world survived the Cold War has made it possible for all of us to study it and express our views on it frankly.