Ronald Reagan Cold War Essay

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Ronald Reagan Ends the Cold War

“Here's my strategy on the Cold War: we win, they lose.”1- Ronald Reagan. While simple in its idea, Reagan did what he promised. While Reagan may not have “won” the Cold War per se, he did navigate his way through the prospect of a possible nuclear war. Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War through his unwavering confrontation with the Soviet Union by first challenging and condemning the Soviet Union through his rhetoric, demanding the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and finally negotiating a peace agreement with the Soviet Union to end the war.

Reagan’s first tactic was to continually condemn and challenge the Soviet Union. During his first term, Reagan wanted to implant the idea that the Soviet Union was a force to be reckoned with, calling it the 'Evil Empire', which angered many Soviets2. This name-calling revealed to the Soviet Union that Reagan was not going to back down. Shortly after, Reagan started to make decisions to further weaken the Soviet Union’s power. One of his first actions was cutting off trade with the Soviet Union. Security Adviser William Clark declared in late 1982: 'For as long as the Soviet Union continues to ... divert its resources into a massive military buildup, the United States--at a minimum--will not contribute to that process by providing the technology, hardware, or credits to make these Soviet tasks easier.'3 If the Soviet Union wanted to maintain its status as a superpower, the US would do what it can to prevent that. In 1982, Caspar Weinberg, a member of the Reagan Administration stated that 'Selling them our valuable technology upon which we have historically based much of our security is short-sightedness raised to the level of a crime.'4, an early sign that the US was trying to slow down the Soviet Union’s build-up of its military. The US realized that they could not stop these efforts alone, so Reagan set up meetings with European countries to try and get more help in neutralizing the Soviet Union’s military5. Reagan officials held meetings to discuss the Soviet Union’s behavior and how to keep them in check. 'I think that it would help bring about such a meeting if the Soviet Union revealed that it is willing to moderate its imperialism; its aggression [against] Afghanistan would be an example,' Reagan said when asked about the meetings. 'We could talk a lot better if there was some indication that they truly wanted to be a member of the peace-loving nations of the world, the free world... *'6. The Soviet Union showed no signs of stopping its aggression toward other countries and Reagan was aware of this. At a COCOM (Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls) meeting to discuss how to deal with exports to the SU, Reagan convinced other European countries to moderate the exportation of certain software, manufacturing, machine tools, and robotics to the SU. Jentleson, a member of the Reagan Administration observed that the 'Europeans were willing to strengthen the strategic embargo: they were not willing to adopt a strategy of all-out cold economic warfare directed toward causing an implosion of the Soviet Union.'7 While Europe was cautious to fully commit to the idea of conflict with the Soviet Union, Reagan did not believe any negotiations or agreements could be reached with the Soviet Union and wanted to prepare for the worst. When the idea of arms control was proposed, Reagan's administration completely dismissed the idea of it, with Secretary Haig saying 'Arms control is no longer the centerpiece of U.S.-Soviet relations,' Haig asserted in the summer of 1981. 'The centerpiece must be what contributes to the security of the American people, to international peace and stability. '8. Reagan did not believe that the Soviet Union would suddenly limit its military, so he decided that the US should not either for its own safety. Reagan took the actions of the SU very seriously, and to show that he wasn't going to back down, instead of arms control he expanded the spending and funding of the military, over a trillion dollars on the military alone9. Reagan also built a defense system against a possible Soviet missile attack, effectively countering the strength of the SU, and even deployed his own missiles in Europe, further testing the SU10. Reagan planted the idea that the US was not scared of the Soviet Union or even war between the countries by matching the moves made by the Soviet Union. In all, Reagan used his strong, aggressive diplomacy skills to wear down the SU. He used the embargo as a way to make the SU negotiate, to let them know that the US was not negotiating until real concessions were met. Reagan knew that if he kept putting pressure on the SU by luring them to spend more money than their economy would eventually collapse under the weight of all the spending11.

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One of the most famous legacies of both the Cold War and Reagan’s presidency was the speech made at the Berlin Wall. The wall was originally built in 1961 as a result of the separation of powers in Berlin after WW2. Prior to the wall, many people in the USSR section left for the French, US, or English sectors, so they built the Berlin Wall to force people to stay. From the very moment of its construction, it became a sign of division in Europe and a sign of oppression of the Soviet people12. When asked about the wall, Reagan responded that it was a “symbol of power untamed” and a “dreadful gray gash”13. The wall was both a physical and symbolic barrier; it separated the democrats and communists throughout Europe by dividing Berlin and Germany. In addition to separating countries, it also separated families and isolated people living in Berlin. Since many could not get past the wall some tried climbing over it and died as a result14. Reagan made it his mission to take down the wall and on June 12, 1987, standing on a podium right by the wall, Reagan uttered the famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”15. This sent locals into a frenzy of happiness 16, they were no longer separated, bound in like prisoners from the rest of Europe. They were no longer separated from their families, they were finally free. The fall of the Berlin wall was a major turning point: It affected diplomatic and government powers by showing that capitalism is a more stable form of the economy than communism, which led to the fall of other communist countries17. The fall was a sign of the new relationship between the US and the Soviet Union; just a few years prior there would have been no chance Reagan would have even been allowed to visit the Berlin Wall, nonetheless causing its destruction. The fall revealed that the Soviet reign and oppression were coming to an end and that the Cold War would finally be over.

Prior to Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech, in 1985, the leadership of the Soviet Union changed, and along with it so did the course of the rest of the war. That year Mikhail Gorbachev was elected. He had a new vision for SU, he wanted to focus less on the military and more on fixing the broken economy 18. Gorbachev had a different plan for the war than past leaders, he was much more focused on ending the war peacefully so he could restore the economy brought to shambles as a result of all the spending on nuclear weapons and the military in order to keep up with Reagan’s accelerated military build of US forces. He realized that in order to keep the Soviet economy from utterly collapsing, an end to nuclear testing and military spending must be in order. In order for this to happen, he needed to ease relations with their arch-enemy, the US. He ordered a halt to all nuclear testing, declared that he will remove Soviet forces from Afghanistan, and announced a reduction in the number of Soviet missiles in Europe all to ease tensions between the two countries19. Gorbachev’s new outlook was outright revolutionary, and Reagan realized this. When asked about Gorbachev after a meeting between the two, Reagan stated that 'There was something likable about Gorbachev. There was warmth in his face and style. We shook hands like friends.'20 Reagan was not hostile towards the new Soviet leader like he was before with Konstantin Chernenko, he realized Gorbachev was someone who would be willing to negotiate a peaceful end to the Cold War. As a response to Gorbachev’s action to change the Soviet Union, Reagan himself underwent a change. Reagan changed his views on the Soviet Union and the war, backing away from the aggressive, threatening attitude towards the Soviet Union and adopting a more welcoming tone in order to convince Gorbachev that the US will support his new course for the Soviet Union21. Reagan knew that in order for the war to end, he too had to change his outlook on the war and the nation that he called the “Evil Empire” just years prior. Reagan, having quickly dismissed the idea of arms control years before, gave in to the idea. He declared that 'Our approach, will be designed to take into account concerns the Soviet Union has voiced.'22 and 'Nuclear arsenals are far too high, '23. The Reagan administration was, for the first time, taking action and going out of its way to pursue arms control and beginning actual negotiations of peace. While at the beginning of the war, Reagan was quick to match the SU in terms of military strength, regarding the collapse of the SU economy and a new leader in Gorbachev, Reagan changed his mindset towards one of armistice and peace that led to the Cold War to a peaceful end.

Through initially condemning the Soviet Union, Reagan conveyed that he was not scared of the Soviet Union and that he would not back down. By challenging SU to take down the Berlin Wall, Reagan inspired hope that Soviet oppression was ending. Finally, by changing his mindset towards the Soviet Union, Reagan played a major role in navigating the course that in the end led to a peaceful ending to the Cold War.


  1. “Cold War Quotes (82 Quotes).” Goodreads. Accessed December 11, 2019.
  2. DOBSON, ALAN P. 'The Reagan Administration, Economic Warfare, and Starting to Close Down the Cold War.' Diplomatic History 29, no. 3 (2005): 531-56.
  3. Fischer, Beth A. 'Toeing the Hardline? The Reagan Administration and the Ending of the Cold War.' Political Science Quarterly 112, no. 3 (Fall 1997): 477-496. Accessed November 6, 2019.
  4. Leffler, Melvyn P. 'Ronald Reagan, and the Cold War: What Mattered Most.' TNSR. Accessed October 23, 2019.
  5. Pruitt, Sarah. 'The Myth That Reagan Ended the Cold War with a Single Speech.' Last modified October 19, 2018. Accessed October 23, 2019.
  6. Ratnesar, Romesh. Tear down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech That Ended the Cold War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.
  7. R., Sean, and Dominic S. 'The Significance of the Wall.' Go to the Cover Page Of, St Patrick's College Strathfield, 2012, chapter/the-significance-of-the-wall/.
  8. Talbott, Strobe. 'Reagan and Gorbachev: Shutting the Cold War Down.' Brookings. Last modified August 4, 2004. Accessed October 27, 2019. http://Talbott, Strobe. 'Reagan and Gorbachev: Shutting the Cold War Down.' Brookings, Brookings, 7 Aug. 2016,
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