Causes And Effects Of The Cold War Essay Example For College

The cold war was a period characterized by hostility and tension between the Soviet Union and the United States America from 1940’s to 1980’s. It was so called because there was no hot or active war between these two nations. It was just a fear of nuclear escalation. This fear went ahead to initiate the conflicts of the Vietnam and Korea wars.

This war came following an intense rivalry between non communist and communist nations. Cold war was later intensified when US was assumed to be making plots to attack Cuba, which retaliated by consulting USSR for assistance. The factors that led to cold war were all attributed to the end of the Second World War. They included ideological differences, military and political alliances, economic barriers and nuclear weapons (Medhurst, 1997).

In addition to the conflict between communism and capitalism, these two nations developed transient attitudes towards each other. The USSR was very much worried about its security because of series of invasions. The use of atomic bombs by US against Japan made USSR feel it was involved it its attacks and therefore threatened to form its own. These nations engaged in Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles where US tested his in 1952 and USSR in 1955. This arms race turned into a space race where competition in setting up of satellites was pronounced. This was treated by the two nations as an opportunity to compare technological superiority (Medhurst, 1997).

Following this tension, an approximation of $400 million was directed to technical development in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This was made to strengthen and modernize developing world by discouraging it from USSR policies of communism. Out of the same war, western nations and America formed alliances which were made to react against USSR extensions of influence. To show solidarity against USSR, these nations signed North Atlantic Treaty, which provided that if one of the members is attacked, it will be treated as a collective attack. In reaction, Soviet members also formed The Warsaw Pact. The arm race between these two nations led to the wide ownership of nuclear weapons all over the world today. To add on effects of the cold war, the two countries invested heavily upon rebuilding military forces (Medhurst, 1997). They all spend millions and millions of dollars trying to make reforms of the military in a competitive manner.

With view of the above facts, this war was contributed by the Soviets ideology of communism that opposed democracy in America, America’s acquisition of atomic weapons, both countries feared attacks from each other, US suspicions over USSR after taking over Eastern Europe. It is also documented that US president and Soviets leader had personal dislikes. America was also angered by the part of Germany which was occupied by Soviets. Finally, Soviet feared America may use its alliance with Western Europe to attack it.

To generalize the effects, both America and USSR built up large ballistic missiles and atomic weapons, military blocs such as The Warsaw Pact and NATO were formed, led to conflicts between Korean War and Vietnam War, Soviet Union collapsed due to economic challenges, two Germany nations were unified and Berlin wall demolished. Out of the same too, former Soviet republics and Baltic States achieved independence, America became the world’s super power and communism collapsed worldwide (Medhurst, 1997). The above frame of events formed the causes and effects of the cold war.


  1. Medhurst Martin, 1997. Cold War Rhetoric: Strategy, Metaphor and Ideology. Michigan; Michigan State University

The Collapse Of The Soviet Union


            In the late 1991, the world was amazed at the fall of one of the most powerful countries in the world. The Soviet Union disintegrated into 15 states which marked the ultimate end of cold war. The western countries considered the collapse of the Soviet Union as a major step towards the realization of freedom and democracy in the formerly communist country. Capitalistic countries led by the US rejoiced at the collapse of their major rival in the global supremacy since the end of the Second World War (Wilson, 2002). The collapse led to the end of over four decades of tension in the world between the two superpowers. The collapse of the Soviet Union had numerous impacts on all corners of the world. It led to the restructuring of world alliances between countries. However, the greatest question has always been what led to the collapse of one of the world superpowers. The answer to this question has puzzled scholars for almost two decades since its collapse. There is no doubt that several political, cultural and economic factor led to the historic collapse (Cold War Museum, 2010)

This paper will discuss several factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Collapse of the Soviet Union

            The Soviet Union was established on the foundations of the Russian empire after the revolution during the First World War. The Soviet Union therefore covered more or less the same territory that was under the Russian empire. However, the new administration was based of socialism ideologies which turned the Soviet Union into a communist country. These socialistic ideas were aimed at reducing the national differences as opposed to a form of governance based on centralized system. Within a short time, the Soviet Union had been converted into a totalitarian state with a communist government in full control over the territory (Winters, 1999).

            However, the plans of establishing an all powerful socialistic state was faced by many challenges which could not enable the nation exist for at least a century. The first mistake made by the Soviet Union administrators was them not taking into consideration the ability of the different ethnic community living in the country to live together in harmony. The creation of the Soviet Union created a Russian state which made it difficult to assimilate other ethic societies which composed over half of the state’s population. This was followed by numerous economic challenges as a result of the war culture adopted by the communist state which was opposed by the western powers. The economic decline in the second half of the 20th century and the negative effects of the cold war eventually made reforms inevitable resulting into the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (Richard, 1999).

            Many scholars are for the argument that economic challenged that faced the Soviet Union in the cold war era was the immediate cause of its collapse. This was due to the direct impact of intense competition from capitalistic economies in the west. The western economies led by the United States were determined to bring down the socialistic economy through all means. They used all methods to out compete the Soviet Union in the international market including imperialism and exploitation of smaller economies. The western imperialism created the need for the people in the Soviet Union to import goods in large quantities from the western countries to meet the needs of the modern lifestyles. Consumers in the Soviet Union could not buy clothing and electronic made in the country because all the production aimed at supplying their products to the military. To make the matter worse, there were no exports to the other parts of the world to balance the trade. These economic factors resulted into massive economic problems which are believed to have had a major contribution to the collapse of the Soviet Union (Grant, 1997).

            These economic challenges become unbearable as a result of other political and cultural factors that threatened the union with collapse. The worsening economic situation in the union affected the Soviets psychologically.  The social effect becomes worse as policies implemented by the political leaders failed. The Chernobyl atomic power plant disaster as well as the war in Middle East was also a depressing to the majority of people in the Soviet Union (Gilbert, 2002).

            Since its establishment, the Soviet Union had adopted a war culture which has been considered to be one of the factors that led to its collapse. The use of secrets, dishonesty in information and propaganda was a major aspect in the Soviet Union war culture.  This created a pessimistic society due to contradictions and lack of reliable information from the government or the media which was under the control of political leaders. The people in the country had lost hope in the government and the Russian believed that they could not receive any news or truth from the government nor from the media. The problem was aggravated by the effect of the western media which spread propaganda against the communistic leadership in the Soviet Union. The government lost support from the majority which threatened it with disintegration (Strayer, 1998).

            The secret dealings of the government spread of propaganda and unreliable information had far reaching economic and political implications. There is evidence that secrecy and restriction of access to information and movement by the public is a characteristic of a militaristic and bad government that ruled the Soviet Union. This culture resulted into a breakdown of the social and economic structure in the country since different institutes and government agencies could not communicate effectively. Rule by command adopted by the communistic government and the culture of war limited economic development in the country (Smith, 1994).

            By the time the last leader of the soviet union Gorbachev came to power in the mid 1980’s, the country was already in a big mess with the economy of the country having stagnated. The economic and political challenges that faced the country needed to be addressed immediately if the Soviet Union had to survive. This led to the two tiered policies which were introduced by the new administration to avert the situation and bring about reforms. These reforms aimed at ensuring the freedom of speech was guaranteed and rebuilding of the economy. However, these interventions came far too late. The new administration did not read the moods of the public and the possibility of unleashing the bad moods in the public as a result of the freedom of speech being guaranteed. The political emotions and feelings in the public had been accumulating for almost half a century. The economic reforms proposed by Gorbachev’s administration did not give the expected results. The freedom of speech given to the public and the failure of the new administration to deliver in the promise of improving the economy resulted into intense criticism of the administration by the public (Fazackerley, 2010).

            The changes in the policies in the new administration led to the reluctance of the Soviet Union government to use its military force to stop the revolutions that took place in Europe in the late 1980’s. This further weakened the powers of the country in the region. This included the collapse of communist government in Eastern and Central Europe which were considered satellite states and the unification of Germany. These revolutions result into demands from within and without for government structures reforms in the Soviet Union. The non Russian communities all over the country started craving for independence from the Russianized Soviet Union. The future of the country was uncertain after the attempted military coup in august 1991. Although the coup was not successful due to lack of support from the public as well as the entire military, the communist party was unable to restore their control in the country after the coup. In December 1991, the Soviet Union finally collapsed peacefully after all the non Russian societies declared independence (Langley, 1997).


            In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviet Union was considered to be the most stable communist country in the world. However, the Soviet Union adopted a communist war culture which eventually led to its collapse. The economic, political and social challenges that faced the Soviet Union as a direct consequence of the cold war between the communist powers and the capitalistic powers led to the collapse of one of the world superpowers.


Cold War Museum, (2010). Fall of the Soviet Union, retrieved on 12th May 2010 from:

Fazackerley, C. (2010). The Collapse of the Soviet Union, ISBN 3639230167 VDM Verlag

Gilbert, M. (2002). The Routledge Atlas of Russian History. London: Routledge.

Grant, T. (1997). Russia, from Revolution to Counter-Revolution, London: Well Red Publications,

Langley, A. (2007). The Collapse of the Soviet Union: The End of an Empire, ISBN 0756520096, Compass Point Books

Richard, S. (1999). The Rise and fall of the Soviet Union, 1917–1991. ISBN 0-415-12290-2, Routledge,

Smith, B. (1994). The collapse of the Soviet Union, ISBN 1560061421, Greenhaven Pr.

Strayer, R.W. (1998). Why did the Soviet Union collapse? Understanding historical change, ISBN 076560003X, M.E. Sharpe,

Wilson, S. (2002). Fall of the Soviet Union, retrieved on 12th May 2010 from:

Winters, P. A. (1999). The collapse of the Soviet Union, ISBN 156510997X, Greenhaven Press,


The Collapse Of The Soviet Union (Cold War – 1991)


The Cold War, the Soviet’s failure to match technological advancement, and the arms race are seen as the major contributors to the collapse of the Soviet Union which happened in 1991. There have been several arguments and contentions which are attributed to this fall. Two major interrelated factors that are linked to this disintegration are the manipulation which was initiated by the then new Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the soviet national republics’ rise. This presidency manipulation by Yeltsin became a power struggle between him and Gorbachev, the soviet leader, both of whom had quite differing personalities and political orientations (Grigor, 1993, 16).

The national question had already dominated the Soviet’s politics by 1990-1. at the same time, analysis of the economic crisis that had occurred in soviet in the late 1980’s give a clear impression of the economic phases that the soviet was undergoing during this period. This was an eminent indication that sooner or later a collapse was inevitable, and which eventually took the order of the day in December, 1991. However, albeit more tentatively, the Soviet Union collapse is more attributed to the nationalities question rise than to any other factor, such as the economic collapse and the cold war.

 This collapse of the Soviet Union has become one of the major turning points in the twentieth century history. The Union took its very first steps to become a civil society in during the “perestroika” or the transformation period and commenced re-examination of the Stalinist ideology.

This paper therefore aims at giving some accessible and succinct information as well as interpretation of the most remarkable events that took place during this era and which consequently led to the collapse. An overview of the nationalities Vis-a- Vis the Soviet policy, ethnic pressures within the Soviet Union, and how these separatist movements as well as the ethnic unrest weakened the society. Moreover, it is imperatively important to mention how Gorbachev failed to institute a viable compact between the periphery and the centre in his initial rule years (Wilcoxsn, 2004, 31). On the same note, Gorbachev did not have the will power to apply decisive force that was necessary to quell the nationalist and ethnic challenges. In addition, a core Russian core group of elites defected from the soviet regime and this had paramount impact on the Soviet’s society demise.


There is much to understand regarding the history of the rise and fall of the last great superpower empire, the USSR. During its formation, there was dire need to fuse the Russian society with the Soviet- the two passionately held identities and beliefs as a result of the overarching motherland idea. This revolved around the triumphs and failures of key personalities and the external pressure and influence wherefrom. Similarly, it involved the creation of the New Soviet Man as well as the contrasts that emerged between Moscow which was at the centre and the national problem including the rest segments of the sprawling empire.

Several profound changes were experienced by the Soviet Union during the Soviet rule that lasted for seven and a half years. There were adverse demographic and economic trends by the late ‘70s and ‘80s that resulted to widespread public cynicism particularly among the younger generation. When Gorbachev came to office in 1985, he was already aware of the discontent that was rampant in the Soviet society. Among his major priorities when he took over leadership was a reformation program that desired to rejuvenate the society and remedy the ills that had harshly hit the Union, although he failed in the end. The most significant thing that was vivid by 1991 was that as a whole, the society no longer had any hopes of the USSR’s survival (Watson, 1998, 25).

The Soviet Union’s collapse which started early in 1985 led to the formation of independent nations, after the Soviet had built up its military might at the domestic development’s expense. This made the economic growth of the system come to a standstill, which became even worse with the Afghanistan war and failed economic reforms. There was open criticism of the Moscow regime especially in the Eastern Europe and the Baltic republics. The actions of the Soviet leadership were significantly influenced by the dramatic oil price fall between 1985-6 and the consequent loss of foreign exchange reserves in the subsequent years. This meant that enough grains and other amenities could not be purchased.

There was a complex role of external governments in the fall of the Soviet Union. There were two major fundamental factors that resulted to the undermining of the Soviet state and these are: the deteriorating economic chaos under the stewardship of Mikhail Gorbachev, and the increasingly growing internally aggravated political dissent. This categorically implies that Gorbachev’s original initiative to embark on the economic reform program was a simple reflection of the latent pressure he was getting from the western military deployments and defense spending (Edelist, 2003, 61).

There were severe weaknesses that debilitated the Soviet economy, with excessive military expenditures and resources misallocations being just but minor portions of the whole underlying problem. After his initial reformations failed, Gorbachev decided on another alternative which sought to cut military spending through arms control. However, only some belated cuts were done and these proved to be relatively of little progress.

The Soviet collapse was evidently hastened by the Western pressure on Gorbachev which restricted him from cracking down on the separatism and the political dissent. Similarly, the West refused to pour financial support to the Soviet system unless Gorbachev was able to prove structural reforms evidence. As a consequence, these policies denied resources to the Soviet system, resources that would have probably prolonged the systems survival. Equally, the policies also deterred Gorbachev from sternly addressing the various elements that were quickly tearing the Soviet apart (Beissinger, 2002, 17).

An example of the collapse process is the peaceful disintegration of Eastern Europe Communism in 1989. This is a profound reflection of the changes that had been made by Gorbachev in his foreign policy. Although this was successful in Eastern Europe, the repercussions it had on the Soviet Union were quite destabilizing, both directly and indirectly.

The Union’s coffers were progressively emptied by the USSR’s trade gap which was created by increased democratization (which was called for by Gorbachev in January, 1987) as a result of the central control resistance by several Soviet Socialist Republics. This was brought about by the greater social and political freedoms which were instituted by Gorbachev as he made concerted efforts to abide with the Western pressure. Many dissidents and political prisoners in thousands were released. The press also became freer in its endeavors with less authoritarian control and the freedom of speech was equally under minimal control (Wicoxson, 2004, 92). At the same time, democratization allowed the infusion of various democratic elements like the multiple candidates elections into the political process in the Soviet system. This was done because of the belief Gorbachev held that deep economic management transformations could not be realized if corresponding changes were not instituted in the political system.

In 1988, the Law on Cooperatives was enacted and for the first time since the New Economic Policy by Vladimir Lenin, private business ownership in the manufacturing, foreign trade sectors, and services was permitted. Gorbachev had expected support from the whole Soviet from his ideology of different categories of openness, participation, and debate. This perhaps formed the most radical economic reform among all those that were initiated by Gorbachev during his reign in the Soviet Union. The aftermath of the failure was the eventual bankruptcy which led to the final collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 when the failed coup’s aftermath saw Yeltsin’s power seizure (Edelist, 2003, 79).

The unintended consequences of Gorbachev’s efforts to revive and streamline the Communist system came even with the promises that his plans had offered. The ultimate of all the efforts proved to be highly uncontrollable and eventually they cascaded to events that concluded with the Soviet Union’s dissolution. The glasnost and perestroika policies were intended to act as tools that would bolster the economy but the end results were quite devastating to the system.

Glasnost brought considerable relaxation on the media which before long began to publish severe economic and social problems that had been for many years been actively concealed and denied by the Soviet government. This led to immeasurable embarrassment to the authorities and the Communist system lost the absolute grip it had on the media and the peripheral entities. Other crimes that had been committed by the Soviet regime and Stalin were also exposed. Some of the problems that received increased attention of the media included; drug abuse, poor housing, pollution, alcoholism, and corruption of all magnitude (Watson, 1998, 68). Some of the crimes that Stalin had committed included the gulags, which was the treaty he had signed with Adolph Hitler as well as the Great Purges which the official media had ignored for long.

In simple understanding, this implied that the public changed its opinion regarding the former positive view of the good Soviet life that the media had presented for long. The former image was dismantled, and the negative aspects of life were illuminated to the spotlight, resulting to the undermined public faith in the Soviet Union. The social power base that had been held by the Communist party was eroded and as thus the integrity and identity of the Soviet Union was threatened and eventually collapsed. Additionally, nationalism rise under glasnost sooner or later reawakened the simmering ethnic tensions within various Soviet republics and this further discredited the ideal of Soviet peoples’ unification (Grigor, 1993, 161).

The desire for a market economy was so acute and when the first multi-candidature elections were held in 1990, ethnic national activists and reformers took most of the seats. Yeltsin’s presidency also fueled this dire need for a market economy whose benefits were perceived superior to the disintegration of the Soviet society.


There are four basic principle elements that we find in the old Soviet system and which led to the collapse of the same. These are the hierarchy of soviets, state socialism, Communist party dominance, and the ethnic federalism. Radical unforeseen impacts were brought about by Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika reform programs and these also fundamentally resulted to the down fall of the system. He implemented these measures as efforts to resolve the severe economic problems as well as the political inertia that were eminently threatening the Soviet Union into a long-term stagnation (Beissinger, 2002, 39).

However, by applying the structural reforms that would allow popular movements to gain substantial influence in the union’s republics and wider opportunities for other leaders, Gorbachev also created loopholes through which populist forces and nationalists managed to oppose his liberalization attempts to revitalize Communism. This is how independence of the national republics was demanded and which ultimately led to the Soviet collapse. The massive august demonstrations had made this very clear that nothing less than democracy would be accepted and as thus the clock could not be reversed any longer.

Work cited:

Beissinger Mark. Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002; pp.17, 39

Edelist Ran. Western Intelligence and the Collapse of the Soviet Union, 1980-1990: Ten Years That Did Not Shake the World. New Jersey; Frank Cass, 2003; pp.61, 79

Grigor Ronald. The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford; Stanford Press, 1993; pp.16, 161

Watson William. The Collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union. London; Greenwood Press, 1998; pp.25, 68

Wilcoxson Elizabeth. The Collapse of the Soviet Union. Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Vol. 29, 2004; pp.31, 92

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