Anul 1989 în Europa de Est

A Few Considerations on the Role of the President Ronald Reagan
in the Collapse of the Communism and the End of the Cold War


[Constantin Brâncuşi University of Târgu Jiu]

This short analysis tries to emphasize Ronald Reagan’s role to the collapse of Communist system in Central and Eastern Europe. During his first years as president, he took a hard line against Soviet Union. He described this superpower as „Evil Empire’’, suporting all anti-Communist movements from all over the world. Since 1985, a new era of American-Soviet relations has just begun. Reagan and Gorbachev held four summit conferences between 1985 and 1988: the first in Geneva, Switzerland, the second in Reykjavík, Iceland, the third in Washington, D.C., and the fourth in Moscow. Reagan believed that if he could persuade the Soviets to allow for more democracy and free speech, this would lead to the end of the Cold War and to the end of the Communist system.

Keywords: Ronald Reagan; Mikhail Gorbachev; Cold War;
Strategic Defense Initiative; missiles; nuclear weapons



The purpose of the herewith study is to highlight the manner in which the external policy of the United States’ President, Ronald Reagan, contributed to bringing to an end the political and ideological conflict that divided the European continent and the whole world for almost half a century.[1] Based on a brief bibliography related to the Cold War, our article represents a synthetic analysis that tries to underline Ronald Reagan’s role in the collapse of the Comunist system and finally in the Soviet defeat.

Our study also points out the transition from confrontation to cooperation in the Soviet-American bilateral relations. Being a member of Republican Party, the president Reagan has always acted as a fervent anti-Communist.

In the 1970s, USSR had managed to counterbalance the power of USA. All over the world the Soviet Union supported the Communist regimes, from Chile and Nicaragua, in Latin America, to Angola, Mozambic, Ethiopia, in Africa, Vietnam and Laos in Asia. The détente policy promoted by Richard Nixon’s administration encouraged the aggressive tendencies of the Soviets.

However, due to the aid offered to the revolutionary movements and Marxist regimes, USSR ran out of ressources. The historians and the specialists in international relations talk about a stagnation in Leonid Ilych Brezhnev’s era. The soviet intervention in Afghanistan put an end to the détente policy.

The collapse of the Communist regimes and the end of the Cold War would have been impossible if Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev had not become General Secretary of the CPSU. Ronald Reagan was also contemporary with important leaders, as Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, Helmut Kohl and others.

From confrontation to cooperation in U.S.-Soviet Relations. Reagan Doctrine

Although Ronald Reagan mainly adopted an intransigent policy towards the Soviet opponent and other dictatorships throughout the world during his first mandate, after 1985- the year Mikhail Gorbachev was elected Secretary General of the Soviet Union Communist Party- we are dealing with an improvement in the relations between the two superpowers of the international bipolar system. The American president went from a virulent rhetoric towards the Soviet Union and the Marxist regimes sponsored by them, to a more ponderate, nuanced and even modified discourse after 1984-1985. Unlike his Kremlin predecessors, Gorbachev adopted a co-operant attitude in the relations with the Americans. Although he was a reformist, adept of the Perestroika and Glasnost[2], the evolution from confrontation to negotiation and collaboration in the relations with the West during his time was facilitated by the precarious position the Soviet Union had in this period with regard to the foreign affairs.

The end of the Cold War was also possible because of some exceptional personalities that were contemporaneous in the ‘80s of the last century. Besides Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, we mention Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of West Germany, François Mitterand, President of France. We cannot ignore the merits of the leader of the first independent Union from the communist block, the Polak Lech Walesa and those of the Chekoslovakian opponent in the ‘70s and future president after the crash of the communist block, Vaclav Havel. Nevertheless, one of the most prominent figures was the former Cardinal, Karol Wojtyla- Pope John Paul II.

We stress the fact that there has always been a convergence of opinions between Ronald Reagan and the “Iron Lady“ of the British politics, the only small difference being determined by USA’s decision to act unilaterally, without asking the British consent, in the context of the Grenada crisis in 1983, although this belonged to the Commonwealth.[3]

The cohesion of the Western block, the unity in views between the Americans and their western allies, Great Britain, The Federal Republic of Germany and France also manifested itself in the circumstances of the so-called battle of the medium range missiles,[4] consumed mostly between 1981 and 1983.

In 1979, Soviet Union’s invasion in Afghanistan[5] ended the so-called Détente in the American-Soviet relations. Due to a new tension supervened also as a consequence of the above-mentioned event, the specialists talked about the beginning of a second Cold War. The Jimmy Carter administration answered by establishing an embargo regarding the grain delivered to the Soviet Union. The USA also decided the boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow, in 1980. Moscow answered likewise, by being absent four years later in Los Angeles.[6]

Ronald Reagan, former actor and radio commentator, also held the important position of Governor of California. In November 1980, he defeated by far his opponent, Jimmy Carter in the elections. At the beginning of his mandate, the new president had as priority objectives the rebirth of the country’s economy and, first and foremost, the re-establishment of the military power in the USA, which identified itself with the rebuilding of the American prestige in the world. Under such circumstances, the military expenses were substantially enhanced.[7]

In the ’60s and the ‘70s, the Soviet power supported all the Marxist and anti-western regimes and movements, military and financially. The cases of Cuba, Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and of course, Afghanistan, are eloquent. Besides the well-known dispute of the arming, the Soviet Union and the USA fought for primacy in the Third World. The former actor from the White House answered to the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, which stipulated the irreversibility of the Soviet conquests in the world, by elaborating the Reagan Doctrine. The Secretary of State, George Schultz contributed significantly to its outlining. The Reagan Doctrine, a counterweight for the Brezhnev Doctrine, provided material support for the anti-communist insurgences, as well as the propagation and promotion of liberty and democracy throughout the world, duty assumed as a moral one. The abandonment of this objective would have been a shameful betrayal of the American ideals.[8] The Reagan Doctrine brings its creator closer to political realism concerning the foreign affairs. There can be observed certain similarities in thinking with the former Moscow Ambassador, George Kennan. The latter drafted and explained in 1946 and 1947 the containment doctrine, through the Long Telegram suggestively entitled The Sources of Soviet Conduct.

By virtue of the Reagan Doctrine, the American administration annulled the Clark amendment, which had been adopted by the Congress in the ’70s and which provided the suspension of the financial aid for the anti-communist forces in Angola. The subsidies attributed to the guerilla movement of the Mujahideens in Afghanistan were supplemented in the ‘80s.[9] The Contras anti-Marxist forces in Nicaragua were also financed. In 1983, the coup d’etat from Grenada was baffled. This had been planned by the Cubans and three years later, Reagan ordered the bombing of the military and industrial equipment from Tripoli, capital of Libya. The pretext of this punitive act was the assassination of an American military in a club from West Berlin, as consequence of a bomb attempt. The implication of colonel’s Muhammad al- Gaddafi Libya was proven. The US president had just included Libya in a terrorist state confederation, outlawed and led by a bunch of criminals.[10] Two communist bastions were also part of this group of states; North Korea, led by Kim-Il-Sung, Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and also the regime of the Nicaragua Sandinista-Marxists and the fundamentalist Islamic Iran of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

The Reagan Doctrine was a success, as during the ‘80s of the 20th century a series of Soviet backings took place. In 1980, the Russian troops left Cambodia and later, in 1993, free elections were organized in this country, so harshly challenged by the criminal exterminator regime of the Red Khmers (1975-1979), led by Pol-Pot. Until 1990-1991, Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista regime from Nicaragua was overthrown and the Soviet and Cuban military forces in Angola, withdrawn. Nonetheless, the communist power in Ethiopia crashed. All of these realities are irrefutable proofs of the outage and superannuation of the Brezhnev Doctrine. Actually, the doctrine was officially abandoned by the Soviet authorities in 1981, when the Political Bureau in Moscow considered that it was not necessary to intervene in Poland,[11] in order to re-establish a status quo in compliance with Kremlin’s interests, as it had happened in 1956 in Budapest and in 1968 in Prague. Subsequently, in the context of erosion and crash of the communist regimes in the Soviet Union’s influence sphere, Ghenadi Gherasimov, spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Soviet Union will declare that the Brezhnev Doctrine had been substituted by the Sinatra Doctrine,[12] allusion to Frank Sinatra’s notorious song - My Way. The states in Central and Eastern Europe, such as GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were permitted to choose their own way, economically and politically. The Red Army was not interfering any more, as it had done in the past in order to restrain their aspirations and autonomy tendencies and to punish their distance from Moscow.

Unlike other heads of the American Executive, Ronald Reagan did not support authoritarian regimes only because they were anti-communist, even if they stood out as authoritarian and lacked consistency in matters of respecting human rights. Some of Reagan’s predecessors had supported authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, such as Syngman Rhee’s, from South Korea, Augusto Pinochet’s from Chile and Ferdinand Marcos from Philippines. Pinochet was constrained to take the risk of free elections after many years of dictatorship (1973-1989) during which the secret police had done numerous victims. He did not pass the electoral test. The USA were also involved in the dismission of Marcos, in Philippines.[13] Yet before being elected president of the USA, Ronald Reagan was expressing his trust in the temporary character of the communist regimes, being certain that democracy and capitalism will prevail ultimately. At the same time though, he feared that until this happy moment, the humankind might be destroyed by a nuclear Armageddon. The White House leader therefore established another priority objective, the abolishment of nuclear weapons and he pursued it, especially during his second mandate. As he was pleading in favor of a complete elimination of the whole nuclear arsenal, and the SALT Treaty (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) did not refer to all categories of arms, he did not support a renewal of it, choosing a SART alternative (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks).

Inspired by the American idealism represented by Woodrow Wilson, former president of the US during the First World War, Reagan thought that the ideological differences and divergences were not impossible to overcome, that the Soviet intransigence was generated by ignorance and not by ill will. The remedy for such a situation in the relations with the Soviets was the promotion of a personal diplomacy, from one head of state to the other. Although he acted offensively during the antecessors of Gorbachev, naming the Soviet Union Evil Empire and its leaders capable of any crime[14] in his harsh speeches, he truly believed that the asperities could have been solved through summit talks with the Soviet party and state leaders. Nevertheless, the same speech that was referring to the aggressive intentions of the Soviets brings Reagan closer to the followers of the traditional and orthodox thesis regarding the accountability for the beginning of a Cold War and its maintenance. After settling at the White House, President Reagan denounced the Détente policy which, he thought, was only freezing the conflict and the nuclear weapons, perpetuating a status quo used by the rival to speculate the western weaknesses. He also rejected another theory which had guided the American strategy- Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The nuclear discouragement and the so-called balance of the theory were discredited and disapproved.

The US President mainly used public rhetoric to direct the animadversion upon the Soviet system. In 1981, soon after he had miraculously survived an attempt, he held a speech anticipating the inevitable failure and collapse of global communism. His prophecy became reality, even if it took 8 more years for the Soviet block. In the beginning of another speech, one year later, before the House of Commons in London, he paraphrased the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. He said that from Stettin on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea, none of the regimes planted by bayonets by the Red Army risked free elections. He concluded that these regimes had not established their legitimacy. Quoting Karl Marx, he shared his opinion regarding the existence of a great revolutionary crisis, a crisis where the demands of the economic order are conflicting directly with those of the political order. Only that the crisis did not reach, as the co-author of the Communist Party Manifest had predicted, the non-Marxist West, but the Soviet Union itself, the center of global communism, the state that was denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens. Consequently, the political communist system was compromised for good.[15]

Between 1982-1983, the Soviet-American relations became even more tense. In this context, while Moscow was almost certain of the imminence of an American nuclear attack, in the autumn of 1983 the soviets brought down a South-Korean civil plane. Consequence of a regrettable error, it had entered the Soviet air space. 269 people died in the tragic accident, some of whom were American citizens. Cynically and without any sense of reality, the Soviet leader Iuri Andropov, former head of the KGB for 15 years, qualified the incident as a hidden challenge coming from the USA. He did not take any responsibility for the numerous victims. On the other hand, the military preparations of NATO, known as Able-Archer 83, alerted the Soviet information services. Experts of the Cold war said that there has never been such tension between the two superpowers since the missile crises in Cuba in 1962.[16]

According to Henry Kissinger’s view, which we share, the main American decisions that rushed the end of the Cold War were: the settlement of medium rage missiles, Pershing II and Cruise, as well as the announcement made by Reagan during a television speech, regarding the Strategic Defense Initiative. It is also important to mention that the first intercontinental, land-based ballistic missile (MX) was developed during the Reagan administration.[17]

Starting 1983, the deployment of Pershing missiles and cruise missiles especially on the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, was a firm answer to the Soviets’ decision of setting SS-4, SS-5 and SS-20 missiles intended on the Western Europe. The latter ones could have destroyed and devastated entire European cities. USA’s answer, finalized with the deployment of the two types of missiles is significant. Strategically, we are dealing with a coupler between the European defense and the American one, the two of them being indissolubly linked. The Zero Option suggested by the White House, meaning the withdrawal of all the Pershing II and Cruise missiles in return for the withdrawal of all the medium rage Soviet missiles was initially rejected by the Soviets.

Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (or The Star Wars), launched in March 1983 allocated no less than 26 billions dollars during 5 years for the edification of a defensive system able to neutralize the Soviet ballistic missiles. This defense was going to be based on laser particles. The president addressed all the American scientists able to find solutions in order to turn the nuclear weapons into inefficient and superannuated ones. The announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative, that ended the Mutual Assured Destruction theory provoked fear and panic in Moscow,[18] as the Soviet officials were aware of their own strategic weaknesses. The competition with the advanced American strategy was almost impossible to win. During the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings that marked a tempering of the relations between the superpowers, the Kremlin leader solicited the limitation of the Strategic Defense Initiative to laboratory testing.

The Geneva and Rejkjavick summits (1985 and 1986) uncovered certain dissensions between the two presidents, especially with regard to weapons. In Washington, nevertheless, they reached an agreement and decided to give up all the medium rage missiles in Europe.[19] The relations became even more relaxed afterwards. In May 1988, the American President held a speech at the State University in Moscow and he was cheered by the entire assistance. One year later, the Secretary General of the CPSU took the initiative of withdrawing the Soviet military forces from Afghanistan and Mongolia. Moreover, on December 7th 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev announced before the General Assembly of the United Nations that the Soviet Union was to reduce unilaterally the commitment regarding the troops of the Warsaw Treaty with half billion people. He explained his decision saying that using the force should not be an instrument of the foreign policy.[20] It meant, from our point of view, the explicit renunciation of the coercive Brezhnev Doctrine.


We cannot deny the important parts that Jimmy Carter and George Bush (US vice-president and Reagan’s successor) played in the decay of the international system specific to the Cold War. But the one that exercised decisive pressure upon the Soviet system was Ronald Reagan.

We can distinguish in his policy elements of the political realism and idealist ideas as well. During his first years at the White House, he took a hard line against the Soviet Union. He strengthened the national security of the state and lebeled USSR as “the Evil Empire“. But during his second presidential mandate, he began to perceive the new Soviet leader, Gorbachev as a partner, not an opponent. The relations betweeeeen superpowers improved. The cooperation represents a concept valorized by the wilsonian idealism.

The Soviet Union was completely defeated by the USA, economically but mostly technologically, because the first one ended its resources in the ‘60s and ‘70s trying to keep up with the war of weapons against the USA and financing the Marxist regimes and movements everywhere. The outage and even regression of the Soviet Union during the Leonid Brezhnev era were fatal in the end. On the other hand, the left-wing historian Eric Hobsbawm[21]considered that the high living standards from the West, (including the laborers) compared to the ones in the Soviet Union and the states in its orbit, made the lyrics of the Communist Internationale become obsolescent. The remarkable technological progress and the growth of the living standards in the states from the Western block invalidated Vladimir Ilici Lenin’s expectations, which were also shared by Iosif Stalin. According to these expectations, a new war between the capitalist states, that was going to end with the implosion of the capitalist system, was inevitable.



Best, Anthony, Hanhimaki, Jussi, Maiolo, Joseph, Schultze, Kirsten, International History of the Twentieth Century and Beyond (London and New York: Routledge, 2009, Second Edition)

Calvocoresi, Peter, Europa de la Bismark la Gorbaciov, Translated by de Lucian Leuștean (Iași: Editura Polirom, 2003)

Calvocoresi, Peter, Politica mondială după 1945, Translated by Simona Ceaușu, (București: Editura Allfa, 2000)

Duroselle, Jean-Baptiste, Kaspy, André, Istoria relaţiilor internaţionale, vol. II; Translated by Anca Airinei (București: Editura Știinţelor Sociale și Politice, 2006)

Fontaine, André, Istoria Războiului Rece, vol. IV (București: Editura Militară, 1992)

Gaddis, John Lewis, Războiul Rece, Translated by Diana Pușcașu Ţuţuianu (București: Rao International Publishing Company, 2009)

Hobsbawm, Eric, The Age of Extremes: A History of The World 1918-1991 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994

Hughes-Wilson, John, A brief History of the Cold War. The hidden truth about how close we came to nuclear conflict (London: Robinson, 2006)

Johnson, Paul, O istorie a lumii moderne 1920-2000, Translated by de Luana Schidu,

(București: Editura Humanitas, 2005)

Kissinger, Henry, Diplomaţia, Translation Mircea Ștefancu, Radu Paraschivescu,

(București: Editura BIC ALL, 2002)

Lorot, Pascal, Perestroika, Translation and notes: Cristina Jinga (București: Editura Corint, 2002)

Loth, Wilfried, Împărţirea lumii. Istoria Războiului Rece 1941-1955, Translated by Ana-Maria Iosup (București: 1997, Editura Saeculum I.O. )

Mc Cauley, Martin, Russia, America and the Cold War 1949-1991 (New York: Pearson Longman, Second Edition)

Milza, Pierre, Berstein, Serge, Istoria Secolului XX, vol. III, Translation: Marius Ioan (București: Editura BIC ALL, 1998)

Vaïse Maurice (coord.), Dicţionar de relaţii internaţionale. Secolul 20, Translated by Marius Roman (Iași: Editura Polirom, 2008)

Charles, Zorgbibe, Histoire des Relations Internationales, Tome IV (Paris: Hachette, 1995).




[1] For the beginning of The Cold War and for the main assumptions concerning the responsability of the outburst of the conflict, see Martin Mc. Cauley, Russia, America and the Cold War 1949-1991, (New York: Pearson Longman, 2004), 28-32; Wilfried Loth, Împărţirea lumii. Istoria Războiului Rece 1941-1955, translated by Ana-Maria Iosup (București: Editura Saeculum I.O., 1997), 9-15. See also Hadrian Gorun, „Contribuţia lui Ronald Reagan la sfârșitul Războiului Rece“, Analele Universităţii Constantin Brâncuși din Târgu-Jiu, Seria Litere și Știinţe Sociale, no. 2, (2010): 131-142.

[2] See also Pascal Lorot, Perestroika, translated by Cristina Jinga (București: Editura Corint, 2002), 7-91.

[3] Paul Johnson, O istorie a lumii moderne 1920-2000, translated by Luana Schidu (București: Editura Humanitas, 2005), 726-732.

[4] Maurice Vaïse (coord.), Dicţionar de relaţii internaţionale. Secolul 20, translated by Marius Roman (Iași: Editura Polirom, 2008), 121-122.

[5] Charles Zorgbibe, Histoire des Relations Internationales (Paris: Hachette, 1995, Tome IV), 311-322.

[6] Jean-Baptiste, Duroselle, André, Kaspy, Istoria relaţiilor internaţionale, translated by Anca Airinei (București: 2006, vol. II), 265-267; H. Gorun, Contribuţia lui Ronald Reagan....: 132-133.

[7] John Lewis Gaddis, Războiul Rece, translated by Diana Pușcașu Ţuţuianu (București: Editura Rao, 2009), 253-305.

[8] Henry Kissinger, Diplomaţia, translated by Mircea Ștefancu, Radu Paraschivescu (București: Editura Bic All, 2002), 673-674 .

[9] See also, Anthony, Best, Jussi, Hanhimaki, Joseph, Maiolo, Kirsten Schultze, International History of the Twentieth Century and Beyond (London and New York: Routledge, Second Edition, 2009).

[10] Paul Johnson, O istorie a lumii…, 727; Hadrian Gorun, Contribuţia lui Ronald Reagan…: 134.

[11] John Lewis Gaddis, Războiul Rece, 280-281.

[12] John Lewis Gaddis, Războiul Rece, 317.

[13] Henry Kissinger, Diplomaţia, 673; Hadrian Gorun, Contribuţia lui Ronald Reagan:136.

[14] See John Lewis Gaddis, Razboiul Rece, 253-305; Henry Kissinger, Diplomaţia, 664-682.

[15] John Lewis Gaddis, Războiul Rece, 281-286.

[16]John Lewis Gaddis, Războiul Rece, 287; Hadrian Gorun, Contribuţia lui Ronald Reagan: 138.

[17] Henry Kissinger, Diplomaţia, 675-678.

[18] Henry Kissinger, Diplomatia, 679, Jean Baptiste Duroselle, André Kaspy, Istoria relaţiilor internaţionale, 267-268.

[19] Martin Mc. Cauley, Russia, America...., 86; Hadrian Gorun, „Contribuţia lui Ronald Reagan...“:139.

[20] J. L. Gaddis, Razboiul Rece, 296; Hadrian Gorun, „Contribuţia lui Ronald Reagan...“:139.

[21] Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. A History of The World 1918-1991 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994), 257-267, John Lewis Gaddis, Razboiul Rece, 151.


HADRIAN GORUN este doctor în istorie al Universităţii „Babeș Bolyai“ din Cluj-Napoca. Actualmente, este conferenţiar universitar la Facultatea de Relaţii Internaţionale, Drept și Știinţe Administrative a Universităţii „Constantin Brâncuși“ din Târgu-Jiu. A publicat volume de autor, precum și studii și articole în reviste ca Sfera politicii, Transylvanian Review, Anuarul Institutului de Istorie „AD Xenopol“ și altele.




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