Fighting on the Streets of Berlin
The Cold War began after WWII and the following 40 years saw the threat of an imminent nuclear war. Most people did not believe they would live to see the end of the Cold War. However, "step by step, the Cold War came to a peaceful end" with the combined efforts of Reagan and Gorbachev in the 80s and early 90s; Reagan and Gorbachev were the first leaders since Stalin and FDR to hold frequent meetings between the east and the west1. In Robert Service's book The End of the Cold War, he details the progress made by the US and USSR in ending the War.
Reagan assumed the position of the presidency on 20 January 1981 propelling America into a new era of conservatism. Initially Americans were wary of his policies, fearing his strong anti-communist stance would provoke WWIII. While many considered him a hawk, he was adamant on peacekeeping. Reagan's hardline stance on anti-communism was shown when Reagan denounced USSR as an “empire of evil” and initiated the SDI, which aimed to develop a program that could shoot down offensive missiles from space. Meanwhile, the USSR’s General Secretary at the time was Brezhnev and he did not favor any reforms despite Soviet Union’s cracking economy. The root of the Soviet Union’s economic problems was its responsibility to financially support its Eastern Bloc countries. In addition, the Soviet Quarantine was used to keep the Eastern Bloc countries from being influenced by the west. One extreme example of the Soviet Quarantine was when on 1983 the USSR shot down a South Korean passenger airline that flew over Eastern Siberia. The Soviet Union justified their actions by claiming the passenger airline was spying on the USSR. However, the Soviet Quarantine mostly applied in keeping the Soviet citizens in check; the citizens of USSR were not allowed to leave the borders of the USSR unless they had strict permits. At this point of the Cold War, America and USSR were barely communicating and were hostile towards each other.
Cherkneko’s death soon followed a few months later. His death led to the rise of a new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. The succession of Gorbachev to the position of General Secretary launched the USSR into a new phase that included reforms and opening of relations with the outside world; “Gorbachev was a man intent on big changes; and most people in the USSR and the rest of the world liked the direction he was taking”2. He began reforms starting in Moscow and surrounded himself with people like Shevardnadze and Chebrikov who were as intent on change as he was. The first major action Gorbachev took was putting an end to USSR’s underground nuclear testing. America recognized Gorbachev's progressive ideas and this action led to the proposition for a Summit meeting at the end of the year. The Summit at Geneva between Reagan and Gorbachev was held on November 19, 1985; this was a momentous occasion because it was the first Summit between a Soviet and an American leader after thirty years of hostility. At the Summit they addressed arms reduction, SDI, and the settlement of the Afghanistan War. The Summit reached no definite conclusions but broke the ice between Gorbachev and Reagan opening the door for further communications between the east and west. Soon afterwards a second summit was being organized at Reykjavik. At this summit, Gorbachev first proposed to halve the number of nuclear weapons and eliminate intermediate range missiles completely. Despite Reagan and Gorbachev’s beliefs in the reduction of nuclear missiles, still no agreement was made. With Gorbachev coming to power in USSR, communications between US and USSR marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
While Reagan was dealing with the Iran-Contra Scandal, the USSR began taking steps towards domestic reforms. These reforms included granting newspapers the right to criticize Stalin and Brezhnev, collaborating with countries outside the Eastern Bloc, and allowing Soviet citizens to emigrate (as long as they don’t possess state secrets). With regards to reforms on foreign policies, the Soviet Union and the US finally agreed to an arms reduction treaty on June 1st; the treaty removed all intermediate missiles. Opinions in Western Europe especially that of Margaret Thatcher’s tried to persuade Reagan not to take American missiles out of Western Europe. Without missiles to protect Western Europe, they would be more prone to a Soviet Union ground attack. Eventually, missiles regarding West Europe were not included in the treaty. As Kohl, the leader of West Germany said regarding Thatcher’s close relations with Reagan, “he who doesn’t have relations with U.S. loses authority at home”3. On the other hand, in East Europe, Gorbachev’s main goal was to preserve the political stability of socialist countries. Unfortunately for Gorbachev, the Eastern Bloc countries were going bankrupt and the USSR also did not have a strong enough economy to support them. Gorbachev also decided to pull Soviet troops out of Afghanistan in order to save money for USSR. After pulling out the troops, the communist administration in Afghanistan quickly fell leaving a vacuum of power in Afghanistan that would eventually lead to ethnic and religious civil war. Finally, Reagan’s second term as president ended on January 20th, 1989 marking an end to a decade of change.
On January 20th, 1989 George HW Bush was sworn in. At this time, revolutions were happening throughout Eastern Europe; the event that catalyzed the revolution was the Malta Summit. At the Malta Summit, Bush and Gorbachev declared the end of the Cold War. Coming back from this meeting the Western nations regarded Gorbachev as a hero but “when the Soviet party leadership withheld its appreciation, he knew that danger was bearing down on him”4. After the Malta Summit, an unpredictable and fast revolution began in Eastern Europe starting with Romania. The rapid upheaval of the Soviet Bloc was due to the poor conditions that millions in those countries had been living in for around 30 years. Following the unraveling of the Eastern Bloc, Gorbachev tried to hold on to his position for as long as possible but a free presidential election passed the leadership onto Boris Yeltsin. On December 25th, Gorbachev stepped down from office and 15 Soviet Republics became independent states as well.
Service’s take on the leaders of the two rivaling nations is that Gorbachev was not the idealist many believed him to be but instead a realist, while Reagan was more of a peacekeeper than a staunch opponent to communism. Service addresses that Gorbachev's radical policies were directly aimed at saving the economy, not to expand Soviet influence nor to bring an end to the Cold War. Gorbachev "claim[ed] that the general situation in the USSR had troubled him...as early as 1975"5. The general situation Gorbachev is commenting on is the strained relations the USSR has with the rest of the world leading to less trade and more hostilities. Meanwhile, Service believes Reagan to be more focused on conciliation than on denouncing the Soviet Union. Reagan is consistently advocating for more communications between the East and West. Service even reveals that towards the end of Reagan and Gorbachev’s communications, Reagan no longer denounced the USSR as an “evil empire”. Service’s take on Reagan makes him more of a peacekeeper, while Gorbachev a realist.
Robert Service is a British historian that specializes in Soviet Russian history. Because Service is British it makes sense that he also has a moderate amount of information on Western Europe. He also goes in depth into the relation between Thatcher and Reagan as he was living in Britain at the time Thatcher was prime minister. He has also written biographies of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky prior to the publication of this book. In the biographies he has published, Service is always highly critical of Russian leaders. He primarily criticizes them for "the manner in which they handled change and crisis in post-1917"6. He especially disagrees with the ideology of Marxist Communism because of its idealism and the incapability of these ideas becoming reality. This has also been manifested in this book when Service criticized Brezhnev’s policies in the beginning for being too opposed to change. However, he is sympathetic towards Gorbachev’s policies because he is the first Soviet leader since Lenin to have advocated for change. In addition, Service is also “one of few Western historians to gain access to previously-closed Soviet archives”7. This makes his books on the Soviet Union one of the most accurate and informative ones.
Robert Service published The End of the Cold War in 2015 making this book a very recent addition. This book written many years after the end of the Cold War allows for more reflection. Part of the reason Service is sympathetic towards Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders at the time despite his overall criticism of Soviet leaders was that now Gorbachev is given credit too for ending the Cold War with his conciliatory policies. This book also may have been influenced by Russia’s recent economic/military recovery and he even mentions the recent “conflicts in eastern Ukraine [that] give grounds for acute worry about the European future” 8. The recent recovery of Russia draws concerns to a possible renewal of the Cold War and here is a book that analyzes exactly how a gradual, peaceful end was brought about.
Mary Dejevsky's review on The End of the Cold War in her article for Independent praises his ability to detail the Cold War and raise insightful questions. But she also criticizes the book in some areas. Dejevsky praises Service for his well-labeled and short chapters but does also comment on how the long the book is as a whole. Also, Dejevsky recognizes Service’s access to a lot of previously unavailable Soviet documents and praises his utilization of those documents in his book. However, Dejevsky criticizes Service for bringing up too many characters that people who did not live through this time may not recognize. She also wishes Service went into more detail at parts like Gorbachev’s Beijing trip and Malta Summit. Finally, she criticizes him the most for not answering “why” each event happened wishing that Service “venture[d] more of his own judgement on the forces that moved these particular nations”9.
Another review on The End of the Cold War was written by Duncan White for The Telegraph. In his review he mainly addresses how Service “brings to life the ‘big four’ who he [Service] believes did most to bring the conflict to an end”10. White believes using the “big four” as the core of his book in interesting because events are seen to branch off from their ideas. White also commends Service for his use of archives such as diaries and letters because it creates a rawer, riveting read. A minor flaw White addresses is the introduction of too many characters into the book, making it difficult to remember anyone outside the “big four”. Overall; however, White praises Service for his compelling book.
The book The End of the Cold War was overall informative and a good read but not without its faults. The book takes a different approach to explaining the Cold War in that it focuses on individuals instead of just the events. In addition, the content of Service's books have to be one of the most accurate ones regarding Soviet Russia history because of Service's access to exclusive Soviet archives. The book is also nicely organized into four distinct parts with each part ending with a huge change such as Gorbachev becoming leader or Reagan leaving the office. Sometimes the book gets repetitive as it continuously mentions the SDI and nuclear reduction disagreements. The book is also not fast-paced as it has a mostly informative tone with some humor along the way. Overall, the book has good information and organization but could improve in terms of pace and repetitiveness.
Reagan's was the face of conservatism in the 80s and he took extreme conservative policies towards the Soviet Union such as his desire to "challenge the Kremlin throughout the world" and his intention "to denounce communism in all its manifestations"11. His strong anti-communist stance certainly helped pave the way to communications with the USSR since his opponents could not denounce him for being "soft on communism". Therefore, through Reagan's conservative leadership and Gorbachev's desire for change, the conservatism of the 80s also saw the political and social progressiveness when the gap between the East and the West was slowly being bridged.
The book The End of the Cold War addresses the time period from the election of Ronald Reagan to the end of Gorbachev’s presidency. It focuses on how individuals can create remarkable change and ties it to what is happening in the modern days towards the end of the book.
1. Service, Robert The End of the Cold War New York: PublicAffairs, 2015 9
2. Service, Robert 127
3. Service, Robert 311
4. Service, Robert 426
5. Service, Robert 124
6. “Historian: Robert Service.” Russian Revolution. N.p., 07 Dec. 2012. Web. 23 May 2016
7. “Historian: Robert Service.” Russian Revolution. N.p., 07 Dec. 2012. Web. 23 May 2016.
8. Service, Robert 500
9. Dejevsky, Mary. “The End of the Cold War 1985-1991, by Robert Service - Book Review: Did the Cold War End or Was It Just Asleep?” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 8 Oct. 2015. Web. 23 May 2016.
10. White, Duncan. “The End of the Cold War by Robert Service, Review ‘a Riveting Read’’ The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 4 Nov. 2015. Web. 27 May 2016
11. Service, Robert