After reading your short answers comparing Reagan’s 1st and 2nd terms regarding foreign policy, and it made me wonder what you think is the turning point of Reagan’s presidency, especially with regards to the Cold War and the Soviet Union.
Schools of history fall into a couple of areas regarding the end of the Cold War:
- Gorbachev is the main reason why the Cold War ended. It was his reforms (glasnost and perestroika), different from the previous Soviet leaders, that prompted Reagan to renew negotiations over reducing / eliminating nuclear weapons;
- Gorbachev was the reason why Reagan considered the Zero Option in Europe – Gorbachev proposed the Zero Option (for all nuclear weapons) at the Reykjavik Summit which eventually turned into the INF Treaty in 1987 that eliminated all intermediate range nuclear missiles (especially those in Europe).
- It was Reagan playing hard ball with the Soviets / Gorbachev over SDI when Gorbachev proposed the Zero Option at the Reykjavik Summit in 1986, that Reagan refused to abandon SDI, which led to the INF Treaty (in a roundabout way).
- SDI’s introduction was the pivotal moment of the Reagan presidency because it forced the Soviets back on their heels, wondering how to counter it, and if there could be anything done about it.
- Reagan’s refusal to entertain detente and cast the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”, plus a massive increase in military spending caused the Soviets to match us or risk losing the edge it had in conventional and nuclear weapons.
But there is also some unconventional thinking about the Reagan / Bush administrations and how they helped end the Cold War:
- The CIA’s aid to the mujahideen in Afghanistan helped sink the Soviets deeper into an unwinnable war, forcing the Soviets to use their best troops, and spend oodles of money that it didn’t have.
- While the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Eastern European countries and Soviet Republics broke away (1989-1991), President Bush did everything he could to encourage them to put democracy first and Communism second. He did not ask for military aid to be sent to these countries, but he supported their break w/ the Soviets. Even during the hard-line coup in the Soviet Union in August 1991, President Bush and his administration fought hard to support Russian President Boris Yeltsin in his resistance to the Communists.