The end of the Cold War was a greater historical transformation than 9/11, but controversy persists about its causes. An article by Steven Erlanger in Monday's New York Times quotes the neo-conservative commentator Robert Kagan as saying that "the standard narrative is Reagan." But the standard narrative is misleading.
A greater portion of the cause belongs to Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev wanted to reform communism, not replace it. However, his reform snowballed into a revolution driven from below rather than controlled from above. When he first came to power in 1985, Gorbachev tried to discipline the Soviet people as a way to overcome the existing economic stagnation. When discipline was not enough to solve the problem, he launched the idea of perestroika, or "restructuring," but the bureaucrats kept thwarting his orders. To light a fire under the bureaucrats, he used a strategy of glasnost, or open discussion and democratization. But once glasnost let people say what they were thinking, many people said, "We want out." By the summer of 1989, Eastern Europeans were given more degrees of freedom. Gorbachev refused to use force to put down demonstrations. By November, the Berlin Wall was pierced.
But there were also deeper causes. One was the soft power of liberal ideas. The growth of transnational communications and contacts helped spread liberal ideas, and the demonstration effect of Western economic success gave them additional appeal. In addition, the enormous Soviet defense budget began to affect other aspects of Soviet society. Health care declined and the mortality rate in the Soviet Union increased (the only developed country where that occurred). Eventually even the military became aware of the tremendous burden caused by imperial overstretch.
Ultimately the deepest causes of Soviet collapse were the decline of communist ideology and the failure of the Soviet economy. This would have happened even without Gorbachev. In the early Cold War, communism and the Soviet Union had a good deal of soft power. Many communists had led the resistance against fascism in Europe, and many people believed that communism was the wave of the future. But Soviet soft power was undercut by the de-Stalinization in 1956 that exposed his crimes, by the repressions in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and in Poland in 1981, and by the growing transnational communication of liberal ideas. Although in theory communism aimed to instill a system of class justice, Lenin's heirs maintained domestic power through a brutal state security system involving lethal purges, gulags, broad censorship, and the use of informants. The net effect of these repressive measures was a general loss of faith in the system.
Behind this, there was also the decline in the Soviet economy, reflecting the diminished ability of the Soviet central planning system to respond to change in the global economy. Stalin had created a system of centralized economic direction that emphasized heavy metal and smokestack industries. It was very inflexible--all thumbs and no fingers. As the economist Joseph Schumpeter pointed out, capitalism is creative destruction, a way of responding flexibly to major waves of technological change. At the end of the twentieth century, the major technological change of the third industrial revolution was the growing role of information as the scarcest resource in an economy. The Soviet system was particularly inept at handling information. The deep secrecy of its political system meant that the flow of information was slow and cumbersome.
Economic globalization created turmoil in the world economy at the end of the twentieth century, but the Western economies using market systems were able to transfer labor to services, to reorganize their heavy industries and to switch to computers. The Soviet Union could not keep up. For instance, when Gorbachev came to power in 1985, there were 50,000 personal computers in the Soviet Union; in the United States there were 30 million. Four years later, there were about 400,000 personal computers in the Soviet Union, and 40 million in the United States. According to one Soviet economist, by the late 1980s, only eight percent of Soviet industry was competitive at world standards. It is difficult to remain a superpower when 92 percent of industry is not competitive.
The lessons for November 9 are clear. While military power remains important, and Reagan's rhetoric played some role, it is a mistake for any country to discount the role of economic power and soft power.
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What Factors Led To The Cold War?
The cause of the Cold War is debatable. The Cold War was inevitable due to the differences in Capitalist and Communist ideologies. However, one is not able to fully point out who was responsible for the Cold War. There are so many factors that could have contributed to the Cold War. Many of the historians perspectives about the causes of the Cold War varies to a certain extent. The Orthodox view generally holds that the Soviet Union was responsible for the Cold War. It states that the Soviets were inevitably expansionist , due to their suspicion of the West. Thus, Stalin violated the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, occupied and imposed Soviet control in Eastern Europe and decides to ¨plot¨ the spread of Communism throughout the world with Moscow as its centre. The Revisionist view had an alternative perspective about the Cold War. They held the USA responsible for the Cold War. The Revisionists sees the motives behind U.S. foreign policy as inherently linked to the needs of Capitalism. When looking at different historian's point of views, one can see how the Cold War was seen as the only need for self-preservation that had caused the two countries to sink in their differences. However, many of the tensions that existed in the Cold War can be attributed to Stalin's policy of Soviet expansion. Stalin's foreign policies could have contributed to the increased tension between countries in the Cold War. The aim of his policies was to take advantage of the military situation in Post-War Europe to strengthen Russia's influence. Stalin was significantly effective in his goal to gain territory with victories in Poland and other countries. Stalin's success was seen as the beginning of creating Russian aggressions. The Western view seen Stalin as either continuing the expansionist policies or communism around the world. Stalin was trying to gain power through these two aspects, but Stalin is seen as wanting ¨unchallenged personal power¨ and a rebuilt of Russia strong enough to withstand capitalist encirclement. However, Stalin should not be held fully responsible the outbreak of the Cold War. When trying to figure out the factors that lead to the cause of the Cold War, it is best to look at other factors as well. It is best to look at both the Soviet Union and the USSR's policies and plan. For example, the United States held true to their idea of Capitalism while also being cautious of Soviet Communism. When Europe was in desperate need to rebuild after World War II, The United...
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