Reagan and the End of the Cold War: Help or Hindrance


The end of the Cold War is widely considered to be a period when moral, economic and ethical consideration overruled ideological and cultural inheritance and thus saved the world from another World War. Historical and international studies correlate the end of the Cold War with the year 1989, the period of Ronald the Reagan presidency in the United States. Ronald Wilson Reagan was America’s 40th president who came to power when the Cold War was in place. Over his rule, Reagan was impelled to deal with the crisis of the Cold War. He had to take discreet actions and resolve difficult political questions to rule the country which was at the heart of the war activity. Overall, Regan’s actions and politics identify him as having done two important things. First of all, he made a great contribution to putting the end to the war, and the second one is obtaining victory in the war. Winning the war, in this sense, implies that through his leadership, the United States supremacy was asserted and U.S.S. R. had to withdraw the competition for global leadership especially in Western Europe. In terms of bringing the war to an end, Reagan is credited as having laid the steps which meant that both the U.S.S.R and such communism countries which were charting the path of war deviated and decided on a peaceful settlement.

This paper discusses Reagan’s political activity and contribution to ending the war. The purpose of the paper is to provide evidence that his actions and politics were not a hindrance, but part of the process of resolving conflict war questions and important decision-making inputs into the ending of the war. In the discussion section, we provide three theories that discuss Reagan’s behaviors and governing. The first one is the liberalism theory which identifies the concepts of self interest as important in the decisions by nations. The second theory related to Reagan’s behavior is the liberalism theory which holds that sometimes leaders take the path of cooperation as the way towards lasting benefits to the country and to everyone. As Lnopf (2) states, the end of the Cold War was not a path achieved by Reagan alone. The U.S.S. R. leader Mikhail Gorbachev was also credited to have ensured this. In this paper, the role played by Mikhail Gorbachev is presented by the third theory of constructivism. In this theory, the intellectual renovations of Mikhail Gorbachev will be considered and analyzed.

Background of the Study and Reagan’s Two Critical Roles in Ending the Cold War

U.S.S.R. leaders who governed the country before Gorbachev had escalated the Cold War conflict through their extremist communism ideals. Due to their denial to accept the changes occurring in the world society, they positioned themselves as rigid politics who had found it to be impossible to negotiate with a non-communist county such as the United States. However, under the leadership of Gorbachev, new dimensions of thinking were instituted. The new thinking presupposed that cooperation and common politics between two strong countries could bring the benefits to both sides. Thus, for new leaders, the focus was made on creation of the new forms of thinking of social and cultural dimensions. It was to be established intellectual changes to introduce into what was believed to prove an international society.

This was a new kind of thinking which typified the constructivist theory. Its main positions are based on the constructivism ideas which provide that development is only possible through instituting intellectual ramifications, thus a new system of thinking should be developed through things. As constructivism believes, faced with changes, as any society would at any time, the important thing is to look at the old systems of beliefs, values, norms, knowledge base and such and try to bring out something new. By far, this type of thinking is heavily depended on the work of a charismatic leader. Mikhail Gorbachev’s constructivist concepts and views were pegged on the ideology that genuine cultural and economic fusion by countries (détente) be the case, as evidenced by modernization of social and economic thinking as the sole and only beginning. His position was that in Western Europe cultural homogeny would be a uniting force that would be able to help merge the states into a cohesive European sense. On the other hand, the U.S’s belief was opposite. Reagan did not support the idea of the cultural fusion of Europe, as the path to be followed. As opposed to this point of view, he believed in the use of military balance and the creation of a status quo (Howortb 124). According to him, the independence and freedoms of all persons was far more important than the ideological integration path being charted by the new leader. As a leader, he was supporting this new path of development of the United States.

At this point, it is necessary to exemplify that the opposing view provided by Reagan (concerning the cultural and economic fusion called “détente”) This idea has always been interpreted as Reagan’s hindrance to the end of the cold war. Those who believe that Reagan was a hindrance to the end of the war have advanced that he was fond of using hard line foreign policies and that these policies were very much a hindrance to the implementation of the social, cultural and economic transformations (détente) which were being enacted by the constructivist leaders not only in the Soviet, but also in Germany, Romania and many other states in the west. The core idea of this ideology holds that though charismatic leaders, such as Gorbachev, who were doing their best to lead the U.S.S.R and other countries from international collision, or Cold War, Reagan, made it very rigid as his approach had been based on the fact that the soviet represented, and other communist counties were ‘empire of evil’. Analyzed further, however, this view of Reagan does not hold.

Analyzing, for example, the role played by Regan in the negotiations of disarmament, it is clear that he was not a ‘hard-line’ leader, but one who was ready to cede ground to obtain peaceful end to the conflict. The two types of behavior are significant in the role of Reagan in the resolution of war. The first among them can be described as “behavior of forceful elements”. Indeed, this behavior was positioned on the grounds that president was not ready to support with convincing evidence to approve. This is the type of leadership that majority of his decision were usually identified to have (Knopf 2). Notwithstanding, in this war, it is also important to note the second behavior which can be identified as the behavior of cooperation. This can be seen in the way he brought others to the table to solve the conflict.

In this sense, it is important to note that, as a leader of the powerful country of the United States of America, Reagan indeed made a valuable contribution to the ‘end’ of the Cold War. As an aware leader of a powerful country, he had much at his dispersal. If , in his governing, he had not led the path to the ending of the conflict in a “real war”, than the end of this war would not have come faster, and it would not have achieved the ‘end’ which was described earlier. In this respect, having chosen the path of settlement through diplomacy, Reagan can be credited as having ended the war in one important way. This is that he deviated from the tensions to a peaceful settlement. This was a wise decision which would forever be credited on him (Lnopf 1).

For Reagan, the policy being charted was that of using strength to create peace. This policy was central in ending the conflict and arms race, as it can be seen in the treaties signed. These treaties show Reagan displaying his cooperation and negotiation strategies and in the process helping end the cold war.

Reagan’s Cooperation Strategy and End of the Cold War

It is known that the Cold War was fought silently through the acquisition of weaponry in preparation for war. As countries acquired more weapons, they became threats to maintaining of the power balance, and thus necessitated the acquisition of weapons by the other country. This arms race can be approved, especially, considering the basin ideas of the realism theory which states that States will usually try to acquire more power to protect self interests, including economic interests and national security. The view of realism presupposes that in the world politics, the self interest presents the driving force that enables country leaders to focus on the benefits for their nation. According to this theory, in internal matters, the national interests will always override ideology, social or moral considerations. The view of the theory is that the international environment is a condition of competition for self interest by states with each state striving to acquire as much power as she could trough the possession of strategic positions and resources (Brooks and Wohlforth 7).

According to the main idea stated in the theory, each state generally uses resources to exploit the resources of other states and thus gain more power. As the theory believes, the overriding motive for any state is to poses power to such levels that no other state can threaten the self interests including the national security of it. Having analyzed this theory, we can conclude that its basic view provide that the states try to poses power beyond their own borders as well. Another idea positioned by the theory provides, that these actions are also aimed at accumulation of power to position the confidence that there is no threat to the country’s social and political activity. During the Cold War period, the war of weapons acquisition between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its peak. They both had economic and national security interests there, and thus were only fulfilling the realism theory. For the United States, Western Europe had become an important market, while for the U.S.S.R the entrance of the United States in the region was a threat to its market as well as to its national security.

The INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty) is considered to be hailed as an important turning point towards the end of the war, and it was the core question of negotiations between Ronald Reagan, the USA president, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the U.S.S R. leader. By the year 1987 there was already a commitment between the two political leaders considering the point that missiles deployed in Western Europe by each of the side would be removed. The signing of this treaty was made later in the year 1987, marking the final point to the end of the Cold War (believed to be 1989 and going into early 1990s). The signing of the treaty was followed in the same year by other measures aimed at the overall objective of developing confidence and cooperation. As such, the eventual destruction of these weapons followed, the signing of this document had a great importance to both countries, as well as to the world community. In order to be sure of the end of the Cold war, the U.S.S.R had to be sure that the United States was serious and conscious of its decision and its actions. The United States held the same position. The United States’ president was the one who made the first step towards the resolution of the problem and decision of the conflict. Which is why, along with the destruction of the missiles; he allowed the observation and inspections of the installations by the country. This inspection was to be of confidence boosting to the USSR to the point that the United States remained committed to ending the arms struggle. It was a strategy which was accredited to Ronald Reagan’s cooperation resolve. It is his important success in taking the Cold War to its logical ending.

Ronald Reagan used the INF process to establish far and wide objectives for the ending the Cold War. Thus, in the discussions, besides the focus on missiles, by the year 1986, more issues were focused on the disarmament between the two countries. This was after recognition that the issue of missiles was almost at its completion and had been successfully resolved. By this year, the discussions and negotiations concerning the missiles also referred to the questions of the space issues, as well as the strategic weapons (START 1 and INST). When the INF deal had been sealed and done with, Reagan moved the focus on the issue of finalizing the START I, which was begun in the year preceding the signing of the INF. START 1 was a comprehensive plan which tackled almost all the variety of weapons. It was to be the final blow to kill the tension brought on by arms race and assure the warring states that they were charting a path of peace in Europe. The signing of START 1 was in the year 1991. It marked full confidence in the commitment of the partners and set a compressive plan for implementation for future security through arms elimination.

Having analyzed the information presented earlier, it becomes possible to understand the objective of Reagan. As he was negotiating on the ground of missiles, he was inclined towards making Russia realize that he was prepared and absolutely sure of necessity to make an agreement on weapons the whole concept, and establishing understanding between each other. He was eager to ensure reliance between the countries not only on specific issues of weapon, but on the issue of cooperation as a whole so that it was resolved. Before the completion of this treaty, Europe was hinged on mistrust as there were 2600 and more missiles deployed by the two superpowers in the region. This heavy deployment of missiles was a threat to the interests of each party, as they sought to maintain power in the region and thus the world. They had to fulfill the trust for each other (Brooks and Wohlforth 99). Reagan, being a conscious of this speeded up the whole process of disarmament of all weapons placed in west. His speedy and comprehensive approach aimed at bringing full trust is credited to have “bore fruits” and thus returned sanity by ending the fears, arms race and the cold war.

Besides, in these treaties negotiated, Reagan demonstrated his ideas were him borrowed from the theory of Liberalism which is based on the concept of leadership by cooperation. It identifies the system of leadership where the leaders allow choice by those they intend to lead as the way into their hearts to allow the continuation of leadership. In liberalism, those are allowed to make even the decision on how they want to be led or not, and if the leadership should continue in the way as before. By far, the system is a people and human based one, where the freedoms of the people are fully allowed on them. In the definition, liberalism in leadership is defined as soft power. It means that the leader does not necessarily take the lead, but allows collective charting of the future and making of choices. All the concepts identified in this theory describe the Reagan’s political behavior. He decided to take the path of collectively coming to a decision with a competition force. He identified that there were many objectives to be achieved implying liberalism as the guiding principle. Simultaneously, he knew that using liberalist ideas, his overall objective, and thus belief of a peaceful end to the conflict, would be the case. He suggested that cooperation and peaceful conclusion would end the war; meaning that the chances for it to drag on would be the case for armed conflict and ensure the effective elimination of it, because each party was ready to contribute to successful and equal cooperation.

The sense of these actions becomes clear when we see the results of them. In other words, It is widely recognized that the actions of Reagan affected the whole of Western Europe. When he acted however, he came out as more concerned about them than would be expected from any ‘hard-line’ leader who hindered the end of the cold war, as opponents call him. Operating under the realism theory that states that self-interests, including internal security by the country, is paramount, the European countries were conscious, and thus, scared of two things. The first was that the Cold War will impel them lose their freedom and independence. The second thing was that this Cold War would rise into a “full war” which would be World War III. All these concern are true to the realism theory which identifies national security as an important condition that provides the security and independence of the country in international matters. Under these circumstances, and considering the developments, such a war would be disastrous. The arms race had moved into sophisticated weaponry. Nuclear Weapon was now a new tool used to manipulate decisions in the world arena.

The idea of a nuclear war presented a great threat to the western states. There was a danger for them to lose their independence and their economic and human resources. As the European leaders believed, this nuclear war was slowly ignited by Washington than it was being ignited by the U.S.S.R. This was a threat to the United States stability. It had the consequences that would make it lose the country’s important market and thus its economic benefits. Predicting that to satisfy the self interests of these countries was the best way to court them, President Reagan decided to take radical actions. He came to the table with the message of peace even when he believed the soviet was an ‘empire of evil’ (Lnopf 1). For Reagan too, the guiding principle was that the United States remained as wilding the power as before, because the military path was failing and the market was becoming disillusioned, he became ready to change to the course of negotiation. All these can easily be interpreted as maneuvers to live to the concepts enshrined in the realism principles because they relate to interests of countries in relation to economic gains for the U.S and security for Western Europe.

Basing on this, it is important to note that the role of Reagan here was to bring back the faith of Western Europe in the U.S, as an ally and not as a war monger. He o approached this through seeking the path of weapons destruction thus removals of what was believed to be the potential ignite to world war III (Howortb 119). For Reagan, this action was also to show Britain, its important ally, that he was not war bent as 54 percent of Britons believed at the time (Howortb 119).

In addition to this fact, it is important to consider that in his decisions, Reagan was not just acting in line with the views of his electorate. As he charted the path of negotiations, he came out as one willed to end the war even when such was a threat to his political fortunes. According to Howortb (120), the view in America (as communicated by many commentators) was that U.S.S.R should not be involved in engaged in deals ad negotiations because she had charted a path which was aggressive and mean to the states in Western Europe. But Reagan was ready to move over these sentiments among his countrymen and ensure a gesture of peace with the enemy he too identified as ‘evil’. This shows his strong personality towering over and influencing path to end of cold war. It shows his statesmanship in identifying which is the beneficial path for the self interests and power acquisition by his country as enshrined in the realism theory.

Reagan’s Coercive Strategy and End of the Cold War

Some quotas suggest that Reagan did not end the Cold War because the soviet was already bent to collapse, and thus the war was already on the path of ending. This view is however is not supported by convincing evidences and can be disclaimed. To discount this, it is paramount to note that the war would not have ended if negotiations were not done and deals reached, irrespective of if the U.S.S.R was poor or not. As (Brooks and Wohlforth 7) identifies, the end of the Cold War was not merely frantic but from the choice pattern followed by the Soviet Union after the U.S and thus president Reagan, had laid on the table, incentives towards the direction of depart from armament.

There is no need to discredit the point that, for the soviet, this path of negotiation and peace was forced down the throat by the realities of the environment in the international relations. The country had declined economically to its worst level. Compared to other major powers such as the U.S and Britain, the U.S.S.R had declined so much. The people were already feeling the pinch of the decision by the leaders. As majority identified, competition with the U.S to buy arms had caused the economic hardships that the country was facing. It ha caused a loss of power not only externally but also internally. This was a threat to the dynamisms of the theory of realism. This is where Reagan’s hand thus influence comes in. For Reagan, the Cold War was not just being fought emotionally it was also being fought economically. His strategy was to exhaust the other party economically using the huge resources of the U.S.

All in all, thanks to his strategies which meant that the Soviet spent more than it had, the Soviet Union was doomed to collapse and thus exit the competition. In retrospect, the war, analyzed in this dimension, presents a perfect example of the beginning and end of the Realism theory. In the mid of Reagan was the identification that at that point when the U.S.S.R would be fully economically exhausted, the Cold War would end. It is exactly the outcome that came into being and it demonstrates how Reagan had contributed to the resolving of the conflict. Coming to power, Gorbachev and his constructivism theory concepts of self-interest and national security ideals identified that the logical way to ensure economic restoration and security for his country was to end the arms race and reallocate the funds spent on arms on ensuring food security among other issues. He reached this decision after identifying that the arm race could not be taken on anymore because, unlike the competitor (Reagan and the U.S), his country (Soviet) was now exhausted economically. Looking at it this way, it is important to realize that if Reagan had not continued the arms race and even magnified it, the war would not have ended because the Soviet would not have spent much to fear future national security.

The idea of self interest, thus realism, was clear from the beginning and can be understood from what happened to the soviet. At the beginning of the struggle, the interest of the soviet was to acquire power (interests and dominance) in Western Europe by all means including having to forego some economic benefits (English 78). The soviet was even donating some of its financial resources to these western states. For Western Europe thus, the soviet had become a close confederate who was not harming but helping. Reagan knew this. He approached the situation with the view of branding the soviet as bad. He competed with her in arms installations in the region and abruptly presented a path for peace. At this time, Reagan left such leaders with no choice by advancing an incentive towards disarmament; the leaders of the soviet saw all the witty on the part of the president of the United States. They came to this over time; the United States would easily take all the western states into its allies’ camp because they would begin to view the soviet as a warmonger if they did not take the direction of peace. For the new constructivist thinking led by Gorbachev, the loss of the western states to the U.S. camp would have spread doom. Because the soviet was already on the declining path economically, such alliance would mean total collapse of the soviet due to the fact that trade with these countries would be to its lowest. Assessing the situation, the new leadership of the soviet identified that the path of cooperation was the best to maintain the market thus power in the region and ensuring economic stability. Assessing this way, it is clear to see that Reagan was working with the strategy of creating chaos in order to destabilize and make the competitor weak. He succeeded in this.


Analyzing the results of the Cold War, two behaviors are important to notice as coming from Reagan and necessitating the end. First is the cooperation and negotiation strategies taken on by him. His peace activism using cooperation and negotiation ideals helped reach treaties which ended the Cold War. The second one was his coercive strategies: overall, from the competition strategies he took on, he made the soviet exhaust all its economic resources and become too weak to continue the Cold War. It had to give in and thus end the competition. At the heart of the competition and cooperation were the issues of state interests, liberalism as well as a new kind of thinking. As a leader, Reagan used his mastery of the liberalism ideals and self interest of his country to win the soviet and end the war. For the soviet, existence from the Cold War was also hinged on self-interest thus realism theory. The leader of the soviet, presenting a new kind of thinking, identified that ending the conflict was the best path.

Works cited

Brooks, Steven and Wohlforth, William, “Power, Globalization & the End of the Cold War”, International Security 25.3 (2000): 5-53.

Brooks, Steven and Wohlforth, William, “A reply to English”, International Security 26.4 (2008): 93-111.

English, Robert. “Power, Ideas and New Evidence on the Cold War’s End: a reply to Brooks and Wohlforth”, International Security 26.4 (2002):70-92.

Howortb, Jolyon. “The third way”. Foreign Policy, No. 65 (2003):114-134.

Lnopf, Jeffrey. “Did Reagan win the Cold War?” Strategic Insights. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey 3 (2004):8.