Modern history

Conclusion: Farewell to the Cold War

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet and Chinese Communists occupied the attention of two generations of Americans from 1945 to 1991. Citizens in these nations faced the nightmare of nuclear holocaust caused by even small missteps between the adversaries. But some unlikely people were responsible for ending the Cold War. Ronald Reagan, a militant anti-Communist crusader, together with his pragmatic and steady secretary of state, George Shultz, guided the United States through a policy of heightened military preparedness in order to push the Soviet Union toward peace. It was a dangerous gambit, but it worked; diplomacy rather than armed conflict prevailed. Reagan’s Cold War strategy succeeded largely because during the 1980s an enlightened leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, governed the Soviet Union. He envisioned the end of the Cold War as a means of bringing political and economic reform to his beleaguered and bankrupt nation. What Gorbachev began, his successor, Boris Yeltsin, finished: the dismantling of the Soviet Union and its empire, and the infusion of democracy and capitalism into Russia.

The activism of ordinary people around the world also helped transform the relationship between the superpowers. Antinuclear protesters in Western Europe and the United States, including Barbara Deming and her feminist cadre at the Seneca Falls Women’s Encampment, kept up pressure on Western leaders to make continued nuclear expansion unacceptable. In Eastern Europe, Polish dockworker Lech Walesa and other fighters for democracy broke from the Soviet orbit and tore down the bricks and barbed- wire fences of the iron curtain. Who won the Cold War? Clearly, the United States did, thereby gaining dominance as the world’s sole superpower. Yet this did not necessarily guarantee peace. In assuming this preeminent role, the United States faced new threats to international security from governments and insurgents seeking to rebuild nations along ethnic and religious lines in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and Africa. Ironically, the bipolar Cold War in some ways had meant a more stable and manageable world presided over by the two superpowers. The collapse of the Soviet empire created a power vacuum that would be filled by a variety of unchecked and combustible local and regional forces intent on challenging the political and economic dominance of the United States and, even more sweeping, the values of Western civilization. At the same time, as globalization and digital technology shrank the world economically and culturally, the United States became the chief target of those who wanted to contain the spread of Western values. Terrorism, which transcended national borders, replaced communism as the leading enemy of the United States and its allies.

Chapter Review

Identify Key Terms

Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

détente (p. 731)

SALT II (p. 731)

mujahideen (p. 731)

Camp David accords (p. 732)

Boland Amendment (p. 734)

divestment movement (p. 736)

Iran-Contra (p. 739)

nuclear freeze movement (p. 740)

glasnost (p. 741)

perestroika (p. 741)

Solidarity (p. 742)

globalization (p. 745)

multinational (or transnational) corporations (p. 746)

European Union (EU) (p. 747)

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (p. 747)

Operation Desert Storm (p. 750)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. How did Carter's foreign policy differ from that of Ford and Nixon?

2. How did events in Afghanistan and iran undermine the Carter administration?

3. How did anticommunism shape Ronald Reagan's foreign policy?

4. What role did ordinary citizens play in prompting the superpowers to move toward nuclear de-escalation?

5. What led to the end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the soviet union?

6. How did the end of the Cold War contribute to the growth of globalization?



• U.S. and USSR sign Helsinki accords


• Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt


• U.S. Embassy staff in Tehran taken hostage

• U.S. and USSR sign SALT II; Congress does not ratify

• Soviet Union invades Afghanistan


• Solidarity founded in Poland


• Boland Amendment passed

• 750,000 attend nuclear freeze rally in New York City's Central Park


• Suicide bomb attack in Lebanon kills 241 U.S. soldiers

• U.S. invasion of Grenada


• Reagan administration sells arms to Iran for release of hostages and to fund Nicaraguan Contras

• Mikhail Gorbachev assumes leadership of the Soviet Union


• Senate hearings on Iran-Contra affair

• U.S. and Soviet Union sign Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty


• Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown in China

• Fall of the Berlin Wall


• Soviet Union dismantled


• U.S. pushes Iraq out of Kuwait


• European Union (EU) formed


• North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) goes into effect

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