Thousands of East Berliners cross the "fallen" Berlin Wall. On November 9, 1989, the border separating East and West Germany was officially opened, thus symbolizing the end of the Cold War.
"Who Caused the End of the Cold War?"
Op-Ed, The Huffington Post
November 9, 2009
Author: Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
Today we celebrate 11/9. 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 today'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....
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