Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The USA and the world: 1977 to 1991, the end of the Cold War

The 1948-49 Berlin Blockade, the 1958-61 Berlin Crisis, and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis were “hot spots” of the Cold War in which the US prevailed. However, the failure of the Vietnam War (US involvement being greatest from 1963 to 1973), the assassinations of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963 and his brother Robert in 1968, and the shortcomings of the Nixon presidency (Watergate Scandal in 1972-74), plus the start of an economic downturn (Energy Crises in 1973 and 1979), dented the self-confidence of Americans but also tarnished the image of the USA abroad. The Soviet Union appeared powerful and the USA "weak" in comparison in the 1970s...

In 1977, the Soviets deployed SS-20 nuclear ballistic missiles with a 5,000 km strike capacity which threatened the US’s European allies and Israel. This marked the ending of the period of “Détente”.

The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to support the pro-Soviet regime there made the Cold War situation worse (the Red Army, having failed, pulled out in 1989).

1979 was the year of the revolution in Iran: Ayatollah Khomeini set up an Islamic republic and Iran became an enemy of the USA.

The Conservative Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the UK in 1979 (she resigned in 1990); she was the most active supporter of the USA (the Soviets called her “the Iron Lady” because she was strong-willed and intransigent in international negotiations).

In 1980, Tito, the leader of Yugoslavia, died (which was one cause of the breakup of the country; the Yugoslav Wars lasted through the 1990s).

In 1981, Socialist François Mitterrand was elected President of France (1981-1995). France was not a full member of NATO from 1966 to 1999. Mitterrand supported the NATO initiative to deploy medium-range missiles in Europe during the Euromissiles crisis (1977-87).

In January 1981, Ronald Reagan, a Republican, took office as the 40th President of the USA. He succeeded in making the US more self-confident, and economically and militarily stronger (which increased the US debt considerably). His intransigence against the “Evil Empire”, with the support of Margaret Thatcher, was a cause of the downfall of the USSR in 1991.

Thatcher and Reagan

In his 1982 speech to the British House of Commons, Ronald Reagan denounced the totalitarian nature of the Soviet regime. From his point of view, the USSR did not respect freedom, and was responsible for the instability in international relations (increasing the risk of nuclear conflict). He considered the Soviet system economically redundant, unlike the democratic model which ensures economic prosperity. “Free societies” means “civilization, freedom, dignity, peace”, whereas “totalitarian forces” are “a terrible political invention” associated with “barbarous…evil…closed societies”. Reagan called for democratic countries (like the UK) to fight against “totalitarian evil”. Reagan’s aggressive stance (rollback policy) increased international tension. This accelerated the arms race and spending on armament. The USA became indebted, but so did the USSR which, with a weakened economy, inevitably collapsed within a few years. Also, the USSR soon realized that its costly war in Afghanistan was unpopular too with its allies and Non-Aligned countries (though justifiable in the Cold War context since the Soviet Union was trying to counter the growing influence of the USA in Pakistan). Gorbachev withdrew the troops in 1989. By 1996, Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban  (supported by Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda).

Reagan fought Soviet influence in Third World countries, notably in Nicaragua. The government of this South America country was Sandinista, i.e. communist. Reagan, against the will of Congress, supported the counter-revolutionary Contras using the CIA. In 1986, Reagan, in a covert operation, sold arms to the Iranian regime to finance the Contras (this was called the “Irangate Scandal”). The Sandinistas lost the 1990 elections.

The Soviet SS-20s were the cause, in 1983, of what came to be known as the “Euro-Missile Crisis.” NATO deployed cruise and Pershing 2 missiles aimed at Moscow (despite wide-spread popular protests in the USA and in Europe). By 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev, the reformist new leader of the USSR, was willing to consider the deal Reagan had offered prior to 1983: no U.S. missiles, if no Soviet SS-20s.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (he resigned in 1991). In 1988, he launched Perestroika (“restructuring” of the economic and social systems) and Glasnost (“transparency”, i.e. freedom of thought). He responded favorably to the Reagan Administration’s efforts in 1986 to improve relations with the Soviet Union (which led to the Reykjavik Summit in October 1986). Gorbachev needed to reduce military spending to save the regime, so improved relations with the West were in any case necessary.

Comments on the above cartoon by Nicholas Garland (published on 3rd January 1986 in the Daily Telegraph, a British broadsheet): this is an ironic comment on the geopolitical situation in 1986; the “skies” are all but “clear”… The “clear skies for all mankind” was a new Reagan policy to show its willingness to improve relations with the USSR, for a world free of the danger of nuclear weapons (and for more transparency in their relations?). The irony is that in fact the world was full of dangers and the skies (in the cartoon, metaphorically) polluted with Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”), the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the conflicts in South America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua), and the conflicts in the Middle East (Israel invades Lebanon again in 1982, first Palestinian Intifada in 1987).

In October 1986, the Reykjavik Summit (in Iceland) between Reagan and Gorbachev resulted in the signature of the Washington Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987 (the disarmament of American Pershing and Soviet SS-20s).

Reagan's 1987 visit to Berlin

In 1987, Reagan went to Berlin; he gave a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in which he challenged the Soviet leader to "open this gate... tear down this wall!" He was continuing to put pressure on the USSR.

Gorbachev gave a speech to the UN in December 1988 (cf. the video, 1:06 to end) which shows the Soviet regime’s willingness to change radically; the USSR was now a freer society, with political, administrative and economic reforms, reduction in the size of the army and unilateral disarmament were on the agenda, and relations with Washington were better...

In 1988, Al Qaeda was set up.

In 1989, George Bush, Republican, became President of the USA (until 1993). He was careful and guarded in his foreign policy.

Berlin, a few days before the wall came down (1989)

On the 9th of November 1989, the Berlin Wall (built in 1961) came down. Bush chose to show restraint in his support of reunification of the two Germanies (so as not to provoke the nationalistic elements in Soviet Union and so undermine Gorbachev's authority).

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and, in 1991, the US successfully led a coalition, under UN mandate, to free Kuwait (Operation Desert Storm). This showed the USA has having regained its international standing (and showed up the USSR's weakness?).

In 1991, the ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia started; they were to last ten years. The USA got involved in that war under UN mandate and, in 1999, as part of NATO forces.

On the 25th December 1991, Gorbachev resigned; it was the end of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. Boris Yeltsin became leader (1991 to 1999) of the new Russian Federation.

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