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Hard or Soft Power in the Cold War’s End Essay

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Updated: Jun 9th, 2020


The cold war is one occurrence that has had the greatest influence on the manner in which countries across the world handle diplomacy issues. The tensions experienced between the eastern and western blocs following the conclusion of the World War II led to its eruption (Wilson, 2104). The eastern bloc was comprised of the Soviet Union and its allies, while the western bloc was comprised of the United States along with its allies. The two super powers had numerous differences that involved issues relating to economic supremacy, political dominance, and social status. Unlike the World War I and II, this tension had very little fighting between the two blocs (Matlock, 2004).

This explains the reason as to why this war that started in 1947 and ended in 1991 was termed as being cold. There are a number of theories that have been developed over the years in a bid to explain the main factors that influenced the conclusion of the cold war (Service, 2015). One of such theories is the one that tags between the role played by both hard and soft powers in ending the tensions. According to diplomacy and world history experts, it was hard power that ended the cold war. During the cold war, the United States was headed by President Ronald Regan while the Soviet Union was under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev (Matlock, 2004).


Reports indicate that Mikhail Gorbachev is one of the main people that featured prominently in the events that led to the conclusion of this conflict. The soviet statesman is famed for his foreign policy that brought an end to the cold war, as well as his domestic policy that led to the introduction of major reforms that included the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 (Snyder, 2011). Although many people have questioned the motivations behind the leadership style used by Gorbachev, it is very clear that the actions were guided by the desire to protect the sovereignty of his people, as well as the ability of the Soviet Union to remain highly competitive on the global scene (Snyder, 2011).

The changes that have brought Russia to its current economic and political state started in 1985, when Gorbachev assumed leadership. He believed in the use of hard power as the best way to save the Soviet Union from collapsing by opening investment opportunities to the western world (Service, 2015). Gorbachev knew the opportunities that would benefit his people and did not waste any time approving them. One of his famous policies was glasnost, which allowed the people to enjoy more freedom discussing social problems (Hogan, 2009). This was an effective strategy that made the transition process more inclusive. Another famous strategy by Gorbachev that helped in ending the cold war was perestroika, which was an economic policy that aimed to increase automation and labor efficiency by ending central planning in the country’s economy (Wilson, 2104).

After successfully rescuing the country’s economy, Gorbachev embarked on a mission to help dissolve the Soviet Union in 1989 (Fischer, 2002). One of the things that Gorbachev considered in this mission was the impact that the earlier military interventions made by the soviet bloc on some of its members had on their bid to go separate ways. Since the union was built on communist ideologies, a lot of people were very keen to observe the response that Poland’s decision to elect a noncommunist government would trigger among its soviet counterparts (Fischer, 2002).

The members failed to respond to that move because leaders such as Gorbachev felt that the time was right to end the system of communism and declare independence. This sparked a series of revolutionary changes across the soviet starting with the falling down of the Berlin wall, which was followed by ousting of communist governments in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia (Summy & Salla, 2005). These occurrences stimulated the declaration of independence in Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, and Lithuania. Although Gorbachev felt the need to allow the western countries to control a part of their economy, it was very important to ensure that they retained full control (Hogan, 2009).

Although the United States had their input in ending the cold war through the involvement of President Reagan, many analysts argue that the Soviet Union were the real winners following the conclusion of the conflict. They managed to transition from a communist system of governance and their economy received a major boost through the participation of foreign investors (Matlock, 2004). One of the biggest motivations that triggered the involvement of the United States in the cold war was the need to stop the Soviet Union spreading their communist ideologies into other parts of the world.

Although his predecessors were very supportive of the idea to ease the growing tension between the two blocs, President Reagan opposed the idea. The main reason for this is that he felt supporting détente would come across as a sign of weakness on the part of the United States, thus increasing their vulnerability to the threat posed by the Soviet Union (Fischer, 2002). President Reagan believed that the United States could only manage to secure their position by achieving economic and military dominance over the members of the eastern bloc. By intimidating the Soviet Union economically, President Reagan believed that the Soviet Union would finally agree to their demands and ease the need for spreading their communist ideologies (Snyder, 2011). President Reagan successfully predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union because he felt they were not strong enough.

The American free market system of running the economy had placed them in a pole position to handle any form of challenges. In addition, he believed that America’s democratic system of governance made them a stronger and more united front (Hogan, 2009). His strategy for winning the cold war was to develop policies that would ensure the promotion of freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights. President Reagan was ready to make use of America’s military strength in a bid to prevent the spread of communism (Matlock, 2004). This was one of the American strengths that often intimidated the Soviet Union until they agreed to lower the number of nuclear weapons that they were planning to build.

President Reagan left office in 1989, and the war ended two years later. In 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved and Gorbachev considered the proceedings as a good victory for eastern bloc (Hutchings, 2006). Many people lauded Gorbachev, especially for the role he played in ensuring that the conflict was concluded peacefully. His policies played a crucial role in enticing the western bloc into making investments in the country, amid strong fears by the people that they would lose control over their economy. However, the conclusion of the conflict created a slight battle in the United States between the democrats and the republicans over the people responsible for the successful outcome (Hutchings, 2006). Since President Reagan was a republican, the democrats were quick to correct them over their calls to be credited with the success of the cold war. They argued that the resources of all Americans were used in pushing for the interests presented by President Reagan, thus the need to give credit to all citizens for the kind of support they offered to the government (Hogan, 2009).


Both President Reagan and Gorbachev used hard power to ensure that the cold war concluded in a peaceful manner. One of the characteristic elements of their leadership style was the policies they developed. President Reagan primarily developed policies that were geared towards promoting freedom, peace, respect for human rights, and democracy across the countries that constituted the Soviet Union. The United States was very keen to ensure that communist ideologies did not spread to other parts of the world beyond the territories that were controlled by the Soviet Union following the conclusion of World War II. On the other hand, Gorbachev developed policies that were geared towards promoting freedom, openness, increase automation, as well as labor efficiency.

Although there have been numerous debates over whether there was a winner following the conclusion of the war, many analysts argue that its peaceful end was the best outcome for either parties. However, it is fair to conclude that both the eastern and western blocs benefited from the way the conflict ended. The United States managed to retain its economic and military superiority, as well as successfully stopping the spread of communism. On the other hand, members of the eastern bloc managed to attain their independence and stabilize their economies through the input of foreign investors.


Fischer, B.A. (2002). The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War. Missouri: University of Missouri Press.

Hogan, M.J. (2009). The End of the Cold War: Its Meaning and Implications. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hutchings, R.L. (2006). American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War: An Insider’s Account of US Diplomacy in Europe. New Jersey: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

Matlock, J. (2004). Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. California: Random House Publishing Group.

Service, R. (2015). The End of the Cold War: 1985-1991. New York: Pan Macmillan.

Snyder, S.B. (2011). Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Summy, R., & Salla, M. (2005). Why the Cold War Ended: A Range of Interpretations. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Wilson, J.G. (2104). The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev’s Adaptability, Reagan’s Engagement, and the End of the Cold War. New York: Cornell University Press.

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