Lecture 17 March 1, 2011
The ‘Second’ Cold War, 1981-85
A New Era in US-Soviet Relations
-Ronald Reagan replaces Carter as the second Cold War begins
-Ronald Reagan understood the potential of the American economy; he was a
-We just need to challenge the US to an economic race – an economic competition –
and this will destroy them
-He renounces détente – he rejects it as the wrong way to deal with the Soviet Union
-He believed in neo-conservative policy
-He wanted to re-initiate ‘Containment’ but add to it ‘Liberation’. Support all
political parties/groups that would work against communism
-He initiated his own doctrine, the Reagan Doctrine. Any force that fights
communism would find support in the United States, both political and military
support; finances, training, weaponry – everything to aid the overthrow of a
-The Soviet Union misunderstood Reagan. They thought Reagan would be open to
discussion. When he came to power, the Soviet Foreign Minister (Gromyko) declared
that there was no difference between this administration and the Carter one. He saw
that Reagan would try to un-do all the progress the US and USSR had achieved.
Reagan wrote a letter to Brezhnev showing his willingness to negotiate on any
outstanding issue. The Soviet Union did not trust Reagan and rejected this.
-April 1981, Reagan lifts the Grain Embargo.
-Reagan was not doing this for Russia; he was doing it for the American economy.
Foreign policy was less of a priority for Reagan than to lift the United States out of his
debt (1 billion dollars), cut taxes, balance the budget, de-regulations, bringing in
legislation against trade unions, and following in the footsteps of another
Conservative who had come to power in Britain, Margaret Thatcher. This is known
-By lifting the Gran Embargo, Reagan wanted to satisfy the American farmers.
-The first item that needed re-enforcement was the American military
The Years of Fear
Caspar Weinberger: “The US Military is the only thing that could pressure the
-If we want to contain the USSR, we need to build up our military
-During his first 3 years, no meaningful achievement/agreement was signed, no
progress was made between the US and USSR
-Reagan offers further aid to the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan to throw off the yoke of
-He offered arms to communist China. The Chinese fearing the technological
superiority of the USSR, needed aid. Technological aid that would help the Chinese
withstand a Russian attack.
-The most remarkable actions came in 1983. In a public speech in Florida, he declared
the Soviet Union an Evil Empire – rotten from the roots. Every trouble in the world,
every hot spot, has a connection to the communist Soviet Union.
-This was followed by another proposal, SDI. This would remove the (MAD)
-1st September 1893, the Soviet Union cut an airport in North Korea. Soviet
communications were intercepted from the United States.
-This showed the callous nature/barbarous system that totally disregards human life.
-Reagan convinced the Soviet leadership that not only is he not up for resuscitation of
détente, all of his executive orders to fight communism, they thought he was on the
verge of launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.
-Late 1983, the world came close to an accidental nuclear showdown.
-Give Reagan’s unwillingness to meet with the Soviets. By 1982, the KGB suspected
that perhaps the Americans are not that far away from building a superior nuclear
system and might want to use it. The KGB and GRU were asked to cooperate and
follow and spy on every individual in the Western World – US and NATO countries –
that had anything to do with the command of nuclear weapons.
-To follow all the nuclear sites. Operation Ryan
-Low and behold, the Soviet administration was so terrified of such a possibility, NATO
and the US decided to launch an operation, a military exercise, that would mimic
every step the US and NATO would take in case there was a nuclear war between the
two powers. This operation, Able Archer, took place and the Soviet Union in
response alerted all of its nuclear forces, and was ready to launch a counter attack at
the first time of an American missile being launched.
-This was the second closest incident that the world would have come to a nuclear
-Able Archer was ended and the Soviet Union was relieved.
-While the Russians were dealing with all these international affairs, they had a huge
crisis at home, this started in the early 70s in Poland.
-The Eastern bloc went through a political meltdown in the 1970s. The Polish had
many strikes, etc. The leader was replaced, the people were given concessions, and
their borders were opened…
The Polish Crisis
-From Gomulka to Gierek – the leadership change
-Poland was already indebted to the West by 20 billion dollars.
-The working class learned their lesson. A new realization was that the East was far
poorer despite the claims of their communist party. The lessons of the early riots of
the 1970s, the government would always give in and give concessions.
-The election of a Polish pope in 1978, John Paul II, was not good. When he visited
Poland, the state realized that the only way to keep up with the declining economy
was to raise food prices. But as soon as this happened, the people would strike.
-Lennan Shipyards: this became a mass demonstration and the creation of an
independent union to organize working class solidarity occurred. The working class
was given a voice. In no less than 10 years, 10 million Poles joined.
-This independent body challenged the power of the Communist party. For a couple of
years from 1980 to 1981, the government tried to deal with them. Eventually, nothing
came out of these negotiations, because the main problem was power.
-The communist party could not give representation.
-What is worse and less known is that these issues – especially solidarity – spilled over
into the USSR
-In the Baltic provinces, many strikes took places, mirroring what was going on in
-The KGB was writing how the situation was intolerable. The situation must be
addressed immediately in the USSR and Poland.