WHY DID THE SOVIET UNION COLLAPSE
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR are probably the most significant events of our lifetime so far. The causes for the collapse of the Soviet Union consist of a combination of internal and external factors. Briefly, the external factors consist of the rivalry and eventual arms race between the United States and the USSR, which almost led to nuclear war. The Cold War triggered conflicts in different parts of the world; in other words the rivalry between the United States and the USSR went on a global level although there had never been a direct confrontation between the two superpowers. The internal factors are based on structural unstableness in the economy, especially concerning rigid central planning. The essay shall commence with the external factors, thus the role the United States played in the collapse of the multi-ethnic entity. A brief summary of what the situation was like after the Second World War shall be presented. This will be done to set the historical context in which certain events triggered off the stockpiling of arms between the two superpowers. A set of affairs which would drastically decrease the Soviet economy as it is still trying to reconstruct it to this day.
The United States and Soviet Union s rivalry officially began in 1945. But friction had actually been present ever since the beginning of the First World War. Diplomatic efforts to lesson the tension had never been thoroughly dealt with because the past conflicts never drastically threatened the international system. At the closing of the Second World War, the victorious powers such as England and France had suffered great economic loss. At this time, the United States economy was very prosperous. With 6% of the world’s population, the U.S. had 48% of the radios, 46% of the electricity supplies, and U.S. companies controlled 59% of the world’s known oil reserves. During the period between 1928-1978, the Soviet economy grew rapidly to become a major superpower. However, the Soviet economy was based solely in one field, that of heavy industry. It will be shown later on in this essay how this concentration only in one field would create a setback which would have tragic results for the Soviet economy. After the Second World War, the two main actors in world politics who had opposing ideologies, one being communist the other supporting liberal internationalism, found themselves facing each other. Immediately, a feeling of tension grew as the two superpowers stood in stark contrast to one another. The Americans felt it necessary to expand the notion of self-determination in order to eliminate colonialism and also to re-establish the balance of power. The Soviet Union on the other hand proved uninterested in liberal internationalism as a promising political regime. In 1945 at the Conference of Yalta, the three leading political figures, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin attempt to re-organise the globe on the basis of cooperation. Germany was demilitarised and split up into four zones, which were to be occupied by the victorious powers. At the Conference of Potsdam, which took place the same year, the atmosphere had already grown more intense. The USSR resented Truman for terminating the financial support. He saw this as hypocrisy after the Conference in Yalta. In 1947 Truman stated, It must be the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. The viewpoints enshrined in the Truman doctrine and the policy of containment (the American political strategy for resisting perceived Soviet expansion) represented the American standpoint of the time. But what emphasised the tension and thus colossal military build-up on the part of the Soviet Union was that the Americans became obsessed with the idea of supporting Western Europe from Soviet expansion. Some began to think that the Korean War, for example, was a mere distraction so that the Soviets could concentrate on communist expansion in Western Europe. During the mid 1940s the Cold War between the two superpowers and their allies was focused in Europe where both sides had their most important interests. Although the United States hesitated to involve themselves, as the notion of Containment follows, both superpowers wanted to make their political ideologies the dominant ones hence the feelings of antagonism intensified dramatically.
The Soviet economy consisted of a Socialist Shortage Economy. This system discouraged production efficiency, increase in output quality and technological innovation. With the intensification of tension, conflicts started breaking out in different parts of the globe. Many of the origins of these confrontations lay in the context of the Cold War. The Vietnam War was a prime example. Vietnam consisted of France’s far eastern empire ever since 1861. Ho Chi Minh was based in the north where there was the Chinese government implemented during the conference of Potsdam. Ho Chi decided to take advantage of the Russian support which of course would encourage communist rule. War broke out between North Vietnam and South Vietnam where the French attempted to dominate and were furthermore supported by the Americans and the British. The confrontation, which began in 1946 and ended in 1954, represented the re-occurring theme of the Cold War. In fact, the Americans had considered using nuclear weapons, but they backed down precisely because they knew that the Soviets would not have hesitated using atomic weapons which would have produced a nuclear war.
An internal factor, which had important consequences on the Soviet political future, consisted of the death of Stalin in 1953. The successor, Nikita Khrushcev attempted to modernise the Soviet society. But in focusing on domestic affairs, potential influence in Eastern Europe was lost. During this time Eastern European countries especially Hungary became quite independent politically. This in turn, resulted in the decentralisation of power in Moscow, which originally had been the control centre and exercised absolute power over the Eastern countries. Making it more difficult for the Soviet leaders to exercise power efficiently in domestic affairs and on the international level. This is because the origins of the power, whether it be economic based or that within the strength of the people, heavily relied on the Eastern European countries. Although there were periods of D tente, which consisted of a mutual agreement to end the arms race so as to avoid a nuclear war, it did not ultimately terminate the Cold War. As both powers continued to pursue their own goals, which were incompatible with one another for example, during the mid 1970s, the Soviet Union began to support the revolutionary movements in the Third World, such as Ethiopia in 1975. In 1979, the Soviet Union still continued to gain military power to the point where NATO was prepared to deploy land based missiles in Europe, if the Soviet Union failed to cooperate.
In 1980, Reagan was elected president and decided to take a more rigid approach towards the Soviet Union, referring to it as the evil empire . By this time, living standards were neglected and the economy proved inefficient, with low factor productivity and a poor quality of industrial output. National income fell from 7.8%in 1970 to 3.2% in 1985, hence the growth of the Soviet economy decelerated. When Mikhail Gorbachev became president in 1985, the period of tension between 1979 and 1986 which had suffered from military interventions such as Grenada in 1983 and Libya in 1986, changed dramatically. Gorbachev intended to apply domestic reforms to the Soviet Union. This program consisted of two main phases known as Perestroika and Glasnost. Perestroika was based on a policy of restructuring the Soviet political and economic system. Glasnost was a policy of greater openness based on greater toleration and self-criticism. He also signed disarmament treaties with the Americans in 1986 in order to reduce the USSR’s deficit. Unfortunately, Gorbachev’s policies further diminished the strength of the now already weak Soviet Union. Provinces such as Yugoslavia started to demand independence and conflicts broke out such as in Azerbaijanis in 1990. Eventually, Gorbachev allowed the Eastern European countries to, ‘do it their way’, as the Sinatra doctrine states. Two events, which contributed substantially towards the collapse, was the American invasion of Panama in 1989, which threatened the Kremlin’s disarmament hopes and also, the opening of the Berlin Wall by the new Communist leaders of East Germany.
To conclude, the Soviet Union collapsed because Soviet political leaders proved incapable of keeping up with the gathering of arms to secure themselves from international threat and dealing with domestic issues. Another crucial cause was the economy which allocated insufficient resources to consumption and investment in light industry and infrastructures, as most resources were reserved for the military industry. Also, the Soviet Union failed to keep up with the standard of technology in the West. Gorbachev’s reforms proved unsuccessful because he failed to cut military expenses. The more short-term causes were based on the economic stagnation between the 1970s and the 1980s. There was a drastic decline in harvests in the late 1970s and early 1980s which led to scarcity of food and a decrease in productivity. The Soviet Union is in fact still coping with these problems that have had a tragic affect on the economy. In addition, Eastern European countries, which chose to break off from Moscow s control, have also had their fair share of disasters.
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