How did the Cold War come to an end?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is really no date for the end of the Cold War--some would put its end as 1989, when the communist governments of Eastern Europe collapsed, while others would choose 1991, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Whatever the date, the Cold War came to an end with the collapse of communism. This process occurred for a number of reasons. One was that the Soviet Union faced major economic hardships as it struggled to maintain its military power. The Soviet economy, it is often said, struggled to provide its people with both "guns and butter." Mikhail Gorbachev, the reform-minded Soviet leader who took power in 1985, sought to institute structural economic changes that were impossible to implement while spending so much money on the military. So he sought more normalized relations with the United States. He also encouraged a new policy of openness, "glasnost", in the USSR. When the countries of Eastern Europe, beginning with Poland, began to pursue similar reforms, many began to overthrow their Communist regimes. Gorbachev, unlike previous Soviet leaders, declined to intervene to stop these changes, and Communism quickly collapsed in almost every Eastern European country. In 1991, the Soviet Union itself fell apart, with the Baltic state of Lithuania declaring independence, and others demanding it. Gorbachev was removed from power, and the rise of Boris Yeltsin to the presidency of a new government spelled the end of the USSR. If it was not over already, the Cold War reached a definitive end in 1991. 

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