Ronald Reagan was a movie actor turned politician who grew to be one of the leading statesmen of the twentieth century. When he became president, America’s role as leader of the free world was seriously imperiled. Foreign policy was a shambles; the economy, in chaos; and national confidence, at its lowest. Reagan’s policies restored the economy and national confidence and led directly to the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. By focusing on the economy and less on nuclear armament, he knew that the Soviet Union would try to keep pace, which it could not as it was spending too much already on its defense in terms of GDP. Reagan represented the successful culmination of the policies of a series of American presidents aimed at the expansion of freedom by the containment of communism, including Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
People who argue that President Reagan ended the Cold War (and not everyone agrees that he was the most important player in the end of the Cold War) say that he put pressure on the Soviet economy until it cracked. The idea is that Reagan pushed for an arms race that was too much for the Soviet Union's economy. As the US built more and more weapons, the Soviets had to try to keep up. Their economy was not capable of this and it broke under the pressure. As the economy broke, the people of the Soviet Union were no longer willing to accept communism and the Cold War ended.