What major events led to the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s?

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saintfester eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Cold War finally began to end towards the close of the 1980’s. There were several reasons for its conclusion, which ended with the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Prior to the 1980’s the Soviet Union found itself embroiled in many different conflicts and initiatives. The War in Afghanistan, which began in 1979, would drain military strength as well as strain the economy of the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan, the newly elected President of the U.S., has also begun an aggressive military spending program that the Soviet government was hard pressed to pace. It was because of these economic problems that the Soviet Union was reluctant to interfere with the Polish Solidarity movement, an anti-communist workers movement that showed the weakness of the Soviets and led to more and more resistance in USSR satellite nations. Eventually, the Berlin Wall fell and East and West Germany were reunited as the Soviets stood ideally by and did nothing.

Although the continued financial strains cracked the Soviet system, it wasn’t until Mikhail Gorbachev was elected head of the Soviet Union that the whole system began tumbling down. Gorbachev vowed to create a more open Soviet Union, which led to a free press movement known as glasnost. For the first time Soviet leaders were under serious public opinion pressure. His economic reform package known as Perestroika resulted in the Soviet Union allowing private ownership of businesses as well as foreign investment.   

Soon, the entire Soviet system was falling to pieces and when Russia announced it would depart the Soviet Union is was officially dissolved in 1991.