Excerpt from "End of Cold War: Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union, January 28, 1992"
Published in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George Bush, 1992–93, Book 1, January 1 to July 31, 1992, published in 1993
"Even as President, with the most fascinating possible vantage point, there were times when I was so busy managing progress and helping to lead change that I didn't always show the joy that was in my heart. But the biggest thing that has happened in the world in my life, in our lives, is this: By the grace of God, America won the cold war."
By the fall of 1991, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) was finding that political changes in the Soviet Union's republics were increasingly out of his control. On December 31, 1991, the Soviet flag came down over the Kremlin in Moscow for the last time. Only days earlier, Gorbachev had resigned as president of the Soviet Union and turned over control of the Soviet nuclear arsenal to Boris Yeltsin (1931–), president of Russia. All the remaining republics declared independence and were soon admitted to the UN as new nations. Less than a month later, U.S. president George Bush (1924–; served 1989–93) was scheduled to give the annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress and the world.
It was ideal timing for declaring the end of the Cold War (1945–91). Bush began by announcing, "I mean to speak tonight of big things, of big changes." In referring to the collapse of the Soviet Union over the past several months, Bush pronounced "communism died this year." Then in a bold statement, Bush proclaimed, "By the grace of God, America won the cold war." He then listed what changes this would mean to the United States, such as decreased need for military readiness and greater attention to domestic issues. As he stated, the "world … now recognizes one sole and prominent power, the United States of America." But that world trusts the United States "to do what's right."
Bush announced he was stopping B-2 bomber production and canceling a number of missile programs. Bush announced he would be meeting with Russian president Yeltsin to negotiate a new nuclear arms control treaty. He proclaimed the reductions would save some $50 billion over the next five years: "By 1997, we will have cut defenses by 30 percent." However, he did ask Congress for funding of a scaled-down Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to protect the United States from "limited nuclear attack … because too many people in too many countries have access to nuclear arms."
Bush concluded by stating the new role of the United States in the post–Cold War era: "to lead in the support of freedom everywhere."
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from "End of Cold War":
- The beginning of the end of Gorbachev's role as Soviet leader came on August 19, 1991. On that day, Soviet Communist Party hard-liners opposing Gorbachev's reforms attempted a coup to overthrow the president. After only three days, the coup fell apart due to strong public opposition. Ironically, the ill-fated coup brought about the final demise of the Soviet Communist Party, the opposite result of what was intended. Although Gorbachev managed to regain his leadership position within days, his power and that of the Communist Party was lost. Boris Yeltsin, president of Russia, was the new holder of power. Soviet communism had essentially ended.
- The world had dramatically changed in an unbelievably short time—in just three years, from 1989 to 1991.
- The first Soviet republics to gain independence as separate nations were Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on August 24, 1991.
Excerpt from "End of Cold War"
Mr. Speaker and Mr. President, distinguished Members of Congress, honored guests, and fellow citizens:
I mean to speak tonight of big things, of big changes and the promises they hold, and of some big problems and how, together, we can solve them and move our country forward as the undisputed leader of the age.
We gather tonight at a dramatic and deeply promising time in our history and in the history of man on Earth. For in the past 12 months, the world has known changes of almost biblical proportions. And even now, months after the failed coup that doomed a failed system, I'm not sure we've absorbed the full impact, the full import of what happened. But communism died this year.
Even as President, with the most fascinating possible vantage point, there were times when I was so busy managing progress and helping to lead change that I didn't always show the joy that was in my heart. But the biggest thing that has happened in the world in my life, in our lives, is this: By the grace of God, America won the cold war.
I mean to speak this evening of the changes that can take place in our country, now that we can stop making the sacrifices we had to make when we had an avowed enemy that was a superpower. Now we can look homeward even more and move to set right what needs to be set right.…
So now, for the first time in 35 years, our strategic bombers stand down. No longer are they on 'round-the-clock alert. Tomorrow our children will go to school and study history and how plants grow. And they won't have, as my children did, air raid drills in which they crawl under their desks and cover their heads in case of nuclear war. My grandchildren don't have to do that and won't have the bad dreams children had once, in decades past. There are still threats. But the long, drawn-out dread is over.…
Much good can come from the prudent use of power. And much good can come of this: A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and prominent power, the United States of America. And they regard this with no dread. For the world trusts us with power, and the world is right. They trust us to be fair and restrained. They trust us to be on the side of decency. They trust us to do what's right.…
Two years ago, I began planning cuts in military spending that reflected the changes of the new era. But now, this year, with imperial communism gone, that process can be accelerated. Tonight I can tell you of dramatic changes in our strategic nuclear force. These are actions we are taking on our own because they are the right thing to do. After completing 20 planes for which we have begun procurement, we will shut down further production of the B-2 bombers. We will cancel the small ICBM program. We will cease production of new warheads for our seabased ballistic missiles. We will stop all new production of the peacekeeper missile. And we will not purchase any more advanced cruise missiles.
This weekend I will meet at Camp David with Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Federation. I've informed president Yeltsin that if the Commonwealth, the former Soviet Union, will eliminate all land-based multiple-warhead ballistic missiles, I will do the following: We will eliminate all Peace-keeper missiles. We will reduce the number of warheads on Minuteman missiles to one and reduce the number of warheads on our sea-based missiles by about one-third. And we will convert a substantial portion of our strategic bombers to primarily conventional use. President Yeltsin's early response has been very positive, and I expect our talks at Camp David to be fruitful.
I want you to know that for half a century American Presidents have longed to make such decisions and say such words. But even in the midst of celebration, we must keep caution as a friend. For the world is still a dangerous place. Only the dead have seen the end of conflict. And though yesterday's challenges are behind us, tomorrow's are being born.…
But do not misunderstand me. The reductions I have approved will save us an additional $50 billion over the next 5 years. By 1997, we will have cut defense by 30 percent since I took office. These cuts are deep, and you must know my resolve: This deep, and no deeper. To do less would be insensible to progress, but to do more would be ignorant of history. We must not go back to the days of "the hollow army." We cannot repeat the mistakes made twice in this century when armistice was followed by recklessness and defense was purged as if the world were permanently safe.
I remind you this evening that I have asked for your support in funding a program to protect our country from limited nuclear missile attack. We must have this protection because too many people in too many countries have access to nuclear arms. And I urge you again to pass the Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI.
There are those who say that now we can turn away from the world, that we have no special role, no special place. But we are the United States of America, the leader of the West that has become the leader of the world. And as long as I am President, I will continue to lead in support of freedom everywhere, not out of arrogance, not out of altruism, but for the safety and security of our children. This is a fact: Strength in the pursuit of peace is no vice; isolationism in the pursuit of security is no virtue.
What happened next …
Bush and Yeltsin negotiated new arms-reduction deals agreeing to eliminate all missiles that carried multiple warheads (MIRVs) and reducing the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads by several thousand. Bush would continue to deny significant economic aid to Yeltsin as he had with Gorbachev earlier.
Ironically, the change from the Cold War stalemate between two superpowers to that of one superpower led to greater instability in the world. With the end of communist domination over the diverse ethnic populations in its republics, bloody conflicts erupted. For example, war broke out between ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia through the 1990s. Chechnya attempted to establish independence from the Russian Federation, leading to Russian troops being dispatched in 1994. Fighting continued there into the twenty-first century. International terrorism also became a key concern, fueled by the September 11, 2001, attacks by Muslim extremists against the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Virginia.
While Americans enjoyed unprecedented economic prosperity through the 1990s under the administration of President Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001), widespread economic hardships persisted in Russia and other former Soviet republics. Russian businesses were too inefficient to compete effectively on the open world market. Despite these severe problems, Boris Yeltsin managed to maintain leadership, even creating a new Russian constitution giving himself greater power. Finally, on December 31, 1999, he resigned under pressure owing to declining popularity.
Did you know …
- The costs of the forty-five-year-old Cold War were steep for the United States. Tens of thousands of American troops were killed, primarily in the Korean War (1950–53) and Vietnam War (1954–75). A national debt of almost $4 trillion grew from the arms race and providing aid to friendly nations.
- President George Bush rode an incredibly high approval rating following defeat of Iraq in the Persian Gulf War and his proclamation of U.S. victory in the Cold War. Domestic economic problems, however, led to a nose-dive in his ratings and eventual defeat to his Democratic opponent, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, in the 1992 presidential election.
- President Bill Clinton inherited far different international problems than his numerous predecessors. The collapse of Soviet communist control led to many bloody ethnic confrontations, including those in Yugoslavia between Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
- Following his resignation as president of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev retired to a villa in Finland in addition to his main Moscow residence. Into the twenty-first century, he continued to lecture extensively abroad.
- With the United States the lone superpower in the world, focus would shift to a war on international terrorism, especially following the events of September 11, 2001.
Consider the following …
- Would the downfall of one of the world's two superpowers lead to a period of peace and prosperity?
- Some, like Bush, claimed the United States defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Others asserted that the Soviet Union simply collapsed from its own economic and social limitations in a changing world, a path of self-destruction. Which do you think happened and why?
- The Soviet Union was replaced with a new federation of republics. What was it and how did it differ from the previous organization?
For More Information
Beschloss, Michael R., and Strobe Talbott. At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994.
Bush, George, and Brent Scowcroft. A World Transformed. New York: Knopf, 1998.
Ciment, James. The Young People's History of the United States. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1998.
Kaplan, Robert D. The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War. New York: Random House, 2000.
Matlock, Jack F., Jr. Autopsy of an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union. New York: Random House, 1995.
Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George Bush, 1992–93, Book 1, January 1 to July 31, 1992. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993.