The End of the Cold War

With the passing of several Soviet leaders, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed control of the Soviet Union. His rise to power ushered in an era of perestroika (restructuring) and of glasnost (openness).

Reagan and Gorbachev leaving the Reykjavik Summit
Reagan and Gorbachev leaving the Reykjavik Summit

U.S.-Soviet relations improved considerably during the middle 1980s. At a dramatic summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, Gorbachev proposed a 50-percent reduction in the nuclear arsenals of each side, and for a time it seemed as though a historic agreement would be reached. The summit ended in failure, owing to differences over SDI. However, on December 8, 1987, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was signed in Washington, eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control pact to require an actual reduction in nuclear arsenals rather than merely restricting their proliferation.

As the decade came to an end, much of the Eastern Bloc began to crumble. The Hungarian government took down the barbed wire on its border with Austria and the West. The Soviet Union did nothing in response. Although travel was still not completely free, the Iron Curtain was starting to unravel. On November 10, 1989, one of the most famous symbols of the Cold War came down: the Berlin Wall. By the end of the year, leaders of every Eastern European nation except Bulgaria had been ousted by popular uprisings.

Berlin Wall falling

By mid-1990, many of the Soviet republics had declared their independence. Turmoil in the Soviet Union continued, as there were several attempts at overthrowing Gorbachev. On December 8, 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Republic, formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.). After 45 years, the Cold War was over.