The final phase, 1980–90
The late 1980s witnessed the most momentous changes in the overall structure of world politics since the 1940s, culminating with the sudden and wholly unexpected end of the ideological and geopolitical struggle that had defined international relations for 45 years. Those remarkable developments occurred in a manner and at a speed that almost no one expected, or even thought possible. Why did the Cold War end when it did? How does one make sense of a decade that opens with a rapidly intensifying Cold War and closes with a historic Soviet-American rapprochement, unprecedented arms control agreements, the withdrawal of Soviet power from Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, and the peaceful reunification of Germany? This chapter addresses those questions by examining the wild oscillations of the Cold War's final phase.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan completed Jimmy Carter's improbable conversion to Cold War hardliner. Although the Russians considered their military intervention a defensive action aimed at preventing the emergence of a hostile regime on their border, the president and most of his leading foreign policy experts viewed it, instead, as part of a bold geopolitical offensive. They were convinced that a confident, expansive-minded Soviet state was