Origins of the Cold War: An International History

By Melvyn P. Leffler; David S. Painter | Go to book overview
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EPILOGUE

The End of the Cold War

David S. Painter and Melvyn P. Leffler

By focusing on the international system and on events in all parts of the globe, this volume has sought to offer a fuller understanding of the origins of the Cold War. Rather than chronicle the subsequent evolution of events from the 1950s through the 1980s, this epilogue seeks to outline some of the key changes in geopolitics, technology, ideology, and political economy that help explain the end of the Cold War. In brief, the Cold War ended when the structure of the international system and the dynamics of the world political economy no longer supported it.

Although the Cold War involved much more than Soviet-American relations, that rivalry - strategic, political, ideological, and economic - lay at its core. This competition ended because Soviet strength eroded and the Soviet empire disintegrated. Although it is now almost impossible to identify independent variables, the Soviet Union’s inability to compete economically with the United States was probably the decisive factor in its demise. The Kremlin gained rough military equivalency, but this success came at tremendous cost. Compared to the United States the Soviet Union was forced to devote a much larger share of its much smaller gross national product to defense. Diverting investment from more productive sectors and from consumer goods ultimately undermined the regime’s capacity to satisfy its own people and to act as a Great Power.

If one defines power not in terms of troops, tanks, ships, airplanes, bombs, and missiles, but in terms of industrial infrastructure, raw materials, skilled manpower, and technological prowess, the postwar era was bipolar only in a narrow military sense. By any broad definition of power, the United States was

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