Academic journal article Advances in Competitiveness Research

How the United States Used Competition to Win the Cold War

Academic journal article Advances in Competitiveness Research

How the United States Used Competition to Win the Cold War

Article excerpt


This paper looks at the end of the Cold War as the end of a monumental competition. Until 1981, the United States competed mainly on its own side of the playing field. It was a good defensive effort called containment, but it avoided taking the competition into the Soviet side. The Reagan Administration changed the policy. It would undertake to "win the cold war" by taking advantage of every Soviet weakness and every U.S. strength to force a change in the Soviet bloc system.

After 23 months of effort, President Ronald Reagan received a report stating that "the combined weight of the burdens being created will cause the Soviet system to implode in this decade."

On October 14, 1986, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev speaking on Soviet TV told his people: "The U.S. wants to exhaust the Soviet Union economically ... to wreck its plans ... of improving the standard of living ... thus arousing dissatisfaction with their leadership." That is what the Reagan administration intended. That is what happened.


In 1980 the Soviet Union and its ruling elite felt their country was winning the Cold War. The USSR had good hard currency earnings and high expectations of much more. It was buying and smuggling western technology; it had taken over Afghanistan and was in a position to press on in the Middle East. The Soviets had updated their weapons, "... secretly deploy[ing] SS-20 missiles in Europe unilaterally," according to Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the United States from 1962 to 1986, and had support in the West for disarmament and a nuclear freeze (Dobrynin, 1995, p. 430).

The incoming Reagan Administration had campaigned for changing this, but it faced many challenges:

* Western Europe was making loans to the USSR at half the normal interest rate.

* Sweden was buying restricted high technology needed by the Soviets and reselling the items with all the necessary instructions.

* Many western firms were selling restricted technology to companies fronting for the USSR.

* The technologies the Soviets could not buy, they were trying to steal.

* The USSR was earning hard currency by selling oil at three times its production cost.

* The USSR was earning hard currency by selling weapons to oil rich countries like Iran, Iraq and Libya.

* Europe was financing two gas pipelines from Siberia. If completed, West Germany, for instance, would become dependent on Moscow for 60 percent of its energy and Soviet hard currency earnings would double to $60 billion per year (Schweizer 1994, p. 42-3).

* The Soviets had effectively taken over Angola and Mozambique, and the Soviet military was providing aid and advice to many countries in Africa.

* U.S. military spending had declined from 9.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) under President John Kennedy in 1962 to less than 4.6 percent under President Jimmy Carter in 1979 (Federal Government Historical Budget, Tables 3.1 and 10.1).

* In Nicaragua, the USSR financed equipment and thousands of trainers to "... build ... an army of 60,000 regulars backed by an equal number ... militia" ... armed with heavy weapons." The plan was to expand to 500,000 under arms (Singlaub, 1991, p.443-4).

* The Soviets were positioning themselves to threaten Western Europe into less cooperation with the United States.

* The USSR had invaded and was winning in Afghanistan (Cold War Seminar, 1999).

In August 1999, I had the opportunity to join a group celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall. It brought together former leaders from the Reagan Administration: Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Ambassador-at-Large Vernon Walters, National Security Adviser Richard Allen, National Security Adviser William Clark, Personal Adviser and later Attorney General Ed Meese, and James Buckley, President of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. …

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