'It was Ronald Reagan who brought the Cold War to an end.' How valid is view with reference to the years 1985 to 1991?

This is a ‘factor’ question. By being asked to assess the validity of the view presented in the question, we are being asked to analyse other factors that could have brought the Cold War to an end. Then, to decide which factor, if any, was the most important. This will help us to assess the validity of the claim that it was Reagan who ended the war.

When approaching a question of this nature it is important to begin by understanding what it is the question is actually asking. So step one should always be highlight or underline the key words/ phrases.

‘It was Ronald Reagan who brought the Cold War to an end.’ How valid is this view with reference to the years 1985 to 1991?

A good rule of thumb is to underline names and dates so we know who the question is referring to and what scope of evidence we need to use. This process will also ensure that we do not misread the question. We can then make some brief notes as to why these people/ dates are significant.

Ronald Reagan was the president of the USA from 1981 to 1989. Considering the Cold War was a conflict between the USA and USSR, it stands to reason that the president of America might have had a hand in bringing the conflict to an end.

The dates given in these questions are vital for two reasons: firstly, we must be sure to include evidence from across the full time frame, secondly, the dates the examiner has chosen often indicates what it is that the question is truly getting at. Why 1985? Why 1991? What happens in between? The next sept is answering these questions:

 - 1985 was the year Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The fact that the examiner has singled this date out probably means Gorbachev is an important aspect of answering this question.

- 1991 marked the collapse of the Soviet Union. When thinking about who or what brought the Cold War to an end, one way to look at the question is thinking about what brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Without an enemy for USA to ‘fight’ the Cold War ended.

- The time between these dates marked the end of Détente and, some would argue, the renewal of the Cold War by America’s revival of the arms race.

Now that we have figured out what happens during these dates we can begin to think of other factors that could have brought the Cold War to an end. It is always best to try and have at least four main points in your essays. We have already been given one factor – Raegan – it is always a good idea to start with the named factor, that is the one in the question.

(1) Reagan.

 so we must now think of at least three more factors:

(2) President Bush from 1989.

(3) By giving us the date 1985, it is clear that the question wants us to assess Gorbachev’s role in bringing about the end of the war.

(4) The rise of Nationalism

(5) The Soviet Union’s Economy

Once we have the factors we want to proceed with, it is a good idea to jot down some evidence for each now so as to ensure that we remember to use as much evidence as possible when actually writing our answer:

(1) Reagan. Reagan’s role in bringing about the end of the Cold War boils down to the peace-through-strength policy of his administration and his determination to end détente, as well as his work with Western Europe to strengthen the alliance with America. Some evidence we could put in this paragraph incudes:

(a) His statement justifying brining about the end of détente arguing that it was a ‘futile prolongation’ of the war.

(b) He increased America’s military budget from Carter’s $17.5bn to $300bn by 1989

(c) He refused to ratify SALT II (this was a talk that began during Détente)

(d) He increased both military and economic pressure on the Soviet Union through exploring the SDI programme

(e) INF talks and ‘zero option’

(f) Yet Reagan was still willing to engage with Gorbachev e.g. the Washington Summit in 1987

(g) Reykjavik Summit in October 1986.

(h) Commitment to Western Europe

(2) Bush. Reagan was only president until 1989, this question is asking us about events until 1991 so it is important to realise there was a change in president and the significance of this in regards to whether it was Reagan who truly brought about the end of the Cold War. Some evidence that it was in fact Bush who ended it includes:

(a) Malta Summit 1989 (declared the war over)

(b) START 1 (ended the arms race)

(3) Gorbachev. There were two ways in which Gorbachev can be argued to have ended the cold war:

(a) Externally – Bridging the ideological gap

i.East German Government, 1989

ii.Formed a personal relationship with Reagan at the Geneva Summit, 1985

iii.Announced reduction in Soviet Arms, 1988

(b) Internally – Policies



(4) Nationalism. Gorbachev’s policies inadvertently allowed for the rise of nationalism in the East. Evidence includes:

(a) Hungary

(b) Poland

(c) Solidarity

(5) Soviet Economy. There is also the argument that the Cold War ended because the Soviet Union’s economy just could no longer support it. Examples to use:

(a) GDP, 2.7% in 1980

(b) Recession 1979-1982

(c) Grain shortages

(d) Afghanistan

At this point we have:

(1) Underlined the key words/ phrases in the question

(2) Made notes on these key words

(3) Come up with at least three more factors (plus the named factor) that we are going to explore in our essay

(4) Figured out lots of evidence that we could use to back up each of our points

The final step is to write our introduction. In order to achieve the higher marks in exams, it is important to come up with a nuanced thesis which will help our argument and demonstrate that we have really thought about the question. There are two, go-to ways that we can achieve this:

1.Split the dates. We can make our thesis nuanced by saying that the statement only applies up until a certain date, after which another factor becomes the most important. For example:

Reagan was the main reason for the Cold War beginning to come to an end up until 1989 when he resigned from office. After 1989, it was Bush who actually ended the Cold War. (Splitting the dates does not work particularly well for this question but it is still a method that can be employed with others.)

2. Alternate factor. Another method is presenting another factor. In this case, for example, Gorbachev being the reason the war ended. For example:

Ronald Reagan was important in bringing about the end of the Cold War. He ended détente and increased pressure on the Soviet Union both economically and militarily. However, this statement neglects the actual reason the Cold War ended. It was Gorbachev and his actions that actually ended the war. Gorbachev’s policies inadvertently exposed flaws in the communist regime and facilitated the growing realisation that communism was not working. This resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union which brought the Cold War to a definite end. (This method works far better for this style of question)

Of course these are not the only ways to write an introduction, they are just go-to options to help create that nuanced judgment that gets the higher levels.

QUICK TIP – Sustaining your argument is an important part of writing these essays. In order to have an argument to sustain, it is important that you state your thesis in your introduction. This helps the examiner to follow your essay and, as long as your conclusion matches your introduction, ensures you will always have a sustained argument.

Now that you have written your introduction and outlined the other factors that you will discuss in the essay, all that remains it to actually write it. 

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