The End of the Cold War: Its Dynamics and Critical Factors

The end of the Cold War is widely recognized as the new era of international relations until today. This event is arguably as the most momentous event in international politics since the end of the World War. This event, for some scholars, was also assumed as the fundamental changes in the dynamic of interna-tional politics.1 This is because there was a shift in the international system from bipolarity (the United States and the Soviet Union) to multi polarity. Besides that, the end of the Cold War also gave many lessons. One of the lessons was providing the type of historically relevant event. This event suggested the revolutionary change in the status of state, the independence of nations, the policy of agendas and priori-ties among many countries in the world.2 Indeed, many countries hoped that this new era would dis-tance them from military security paradigm and could encourage them to build a peaceful world.

Regarding the above issue, this essay will assess the end of Cold War as well as its dynamics and factors which stimulated its ending. Specifically, the following questions will guide trajectory of this essay: What was the Cold War? When and how did it end? In attempt to answer these questions, this essay will be divided into three sections. The first section examines the debate about the Cold War. The second section assesses the transformation of the Cold War in 1970s and 1980s which contributed to the ending of the Cold War. The third section analyses the collapse of Soviet Union and other factors which resulted in the end of the Cold War.


The debate whether the Cold War was a contest of two ideologies –liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism—or was the contestation of power and material drew interests of many countries still occur until today. The proponents of realism theory assert that the conflicting ideologies were irrelevant to the cause of the Cold War. For them, the Cold War was about two ‘structural’ features of international politics which arranged the interactions between states in general and the superpowers in particular. As a result, many events during the Cold War were constrained and determined by US and Soviet foreign policy decisions.3 Thus, this group believes that the Cold War happened as the need to create the balance of power in the world and as the strategy of the super-powers to widen their real interests.

However, many scholars such as John Gaddis, Richard Rosecrance, Arthur Sein, and John Mueller argue that the Cold War was the conflict that arose because of incompatible ideologies and it ended only when Soviet ideology lost. The assessments of the Cold War that was focusing only in material power, changes of its distributions, and external threats would not be enough and did not account for many events after 1947. Besides that, it is also clear that Marxist-Leninist ideology that shaped Soviet foreign policy and the liberal democratic values were inherent in US goals. In fact, the Cold War and the bipolar structure of the postwar international politics sprang from a contest of ideas and an ideological conflict which employed many strategies.4 Thus, they believed that the conflict of ideology was the main factor that caused the Cold War.

Similarly, an ‘inter-systemic approach’ also consid-ers the Cold War as the conflict between two rival social systems which caused many things such as nuclear weapons and wars in the Third World coun-tries. This group argues that the Cold War was more than great power conflict. This is because it recognized the external factor which had supported the winning of one social system over another.5 The incompatible social systems between the United States and the Soviet Union and the clash between them actually had long historical root since the Bolshevik revolution in 1918. The ideology of both superpowers evolved over time and made efforts to persuade other countries to follow them.6

Meanwhile, the superpowers often used the mili-tary power and intervention toward other countries to spread their ideologies. In addition, they made many strategies to strengthen their involvement in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. During the Cold War era, Truman and Eisenhower doctrines were widely known. The doctrines had a goal to avoid the spread of communism in many countries. Then, several countries such as in Western Europe and Japan joined the United States in waging the Cold War against communism.7 On the contrary, some states also joined the Soviet Union and adopted the commu-nism ideology.

It was not surprising because after the power vacuum in Europe post World War II, both the superpowers seeked for European allies against one another. The United States planned to help the West European states to find the important strategy to sustain viable balance against the Soviet Union. The United States and West European countries estab-lished the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in April 1949. In contrast, the Soviet Union led alliance in Eastern Europe which was formally consti-tuted in May 1955. The alliance which initially based on bilateral defense agreements was recognized as the Warsaw Treaty Organization (Warsaw Pact).

It is important to note that many Third World countries became main victims of the Cold War from the mid-1970s through the extension of the superpow-ers tensions to their territories. Central America, Angola, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Indochina, and Korea were examples of countries which future was wrecked by the superpowers’ involvement. In fact, the October war in the Middle East in 1973, the civil war in Angola in 1975, the coup in South Yemen in 1976, the war in the Horn of Africa in 1977-78, and the war in Afghanistan in 1979 could be identified as the invasion of the superpowers to the Third World countries.9 Unfortunately, the involvement of the superpowers was very long indeed and several Third World countries felt difficult to determine their nationality and freedom. In this respect, many of the elites in the Third World countries showed their willingness to adopt Cold War ideologies for the purposes of domestic politics, development and mobilization.

Author : Ahmad Fuad Fanani