1 Why did the USSR collapse? The historical debate over the end of the Cold War is still in its infancy. It is a highly controversial and complicated question and historians are not likely to reach a final answer. The Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is easy to understand the difficulties if we take into account that the answer to this question might involve issues like: Was it Reagan's "systematic challenge" of the Soviet system and his SDI which brought about the fall of communism? Was it Gorbachev's far-reaching reforms which undermined the Soviet society? Did he try to reform "too much too soon"? A Chinese type of reform programme, where communism has been partly reformed (economically) could have resulted in maintenance of power. There are mainly two different "schools of interpretation" discussing the fall of communism. One school explains it mainly as a result of external pressure. The other school explains the development as a result of domestic problems within the Soviet empire. Notice however that a combination between external and internal problems is possible. Let's study the arguments: A. External pressure: A 1. Military reasons If we want to understand the fall of communism as a result of external pressure, we have to discuss the effects of the arms race. It's interesting to notice that the stagnation of the Soviet economy goes back to the 1960s. In 1958 the difference between the US and Soviet GNP was at its narrowest and after that the gap constantly grew wider. This was the time when the space race and the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles started. As a result of the Cuban missiles crisis, the Soviets decided to close the missile gap (see the Cuban missile crisis). The costs were astronomical: ICBM = intercontinental ballistic missile SLBM=submarine launched ballistic missile ICB intercontinental bombers1964 1966196819701972USSR ICBM 200 300 800 1300 1527 SLBM 120 125 130 280 560 ICB 190 200 150 150 140 US ICBM 834 904 1054 1054 1054 SLBM 416 592 656 656 656 ICB 630 630 545 550455 Source: Brown Money Cold War to detente p.161 We can see from these figures that the Soviets were able to close the missile gap between 1964 and 1972 - but how did this affect other parts of the economy? It is of vital importance to assess what economic resources the Soviets had when they were competing with the Western world. What can we say about the size of the Soviet economy compared to the US (and her wealthy allies}? GNP in $ US billion source Brown/Money Cold War to detente p. 164 YearUSJapanWest G FranceUKUSSR195235016322944113 196051139716072201 1966748102123108107288 19721152317229 224128439 Notice that the GNP of the Soviet Union in 1972 was 38 % of the US GNP. And only 21% of the US and her allies. The economies in the Soviet satellites were far too small to play any role and due to the Sino-Soviet split in the 1970s, the USSR had to keep 44 army divisions on the Chinese border while they only had 31 divisions in Europe, so nothing was gained from having a communist government in China. The size of the Soviet economy was much smaller than the US economy while they were undertaking an enormous military build-up.