Last updated: July 29, 2019
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Throughout the 20th
century, the world has seen a number of major revolutions worldwide as well as
unbearable wars filled with bloodshed such as the two world wars, the Chinese
and Spanish civil wars as well as the Russian Revolution. However, a war that
extended throughout the majority of the 20th century would be the
Cold War that lasted for 46 years from 1945 up until 1991 (The George
Washington University). Many would not consider the Cold War to be war in the
traditional sense due to the fact that direct confrontation between the two
nations that were majorly involved; the USA and the USSR, was absent; hence its
name. The word “cold” symbolizes its inability to officially “blow-up” as some
would say; thus, remaining an era of intense tension between the two world
powers (citation).

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The USSR, also known as the
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a socialist state established in 1922
following the Russian Revolution (citation). It
consisted of a total of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics including Azerbaijan,
Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia (citation). The
USSR was amongst the two major world powers in the post-World War 2 era
alongside the United States. During the mid-1940’s the relationship between
Moscow and Washington DC began to deteriorate as both states viewed each other’s
political systems as ineffective and poisonous to society due to the sharp
ideological differences that existed between them. The USA saw communism as a
threat to communities and capitalism and feared its expansion in the West.
While, an aspiration of spreading Communism in different parts of the world was
to eventually be seen in Asia, as was the case of China, North Korea and
Vietnam; which led the USA to fear a domino effect for this dangerous ideology (citation).


A major aspect of the Cold
War was the nuclear arms race which was “a rapid increase in the quantity or quality of instruments of
military power” most notably
nuclear weapons ( Both nations viewed
the production of nuclear arms as a deterrent that would stop the ideologically
opposing world power from attacking. In addition, and at many instances, the
piling of nuclear arsenal aimed to provide superiority, resulting in increased
spending and many would argue that it was the main reason the Soviet Union
collapsed in 1991 while others claim that its role was minor as it was the
flawed communist system or Mikhail Gorbachev’s sudden attempt to introduce
change and reform the Communist system that were to be blamed (citation). This has caused a worldwide debate regarding
the effects and significance of the nuclear arms race, leading to the coining
of this investigation’s research question; to
what extent did the nuclear arms race of the Cold War lead to the collapse of
the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991?


The research methodology that
has been undertaken for this essay has included the collection of books,
academic journals, historical essays, documentaries, as well as a wide variety
of websites with reliable historic sources. Books
written by expert historians such as Mark Sandle, who provides valuable
knowledge regarding the last Communist ruler of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev,
has been a primary source of information. Noting the importance of taking into
consideration long and short term causes of this race, which could also be
argued to have been prompted by the USA as well due to its first use of this
weapon against Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII (citation).


 This topic is worthy of research because the
collapse of the Soviet Union has changed the international power balance that
existed post WWII. The collapse of the USSR was to give US foreign policy
unprecedented position in world politics; it is thus of great significance to
understand the causes of Soviet collapse, which in due course would facilitate
an understanding of the dynamics of politics amongst world powers.



      Following the overthrowing of Nicholas II
in 1917, the final Tsar of Russia, the Russian revolution broke out when rebels
led by the communist Vladimir Lenin (the Bolsheviks) overthrew the Provisional
Government. Lenin’s revolution was to attract the support of the working class.
The majority of the Russians did not harbor strong support to Nicholas II’s
regime due to its blind dedication to autocracy and thus his refusal to
institute in Russia a constitutional democracy that would facilitate the
sharing of power (citation).


The establishment of the first Communist regime, the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republic, was to signal the emergence of ideological schism between
the East and the West. This was due to the fact that the latter viewed
Communism as an impending danger for the whole free, democratic world. In this
respect, one can argue that the Cold War’s long term causes go back as far as
1917 when Western powers attempted to topple this regime by supporting the
Whites in the Russian Civil War (citation). When this attempt failed, the Soviet Union
was completely marginalized in international affairs and was not permitted to
enter the League of Nations until 1934 (citation). Historians, such as, look at Western support of the Whites during
the Russian Civil War, as a long term cause of the downfall of the Communist
rule in Russia. This is due to the fact that since its inception, advocating an
antagonistic ideology towards capitalism seemed to have sealed the fate of
Communism because it was to be continuously targeted and undermined by the Capitalist
world powers. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to claim that a Cold War, in
the sense of refusal by the Western powers to accept such a political entity,
was present as early as 1917.

of WWII – The Start of a New Age


relations were to witness a paradigm shift with Hitler’s emergence to power in
Germany in 1933 and the outbreak of WWII in 1939 (citation).
Hitler’s dismissal of the
Soviet-Nazi Pact and his eventual attack on the USSR was to transform the
Soviet Union into a de facto ally that the West needed in order to bolster
their war efforts against the Nazis (citation). Nevertheless, this temporary honey
moon in Soviet-Western relations was to end with the defeat of Hitler. Another
event that could be argued to have started the Cold War was the dropping of the
two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, to force the Japanese into
surrendering and end the War in the Pacific (citation).
Historical analysis of
the real causes behind the use of such a potent weapon makes one question the
real intention of dropping such a weapon on Japan at a time when Japanese
surrender was around the corner. One interesting theory proposed by T. E.
Vadney indicates that the USA’s intention was to intimidate the USSR by showing
them the power of the new weapon the USA possessed and thus control any
impending ambitions the Soviets might have harbored in expanding their European
sphere of influence westward (46). Being a professor
of history himself, Vadney’s analysis of the objective behind the dropping of
the nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities is of significance and worth
considering because it is a viable assertion as later evidence will show in due
course. It is thus not a very far-fetched assertion to claim that nuclear
energy and weapons were to become an important aspect of the Cold War era,
whereby the compiling of nuclear arsenal by the Americans and the Soviets was
to become a major medium of pressure to be levied against each other. In this
context the nuclear arms race could be said to have begun. It was to continue
until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.


The nuclear arms race could also be said to have begun before the end of
WWII when Stalin’s spies informed him of American development of this dangerous
weapon under the Manhattan Project (citation).  The USSR and the USA’s determination to
out-compete each other led to espionage as well as spies and agents being sent
over to each other’s countries in order to send valuable information and keep
the tabs on each other in issues pertinent to security and military strength(citation). The production of this potent weapon could
be said to have occupied an important place in each sphere of influence plans
to bolster its military strength. Quote is needed –
further support


Contrary to American
anticipations which thought that the Soviets would take from eight to fifteen
years to develop an atomic bomb as they lacked the financial and scientific
knowledge regarding such a development, the Soviets were to surprise the world
when in 1949 they announced that they had tested their first atomic bomb (John Swift, History Today). By 1953, the Soviet Union
was on par with the USA in terms of nuclear warheads (ibid.). This trend was to
continue throughout the latter part of the 20th century forcing both
nations to spend large sums of their GDPs (ibid.). write
a little bit on how much fiscal resources the Soviets allocated to nuclear arms
production. The implications of such spending will be discussed in the
short-term effects section.


increased military spending caused infernal financial and political challenges
within the Soviet sphere of influence as was reflected in the Hungarian
Uprising of 1956 and the Prague Spring of 1968, which could be argued to be
early reflections of an internal crisis the Communist bloc was facing, which
was to gain increased momentum with the passage of time (citation). The populations of the Soviet
bloc, as indicated by…., AM1 is an important perspective to
be considered because it enables the research to understand how internal
factors of opposition eroded the Soviet bloc from within; which eventually led
to its collapse.



Term Effects


             The Second World War negatively affected the
Soviet Union and its people; however, security remained a priority for Soviet
leadership especially after they witnessed the implications and the potency of
nuclear power in Japan (citation). This was to
readily affect the Soviet’s decision to invest in the production of nuclear weaponry.


However, such a decision was
to increase pressure on Soviet budget as it had the humongous challenge of
rebuilding itself after the end of the war. The military confrontations with
the Nazis on Soviet soil led to physical and human devastationAM2 . The economic challenges, post WWII, in
the USSR, did not curtail Stalin’s production of atomic weapons as he perceived
them essential to safeguarding his state against future Western attacks,
notably from the USA (citation). ThisAM3  fear lead to paranoia and worker’s
refusal to work which caused many strikes in different republics especially on the
mainland of Russia (citation). These strikes would decrease the
overall efficiency of the Soviet Union which forced governments to take severe
measures in order to ensure everything was in place. Worker’s were threatened
and were ultimately given lower wages which had the effect of forcing laborers
to work longer hours in order to receive a sufficient salary that would allow
them to acquire simple necessities such as bread and water (citation). The standard and quality of living the Soviet Union had experienced prior
to the aforementioned events declined dramatically; undermining the purpose of
following a communist regime. This was the least of the Communist party’s
worries as their focus had shifted to other matters; the nuclear arms race.


The Soviet Union had chosen to prioritize the manufacturing
of nuclear arms over anything else which lead to the exhaustion of its
financial resources. It was stated that the USSR had spent up to 35% of its GDP
in manufacturing these weapons as opposed to the USA that spent a maximum of
18% (citation). This led to a decrease in their financial power which was
used to support communist governments within the 15 republics of the USSR.
Acquiring and producing goods became a challenge as a much a lower budget was
dedicated to the process of producing crops and supporting farmers and
laborers. The USSR’s spending exponentially increased between the 1960’s and
the 1980’s to reach a maximum of around $275 billions as shown by Middle-East-Online’s
graph below:












graph exemplifies the USSR’s ambitions to out-spend the USA and while they may
have had the upper hand for a large portion of the Cold War, this continuous
rise in spending would eventually lead to the utter financial destruction of
the Soviet Union that would force the emergence of demand for economic reforms.
The Soviet Union had spent the majority of the Cold War eagerly trying to catch
up with the USA in terms of possession of nuclear warheads, and despite
eventually surpassing them in the 1970’s (Zachary Keck,, they proved to be ineffective due to
Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD); a military theory of nuclear limitations
which states that “neither side will attack the
other with their nuclear weapons because both sides are guaranteed to be
totally destroyed in the conflict” ( This
undermined the entire purpose of possessing nuclear arms as both nations were
fully aware of their inability to avail themselves of such highly-destructive
weapons. The USSR’s dramatic increase in nuclear warhead production is
exhibited below:












Due to this ineffective spending, the USSR was unable to pay workers and
researchers that had proven to be the core of this nuclear build-up. Such low
wages lead to further strikes and the emergence of rebels against the communist
system causing disunity within the state. Political and economic reforms were
called for over a series of years that were ferociously turned down by the
likes of Joseph Stalin and Georgy Malenkov (citation). Stalin had taken an aggressive approach
towards these calls for reform by prosecuting a “reign of terror, purges,
executions and exiles to labor camps” (citation).  The
dictatorship of Joseph Stalin alongside the fear of a potential war with the
United States created an unbearable atmosphere filled with terror which limited
and disallowed the Soviet Union’s ability to move forward as a nation from a
social perspective. Unity was merely a formality in the state, falsely
portrayed by the nation in order to avoid execution by their cold-hearted
leader, Stalin, who had spear-headed the USSR into the nuclear war in the first
place and had allowed for the slow and painful political and financial deterioration
of one of the strongest nations in the world.


The government’s decision to financially prioritize the nuclear arms
race lead to limited budgets for other governmental organizations and
associations including Stalin’s secret police; the People’s Commissariat for
Internal Affairs, otherwise known as NKVD (citation). This institution was responsible for
political repression under the orders of Joseph Stalin, giving them the
authority to abolish the presence of anyone who opposed Stalin’s views or the
Communist regime as a whole (citation). The lack of funding to the NKVD following the
post-Stalin era, mainly due to insufficient finances and the new leader of the
USSR; Nikita Khrushchev’s “de-Stalinization policy”, limited their power and
ability to repress any insurgents or people with opposing political views to
the party in power. Keeping in mind that the NKVD was the leading organization
during the peak of Stalin’s reign and was debatably the reason behind the
success of the Communist regime despite its chaotic extrajudicial executions,
its newly limited power opened the doors to many revolutionaries who looked to
overturn communist dictatorship (citation). The number of rebels accumulated and this
eventually lead to revolutions such as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the
Romanian Anti-Communist Resistance Movement (citation). Despite the failure of these uprisings, they
managed to send across a clear message; the government had failed to ensure a
high standard of living for its people and had neglected them for their
obsession with out-competing the United States.


The nuclear arms race had many instant and short-term effects on the
Soviet Union that would gradually accumulate to undermine the Communist system.
However, the long-term consequences that were faced as a result of this nuclear
build-up delivered the final blows to the USSR that would allow for its


V. Long Term Effects


            In order to understand the extent to
which the nuclear arms race lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union, one must
look into other factors and events that took place prior to the USSR’s
dissolution in 1991. The nuclear arms race represented far more than a mere
desire to acquire a larger nuclear arsenal, but a fight for superiority as a
nation. As a result, both the USA and the Soviet Union looked to expand their
sphere of influence through various methods as the ability of the build up of
nuclear arms to prove one’s superiority was limited due to treaties such as the
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty as well as the
Mutually Assured Destruction theory. This theory alongside the treaties would
disallow for either nation to declare nuclear war on its opposition due to the
inevitable fact that mass destruction would be the result and eventually the
elimination of humanity as a whole. One of the USSR’s most notable attempts to
increase their sphere of influence would be the intervention in Afghanistan on
the 25th of December, 1979 (citation).


            The Soviet Union’s intervention in the
middle-eastern country was an act of support for the Afghan communist government
where the country was growing increasingly weak. The USSR feared the
intervention of the USA in Afghanistan where the Americans would support the
anti-Communist regime as they had previously done in Asia during the Chinese
Civil War despite the absence of physical intervention by the latter. In order
to avoid the reoccurrence of such an event, the Russians capitalized on their
fears by intervening first. Just as T.E. Vadney had suggested the conspiracy
that the USA had dropped both atomic bombs in order to amplify their
superiority to the communists, Jimmy Carter suggest that “the Russian
invasion was a major strategic challenge to the West” which was later
reiterated by historian David N. Gibbs.  David
N. Gibbs is an American History Professor in the University of Arizona where he
has researched the Russo-Afghan War in his academic Journal; “Afghanistan: The
Soviet Invasion in Retrospect” (citation). Of
course being a professor of history himself, his credentials qualify him to
make various suggestions regarding the political intentions of the USSR during
their 10-year invasion of Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter’s reiteration of such a
suggestion further validates Gibbs’ claims as the USA’s president is a primary
source in such matters involving political tension with the USSR. According to the declassified CIA
report “The Costs of Soviet Involvement in Afghanistan”, it is said that the
total cost of the conduction of the war set back the USSR by a staggering 15
million rubles or approximately 260 million dollars (citation). This financial setback proved to be fatal later on towards the late
1980’s where it became increasingly difficult to maintain complete censorship
and control of the 15 communist republics. The neglect experienced by its
people, especially during the initial phases of the cold war, led to the rise
of rebels throughout the 46-year period of the Cold War. One such occasion
would be the Guerilla War in the Baltic States which was prominent during the
post-World War II era (citation) .


Guerilla War in the Baltic States, also known as the Forest Brothers Resistance
Movement, lasted between 1944 up until the mid-1950’s and was a political
struggle against the Soviet rule in an attempt to gain autonomy in Estonia,
Latvia and Lithuania (citation). Such movements are a prime example of the
struggles face by various republics that formed the Soviet Union. The Communist
regime had become a contradiction of itself where the promised high quality of
life was nowhere to be found. This would further set back the USSR on a
financial scale as well as disrupt the unity that Communist leaders had
initially aimed to achieve. This was one of many movements that resisted Soviet
rule as calls for independence from the Baltic States as well as violence in
the Caucasus would slowly re-emerge towards the late 1980’s following Mikhail
Gorbachev’s election in 1985. Due to the constant financial weakening of the
Soviet Union throughout the nuclear arms race, the central government was
economically incapable of dealing with rebels and the newly emerging
anti-Communist parties that became ever present. Typically, the Soviet Union
had been infamous for its lack of tolerance of any party, movement or protest
that opposed Communist rule or the Soviet leaders. However, as mentioned
earlier, this was no longer the case as Mikhail Gorbachev took on a less
repressive approach in terms of dealing with domestic issues, which was also
evident in his policies; Glasnost and Perestroika.




to a historian’s analysis that supports this point

Show how his historical expertise like we do for paper
1 provides

a little bit on the effect of the war on the Soviet State

quickly to American  missiles stationed
in Turkey and Italy, which were directly aimed against the USSR