4-12: Cold War Ends without a Shot

The Cold War lasted from 1945–right after the end of WWII–until April 1990. The USA and the USSR, the superpowers of the era were feared worldwide. There was yelling and screaming: Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev even pounded his shoe on the podium at the United Nations. What made these two powers super was their possession of nuclear weapons, more commonly referred to today as weapons of mass destruction. Would either use them?

Ah, the answer is yes. Although military historians still argue over whether the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary, the fact remains: America dropped “the bomb” and killed scores of thousands of Japanese civilians (app. 120,000) in August 1945.


Years after, U.S. and Soviet diplomats met in Washington, D.C. concerning the role to be played by the newly reunified Germany in Europe. The heavy lifting, negotiations wise was done by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

Although caution was the operative word for both sides, diplomacy seemed to be working. (During these Reagan-Gorbachev years this would be translated as “trust but verify”.) Talking worked. And then Lithuania, one of the Soviet Republics, moved aggressively toward independence, which drew a military response from the USSR. The diplomatic discussions came to a stand still. There was not a devolution into a hot war between the US and the USSR, but clearly the relationship changed. Talking ceased. Times got tense.

Prior to the Lithuanian independence movement, what to do with Germany after the destruction of the Berlin Wall was a troubling matter. The Soviets favored Germany remaining completely neutral, while the U.S. wanted the reunified Germany to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

There is a critical point to be made here. During the talks, the talks, the Soviets dropped their insistence on German neutrality, but suggested that perhaps Germany could join both NATO and the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet equivalent of NATO). Both sides agreed that a U.S.-Soviet summit meeting would explore this question in more detail. They agreed to keep discussing their differences.

The Baker-Shevardnadze talks were indicative of the continuing spirit of cooperation between the two nations that began when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Russia in 1985. As the Soviet suggestion that Germany take membership in both NATO and the Warsaw Pact suggested, Cold War suspicions had not entirely disappeared. In July 1990, Gorbachev dropped his opposition to German membership in NATO in exchange for a U.S. promise of much-needed economic assistance to the Soviet Union. Shortly after German reunification took place in October 1990, Germany did become a member of NATO. The suggestion that it also become a member of the Warsaw Pact became superfluous when that organization dissolved in March 1991. Gorbachev resigned in December 1991 and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The Cold War ended. Negotiations. Humanitarian aid. No bombs.




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