From the end of World War II and for decades to follow, the world was in the grip of the Cold War. With the United States and the Soviet Union vying for global domination, the two super powers built huge arsenals of nuclear weapons capable of destroying the world many times over as they regarded each other with suspicion and fear. Then, during a short period of time in the 1980s, the situation completely changed. From a definite worsening of relations at the beginning of the decade, the U.S. and the USSR started approaching each other and entered into negotiations about arms reductions. The Soviet leadership introduced domestic reforms and released its grip over Eastern Europe, allowing the countries there to freely elect their leaders and the way they wished to be governed. And ultimately, the winds of change that swept across Eastern Europe would also reach Moscow, as the Soviet Union collapsed and ceased to exist, leaving the United States as the only super power of the world.
This thesis examines the role of U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the end of the Cold War and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. It describes the political and strategic situation when Reagan was elected, and analyzes the different aspects of the foreign policy Reagan carried out while he was in office. The thesis argues that Reagan's policy played a significant part in bringing about the end of the Cold War, but not simply by assuming an aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union, which seems to be a popular interpretation today. Through the implementation of a huge U.S. military buildup and the introduction of the Strategic Defense Initiative, Reagan did apply increasing pressure on the Soviet Union, a pressure the economically challenged USSR could not find an answer to. However, by showing how Reagan's original hard-line policy based on confrontation and tough rhetoric changed to a more conciliatory approach toward the end of his first term, the thesis argues that it was this capability on Reagan's part to adjust his policy and adapt to the situation that started to yield results vis-à-vis the USSR. By mixing firmness with a willingness to move away from a purely coercive approach, Reagan eased tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union and thereby helped facilitate the reforms initiated by the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. While it was Gorbachev's reforms that ultimately led to the liberation of Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War, this thesis argues that Reagan's contribution to this outcome should not be underestimated.