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The end of the Cold War and the End of History?

Twenty-five years ago today, the Soviet Union of Socialist Republics collapsed, effectively ending the Cold War that had defined the latter half of the twentieth century and had spanned the globe. The previous day, 25 December 1991, General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned, transferring the Soviet nuclear codes to Russian president Boris Yeltsin. The communist flag over the Kremlin was replaced by the Russian flag at 7:32 pm, and the communist hegemon officially split into 15 independent republics.

This event was the culmination of the democratic changes that swept Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. Gorbachev had loosened the Soviet Union’s grip on the Iron Curtain through his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), but these political and economic reforms ultimately backfired. Ordinary people with the desire for freedom rose up throughout Europe after years of oppression, and the Soviet Union was unable to hold back the floodgates: the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and two years later, with the Soviet Union’s dissolution, “a new world order” had begun.

Was the end of the Cold War the End of History? Twenty-five years ago, many people across the globe thought so. The United States was the lone superpower, and lasting peace seemed to finally be at hand.

The last two and a half decades have shaken this theory. Now, twenty-five years later, the reemergence of Russia on the world stage through its role in the Syrian Civil War and a renewal of its rivalry with the United States have brought the fears of the Cold War back to the forefront of many people’s minds. Has history resumed?

Featured image credit: US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Red Square at the 1988 Moscow Summit. US National Archives and Records Administration. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

  1. Robby

    History is alive and well. The world keeps changing. It’s becoming a multi-polar world with multiple major powers kind of like the 19th and early 20th century. China, Russia, and the US are the major players. With many others also. As long as there are humans history will not stop history and events are made every day. There might be lulls such as the 1990s which had its own major conflicts such as the Balkans and the Persian Gulf War, but if you define history as events solely between major powers such as the USSR and US, or China/US/Russia, then there again, circumstances change, but history keeps right on going.

  2. R. P.

    The West humiliated the Russians after the end of the Cold War, keeping them at bay for decision making, expanding NATO as a threat against them, etc. Instead of being partners the West and especially the USA practiced ‘triumphalism’ of “we won, you lost,” instead of moving together as partners. The result was Russian humiliation, and the ascent of the autocratic, undemocratic Putin who gave Russians a sense of strength. Hacking US election was another unfortunate desperate and harmful sign of Russian humiliation.

  3. Donn Downing

    Listen to George Kennan’s comment on Russia at the start of the cold war. It is eternal.

    In Kennan’s view, the “ Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area. But this latter type of insecurity was one which afflicted Russian rulers rather than Russian people; for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively archaic in form, fragile and artificial in its psychological foundations, unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries.”

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