Globalization and the End of the Cold War (2023)

The Cold War rivalry between NATO and the Warsaw Pact was the driving force in foreign policy and international relations for almost fifty years, from the end of the Second World War until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Tensions which had begun building during the Second World War kept growing after the war, as the Soviet Union and USA grew into competing world powers. The USSR and the Western powers had begun to compete for global dominance in a geopolitical struggle which would shape the world up into the present day. The fall of the Soviet Union was fast, and, for the most part, unexpected, occurring largely over the short period from 1986–1991. While the symptoms of the Soviet Union’s decline, namely economic stagnation and the twin reforms of glasnost and perestroika, are well documented, debate still remains as to the root causes of these events. This essay will attempt to determine and explain the causes of the end of the Cold War, primarily through explaining the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed primarily due to the inability of the Soviet system to effectively adapt to changes brought about by the forces of economic and cultural globalization, namely an interconnected global economy, the spread of liberal values, and nationalism. This is in contrast to the Western bloc countries, which generally managed to adapt to globalization earlier and with less difficulty. For the purposes of this essay, the date of the collapse of the Soviet Union will be considered to be December 8, 1991, the day on which the leaders of the Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Russian republics signed the Belavezha accords to formally announce their respective withdrawals from the USSR.

The foremost of all of the Soviet Union’s problems was a stagnating economy. Soviet economic stagnation was a direct result of globalization as competing global interests and a reliance on imported grain led to massive overspending and a global fall in commodity prices wreaked havoc with the Soviet budget. In the period from 1965–1970, Soviet GDP grew at an average rate of 7.2% per year, however, by the period 1980–1985, the yearly growth rate had fallen to just 0.6% (Harrison, “Soviet economic growth since 1928 “). The general understanding is that this economic stagnation was a result of a lack of innovation in the Soviet economy, which resulted in a technology gap (comparative to western countries) which in turn led to Soviet goods being more expensive to produce and of lower quality than those produced by modernized capitalist countries (Graham, The ghost of the executed engineer: technology and the fall of the Soviet Union, 1993). One could argue that the reason for this is that the censorship of Soviet publications discouraged innovation (Going so far as to arbitrarily ban certain theories from being explored due to them “not being in line with Marxist ideals”) and that Soviet producers therefore missed out on the technological benefits of globalization which the western world was instituting at the time (Graham, Science in Russia and the Soviet Union: a short history, 1993, p. 123). In addition, Warsaw Pact attempts to remain at military parity with NATO led to the Soviet Union spending approximately 13% of its GDP on defense by 1975 compared to the US average of 8%, a number which would to continue to grow at an average yearly rate of 3.9% up into the 1980s(Noren, “Watching the Bear. “). Thirdly, the Soviet Union propped up a multitude foreign Communist regimes in the Americas and Eastern Europe with over ten billion dollars yearly from the 1970s onward (Brada, “Interpreting the Soviet subsidization of Eastern Europe”, p. 639).These developments by themselves might not have threatened the Soviet state, but for two other factors. Firstly, by 1963, the Soviet Union had gone from the world’s single largest exporter of grain to a net importer, spending more than a third of its gold reserves in a single year in order to feed a growing urban population; then, in 1984, global oil prices crashed, removing the only thing still propping up an already faltering Soviet economy and eventually forcing the Soviet government to rely on foreign loans to feed its citizens (Gaidar, “The Soviet Collapse”). This oil crash was due largely to an OPEC decision to overproduce in order to increase market share, something which, of course, the Soviets had no control over (“PETROLEUM CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS 1970–2006”). This lack of control over an interconnected global economy is one of the trademark challenges states must deal with in the face of globalization (Ehteshami, Globalization and geopolitics in the Middle East: old games, new rules, 2007). In this way, the most basic of Soviet promises, that of peace, land, and bread, was threatened with failure by forces of globalization.

Economic failure brought about efforts from the Gorbachev administration to reinvigorate the Soviet economy, namely through the twin programs of glasnost and perestroika, widely translated as “openness” and “restructuring” respectively (M.S. Gorbachev Speech to the 27th Congress of the Communist Party). While intended to bring the Soviet Union into the 21st century as a social democracy and a more market driven economy, these two programs are largely considered to have greatly accelerated the disintegration of the Soviet Union by opening up discussion about discontent with Soviet policies. The point to be understood here is that not only did globalization indirectly lead to the adoption of these policies, but also that once enacted, these policies then greatly accelerated the pace of globalization in the Soviet Union.

A second product of globalization was the spread of nationalist ideas and the intensification of national identities. Since the time of Stalin, the USSR had pursued a policy of korenizatsiya (integration), which was meant to involve all of the nationalities of the Soviet Union in government, so as to quell any ideas of ethnic favoritism and desires for national self-determination. This policy, however, was overturned by Brezhnev, who attempted to Russify the various ethnic groups of the Soviet Union by making Russian the official language of instruction in Soviet schools (TAMOŠlŪNAS, “THE LINGUISTIC RUSSIFICATION OF TITULAR BALTIC NATIONALITIES”). Therefore, when glasnost removed the majority of government censorship from the press and opened up the possibility of truly open political dialogue in the USSR, those with economic woes found outlets for their discontent in well organized (and reasonably legitimate) nationalist political units which the policy of korenizatsiya had created and Brezhnev’s Russification efforts had in turn alienated (Treisman, The return: Russia’s journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev, 2011, pp. 180–183). This would not be a problem had korenizatsiya succeeded in its ultimate goal of creating one Soviet national identity, but, as Zbigniew Brzezinski (former U.S. National Security Advisor) said “The Soviet Union was pretending to be a single state but was in fact a multiethnic empire in the age of nationalism” (“People’s Daily Online — “Agenda for constructive American-Chinese dialogue huge”: Brzezinski”). With glasnost opening up official communication networks among members of nationalist groups, these groups could now far more effectively(one must remember that this is before the spread of the internet) form protests, which resulted in such events as the January Events in the Baltics and the Jeltoqsan riots in Kazakhstan, both of which led to bloodshed which reflected negatively on the decision making abilities of the Soviet administration, resulting in a sort of “snowball effect” (Hajda, The Nationalities factor in Soviet politics and society, 1990, p. 313). Irredentism led to wars in the Caucuses, and the Soviet inability to prevent conflict between member states further contributed to the de-legitimization of the central Soviet government. In addition to this, many of the republics began to withhold tax transfers to the Soviet government for nationalistic purposes (namely, to be spent on the needs of the respective republics rather than the larger union), further worsening the Soviet budgetary issues (Nagy, The meltdown of the Russian state: the deformation and collapse of the state in Russia, 2000, p. 64). The advent of the “Sinatra Doctrine,” as Gorbachev’s policy of allowing the Warsaw Pact member states to act without Soviet approval is known, also emboldened nationalist actors who may have been otherwise intimidated by the bloodshed in the Hungarian Revolution and Prague Spring.

In addition to the rise of nationalist politics, glasnost also marked the advent of the spread of liberal ideas in the USSR. Human rights were now an issue that could be openly discussed, and Soviet breaches of them (which had formerly been obscured by Soviet revisionism) were now suddenly pushed out into the spotlight. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact made citizens of the Baltic republics question the legality of Soviet control over them, and the events of the Hungarian Revolution, which had cost the Soviets the support of so many outside of the Warsaw Pact, began to be discussed among the politically inclined (Ziemele, “Legal Consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact for the Baltic States on the Obligation ‘to Overcome the Problems Inherited from the Past’ 1”, pp. 121–166). The Chernobyl disaster and subsequent attempts to cover it up led to a widespread distrust of the Soviet authorities among the populace (Khoscheyev, “The psychosocial aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in an area of relatively low contamination.”, pp. 41–46). These incidents, along with a formal recognition of the Helsinki Accords by the Politburo and efforts by U.S. NGOs (such as Helsinki Watch) led to a greater demand for political liberalization and transparency throughout the Soviet Union.

In contrast, the economic and political systems of Western nations, facing the same problems, fared much better, dropping the gold standard and turning most of the western currencies into fiat currencies with floating exchange rates when pegging the currency to gold was no longer sustainable (Rose, “A Stable International Monetary System Emerges: Inflation Targeting is Bretton Woods, Reversed”). In addition, most of the Western countries were nation-states, and therefore did not get affected by global fragmentation and the intensification of sub-national identities to the same extent that the Soviet Union, as a multi-ethnic state, was.

In conclusion, the Cold War ended as a result of the forces of globalization wearing more heavily on the Soviet system than on the West. A lack of control over an increasingly intertwined global economy led to Soviet economic stagnation. Attempts to fix the economy resulted in greater unrest and the advent of glasnost opened up the Soviet government to heavy criticism from a multitude of parties within the USSR. Highly organized nationalist parties seized upon this opportunity to demand autonomy, citing the liberal ideal of national self-determination while capitalizing on economic woes to bolster unrest. In contrast, Western countries avoided these problems by abandoning the Bretton Woods policies and were largely untouched by nationalist sentiments, as the majority were already nation-states. Therefore, while globalization eventually brought about the end of the Soviet system, the western systems survived this turmoil largely unscathed, bringing about the end of the Cold War.



Treisman, Daniel. The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev. New York: Free, 2011. 180–183. Print.

“People’s Daily Online — “Agenda for Constructive American-Chinese Dialogue Huge”: Brzezinski.” People’s Daily Online — “Agenda for Constructive American-Chinese Dialogue Huge”: Brzezinski. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Gaidar, Yegor. “The Soviet Collapse.” AEI. American Enterprise Institute, 1 Apr. 2001. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

Noren, James. “Watching the Bear: Essays on CIA’s Analysis of the Soviet Union.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 28 June 2008. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.

“PETROLEUM CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS 1970–2006.” PETROLEUM CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS 1970–2006. U.S. Energy Information Administration, 1 May 2002. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. <>.

Mussa, Michael. “Factors Driving Global Economic Integration.” Global Opportunities and Challenges,. Jackson Hole. 25 Aug. 2000. Lecture.

Schwartz, Morton. Soviet Perceptions of the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1978 1978.

Harrison, Mark. “Soviet Economic Growth since 1928: The Alternative Statistics of G. I. Khanin.” Europe-Asia Studies: 141–67. Warwick University. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Ehteshami, Anoushiravan. Globalization and Geopolitics in the Middle East: Old Games, New Rules. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” Am Polit Sci Rev American Political Science Review (1959): 69–105. JSTOR. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Furtado, Charles F. “Documents From the Center.” Perestroika in the Soviet Republics: Documents on the National Question. Boulder: Westview, 1992. 58. Print.

Hajda, Lubomyr. The Nationalities Factor in Soviet Politics and Society. Boulder: Westview, 1990. Print.

Nagy, Piroska Moha. The Meltdown of the Russian State: The Deformation and Collapse of the State in Russia. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Pub., 2000. 64. Print.

Graham, Loren R. The Ghost of the Executed Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1993. Print.

Graham, Loren R. Science in Russia and the Soviet Union: A Short History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993. Print.

“M.S. Gorbachev Speech to the 27th Congress of the Communist Party.” 27th Congress of the Communist Party. Moscow. 28 June 1988. Lecture.

Ziemele, Ineta. “Legal Consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact for the Baltic States on the Obligation ‘to Overcome the Problems Inherited from the Past’ 1.” Baltic Yearbook of International Law Online (2001): 121–66. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Khoscheyev, V.S. “The Psychosocial Aftermath of the Chernobyl Disaster in an Area of Relatively Low Contamination.” Prehosp Disaster Med 12.1 (1997): 41–46. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Brada, Josef C. “Interpreting the Soviet Subsididzation of Eastern Europe.” International Organization Int. Org. 42.4 (1988): 639. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. <>.

Rose, Andrew. “A Stable International Monetary System Emerges: Inflation Targeting Is Bretton Woods, Reversed.” NBER. 1 Nov. 2006. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. <>.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Edmund Hettinger DC

Last Updated: 03/15/2023

Views: 5541

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (78 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Edmund Hettinger DC

Birthday: 1994-08-17

Address: 2033 Gerhold Pine, Port Jocelyn, VA 12101-5654

Phone: +8524399971620

Job: Central Manufacturing Supervisor

Hobby: Jogging, Metalworking, Tai chi, Shopping, Puzzles, Rock climbing, Crocheting

Introduction: My name is Edmund Hettinger DC, I am a adventurous, colorful, gifted, determined, precious, open, colorful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.