Events, Policies and Actions between the United States and the USSR during the Carter, Regan and Bush Sr. Administrations
The relationship between superpowers has always been complex. There is the natural inclination to achieve dominance on the world stage while trying to keep a stable relationship with other world powers. The United States and the USSR had been recognized as superpowers since the end of World War II. The United States’ Manhattan Project led to atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
In 1949, the USSR surprised the world by breaking the United States’ monopoly on atomic weapons and exploding their own atomic bomb. In 1952, the United States developed and exploded a thermonuclear weapon, also known as the hydrogen bomb. The next year, the USSR followed suit by detonating their own hydrogen bomb.
The countries had major ideological differences. The American system of free-market capitalism was in stark contrast to Soviet communism. The American economy was built, made and sustained by self-made men who had brought themselves from “rags-to-riches”. This idea was encouraged and glorified by Horatio Alger in books while people like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie were living examples. The USSR’s communist ideology was based on the belief that every person should have the same social status as everyone else with no people of a higher caste so to speak.
Both countries began to stockpile nuclear weapons and the period is known as the “Cold War” began when World War II ended. It was a period of espionage and counter-espionage between the two countries, each trying to get a political and technological advantage over the other. This unofficial conflict lasted until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 during the Bush Sr. administration.
This essay will examine the events, policies and actions during each of the Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations that eased tensions between the countries or kept them apart.
James Earl Carter Jr. was born on October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia1. He had 3 siblings, 2 sisters (Gloria and Ruth) and a brother named William1. He was a southern Democrat, also sometimes known as a Dixie-Crat. Following his high school education in his hometown, Carter attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md1. He ran for presidential office on the Democratic ticket in 1976, as the former Governor of Georgia2. He defeated the incumbent Gerald Ford who was Republican. President Carter’s agenda was mainly one of the domestic issues such as unemployment and Civil rights.
Carter’s stance on foreign affairs was one of diplomacy3. He received worldwide attention in 1977 when supported human rights movements in the USSR and other nations1. U.S. – Soviet relations were strained when the Soviets deployed medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe3. A huge blow was dealt with this relationship when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979 and early 1980 and U.S.-Soviet relations were at their lowest point in some time.
As a result of this invasion by the Soviet Union, the U.S placed an embargo on American grain to the USSR3. The U.S also sent weapons to the group of rebels (known as the Taliban) fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Weapons such as the stinger anti-air missile were given to help the Taliban. Carter also pressed for a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, which was carried out by the American athletes.
President Carter gave the go-ahead on a new missile system, known as the MX2. This further strained international relations as only a new nuclear weapons system can.
Things were not all bad between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during Carter’s presidency. In 1979 the Carter administration and Soviet officials negotiated a treaty to limit the use of nuclear arms by the U.S. and the USSR.1. It was known as the S.A.L.T. II treaty because it resulted from the second round of Strategic Arms Limitations Talks1. The treaty would not take effect however unless it was approved by the U.S. Senate (the decision was postponed due to the invasion of Afghanistan1.) Many people believed that this treaty was important in slowing the arms race1.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in 1911 and died in 20044. He was seen as an icon of American greatness and traditional values by many of his constituents4. Reagan had first become famous as an actor in Hollywood movies4. Reagan was known for his considerable personal charm and his identification with conservative groups4. After having been elected as Governor of California he set his political sights on the White House in the 1980 presidential election and defeated Jimmy Carter handily5.
The Reagan administration was staunchly against the Soviet Union and all of the influence that it projected around the world. In March 1983, Reagan famously labelled the USSR. “an evil empire”6. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N, devised a formula for directing the U.S. crusade on “leftists”6. Governments globally were placed in two categories, authoritarian and totalitarian; the U.S deemed itself to be more compatible with authoritarian governments6. Using this formula the U.S. successfully stopped or overthrew many leftist regimes or governments around the world to so hinder the possible global spread of communism6.
The Reagan administration did much to unease the Soviet Union. They sent large quantities of military supplies to traditionalist Muslim guerillas that were fighting modernizing communist governments supported by the Soviet Union6. Military arms, money and advisors were also sent to Angola, El Salvador, Grenada and most controversially, Nicaragua6.
In Nicaragua, a major campaign was mobilized to overthrow the Sandinista government.
Besides money, weapons and training, the U.S. also planted mines in Nicaraguan harbours. The U.S also sold arms to Iran and then used the money to help the contras that were fighting Sandinista. This was a huge scandal because at the time the U.S had a policy against selling weapons to Iran and other supporters of terrorism. All of these actions greatly increased Soviet-American tensions due to the fact that the U.S was undermining the spread of left-leaning, democratically elected governments around the world.
On top of the support for right-wing governments, Reagan insisted on a massive build-up of the military on the basis that the U.S needed an advantage militarily over the Soviet Union7. This big build-up threatened Soviet security and impeded efforts to stabilize or reverse the arms race6. The Soviet Union protested when in 1983 Pershing missiles were deployed in European NATO countries8. Reagan also insisted on pushing a new missile defence plan, known commonly as “Star Wars”.
“Star Wars” technology supposedly would enable the U.S. to intercept enemy missiles in space using micro-machines; this would make it easier for the U.S. to launch an attack on the USSR without fear or a retaliatory strike.
Reagan claimed that “Star Wars” did not violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty but the controversy over the program halted strategic arms control talks to a standstill6. Mikhail Gorbachev, Premier of the Soviet Union protested “Star Wars” greatly during summit meetings with Reagan in 1985, 1986, 1987 and 19887. Many people at the time believed that the feared nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union might begin due to the actions of Reagan. However, the lofty “Star Wars” project was never built or put into operation partly due to the massive budget it would have required and the controversy it stirred about its function.
Not all of the actions by the Reagan administration increased tensions between the two great superpowers. In 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev visited the U.S7. He and Reagan signed the Intermediate and Short-Range Missiles Treaty (INF treaty)7. In the treaty, the two countries agreed to eliminate all ground-launched nuclear missiles with ranges between 500 to 5,500 km (310 to 3420 miles)7. The treaty took effect in 1988. Although this was a small fraction of the countries nuclear stockpiles, it was significant in the fact that it was the first time existing nuclear weapons were being destroyed5. Also that year, Reagan met with Gorbachev in the Soviet Union so as to show the U.S had some degree of trust in the Soviet Union. Although this was a fraction of the respective countries nuclear stockpiles, it was significant in the fact that it was the first time existing nuclear weapons were being destroyed5. This was one of the few actions that Reagan did to ease tensions between the U.S and the USSR.
Bush Sr. Administration
George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts9. He was vice president under Reagan and was like Reagan in many ways, but without the charismatic personal charm. After graduating from Phillips Academy, Andover, Bush joined the U.S. Naval reserve9. During WWII he served as a torpedo bomber pilot in the Pacific Theatre9. He was shot down and for his valiant service, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross9. After the war he attended Yale University which he graduated in 19489.
George Bush was chosen to serve as vice-president for Ronald Reagan in both of his consecutive terms after abandoning hope of winning the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 19809. When Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election he continued much of the foreign policy of President Reagan.
President Bush increased military spending for the “Star Wars” program10. Bush also refused to end nuclear weapons tests even after the USSR had done so10. Much of the Bush presidency concerning the U.S-Soviet had to do with the USSR collapsing in 1991. Although even before it collapsed Bush had been meeting with Soviet leaders to sign new, unprecedented treaties.
In 1989, Bush met Mikhail Gorbachev on a Soviet ship off the coast of Malta11. Then in May and June of 1990, Gorbachev came to the U.S11. At this meeting between the two leaders, they both agreed on destroying most of their country’s chemical stockpiles11. This was a very important step in halting and reversing the arms race.
The relations between the two countries improved as well at the U.N10. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Bush sought support from the USSR in the U.N. to expel Iraq from Kuwait11. The USSR approved and the resolution was passed11. This was another great moment as for many years the two countries had used their veto powers to halt any resolutions that might help clear up problems for the other country.
In that same year Bush, Gorbachev and many other world leaders signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE11.) This treaty called for the destruction of many tanks and other non-nuclear weapons in Europe. A revised form of this treaty was put into effect in 199211. In 1991, Gorbachev and Bush met in Moscow to sign the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I.10.) One-third of nuclear weapons and long-range bombers were to be destroyed11. This was the first treaty to reduce the number of long-range nuclear weapons11. U.S-Soviet relations were flying high.
During Carter’s presidency, Soviet-American relations were at a low due to the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by the Soviet Union. The boycott of the Olympics and embargo on U.S. grain to the USSR were only reactions to this crisis2. Through no real fault of President Carter, the two superpowers were very far apart diplomatically.
In the Reagan administration, U.S-Soviet relations hit their lowest point at times4. The constant criticism and military build-up of the U.S. took their toll on Soviet patience. Through fanciful projects like “Star Wars,” the bridge between the two countries only crossed due to the fear of nuclear annihilation. The INF treaty was one of the few things that brought the U.S. and USSR closer together as co-operating nations.
During the Bush administration, the two nations came together finally. By the time they did, however, the Soviet Union collapsed. Luckily before this happened many treaties were signed involving the two nations such as START I10. It took the right sequence of events but eventually, the two nations could be tolerant neighbours in our world.
1. Hugh S. Sidey “Carter, Jimmy” in World Book 2002 vol. 3 (Chicago, IL: World Book Inc, 2002)
2. “Carter, Jimmy” in Colliers Encyclopedia vol. 2 (New York, N.Y: P.F. Collier, 1997)
3. “The Jimmy Carter administration” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc, 2002)
4. “Reagan, Ronald W(ilson),” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
5. “The Ronald Reagan administration” ” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc, 2002)
6. “Reagan, Ronald Wilson” in Colliers Encyclopedia vol. 10 (New York, N.Y: P.F. Collier, 1997)
7. “Reagan, Ronald Wilson” in World Book 2002 vol. 11 (Chicago, IL: World Book Inc, 2002)
8. “Confrontation and Accommodation” in Encyclopedia Americana
Vol. 30. United States: 30. International Relations and Diplomacy (Danbury, CT: Grolier Inc. 2001)
9. “Bush, George” in the New Encyclopedia Britannica vol. 3(Chicago IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc 2002)
10. “Bush, George Herbert Walker” in Collier’s Encyclopedia, vol. 2 (N.Y, N.Y: P.F. Collier, 1997.)
11. “Bush, George Herbert Walker” in World Book 2002, vol. 3. (Chicago, IL: World Book Inc., 2002)
“Bush, George” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica vol. 3(Chicago IL, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc 2002)
“Bush, George Herbert Walker” in Collier’s Encyclopedia vol. 2 (N.Y, N.Y, P.F. Collier, 1997.)
“Bush, George Herbert Walker” in World Book 2002, vol. 3. (Chicago, IL, World Book Inc., 2002)
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