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Ideas, discourse, power and the end of the cold war: 20 years on

Abstract

Reagan's rhetoric and actions in the arms race triggered considerable opposition, which was necessary to establish a counter-discourse in particular through the peace movements in the West, which then impacted upon the discussions in Moscow. It enabled Gorbachev to overcome his considerable domestic opposition and to make the necessary concessions, which started to bring the cold war to an end. In this sense, the peace movements won the cold war, too. The end of the cold war was as much a discursive struggle over ideas about international order and the right mix of deterrence and détente as the East–West conflict itself. It is a matter of good fortune that the cold war had a relatively happy ending and that Europe was reunited. Claiming victory for one side or the other seems to be beside the point, even 20 years later.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    It is interesting in this context how little attention the United States-based international relations community has paid over the years to the so-called ‘two plus four’ negotiations, which ended the cold war peacefully by settling the international aspects of German unification. As Mary Sarotte argues in this special issue, the cold war ‘originated and ended in the struggle over Germany.’ She also shows that the outcome – German unification within NATO which was preferred by both the United States and Germany – was only one of several possible results and that Soviet agreement to it was not a foregone conclusion.

  2. 2.

    Which is not to argue that international systemic forces are irrelevant, but they are notoriously incapable of explaining particular foreign policy practices.

  3. 3.

    Which is not to say, of course, that there was no opposition in the Soviet system, particularly in the military-bureaucratic complex.

  4. 4.

    The following is not to be confused with constructivist realism as suggested by Samuel Barkin (Barkin, 2003). I am still convinced that realism is incompatible with constructivist ontology.

  5. 5.

    I borrow this terminology from Holzscheiter, 2010.

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Acknowledgements

The author thanks the participants of the Princeton workshop in March 2010 for their critical comments, in particular Michael Cox, Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry.

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Risse, T. Ideas, discourse, power and the end of the cold war: 20 years on. Int Polit 48, 591–606 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1057/ip.2011.20

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Keywords

  • peace movements
  • Gorbachev
  • Reagan
  • arms race
  • German reunification