The Cold War Endgame

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Robert Brier SAR M.13


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

Based upon a variety of primary sources, this course will explore why and how in the second half of the 1980s the Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union transformed itself so suddenly and peacefully into the collapse of (European) communism, German unification and the end of the USSR and her empire. In doing so, we will ask what was the correlation between "high" and "low politics" in these events and processes? Topics will include: the onset of détente and neue Ostpolitik; the impact of Helsinki (1975) and human rights; détente's death, Euromissiles and the war in Afghanistan; the second Cold War of the early 1980s, pacifism and transatlantic turmoil; the Pope and the Polish crisis of 1980-81; Gorbachev's new thinking and reforms in the USSR; Reagan and Gorbachev: superpower summitry; German unification: domestic and international aspects; Kohl, Mitterrand and the road to the European Union; the eastern European revolutions and the collapse of the Soviet 'empire'; the Baltic independence struggle, Yeltsin, the coup and Soviet disintegration; explanations and interpretations of the end of the Cold War. The discussion in each seminar will draw on a combination of primary and secondary material.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

There will be a reading week in MT and LT and a revision session in ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to present one short class paper as well as undertaking small weekly tasks on Moodle, and to submit two essays à 1500 words and one document answer during MT and LT. There will also be a timed mock exam in ST.

Indicative reading

A detailed course outline and reading list, subdivided by weekly topics, as well as a document pack will be available at the beginning of the course on Moodle. The following works are recommended as essential reading: A Brown, The Gorbachev Factor (1996); S Dockrill, The End of the Cold War Era (2005); R L Garthoff, The great transition: American-Soviet relations and the end of the Cold War (1994); Idem, Détente and confrontation: American-Soviet relations from Nixon to Reagan (1985); J Levesque, The Enigma of 1989: The USSR and the Liberation of Eastern Europe (1997); C S Maier, Dissolution: the crisis of Communism and the end of East Germany (1997); P Zelikow & C Rice, Germany unified and Europe transformed: a study in statecraft (1995); H Adomeit, Imperial overstretch: Germany in Soviet policy from Stalin to Gorbachev (1998); H Adomeit, Imperial Overstretch: Germany in Soviet Policy from Stalin to Gorbachev (1998); A Lieven, The Baltic states: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and the path to independence (1993); R Summy & M E Salla (eds), Why the cold war ended: a range of interpretations (1995); O A Westad, Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations, Theory (2000); Idem, The fall of detente: Soviet-American relations during the Carter years (1997); Idem et al (eds), The Cambridge History of the Cold War, vols 2-3 (2010); M E Sarotte, 1989 (2009). Also students should familiarise themselves with the Cold War International History Project homepage (http://www.wilsoncentre.org) and in particular: Bulletins No 5 'Cold War Crises', No 8-9 'The Cold War in the Third World and the Collapse of Detente in the 1970s', and No 12/13 'The end of the Cold War'.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2016/17: 14

Average class size 2016/17: 15

Capped 2016/17: Yes (15)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills