The Cold War Endgame

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Kristina Spohr, SAR 2.17


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics 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 East-West conflict 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, while China took an entirely different exit from the Cold War era. 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; the Chinese crackdown and the eastern European revolutions; German unification: domestic and international aspects; Kohl, Mitterrand and the road to the European Union; the collapse of the Soviet 'empire'; the Baltic independence struggle, Yeltsin and the Moscow coup; Soviet disintegration and Yugoslavia’s implosion; explanations and interpretations of the Cold War endgame. The discussion in each seminar will draw on a combination of primary and secondary material.


The School aims to run in-person seminars, subject to circumstances, with some online provision if and where necessary. There will be a reading week in the MT and the LT.


Formative coursework

Students will be required to present one short class paper during MT or LT as well as to submit a practice essay (1,500 words) and one gobbet answer during MT.

There will also be opportunity to do a 90min. timed written exercise consisting of an essay and gobbet answer in late LT.

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: K Spohr, Post Wall Post Square (2019); P Zelikow & C Rice, To Build a Better World (2019); S Dockrill, The End of the Cold War Era (2005); O A Westad et al (eds), The Cambridge History of the Cold War, vols 2-3 (2010); M E Sarotte, 1989 (2009); Hal Brands, The Unipolar Moment (2016); A Brown, The Gorbachev Factor (1996); R L Garthoff, The Great Transition (1994); Idem, Détente and confrontation (1985); J Levesque, The Enigma of 1989 (1997); C S Maier, Dissolution (1997); H Adomeit, Imperial Overstretch (1998); R Summy & M E Salla (eds), Why the Cold War Ended (1995). 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 summer exam period.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2020/21: 17

Average class size 2020/21: 9

Capped 2020/21: Yes (29)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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