By the second half of the 1980s, both the United States and the Soviet Union were facing broadening problems.
As we have seen, the US was dealing with domestic dissension regarding Cold War strategy as well as with challenges from immigration and drugs.
The Soviet economic system had become noticeably less efficient, with the growth rate declining from 5 percent yearly in the early 1970s to 0.8 percent in 1979.
By the mid 1980s, Soviet weakness was also demonstrable in the area of technology, a field in which the military and economic aspects of power overlapped.
As compared with Western nations embracing the Information Revolution and energized by new technologies, the Soviets had only 50,000 personal computers — Americans had 30 million. What’s more — as LaFeber says — “they were generations behind Western machines, as were even the large mainframe computers used by the government.”
Meanwhile, both powers were overspending on defense with the US arms budget approaching $300 billion by 1986, and the Soviets spending nearly $250 billion.
While the US was stretched thin — more than $1 trillion in debt piled up during the Reagan years — the Soviet economy was disintegrating.
A program of perestroika , restructuring of the economy, was not achieving hoped for results, even though partnerships with Western corporations were now permitted and capitalism was penetrating deeply into the Soviet economic culture. Thus, it is not surprising that the Soviet Union’s appeal as a model for Third World political and economic development was disappearing.
Nevertheless, it was astonishing to see Gorbachev withdraw his support for “wars of liberation” declaring: “It is inadmissable and futile to encourage revolution from abroad.”
He angered Castro by repeating that same policy in Cuba, then warned Castro to “get his house in order” because the Soviets could no longer pump in the more than $10 million required each day to keep the Cuban economy afloat.
As further proof of his seriousness, Gorbachev withdrew his 115,000 troops from Afghanistan by early 1989.
The superpowers began to believe that the Cold War might, in fact, have ended. Still, residual effects were soon to have major impact.
On August 2, 1990, as the Cold War in the Third World was winding down, Saddam Hussein, the Cold War client of both superpowers, invaded the oil rich kingdom of Kuwait, arousing worldwide condemnation for his disregard for “democracy” and for his scorched earth policy. The action incurred a swift response from the Americans who — in addition to the above — believed that the price of oil and, therefore, control of the world’s economy was at stake.