The Soviet order sat increasingly uneasily on a society where individualism, consumerism and demands for change and freedom could not be accommodated by an inherently inefficient command economy nor by Communist ideology. The rise to power in the Soviet Union in 1985 of Mikhail Gorbachev, a leader committed to reform at home and good relations abroad, greatly defused tension, not least by leading to Soviet disengagement from Afghanistan and Angola. Gorbachev was also willing to challenge the confrontational world-view outlined in KGB reports. For example, he was convinced that us policy on arms control was not motivated by a hidden agenda of weakening the Soviet Union, and this encouraged him to negotiate. In 1987, the Soviet government accepted the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which, in ending land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,000 kilometres, forced heavier cuts on the Soviets, while also setting up a system of verification through on-site inspection. In 1990 NATO and the Warsaw Pact were able to agree a limitation of conventional forces in Europe, while, in July 1991, start i led to a major fall in the number of us and Soviet strategic nuclear warheads.
Aside from reducing international tension, Gorbachev also ended the Cold War, thanks to the unintended consequences of his reform policies. Although he sought to modernize Soviet Communism, his policies instead, unintentionally, unravelled its precarious domestic basis, and at the same time failed to provide sufficient food, let alone reasonable economic growth; while his pressure for reform on Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe led to their fall, as Gorbachev was unwilling to use the Soviet military to maintain their governments when they faced increasing popular pressure for change. These governments themselves had totally failed. East Germany, apparently the most successful, but its economy wrecked by ideological mismanagement, was on the edge of bankruptcy in the autumn of 1989: it had only been able to continue that long thanks to large loans from the West.
The end, when it came, in 1989–91, was rapid and relatively peaceful. Issues of classification are also raised, as the fall of the Soviet Union was at once a stage of the Cold War and also an important stage in decolonization for, however much the Soviet Union was in theory a federation, it also rested on a powerful degree of Russian, as well as ideological, imperialism. Counter-reform attempts by the Soviet military, keen to preserve the integrity of the Soviet Union, led to action against nationalists in Georgia (1989), Azerbaijan (1990), Lithuania (1991), Latvia (1991), and Moldova (1992), and there was an attempted coup in Moscow by hardline Communists in August 1991, but they were unable to prevail. Gorbachev also wanted to preserve the Soviet Union, if necessary as a loose confederation, and, when the Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) declared their independence, he supported the attempt to maintain the authority of the Soviet Union by sending troops into the republics in January 1991, leading to clashes in Vilnius and Riga. However, the growing weakness of the Soviet state, and the division and confusion of the government’s response, was accentuated by the strength of nationalist sentiment, especially in the Baltic republics, the Caucasus and western Ukraine. As with much of decolonization, it was the war that did not happen that is worthy of consideration. Instead, in December 1991, nationalism in the republics led to their independence, and thus to the collapse of the Soviet Union, while Gorbachev resigned, to be replaced by Boris Yeltsin. With Soviet Communism in ruins and Chinese Communism increasingly market orientated, the Cold War was over.