When US president Reagan entered office in 1981 he immediately believed that in order to achieve peace with the Soviets, he needed to 'talk tough' to the Russians, taking a firm anti-communist line in Central America and the Middle East, dramatically escalating the arms race and thus seeking a clear shift away from dÃÂ©tente.
A few years later when Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed as the Soviet leader in March 1985, Reagan immediately sought after good relations with the new and younger leader, but he made sure they would be on his terms, in order for him to re-assert America's dominance on a world stage.
The United States, in the years before and during the Reagan presidency, underwent a revolution in high technology that the Soviets could not match. The Soviet system was under pressure from Reagan's defence build up and deployment of medium-range missiles in Europe, the CIA-backed Mujaheddin fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan and Reagan's proposed missile defence system, the Strategic Defence Initiative. Reagan also challenged Soviet regional power in several conflicts from Nicaragua to Angola and lent support to the Polish dissident movement.
These final battles of the Cold War shaped Reagan's foreign policy, including his determination to support rebels fighting Nicaragua's ruling Sandinistas, a Marxist group, in the 1980s. In Reagan's second term, it was disclosed that he had bypassed congressional restrictions on aiding the rebels, known as the contras, in part by diverting $3.8 million from the secret sale of 2,000 antitank missiles to Iran.
Early in his presidency, when he called the Soviet Union the "focus of evil in the modern world," Reagan's actions generated suspicion and paranoia among the aging leaders in Moscow. As the U.S. military build up accelerated, the superpowers came closer to a confrontation than at any time since the...