How did Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’ affect the Cold War?

In 1985, the Soviet Union saw a new leader steer its country through the Cold War. How did he differ to those who came before him, and how did this impact superpower relations ?

Please use the YouTube video to go through this lesson.
The worksheet is available to download here. If you do not have access to Word, please complete the tasks as outlined in the yellow boxes on this page.

Perestroika = The policy of reconstructing the Soviet state and economy so that it includes some capitalist elements.
Glasnost = The policy of openness within government. This means allowing formal opposition and free elections.
Unsustainable = Something that is unable to continue for much longer, usually because it costs too much.

Watch the following video on Ronald Reagan’s jokes about the Soviet Union.
These are only jokes, so they are an exaggeration, but what does it reveal about life in the Soviet Union? Think of a few different bullet points.

TASK ONE: What was Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’?
Read the information below on Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’.

For each one, explain what caused Gorbachev to make this decision. Use the information that you have seen in the video and last lesson to help you with these questions.

Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’.


The Soviet economy should be reformed. Instead of being a purely communist system, there should be elements of capitalism introduced to make the Soviet economy more successful and competitive.


The government should have more openness and less corruption. There should be the human right of freedom of speech introduced into the Soviet Union to remove fears of the force of the state. This would allow for opposition parties to be set up and would also encourage elections that are more democratic than before.

A political cartoon on Gorbachev and his policy of glasnost. It’s interesting to see what consequence the artist thought it would have on the Soviet Union.

The end of the Brezhnev Doctrine

The Soviet Union would drop the Brezhnev Doctrine that stated that the Soviet Union would use force to uphold Soviet communism in the Eastern Bloc. The Soviet Union would no longer get involved in the affairs of other communist countries.


The Soviet Union would reduce spending on arms and defense and would withdraw from their military efforts in Afghanistan.

What consequences do you think Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’ might have on the following:
1) The Soviet Union
2) The Eastern Bloc
3) Superpower relations
4) The Cold War

Would everyone have been happy with Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’? Can you think of any groups that would have been against this?

TASK TWO: How did Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’ affect superpower relations?

Read the information below and take notes on the work that the Soviet Union and the USA put in to limit tensions.

Which summit was the most significant and why?

Can you think of a time from 1945 to 1990 where relations were at their best point? Why have you chosen that time?

How was Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’ received in the West?

Ronald Reagan’s first presidential term was characterised by his tough-line approach with the Soviet Union, pushing the world into a ‘second Cold War’. When he was re elected in 1984, Reagan found that his counterpart in the Soviet Union was much easier to work with. This changed Reagan’s policy towards the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was not looking to spread communism, but was instead willing to reform the Soviet Union from the inside. This was a good opportunity for Reagan.

In the first four years of Gorbachev’s leadership, the Soviet Union and the USA took important steps to further limit nuclear weapons.

Gorbachev and Reagan
The Geneva Summit, November 1985

Gorbachev took his new foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, to Geneva with him. No formal agreement was made between either side, but Gorbachev and Reagan solidified a good working relationship with each other: the men had not met before this meeting. They both expressed their desire to continue, and committed to pushing for more summits to bring about change.

The Reykjavik Summit, October 1986

Following the Chernobyl disaster, Gorbachev became worried at the threat nuclear weapons had for world peace. He was willing to phase out the nuclear weapons he had in his country if the USA agreed to give up its SDI program.

This was a stretch – Reagan was not willing to give up on the program as it protected the USA’s interests. The meeting broke up without any formal agreement, but relations continued to improve and a momentum was being built between the two superpowers.

The Washington Summit, December 1987

Gorbachev tried a new tactic – instead of targeting SDI, he would encourage Reagan to commit to disarmament, reducing spending on the military and weapons and continue to improve relations.

This time there was success. Both parties signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty. The INF Treaty outlined that all land-based missiles with a range of 500-5,000 km held by the USA and the Soviet Union would be scrapped.

The Moscow Summit, 1988

More complex details of the INF Treaty were resolved. Following this, Gorbachev announced that he would reduce the numbers of Warsaw Pact troops and would be withdrawing Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

The Malta Summit, 1989

George Bush was President of the United States by this point, and Gorbachev met him for the first time.

No new agreements were made, but the two leaders declared that the Cold War was over.

I assure the President of the United States that I will never start a hot war against the USA. We are at the beginning of a long road to a lasting, peaceful era. The threat of force, mistrust, psychological and ideological struggle should be things of the past.

Mikhail Gorbachev at the Malta summit.

We can realise a lasting peace and transform the East-West relationship to one of enduring peace and co-operation.

George Bush at the Malta summit.

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