Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. On that evening, on November 9th, the East German government permitted its citizens to cross the border with West Berlin freely, and they began doing so in huge numbers.
These days, the media around the world propagate the claim that it was the citizens of East and West Germany, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms and the West German government’s policy, that brought the Berlin Wall down, while Ronald Reagan had little or nothing to do with it. When the world media covers the anniversary and its celebrations this week, you will hardly find or hear any mention of Ronald Reagan in the media or in the city of Berlin itself.
But the truth is that it was Ronald Reagan and his tough policy of exerting maximum pressure on the Soviet Union, especially on European, economic and human rights issues, that brought the Berlin Wall down. Throughout the entire 1980s, the US exerted enormous economic, military, and moral pressure on the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes, and THAT is what brought the Berlin Wall and the entire Soviet empire down. Furthermore, the West German government (and other Western European governments) NEVER had ANY intention whatsoever of dismantling the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire – and had these European governments had their way, the Soviet empire would’ve still existed to this very day. This article will prove this with facts.
West German Subsidies For the Evil Empire
Throughout the Cold War, and especially since the early 1970s, Western European countries and companies were doing lucrative business with the Soviet Union… lucrative at least for Moscow and for European companies – similarly to how they do today. Western European governments were also loaning lots of money to the Soviet regime, as well as paying the East German government for releasing dissidents from jail.
And just like today, Western European countries were steadily increasing their oil and gas imports from the Soviet Union – and in 1980, they consented to the construction of a new gas pipeline that would increase Soviet gas exports to Europe (and Europe’s dependence on that supply source) still further.
Had that pipeline been built on time and on the proposed scale, the Soviet empire and the Berlin Wall would likely have not collapsed at all.
The story begins in late 1979, when the Kremlin informed the West German government and business leaders that it wished to build a new gas pipeline from the Yamal Peninsula to West Germany, with the goal of significantly increasing Soviet gas exports to Europe. The Ruhrgas AG was to be the direct recipient of the gas, Mannesman AG was to deliver the equipment to build and operate the pipeline, while the Deutsche Bank was destined to finance the construction. After the West German government’s initial okay, secret talks began at Deutsche Bank’s HQ in Dusseldorf. These were so secret that no interpreters were hired – one of Deutsche Bank’s high-ranking employees speaking Russian served as the translator.
The initial talks were successful and were continued in December 1979 by Deutsche Bank personnel in Moscow; with the support from the Soviet and West German governments, the talks were speedily advanced, with the West German business leaders knowing they’d be spending 10 billion West German marks – a huge sum of money – on building a pipeline that would immensely profit the Soviet Union.
With the Soviet and West German government’s support, an initial agreement was soon reached, and a Deutsche Bank branch was soon opened in Moscow to coordinate the project. When then West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt personally discussed the project with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the phone, the talks were greatly sped up.
On June 30th, 1980, Schmidt arrived in Moscow and, despite the Soviet regime’s aggressive designs and its aggression against Afghanistan (which he didn’t care about), he signed a long-term economic cooperation agreement with Moscow that paved the way for the pipeline’s construction. Two weeks later – on the day the Moscow Olympic Games began – Deutsche Bank and the Soviet government began official negotiations on its pipeline, and a final was struck in Leningrad in 1983. This was AFTER Helmut Kohl and his CDU party came to power in 1982 – because the Kohl government, like the Schmidt cabinet, ALSO supported the pipeline’s construction and continued subsidies to the Soviet regime.
Ronald Reagan Strikes Back
But even before the deal was finally signed, Ronald Reagan counterattacked. Knowing the Soviet Union’s deep economic problems and the fact that destroying the Soviet economy was key to bringing the Soviet empire down, he imposed a slew of sanctions against the USSR in December 1981 after Moscow’s puppet regime in Poland implemented martial law to preserve communism there and crack down on Lech Walesa’s Solidarity.
Among the sanctions imposed on the USSR was a ban on exporting any pipeline machinery as well as machines used to extract oil and gas. This was intended to strike at the USSR’s Achilles heel – its dependence on oil and gas revenue. Western European companies were building such machinery based on American export licenses, but President Reagan revoked these. His sanctions were toughened still in September 1983 after the Russians shot down a civilian Korean airliner (KAL Flight 007).
Furthermore, President Reagan pressured the West German government and business leaders to cancel the pipeline’s construction. He did not succeed completely in that regard, but under his pressure, the pipeline’s scope was reduced from two lines to just one, and the whole project was delayed by many years – so much so that it wasn’t completed until 1999, eight years after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
This huge delay and reduction in scope of the project proved fatal to the Soviet Union. Making matters even worse for them, President Reagan deregulated the oil industry in the US and convinced Saudi Arabia to dramatically increase oil production. This brought about the oil glut of the late 1980s: in November 1985, a barrel of oil cost $30 (in 1985 dollars); by April 1986, it cost only $12. Moscow lost $10 bn (again, in 1985’s terms) in just five months as a result.
It was all downhill for the USSR from then on. That very month, in April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear powerplant exploded, causing damage costing hundreds of billions of dollars. The war in Afghanistan dragged on – partially because of the Reagan Administration’s covert support for the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Soviets.
And the Reagan Administration also dramatically toughened the arms race with the USSR by greatly increasing US defense spending and investing it in new, cutting-edge weapon platforms such as the B-2 stealth bomber (first flown in 1989, introduced in 1993), the MX Peacekeeper rail-mobile ICBM that could carry 10 nuclear warheads, nuclear-armed cruise missiles launched from air, naval, and ground platforms (including the BGM-109A Tomahawk A, scrapped unilaterally by Barack Obama), the Pershing intermediate range missiles that countered Soviet SS-20 missiles in Europe, the Ohio class of ballistic missile submarines (carrying 24 missiles each, more than any Soviet submarine could), the Trident missiles deployed on these submarines, the tank-killing Apache helicopter capable of obliterating the massed Soviet tank armies in Europe; the Aegis class of surface combatants; and many more.
Most importantly, the Reagan Administration initiated the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program, dubbed the Star Wars, against which the Soviet Union wasn’t capable of mounting any effective response due to its technological backwardness. In the 1980s, the US, and especially its military, was quickly being computerized – computers became an integral part of everything and made life and military operations easier. The Soviet Union, by contrast, was as short on computers as on human rights. Even the Soviet Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, admitted that the USSR was being overtaken by the US because of the revolution ushered in by computers.
Gorbachev tried his best to negotiate the SDI away, but Ronald Reagan held firm.
Moral Pressure Added to Economic and Military Pressure
Fully confident of its massive economic and military strength rebuilt by President Reagan, the US exerted increasing moral pressure on the USSR. That pressure culminated in the late 1980s.
President Reagan’s goal was nothing short of dismantling the Iron Curtain and the Soviet empire. As he said himself, his goal in the Cold War was to ensure that “we win, they lose.” His Administration’s goal was to change the Soviet regime, and that goal was enshrined in Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 75, signed by him in 1983. More importantly, that goal was actively sought (and ultimately achieved).
Like nobody else in the world, President Reagan exerted enormous pressure on the Soviet Union throughout his presidency. Only he had the courage to utter these memorable words in Berlin on June 12th, 1987:
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate.
Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.
Mr. Gorbachev — Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
Not only that, but he confidently predicted, “Yes, this wall will fall.” He didn’t just say he demanded that it be dismantled – he predicted that it WOULD BE. And it was. For, as President Reagan said:
As long as this gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind.
This rhetoric was opposed by many in his administration (including Howard Baker and Colin Powell) and by all Western European governments except Margaret Thatcher’s. President Reagan’s advisors repeatedly attempted to delete those words from the speech, but Reagan personally overruled them.
Yes, to deliver these remarks, President Reagan had to face down many people even in his own administration.
Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev: False Heroes Who Tried To Preserve the Soviet Empire
And of course, Western European governments, especially that of West Germany led by Helmut Kohl, still tried to save the Soviet Union with subsidies, low-interest loans, and debt write-offs. In 1988 alone, West Germany lent the USSR 3 billion Deutschmarks. All told, from 1985 to 1991, Western European governments lent the USSR the equivalent of 15 billion dollars.
Fortunately, that proved to be woefully inadequate for the USSR to survive, thanks to Ronald Reagan’s skillful use of the economic lever. The ongoing war in Afghanistan and the costs of maintaining a global Communist empire and a huge state bureaucracy added to the USSR’s economic woes.
Nor did Gorbachev try, or even intend, to dismantle the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire. On the contrary, he wanted to preserve and strengthen that empire. That was the goal of his reforms – perestroika and glasnost. His reforms were intended to STRENGTHEN the Soviet Union and the Communist system without touching their very nature. He believed that through half-measures such as less interference in state-owned enterprises’ affairs, he could revive and strengthen the Soviet economy.
This was no different from Tsar Alexander II’s and Tsar Nikolai II’s half-hearted “reforms” in the 1860s and 1900s, respectively: to change something so that nothing would really change.
Gorbachev’s reforms failed to strengthen the USSR – just like those Tsars’ pseudo-reforms failed completely – because you can’t save a rotten, totally failing, broken system by reforming it timidly and too late. If a system is completely broke and failing, the only right thing to do is to scrap it completely and start anew – which Gorbachev was completely unwilling to do.
Nor did Gorbachev want to dismantle the Soviet empire and free captive nations, despite his promise to give Eastern European nations the right of self-determination. He did not use force to stave off the Soviet empire’s demise – because he wasn’t able to. By 1989, the Soviet Union’s economic problems were so deep, the USSR – freshly booted out of Afghanistan by sandal-shod mujahedeen – was in no position to intervene militarily in East Germany, Poland, or Hungary. The fiscal costs alone would’ve been prohibitive, and those countries’ populations would’ve certainly resisted.
Gorbachev is not a hero; he’s just a flake who couldn’t keep the Soviet empire from collapsing. And today, he supports the murderous, criminal, illegal neo-Soviet dictator of Russia, Vladimir Putin, who is trying to restore the Soviet empire. This proves what an immoral person Gorbachev is.
Ronald Reagan Is The Real Hero
The real architect of the Berlin Wall’s and the USSR’s collapse was Ronald Reagan. As Professor Robert Kaufman rightly observed in 2011:
It is hard to see (…) how Gorbachev and a policy of conciliation deserve more credit for ending the Cold War in America’s favor than Reagan and his policy of vigilance. The restoration of American power under Ronald Reagan gave the Soviet Union little choice but to take the risk of choosing a reformer such as Gorbachev, who recognized that the Soviet Union could no longer compete against a rejuvenated, self-confident United States unless it liberalized at home and pursued a more conciliatory policy abroad.
Nor was Gorbachev a genuine democrat. He aimed only to reform Communism, not to abolish it. His regime began to implode under the cumulative effect of decades of U.S. containment, Reagan’s confrontational policies intensifying American pressure at a critical moment, and the mortal contradictions inherent in the Soviet system. Whereas Gorbachev did not intend the breathtaking collapse of Communism that his domestic reforms unwittingly unleashed, Ronald Reagan expected and dedicated his political life to achieving this outcome.
When the free world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall today, don’t forget to honor the real architect of that event – President Ronald Reagan.
Below: a video of the key part of Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech.
And below is a video of Sam Donaldson interviewing Ronald Reagan on the night the Berlin Wall began to be dismantled and giving President Reagan a lot of credit for the outcome: