The role of Western governments in the disintegration of the Soviet Union was complex. The two most important factors that undermined the Soviet state were the deepening economic chaos under Mikhail Gorbachev and the rapid growth of internal political dissent. Western policies tended to magnify both of these factors. This is not to say, however, that Gorbachev's original decision to embark on an economic reform program was simply the result of pressure created by Western defense spending and military deployments. The Soviet economy was plagued by severe weaknesses, of which the misallocation of resources and excessive military expenditures were only a small part. Gorbachev's initial economic reforms were spurred by his awareness of the country's general economic problems. After the first round of reforms failed, he sensed that arms control and reductions in military spending would be helpful for the next stage. Even so, the belated cuts he made in military spending (beginning in 1990) were of relatively little consequence. The West's refusal to pour money into the Soviet system without evidence of structural reform in the last years of the Soviet regime, and Western pressure on Gorbachev not to crack down on political dissent and separatism, did hasten the Soviet collapse. These policies denied the Soviet system resources that might have prolonged its survival, and they helped to deter Gorbachev from using decisive force against elements that were splitting the Soviet Union apart.

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