Berlin Wall

“Who could have thought the Age of Division would begin like this? Probably not George H. W. Bush, Eric Honecker or Mikhail Gorbachev (or indeed, most observers).”

Coming after the end of one significant historical epoch (the post-World War II consensus) and in the middle of what followed (a free enterprise boom), the fall of the Berlin Wall was a surprise that caught most observers off-guard. 

To those in Western intelligence circles, the opening of the East German border, and just how it opened (chaotically, without fanfare, and apparently at random) was a warning that the assumptions which had underpinned policy towards the communist East and the Soviet Union, in particular, were fatally flawed.

That shock would soon be replaced by self-congratulation on the part of many at the "End to history" (or even, in its most naive form, a "Holiday from history") as it seemed, for a while, that democratic values had conquered the world.

Heady and optimistic times, indeed.


Wall up, wall down


Not so predicted: The end of the Berlin Wall and European division came as a shock to Western security elites. As did what happened next.

History repeating: A parallelism seems to be developing between the Covid-19 crisis and one which struck the West 50 years ago.


Helmut Kohl

West German Chancellor between 1982 and 1998, then of a reunited Germany between 1990 and 1998.

Khol committed to European integration, was a strong ally of the US, and supported Reagan's policies to weaken the USSR. Khol also oversaw the end of the Cold War, as well as German reunification, and moved the federal government from Bonn to Berlin.

Erich Honecker

A leading East German politician and General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) leading up to the end of the East German state.

As party leader, he works closely with Moscow and tightly controls the German Democratic Republic government from 1971 until being forced out of office in the weeks preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall, in October 1989.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Reforming former Soviet politician, Gorbachev is General Secretary of the USSR's governing Communist Party from 1985 until 1991 and the country's head of state from 1988 until 1991.

In January 1990, Gorbachev privately agrees to permit East German reunification with West Germany but rejects the idea that a unified Germany can retain West Germany's NATO membership.

George H. Bush

The 41st President of the United States, from 1989 to 1993 (and the 43rd Vice President from 1981 to 1989), Bush has to respond to the rapid collapse of Eastern Europe and the breakaway of the Warsaw Pact countries as they became independent nations.

He also chooses not to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss these events until after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Ronald Reagan

American President from 1981 to 1989, Reagan begins his presidency during the decline of the Soviet Union, which he accelerates through an aggressive US arms build-up that the USSR attempts to follow.

The Berlin Wall falls just ten months after the end of his term, Germany reunifies the following year and on 26 December 1991, the Soviet Union finally collapses.

Margaret Thatcher

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. The Red Army newspaper The Red Star dubs Thatcher "The Iron Lady" in 1976, a nickname that then becomes subsequently associated with her uncompromising politics and leadership style.

One of the first Western leaders to respond warmly to reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, she declares in November 1988 that "We're not in a Cold War now".