Meaning of Cold War

  • The term cold war refers to the war of ideologies. It signifies distrust, jealousy and a state of active hostility, without actually fighting the war. Cold War involves an arms race and a war of ideological propagandas. The term cold war was used in modern times to describe the tension that prevailed between the two power blocks namely the capitalist bloc headed by USA and the Communist bloc led by Russia. American Bernard Baruch used the term cold war for the first time in the context of the relations between USA and USSR. In a speech in South Carolina on April 16, 1947 Baruch said that “Let us not be deceived; we are today in the midst of a cold war.” After Baruch, the American journalist Walter Lippman used this phrase.
  • The Cold War was the period of conflict, tension and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies from the mid-1940s until the early 1990s. Throughout this period, the rivalry between the two superpowers unfolded in multiple arenas: military coalitions; ideology, psychology, and espionage; sports; military, industrial, and technological developments, including the space race; costly defence spending; a massive conventional and nuclear arms race; and many proxy wars.
  • Several events led to suspicion and distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union; US intervention in Russia supporting the White Army in the Russian Civil War, Russia’s withdrawal from World War I and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, the Bolsheviks’ challenge to capitalism, the US refusal to recognize the soviet union until 1933. Other events in the period immediately before WWII increased this suspicion and distrust. The British appeasement of Germany and the German-soviet Non-aggression Pact are two notable examples.
  • There was never a direct military engagement between the US and the Soviet Union, but there was half a century of military build-up as well as political battles for support around the world, including significant involvement of allied and satellite nations in proxy wars. Although the US and the Soviet Union had been allied against Nazi Germany, the two sides differed on how to reconstruct the post-war world even before the end of World War II. Over the following decades, the Cold War spread outside Europe to every region of the world, as the US sought the “containment” of communism and forged numerous alliances to this end, particularly in Western Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. There were repeated crises that threatened to escalate into world wars but they never did notably the Berlin Blockade (1948-1949), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), and the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989). There were also periods when tension was reduced as both sides sought détente. Direct military attacks on adversaries were deterred by the potential for mutual assured destruction using deliverable nuclear weapons.


Origin of Cold War

  • The basic cause of Cold War lay in the differences of principle between the communist states and the capitalist or liberal democratic states. The communist system of organizing the state and society was based on the ideas of Karl Marx which believed that the wealth of a country should be collectively owned and shared by everybody, the economy should be centrally planned and the interests and well being of the working classes safeguarded by state social policies. The capitalist system on the other hand, operates on the basis of private ownership of a country’s wealth. The driving forces behind capitalism are private enterprise in the pursuit of making profits, and the preservation of the power of private wealth.
  • There is some disagreement over what constitutes the beginning of the Cold War. While most historians say that it began in the period just after World War II, some say that it began towards the end of World War I, though tensions between Russia/USSR and Britain and the United States date back to the middle of the 19th
  • Differences between the political and economic systems of Russia and the West predated the Russian Revolution of 1917. From the neo-Marxist World systems perspective, Russia differed from the West as a result of its late integration into the capitalist world economy in the 19th Struggling to catch up with the industrialized West as of the late 19th century, Russia at the time of the revolution in 1917 was essentially a semi-peripheral or peripheral state whose internal balance of forces, tipped by the domination of the Russian industrial sector by foreign capital, had been such that it suffered a decline in its relative diplomatic power internationally. From this perspective, the Russian Revolution represented a break with a form of dependent industrial development and a radical withdrawal from the capitalist world economy.
  • Other scholars have argued that Russia and the West developed fundamentally different political cultures shaped by Eastern Orthodoxy and rule of the tsar. Others have linked the cold war to the legacy of different heritages of empire-building between the Russians and Americans. From this view, the united states, like the British empire, was fundamentally a maritime power based on trade and commerce, and Russia was a bureaucratic and land-based power that expanded from the centre in a process of territorial accretion.
  • Historians associated with the Wisconsin school see parallels between 19th century western rivalry with Russia and the cold war tensions of the post-world war II period. From this view, western policymakers misinterpreted post-war soviet policy in Europe as expansionism, rather than a policy, like the territorial growth of imperial Russia, motivated by securing vulnerable Russian frontiers.
  • Modern historians trace the origins of the cold war to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Ever since the world’s first communist government was set up in Russia (USSR) in 1917, the governments of most capitalist states viewed it with mistrust and were afraid of communism spreading to their countries. When civil war broke out in Russia in 1918 several capitalist states- the USA, Britain, France and Japan- sent troops to Russia to help the anti communist forces. The communists won the war, but Joseph Stalin, who became Russian leader in 1929, was convinced that there would be another attempt by the capitalist powers to destroy communism in Russia. The German invasion of Russian in 1941 proved him right.
  • Stalin suspected that the USA and Britain were still keen to destroy communism; he felt that their delay in launching the invasion of France, the Second Front (which did not take place until June 1944) was deliberately calculated to keep most of the pressure on the Russians and bring them to the point of exhaustions. Nor did they tell Stalin about the existence of the atomic bomb until shortly before its use on Japan, and they rejected his request that Russia should share in the occupation of Japan. The need of self-preservation against Germany and Japan caused the USSR, the USA and Britain to forget their differences and work together, but as soon as the defeat of Germany became clear, both sides and especially Stalin began to plan for the post war period.


Various theories of cold war

  • As soon as the term, “Cold War” was popularized to refer to post-war tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, interpreting the course and origins of the conflict has been a source of heated controversy among historians, political scientists, and journalists. In particular, historians have sharply disagreed as to who was responsible for the breakdown of Soviet-U.S. relations after the Second World War; and whether the conflict between the two superpowers was inevitable, or could have been avoided. Historians have also disagreed on what exactly the Cold War was, what the sources of the conflict were, and how to disentangle patterns of action and reaction between the two sides.
  • While the explanations of the origins of the conflict in academic discussions are complex and diverse, several general schools of thought on the subject can be identified. Historians commonly speak of three differing approaches to the study of the Cold War: “orthodox” accounts, “revisionism,” and “post-revisionism.” Nevertheless, much of the historiography on the Cold War weaves together two or-even all three of these broad categories.


Orthodox Theory

  • The first school of interpretation to emerge in the U.S. was the “orthodox” one. For more than a decade after the end of the Second World War, few U.S. historians challenged the official U.S. interpretation of the beginnings of the Cold War. This “orthodox” school places the responsibility for the Cold War on the Soviet Union and its expansion into Eastern Europe. Thomas A. Bailey, for example, argued in his book “America Faces Russia” (1950) that the breakdown of post-war peace was the result of Soviet expansionism in the immediate post-war years. Bailey argued Stalin violated promises he had made at Yalta, imposed Soviet-dominated regimes on unwilling Eastern European populations, and conspired to spread communism throughout the world. From this view, U.S. officials were forced to respond to Soviet aggression with the Truman Doctrine, plans to contain communist subversion around the world, and the Marshall Plan. During the 1950s, Western historians, such as the American George Kennan blamed Stalin and wrote that his motives were sinister and that he intended to spread communism as widely as possible through Europe and Asia, thus destroying capitalism.
  • This interpretation has been described as the “official” U.S. version of cold war history. Although it lost its dominance as a mode of historical thought in academic discussions in 1960s, it continues to be influential.


Revisionist Theory

  • S. involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s disillusioned many historians with the premise of “containment”, and thus with the assumptions of the “orthodox” approach to understanding the cold war. (49) “Revisionist” accounts emerged in the wake of the Vietnam War, in the context of a larger rethinking of the U.S. role in international affairs, which was seen more in terms of American empire or hegemony.
  • The Wisconsin school of interpretation argues that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were economic rivals, making them natural adversaries, irrespective of their ideologies. Walter Lafeber, meanwhile, argues the U.S. and Imperial Russia were already rivals by 1900 over the development of Manchuria, Russia, unable to compete industrially with the States, sought to close off parts of East Asia to trade with other colonial powers. Meanwhile, the U.S. demanded open competition for markets.
  • While the new school of thought spanned many differences among individual scholars, the works, comprising it were generally responses in one way or another to William Appleman Williams’ landmark 1959 volume, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Williams challenged the long-held assumptions of “orthodox” accounts, arguing that Americans had always been an empire-building people, even while American leaders denied it.
  • Following Williams, “revisionist” writers placed more responsibility for the breakdown of post-war peace on the United States, citing a range of U.S. efforts to isolate and confront the Soviet Union well before the end of World War II. According to Williams and later “revisionist” writers, U.S. policymakers shared an overarching concern with maintaining capitalism domestically. In order to achieve that objective, they pursued an “open door” policy abroad, aimed at increasing access to foreign markets for U.S. business and agriculture. From this perspective, a growing economy domestically went hand-in-hand with the consolidation of U.S. power internationally.
  • “Revisionist” scholars challenged the widely accepted notion that soviet leaders were committed to post-war “expansionism”. They cited evidence that the soviet union’s occupation of Eastern Europe had a defensive rationale, and that soviet leaders saw themselves as attempting to avoid encirclement by the United States and its allies. In this view, the Soviet Union was so weak and devastated after the end of the Second World War as to be unable to pose any serious threat to the United States; moreover, the U.S. maintained a nuclear monopoly until the U.S.S.R. tested its first atomic bomb in August 1949.
  • Revisionist historians have also challenged the assumption that the origins of the Cold War date no further back than the immediate post-war period. Notably, Walter LaFeber, in his landmark study, America, Russia, and the Cold War, first published in 1972, argued that the Cold War had its origins in 19th century conflicts between Russia and America over the opening of East Asia to U.S. trade, markets, and influence. LaFeber argued that the U.S. commitment at the close of World War II to ensuring a world in which every state was open to U.S. influence and trade underpinned many of the conflicts that triggered the beginning of the cold war.
  • Starting with Gar Alperovitz, in his influential Atomic Diplomacy; Hiroshima and Potsdam (1965), “revisionist” scholars have focused on the U.S. decision to use atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the last days of World War II. In their view, the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, in effect, started the cold war. According to Alperovitz, the bombs were not used on an already defeated Japan to win the war, but to intimidate the soviets, signaling that the U.S. would use nuclear weapons to structure a post-war world around U.S. interests as U.S. policymakers saw fit. According to some revisionists, Japan had tried to surrender for several months, but the U.S. wanted to test nuclear weapons in war and most importantly, show its power to the Soviet Union.
  • Joyce and Gabriel Kolko’s the Limits of Power: The World and U.S. foreign Policy, 1945-1954 (1972) has also received considerable attention in the historiography on the Cold War. The Kolkos argued U.S. policy was both reflexively anticommunist and counterrevolutionary. The U.S. was not necessarily fighting soviet influence, but any form of challenge to the U.S. economic and political prerogatives through either covert or military means. In this sense, the cold war is less a story of rivalry between two blocs, and more a story of the ways by which the dominant states within each bloc controlled and disciplined their own populations and clients, and about who supported and stood to benefit from increased arms production and political anxiety over a perceived external enemy.


Post-Revisionist Theory

  • The “revisionist” interpretation produced a critical reaction of its own. Later a third view, known as the post-revisionist interpretation, was put forward by some American historians and this became popular in the 1980s. They had the benefit of being able to look at lots of new documents and visit archives which had not been open to earlier historians. The new evidence suggested that the situation at the end of the war was far more complicated than earlier historians had realized; this led them to take a middle view, arguing that both sides should take some blame for the cold war, they believe that American economic policies such as Marshall aid were deliberately designed to increase US political influence in Europe. With their entrenched position and deep suspicions of each other the USA and the USSR created an atmosphere in which every international act could be interpreted in two ways. What was claimed as necessary for self-defence by one side was taken by the other as evidence of aggressive intent.
  • During the period, “post-revisionism” challenged the “revisionists” by accepting some of their findings but rejecting most of their key claims. Particularly, post-revisionist historians argued that revisionists put too much emphasis on U.S. economic considerations while ignoring domestic politics and perceptions held at the time. Another current attempted to strike a balance between the “orthodox” and “revisionist” camps, identifying areas of responsibility for the origins of the conflict on both sides. Thomas G. Paterson, in Soviet-American Confrontation (1973), for example, viewed Soviet hostility and U.S. efforts to dominate the post-war world as equally responsible for the Cold War.
  • The seminal work of this approach was John Lewis Gaddis’s the United States and the Origins of the cold war. 1941-1947 (1972). The account was immediately hailed as the beginning of a new school of thought on the cold war claiming to synthesize a variety of interpretations. Gaddis then maintained that “neither side can bear sole responsibility for the onset of the Cold War.” He did, however, emphasize the constraints imposed on U.S. policymakers due to the complications of domestic politics. Gaddis has, in addition, criticized some “revisionist” scholars, particularly Williams, for failing to understand the role of Soviet policy in the origins of the cold war.
  • Out of the “post-revisionist” literature emerged a new area of inquiry that was more sensitive to nuances and less interested in the question of who started the conflict than in offering insight into U.S. and Soviet actions and perspectives. From this perspective, the cold war was not so much the responsibility of either side, but rather the result of predictable tensions between two world powers that had been suspicious of one another for nearly a century. For example, Ernest May wrote in a 1984 essay: after the second world war, the united states and the Soviet Union were doomed to be antagonists…. There probably was never any real possibility that the post-1945 relationship could be anything but hostility verging on conflict… traditions, belief systems, propinquity, and convenience…. All combined to stimulate antagonism, and almost no factor operated in either country to hold it back.
  • From this view of “post-revisionism” emerged a line of inquiry that examines how cold war actors perceived various events, and the degree of misperception involved in the failure of the two sides to reach common understandings of their wartime alliance and their disputes.
  • While Gaddis does not hold either side entirely responsible for the onset of the conflict, he argued that the soviets should be held clearly more accountable for the ensuring problems. According to Gaddis, Stalin was in a much better position to compromise than his Western counterparts, given his much broader power within his own regime than Truman, who was often undermined by vociferous political opposition at home. Asking if it were possible to predict that the wartime alliance would fall apart within a matter of months, leaving in its place nearly a half century of cold war, Gaddis wrote in a 1997 essay, we now know: Rethinking Cold War History: Geography, demography, and tradition contributed to this outcome but did not determine it. It took men, responding unpredictably to circumstances, to forge the chain of causation; and it took (Stalin) in particular, responding predictably to his own authoritarian, paranoid, and narcissistic predisposition, to lock it into place.
  • For Stalin, Gaddis continues, “world politics was an extension of Soviet politics, which was in turn an extension of Stalin’s preferred personal environment: a zero-sum game, in which achieving security for one meant depriving everyone else of it.”


Interwar diplomacy (1918-1941)

  • Relations were never particularly good between the two nations in the inter-war period, with limited trade and diplomatic links being established in an atmosphere of extreme suspicion. Memories of US efforts to crush Bolshevism between 1918 and 1920, and Russia’s efforts to spread communism beyond its own borders, further aggravated the tensions. The US refused to recognize the Soviet Union until 1933. After winning the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks proclaimed a worldwide challenge to capitalism.
  • Following the post-war Red Scare, many in the U.S. saw the Soviet system as a threat. Differences between the political and economic systems of the United States and the Soviet Union—capitalism versus socialism, models of autarchy versus trade, state planning versus private enterprise—became simplified and refined in national ideologies to represent two ways of life. The atheistic nature of Soviet communism also concerned many Americans. The American ideals of free determination and President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points conflicted with many of the USSR’s policies.
  • Up until the mid-1930s, both British and U.S. policymakers commonly assumed the communist Soviet Union to be a much greater threat than disarmed and democratic Germany and focused most of their intelligence efforts against Moscow. The Union States did not establish relations with the Soviet government until 1933.
  • Even after U.S. recognition of the Soviet Union, each side retained suspicions of the other’s intentions and motives. The Soviets resented Western appeasement of Adolf Hitler after the signing of the Munich Pact in 1938. Following the signing of Munich Pact, Joseph Stalin reached his own settlement with Germany, the August 1939 German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact, which similarly shocked the West.
  • However it has also been stated that in the period between the two wars, the U.S. had little interest in the Soviet Union or its intentions. America, after minimal contribution to World War I and the Russian Civil War, began to favour an isolationist stance when concerned with global politics (something which contributed to its late involvement in the Second World War). An example of this can be seen from its absence in the League of Nations. President Woodrow Wilson was one of the main advocates for the League of Nations; the United States Congress, however, voted against joining. America was enjoying unprecedented economic growth throughout the 1910s and early 20s. However the Wall Street Crash of 1929 plunged America into the Great Depression and was therefore even less inclined to make contributions to the international community when it suffered from serious financial and social problems at home.


Wartime alliance (1941-1945)

  • Following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the Soviets and the Western Allies were forced to cooperate, despite their past tensions. The U.S. shipped vast quantities of Lend Lease material to the Soviets, Britain and the Soviets signed a formal alliance, but the U.S. did not join until after the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7,1941.
  • During the war, both sides disagreed on military tactics, especially the question of the opening of a second front against Germany in Western Europe. As early as July 1941, Stalin had asked Britain to invade northern France, but Britain did not carry out such a request. Stalin had asked the Western Allies to open a second front since the early months of the war—which finally occurred on June 6, 1944.
  • The Soviets believed at the time, and charged throughout the Cold War, that the British and Americans intentionally delayed the opening of a second front against Germany in order to intervene only at the last minute so as to influence the peace settlement and dominate Europe. Historians such as John Lewis Gaddis dispute this claim, citing other military and strategic calculations for the timing of the Normandy invasion. In the meantime, the Russians suffered heavy casualties, with as many as twenty million dead. Nevertheless, Soviet perceptions (or misconceptions) of the West and vice versa left a strong undercurrent of tension and hostility between the Allied powers.
  • Both sides, moreover, held very dissimilar ideas regarding the establishment and maintenance of post-war security. The Americans tended to understand security in situational terms, assuming that, if US-style governments and markets were established as widely as possible, countries could resolve their differences peacefully, through international organizations. The key to the US vision of security was a post-war world shaped according to the principles laid out in the 1941 Atlantic Charter—in other words, a liberal international system based on free trade and open markets. This vision would require a rebuilt capitalist Europe, with a healthy Germany at its centre, to serve once more as a hub in global affairs.
  • This would also require US economic and political leadership of the post-war world. Europe needed the USA’s assistance if it was to rebuild its domestic production and finance its international trade. The USA was the only world power not economically devastated by the fighting. By the end of the war, she was producing around fifty percent of the world’s industrial goods.
  • Soviet leaders, however, tended to understand security in terms of space. This reasoning was conditioned by Russia’s historical experiences, given the frequency with which the country had been invaded over the last 150 years. The Second World War experience was particularly traumatic for the Russians: the Soviet Union suffered unprecedented devastation as a result of the Nazi onslaught, and over 20,000,000 Soviet citizens died during the war; tens of thousands of Soviet cities, towns, and villages were leveled; and 30,100 Soviet factories were destroyed. In order to prevent, to dominate the Balkans and to destroy utterly Germany’s capacity to engage in another war. The problem was that Stalin’s strategy risked confrontation with the equally powerful United States, who viewed Stalin’s actions as a flagrant violation of the Yalta agreement.
  • As the war came to an end, it seemed highly likely that cooperation between the Western powers and the USSR would give way to intense rivalry or conflict. This was due primarily to the starkly contrasting economic ideologies of the two superpowers, now quite easily the strongest in the world. Whereas the USA was a liberal, multi-party democracy with an advanced capitalist economy, based on free enterprise and profit-making, the USSR was a one-party Communist dictatorship with a state-controlled economy where private wealth and initiative was all but outlawed. It seemed obvious that, while America would be wholly in favour of a return to democracy for post-war Europe, providing it with allies and important trading partners, Russia (especially under Stalin’s rule) would attempt to take advantage of the chaos and spread communism.


Post 1945 developments

The Yalta Conference (February 1945)

  • At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Allies attempted to define the framework for a post-war settlement in Europe. This was held in Russia (in the Crimea) and was attended by the three Allied leaders, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill so that they could plan what was to happen when the war ended. At the time it seemed to be a success, agreement being reached on several points. It was decided that Germany would be divided into three Zones, one each under the Russian, American and British (a French Zone was included later). The German capital Berlin, which happened to be in the middle of the Russian zone, would also be split into corresponding zones. Similar arrangements were to be made for Austria.
  • However, there were differences in opinion about Poland. Russian armies had swept through Poland, driving the German back; they had set up a communist government in Lublin, even though there was already a Polish government in exile in London. It was agreed at Yalta that some members (non-communist) of the London based government should be allowed to join the Lublin government, while in return, Russia would be allowed to keep a strip of eastern Poland which she had annexed in 1939. However, Roosevelt and Churchill were not happy about Stalin’s demands that Poland should be given all German territory east of the rivers Oder and Neisse; no agreement was reached on this point. It was also decided at Yalta that a new organization called, the United Nations, should be set up to replace the failed League of Nations.


The Potsdam Conference (July 1945)

  • Harry S. Truman, Churchill, and Joseph Stalin met at the Potsdam and the Conference started on July 18, 1945. Churchill was replaced by Clement Attlee, the new British Labour prime minister, after Labour’s election victory. This Conference revealed a distinct cooling—off in relations.
  • The war with Germany was over, but no agreement was reached about her long term future. The big question was whether and when the four zones would be allowed to join together to form a united country again. She was to be disarmed, the Nazi party disbanded and its leaders tried as war criminals. It was agreed that the Germans should pay something toward repairing the damage they had caused during the war. Most of these payments (known as reparations) were to go to the USSR, which was to be allowed to take non food goods from their own zone and from the other zones as well, provided the Russians sent food supplies to the western zones of Germany in return.
  • it was over Poland that the main disagreement occurred. Truman and Churchill were annoyed because Germany, east of the Oder-Neisse Line had been occupied by Russian troops and was being run by the pro communist Polish government which expelled some 5 million Germans living in the area; this had not been agreed to at Yalta.
  • Truman did not inform Stalin about the exact nature of the atomic bomb though Churchill was told about it. A few days after the conference closed the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and the war ended quickly on 10 August without the need for Russian help (though the Russians declared war on Japan on 8 August and invaded Manchuria). They annexed south Sakhalin as agreed at Yalta, but they were allowed no part in the occupation of Japan. Stalin protested to US officials when Truman offered the Soviets little real influence in occupied Japan.


Communism established in Eastern Europe

  • The establishment of communist government in Eastern Europe caused alarm in the west. In the months following Potsdam, the Russians systematically interfered in the countries of Eastern Europe to set up pro-communist governments. This happened in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania and Romania. In some cases their opponents were imprisoned or murdered, in Hungary for example, the Russians allowed free elections; but although the communists won less than 20 per cent of the seats, they saw to it that a majority of the cabinet were communists.
  • It was in this atmosphere of American anxiety that the Cold War spotlight shifted to Korea, where, in June 1950, troops from communist North Korea invaded non—communist South Korea.
  • Differences over the future of Europe, for example on Poland, had emerged early during the war. Though most of these differences had been sorted out at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam, the western suspicions of the Soviet Union had persisted. The Soviet victories against Germany in Eastern Europe had created a feeling of unease in the western countries. The British were particularly alarmed at the soviet army’s advance towards Berlin, although Berlin was located within that part of Germany which, by common agreement, had been allocated to the Soviet Union. The communist domination of the governments in Poland aroused British and US indignation at what they considered was Soviet betrayal of promise regarding democratic institutions and free elections. In 1946, the provisional Polish government based in London, was split. In the election which were held later, the two parties which later merged to form the communist party (called the polish united Workers Party) won about 90 percent of the seats. The leaders of the main opposition party alleged that the elections had not been free and that thousands of their workers had been arrested. By the end of 1947 every state in that area with the exception of Czechoslovakia had a fully communist government.
  • The development in Germany further aggravated the difference between the Soviet Union and the western countries. Germany had been divided into four occupation zones each under the Soviet Union, USA, Britain and French. At the Potsdam conference, Germany became divided into two parts – the three zones under USA, Britain and France becoming one, the western part and the Eastern part under USSR. The latter ended the supply of agricultural goods to the former. Each part now had a separate currency. The political and economic policies followed in each part were different. Large landholdings were confiscated and redistributed among peasants, many industries and mines were nationalized and German communists, who had been living in exile since the fascist take over, were encouraged to come back. In the western part, a capitalized type of economy began to develop with massive US aid and political parties and groups which were hostile to communists and the Soviet Union became dominant. The policies followed in the western part were now based on the fear of communism and the Soviet Union. By 1947, Germany had been divided in to two distinct economic and political parts. Later its division was formalized with the setting up to two independent states.


The communist takeover of Czechoslovakia (February 1948)

  • There was a coalition government of communist and other left wing parties which had been freely elected in 1946. The communists had won 38 per cent of the votes and 114 seats in the 300 seat Parliament, and they held a third of the cabinet posts. The Prime Minister, Clement Gottwald, was a communist; president Banes and the Foreign Minister, Jan Masaryk were non-communists. They hoped that Czechoslovakia with its highly developed industries would remain as a bridge between east and west.
  • However, a crisis arose early in 1948. Elections were due in May and all the signs were that the communists would lose ground. The communists decided to act before the elections’ already in control of the unions and the police they seized power in an armed coup. All non communist ministers with the exception of Banes and Masaryk resigned. A few days later Masaryk’s body was found under the windows of his office. His death was officially described as suicide. However, when the archives were opened after the collapse of communism in 1989 documents were found which indicated that he was murdered.
  • Similar developments took place in Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. In Yugoslavia and Albania also communist who had led the national resistance had come to power. Thus seven countries in Europe had governments dominated by communist parties and the Soviet Union was no longer the only country in the world to be ruled by a communist party. Britain and USA were particularly concerned at this development which they viewed as a danger to what they called the free world.


Speech of Stalin

  • Stalin frightened the west further by a widely reported speech in February 1946 in which he said that communism and capitalism could never live peacefully together, and that future wars were inevitable until the final victory of communism was achieved.


Long Telegram and Mr. X

  • In February 1946, George F. Kennan’s “Long Telegram” from Moscow helped articulate the growing hard line against the Soviets. The telegram argued that the Soviet Union was motivated by both traditional Russian imperialism and by Marxist ideology; Soviet behavior was inherently expansionist and paranoid, posing a threat to the United States and its allies. Later writing as “Mr. X” in his article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in Foreign Affairs (July 1947), Kennan drafted the classic argument for adopting a policy of “containment” toward the Soviet Union.
  • On September 6, 1946, James F. Byrnes made a speech in Germany, repudiating the Morgenthau Plan and warning the Soviets that the US intended to maintain a military presence in Europe indefinitely. As Byrnes admitted one month later, “The nub of our program was to win the German people (…) it was a battle us and Russia over minds (…)”.


Fulton Speech of Churchill

  • A few weeks after the release of this “Long Telegram”, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a speech at the University of Fulton. Missouri in the US in March 1946 in the presence of the US president Truman, in which he said, “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic” an iron curtain has descended across the continent. The iron curtain referred to the division of Europe into the Soviet Union and the countries which in Churchill’s view were under soviet control and the rest. Churchill also appealed for British-US political and military alliance to confront the Soviet Union. “Claiming that the Russians were bent on indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines; he called for a western alliance which would stand firm against the communist threat. The speech helped to widen the rift between east and west. Stalin was able to denounce Churchill as a warmonger; while over a hundred British Labour MPs signed a motion criticizing the conservative leader.


Greece Civil War

  • Another development which brought about the cold war was the civil war in Greece. Communists had been a major force in the resistance against fascist occupation of Greece. However, the British troops which had been sent to Greece wanted to restore the rule of the king who was brought back. This led to the civil war. There were 10,000 British troops who fought against the Greek communists in the civil war. However, Britain decided to withdraw from Greece. She informed the United States that she could no longer bear the burden of supporting the Greek government. This would have almost certainly led to communist victory in the civil war. The US government decided to take the burden of supporting the Greek-government in the civil war upon itself. She also supported Turkey which it was thought, was threatened by the Soviet Union.
  • The US decision to intervene in the Greek civil war may be considered as formally ushering in the cold war. President Truman while asking the congress for $400 million as military and economic aid to the Greek government made a policy statement which has been called the Truman doctrine.


The Truman Doctrine

  • By 1947, Truman’s advisors were worried that time was running out to counter the influence of the Soviet Union. In Europe, post-war economic recovery was faltering, and shortages of food and other essential consumer goods were common. Truman’s advisors feared that the Soviet Union was seeking to weaken the position of the US in a period of post-war confusion and collapse.
  • The event which spurred Truman on to announce formally the US’s adopting the policy of “containment” was the British government’s announcement in February 1947 that it could no longer afford to finance the Greek monarchical military regime in its civil war against communist-led insurgents. Rather than view this war as a civil conflict revolving around domestic issues, US policymakers interpreted it as a Soviet effort; however, the insurgents were helped by Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia, not Moscow. Secretary of State Dean Acheson accused the Soviet Union of conspiracy against the Greek royalists in an effort to “expand” into the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, and in March 1947 the administration unveiled the “Truman Doctrine”. It “must be the policy of the United States,” Truman declared, “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures.”
  • The Truman Doctrine proclaimed communism as the treat to the free world which the United States, as the head of the free world, would not allow to succeed anywhere in the world. Every revolution was seen as being the result of  the soviet expansionism which had to be crushed by all the might of the United States. This doctrine became the basis of the foreign policy of the United States for about four decades. Every conflict in the world was seen in terms of a struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.
  • Immediately anti-communists of Greece received massive amount of arms and other supplies, and by 1949 they defeated the Communists. Turkey, which also seemed under threat, received aid worth about 60 million dollars. The Truman doctrine made it clear that the USA had no intention of returning to isolation as she had after the First World War; she was committed to a policy of containing communism, not just in Europe, but throughout the world, including Korea and Vietnam.


Marshall Plan

  • For US policymakers, threats to Europe’ balance of power were not necessarily military ones, but political and economic challenge. George Kennan helped to summarize the problem at the State Department Planning staff in May 1947: “Communist activities” were not “the root of the difficulties of Western Europe” but rather “the disruptive effects of the war on the economic, political, and social structure of Europe.” According to this view, the Communists were “exploiting the European crisis” to gain power. In June, following the recommendations of the State Department Planning Staff, the Truman Doctrine was complemented by the Marshall Plan, a pledge of economic assistance aimed at rebuilding the Western political-economic system and countering perceived threats to Europe’s balance of power.
  • After lobbying by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Generals Clay and Marshall, the Truman administration finally realized that economic recovery in Europe could not go forward without the reconstruction of the German industrial base on which it had previously been dependent.
  • In July, Truman rescinded, on “national security grounds”, the punitive Morgenthau plan JCS 1067, which had directed the US forces of occupation in Germany to “take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany.” It was replaced by JCS 1779, which stressed instead that “an orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany.”
  • The twin policies of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan led to billions in economic and military aid to Western Europe, and Greece and Turkey. With US assistance, the Greek military won its civil war, and the Italian Christian Democrats defeated the powerful Communist-Socialist alliance in the elections of 1948.


The Cominform

  • This was the communist response. Set up by Stalin in September 1947, this was an organization to draw together the various European communist parties. All the satellite states were members, and the French and Italian communist parties were represented. Stalin’s aim was to tighten his grip on the satellites: to be communist was not enough it must be Russian style communism, Eastern Europe was to be industrialized collectivized and centralized: states were members, and all contacts with non-communist countries were discouraged. When Yugoslavia objected, she was expelled from the Cominform (1948) though she remained communist.

Molotov plan

  • In 1949 the Molotov plan was introduced, offering Russian aid to the satellites. Another organization Known as COMECON (Council of Mutual Economic Assistance) was set up to coordinate their economic policies.


The Berlin blockade and airlift (June 1948-May 1949)

  • This brought the Cold War to its first climax. The crisis arose out of disagreements over the treatment of Germany. At the end of the war, as agreed at Yalta and Potsdam, Germany and Berlin were each divided into four zones. While the three western powers did their best to make Germany pay for all the damage inflicted on Russia but Russia treated his zone as a satellite, draining its resources away to Russia.
  • Early in 1948 the three Western zones were merged to form a single economic unit, whose prosperity, thanks to Marshall Aid, was in marked contrast to the poverty of the Russian zone. The west wanted all four zones to be re-united and given self—government as soon as possible; but Stalin had decided that it would be safer for Russia if he kept the Russian zone separate, with its own communist, pro-Russsian government. The prospect of the three Western zones re-uniting was alarming enough to Stalin, because he knew they would be part of the Western bloc.
  • When in June 1948 the West introduced a new-currency and ended price controls in their zone and in West Berlin. The Russians decided that the situation in Berlin had become impossible; already irritated by this island of capitalism a hundred miles inside the communist zone, they felt it impossible to have two different currencies in the same city, and they were embarrassed by the contrast between the prosperity of West Berlin and the poverty of the surrounding area.
  • The Russian response was immediate: all road, rail and canal links between West Berlin and West Germany were closed; their aim was to force the west to withdraw from West Berlin by reducing it to starvation point. The Western powers, convinced that a retreat would be the prelude to a Russian attack on West Germany, were determined to hold on. They decided to fly supplies in, rightly judging that the Russians would not risk shooting down the transport planes. Truman had thoughtfully sent a fleet of B-29 bombers to be positioned on British airfields, over the next ten months 2 million tons of supplies were airlifted to the blockaded city in a remarkable operation which kept the 2.5 million West Berliners fed and warm right through the winter. In May 1949 the Russians admitted failure by lifting the blockade.
  • The affair had important results. The outcome gave a great psychological boost to the Western powers, though it brought relations with Russia to their worst ever. It caused the Western powers to co-ordinate their defences by the formation of NATO. It meant that, since no compromise was possible, Germany was doomed to remain divided for the foreseeable future.


The formation of NATO

  • The Berlin blockade exposed the military unpreparedness and frightened them into making definite preparation. Already in March 1948 Britain, French, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg had signed the Brussels Defence Treaty promising military collaboration in case of war. Now they were joined by the USA, Canada, Portugal, Denmark, Eire, Italy and Norway. All signed the North Atlantic Treaty and the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took place in April 1949. The NATO countries agreed to regard an attack on any one of them as an attack on them all, and placing their defence forces under a joint NATO command organization which would co-ordinate the defence of the west.
  • This was a highly significant development because the Americans had abandoned their traditional policy of not entangling in alliance and for the first time had pledged them in advance to military action. In most people’s minds, the USSR was the most likely source of any attack. Predictably Stalin took it as a challenge, and tensions remained high.
  • NATO was not just a European organization. It also included the USA and Canada. The Korean War (1950-53) caused the USA to press successfully for the integration of NATO forces under a centralized command; a Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) was established near Paris.
  • Through this alliance the western countries launched a massive programme of rearmament to check what they called Russian expansion in Europe and to contain communism. During the next six years, the United States gave massive military aid to the NATO countries of Europe. In 1952, Greece and turkey were also made members of NATO.


Emergence of the USSR as a nuclear power

  • The United States had emerged as the mightiest military power at end of the Second World War. For four years, she was the only country in the world to have atomic weapons. The monopoly in atomic weapons had given her a sense of unquestionable military supremacy in the world.
  • The US monopoly in atomic weapons was broken when; in 1949 the USSR conducted an atomic test. The USSR announced in September 1949 that, she had tested atomic bomb. US were shocked at the news which was used to exacerbate further the fear of communism. During the next few years’ severe panic developed in USA. The US government leaders, some members of the US congress and sections of the mass media added to the panic by spreading stories of soviet agents subverting US security by infiltrating the US administration.
  • The Soviet Union’s success in developing the US security by infiltrating the US administration. The Soviet Union’s success in developing the atomic bomb was attributed solely to the leaking out of British and US atomic secrets by spies to the Soviet Union. The loyalty of many scientists and others who had been associated with the atomic bomb project was suspected and some of them were tried and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment and even death. Some of the leading scientists of the time held the view that even though there was truth in the charges of espionage and some atomic secrets were leaked out to the Soviet Union, this would have made little material difference to soviet scientists and technological capability in making the atomic bomb as soviet scientists had started working towards it almost at the same time as the scientists in the US. It was also pointed out by many public figures that the US, the Soviet Union and Britain had been allies during the war sharing of secrets with allies could not be held treasonable. The spy scare was, however, whipped up and used to further worsen the climate of fear and hostility to the Soviet Union.

Emergence of China as a Communist power

  • In 1949 Mao’s Red Army defeated the US-backed Kuomintang regime in China. Shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union created an alliance with the newly formed People’s Republic of China. Confronted with the Chinese Revolution and the end of the US atomic monopoly in 1949, the Truman administration quickly moved to escalate and expand the containment policy. In a secret 1950 document, NSC-68, Truman administration officials proposed to reinforce pro-Western alliance systems and quadruple spending on defence.
  • US officials moved thereafter to expand “containment” into Asia, and Latin America. At the same time, revolutionary nationalist movements, often led by Communist parties, were fighting against the restoration of Europe’s colonial empires in South-East Asia. The US formalized an alliance with Japan in the early 1950s, thereby guaranteeing the United States a number of long-term military bases. Truman also brought other states, including Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines, into a series of alliances.

Change in US policy from containment to active opposition

The war in Korea (1950-53)

  • The fear of communism led the US to intervene in the affairs of Asian countries and the cold war was brought to Asia. Seeing every issue in terms of the cold war, the United States also came in conflict with anti-colonial nationalist struggles for freedom and with many independent nations which were trying to strengthen their national independence and to assert their independent role in world affairs.
  • The first war in which the US got directly involved was the war in Korea. In June 1950, war broke out between the two, each side blaming the other for the war. It is, however generally agreed that the war was started by North Korea. This was the view of the United Nations Security Council which voted to assist South Korea. However, it may be remembered that the Security Council’s support of South Korea had become possible due to the Soviet Union’s decision at the time to boycott the United Nations for its refusal to admit China. Within two months, the North Korean armies had swept across almost entire South Korea, the South Korean capital, having fallen during the first three days of the war. However, the US army, navy and air force intervened in the war massively and North Korean troops were pushed back. The US forces now carried the war inside North Korea. At this time, the Chinese troops moved in and the US troops were forced back. From mid-1951, the war entered a stalemate. There were negotiations for an armistice in which India played an important role. The armistice was signed in July 1953 which restored the position that existed before the war.
  • The Korean War was the first major war after 1945 and the first one in which the US had taken part in a massive way and had suffered heavy casualties. In spite of the heavy casualties, it may be remembered that the Korean War was a localized war. There was every danger that it might turn into a general war. General Mac Arthur who commanded US troops in the Korean War wanted to invade china. There was also a danger that the US might use atomic weapons in the war. In 1953, the Korean War ended in stalemate, but the US gradually got itself entangled in another civil war. The US supported the South Vietnamese government against North Vietnam, which was backed by the Soviet Union and China.

Crisis and escalation (1953-1962)

  • In 1953 changes in political leadership on both sides shifted the dynamic of the Cold War. Dwight D. Eisenhower became US President in January 1953. During the last 18 months of the Truman administration, the US defense budget had quadrupled; and Eisenhower resolved to reduce military spending by brandishing the United States’ nuclear superiority while continuing to fight the Cold War effectively. In March Joseph Stalin died, and the Soviets, now led by Nikita Khrushchev, moved away from Stalin’s policies.
  • There was a slight relaxation of tensions after Stalin’s death in 1953, but the Cold War in Europe remained an uneasy armed truce. US troops seemed stationed indefinitely in West Germany and Soviet forces seemed indefinitely stationed throughout Eastern Europe. To counter West German rearmament, the Soviets established a formal alliance with the Eastern European Communist states termed the as Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization or Warsaw Pact in 1955. In 1956, the status quo was briefly threatened in Hungary, when the Soviets invaded rather than allow the Hungarians to move out of their orbit (Hungarian Revolution of 1956). Berlin remained divided and contested. In 1961, the East Germans erected the “Berlin Wall” to prevent the movement of East Berliners into West Berlin.
  • The US foreign policy during this period was dominated by John Foster Dulles who was the US Secretary of state from 1953 to 1959. He considered the US policy of containment of communism as inadequate and advocated a more aggressive policy of rolling back communism by liberating people from what he considered communist tyranny. Dulles initiated a “New Look” for the “containment” strategy, calling for a greater reliance on nuclear weapons to counter US enemies. Dulles enunciated the doctrine of “massive retaliation,” threatening a severe US response to any Soviet aggression. He also enunciated the doctrine of brinkmanship which meant pushing the Soviet Union on the brink of war to force her to grant concessions. He claimed that the ability to get to the verge of war without getting into war was the necessary art for a statesman.
  • During this period the race for armaments had reached a new stage. In November, 1952 the US tested her first thermonuclear bomb. The Soviet Union followed soon after in August 1953. The destructive power of these bombs was many times more than that of the atom bomb dropped at Nagasaki. The doctrine of brinkmanship, when the two antagonistic powers possessed these weapons, was fraught with dangers. The development of these weapons was sought to be justified by the doctrines of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and nuclear deterrence. The acronym MAD reflected the true nature of this doctrine. The second doctrine meant that the possession of nuclear weapon by a country was a deterrent to any possible invasion by another. It was the belief in this doctrine that led Britain to develop her independent deterrent in 1957, France and China later followed.




Formation of SEATO & CENTO

  • The US also started forming military alliance in every part of the world, and establishing her military bases encircling the Soviet Union and China. In 1954 the South East Asia Treaty organization (SEATO) was set up, comprising Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand the Philippines and the United States. In 1955 the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) was established. These military alliances were used to maintain many undemocratic regimes in Asia. The massive inputs of arms in these countries created tensions between the members of these alliances and their neighbors. Later, the countries viewed alliances as sources of tensions in their region and the world and as threats their independence.


The Vietnam War

  • The policy of containment led to the US involvement in a protracted war in Vietnam. In September, 1945, Ho Chi Minh, the nationalistic communist leader, had declared the independence of Vietnam and set up the democratic republic of Vietnam. The French tried to restore their rule there after the war. In this, they were aided by Britain and later, by the US. Thus from 1946, France was drawn into a war. Because the nationalist forces in Vietnam were led by the communist party, Dulles advocated direct involvement of the US in the Vietnam war and continued to press France to continue the war in which the US provided the funds. The Vietnamese forces led by Ho Chi Minh received help from the soviet union and china but they relied mainly on their own strength and the popular support they enjoyed within. In July, 1954 an agreement was signed at Geneva according to which French rule in Vietnam ended. Vietnam was temporarily divided into North Vietnam and South Vietnam but the country was to be reunited after elections which would be held in 1956.
  • However, the US started building South Vietnam as an independent state under the dictatorial and corrupt rule of Ngo Dinh Diem. It was universally believed that Ho Chi Minh’s party was certain to win the elections. Diem’s government, on the advice of and with the support of the US refused to comply with the decision to hold elections. The US started building the South Vietnamese army to resist the North Vietnamese army. In spite of US support, Diem’s government was on the verge of collapse in 1963 due to its growing unpopularity.
  • The US policy makers advocated what was called the “domino theory”. According to this theory, if South Vietnam fell to the communists, all other south-east Asian countries would also collapse and come under communist rule and this would lead to the expansion of communism all over Asia. The US started sending her own troops; to begin with as military advisers, but by the end of 1967, the number of US troops fighting in Vietnam had gone up to 500,000.
  • The US war in Vietnam was the most unpopular US war in history. It was condemned by people all over the world, including in the United States. No other single event in the years after 1945 had united people all over the world as the opposition to the war in Vietnam. The US troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1973. By April 1975, the South Vietnamese army was routed and the last of the US advisers also left. Vietnam soon emerged as a united country. The defeat of the greatest military power in the world by the people of a small country in Asia was an event of great significance in the history of the contemporary world.


Conflict in the Arab world

  • The conflict found expression in Arab world too. The main cause of conflict in the Arab world during the post-war period was the hostility of the United States and her allies to the spread of Arab nationalism. This was done in the name of preventing communism the western countries determination to retain their control over the oil resources of this region was great. The state of Israel, the main ally of the US was another major source of tension in this area.
  • In November 1947, the United Nations had agreed to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. However, on 14 may 1948, Britain which held Palestine as a mandate withdrew from there before partition could be affected. The Jewish state of Israel was proclaimed which was recognized by the United States the very next day.
  • The establishment of the state of Israel was followed by an Arab – Israel war (1956) in which the Arabs were deprived of their lands and homes and over a million of them had to live as refugees in other Arab countries. on 29, October 1956, Israel invaded Egypt and on the next day British and French troops were landed there to occupy the Suez Canal. the British – French – Israel invasion of Egypt aroused world – wide protests, including in Britain and France. The United Nations, with the support of the US, also condemned the invasion. on 5, November, the soviet union issued an ultimatum to the invaders to withdraw from Egypt and threatened to use missiles to defend Egypt.
  • On 7, November 1956, the British-French military operations in Egypt were ended and their troops were withdrawn. Egypt and Israel agreed to a cease-fire.
  • With the help of the US, Israel began to be built up as a powerful state in the region. The Arab states refused to recognize the state of Israel and the Arab nationalists viewed her as an instrument to curb the rising strength of Arab nationalism.
  • In 1967, another war broke out between Israel on one side and Egypt, Jordan and Syria on the other. This is known as the six day war. The Arab states were defeated and Israel occupied Egyptian territory in the Sinai Peninsula. The Palestinian territory on the west bank of the river Jordan (from Jordan) and Gaza strip, and a part of the territory of Syria called heights; Israel also established her control over the entire city of Jerusalem.
  • In 1973, there was another Arab-Israel war. During this war, the oil-producing Arab states announced that they would stop shipment of oil to countries which were supporting Israel. This meant mainly the United States and her NATO allies. The European members of NATO, however, refused to align themselves with the US in her support to Israel and US herself was compelled to persuade Israel to agree to a cease – fire. Israel has refused to vacate the many Arab territories that she occupied during the wars in 1956, 1967 and 1973.
  • Egypt, under the leadership of Colonel Abdul Nasser, represented the forces of nationalism in the 1950s and the 1960s. Britain, in 1954, was asked to withdraw her troops from Egypt. At this time, Egypt also began to build her independent military strength with the help of arms from the Soviet Union. The US had offered to help Egypt build the Aswan Dam. Egypt started receiving soviet arms and US aid for the Aswan dam was stopped. on 26, July 1956, the Suez Canal was nationalized. The end of the 1956 war in Egypt was acclaimed as a victory of Arab nationalism. It also led to led strengthening of the soviet influence in the region. Egypt turned to the Soviet Union for help in building the Aswan dam. Nasser also tried to strengthen Arab unity by uniting various Arab states. The US, alarmed at this development, proclaimed what is called the Eisenhower doctrine, named after the US president. According to this doctrine, the US decided to give economic and military aid to the countries in the region to protect them from what it called international communism. In July 1958, however, the pro-western government in Iraq was overthrown. U.S. and British troops were sent to Lebanon and Jordan to prevent the pro-western government of these countries from falling.


Cuban missile crisis

  • One of the most serious crises in the history of the post-Second World War occurred on the issue of installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba. The development of nuclear weapons had been accompanied by the development of new systems of delivery, that is, of means of dropping these weapons. For this purpose, missiles were developed. The US had set up these missile aimed at soviet targets at the bases which she had in different parts of the world. The Soviet Union generally had no bases outside and her missiles sites were within her own territory. Each side also had submarines carrying these nuclear missiles. The range of these missiles was limited, say a few hundred kilometers, which had made the setting up of bases near the territory of the enemy countries necessary. New technology for spying on other countries had also been developed.
  • In January 1959, there was a revolution in Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro. The United States turned hostile to Cuba when the new government started adopting radical social and economic measures, introducing agrarian reforms, and nationalizing industries. Another reason was the friendly relations which the new government began to have with the Soviet Union and china. The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961 and stopped all economic relations with her. In April 1961, she landed 2000 Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba to overthrow the Cuban government. However, the invasion ended in a fiasco and within two days it was crushed. Even though the entire world had condemned the US for the invasion of Cuba, its intention of overthrowing the Cuban government continued. John F. Kennedy; the US president at that time had openly declared after the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion, “We do not intend to abandon Cuba to the communists”. This was the background of the crisis which broke out in October 1962.
  • While the Soviet Union was surrounded by US bases including those with nuclear missiles, the Soviet Union had no bases anywhere near US territory. In October 1962, the US found, from the pictures taken by her spy planes, that the Soviet Union was building missile sites in Cuba which is less than 150 km from the southernmost part of the US. All through the wars which the US had fought her own territory had been inviolable and all the wars had been fought far away. the installation of missiles in Cuba would bring US territory within easy range of attack. This was perceived as a serious threat to the security of the US.
  • Although the Soviet Union had done for the first time what the US had been doing all along i.e. establishing military bases in other countries, it created the danger of a war between the US and the Soviet Union, something which had not happened in spite of various tensions and conflicts between them. Such a war would have endangered all humanity. On 22 October 1962, president Kennedy announced a naval and air blockade around Cuba which meant that the US would stop and ship or aircraft moving towards Cuba, the US also prepared to launch an attack on the missiles sites in Cuba.
  • This crisis, which had brought the world close to disaster, however, ended on 26 October. In that the Soviet Union would remove her missiles from Cuba if the US pledged not to attack Cuba. This was agreed to and crisis was over. The US also agreed to withdraw the missiles which she had installed in Turkey, close to soviet territory.


From confrontation through détente (1962-1979)

  • In the course of the 1960s and 1970s both the US and the soviet union struggled to adjust to a new, more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer divided into two clearly opposed blocs by the two superpowers. Since the beginning of the post-war period, Western Europe and Japan rapidly recovered from the destruction of World War II and sustained strong economic growth through the 1950s and 1960s, increasing their strength compared to the United States. As a result of the 1973 oil crisis, combined with the growing influence of Third World alignments such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries (OPEC) and the Non-Aligned Movement, less-powerful countries had more room to assert their independence and often showed them resistant to pressure from either superpower. Moscow, meanwhile, was forced to turn its attention inward to deal with the Soviet Union’s deep-seated domestic economic problems. During this period, soviet leaders such as Alexei Kosygin and Leonid Brezhnev embraced the notion of détente.
  • Nevertheless, both superpowers resolved to reinforce their global leadership. Both the Soviet Union and the United States struggled to stave off challenges to their leadership in their own regions. President Lyndon B. Johnson landed 22,000 troops in the Dominican Republic, citing the threat of the emergence of a Cuban-style revolution in Latin America. In Eastern Europe, the soviets in 1968 crushed the Prague Spring reform movement in Czechoslovakia that might have threatened to take the country out of the Warsaw Pact.
  • The US continued to spend heavily on supporting friendly Third World regimes in Asia. Conflicts in peripheral regions and client states—most prominently in Vietnam—continued. Johnson stationed 575,000 troops in Southeast Asia to defeat the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) and their North Vietnamese allies, but his costly policy weakened the US economy and, by 1975, ultimately culminated in what most of the world saw as a humiliating defeat of the world’s most powerful superpower at the hands of one of the world’s poorest nations. Brezhnev, meanwhile, faced far more daunting challenges in reviving the soviet economy, which was declining in part because of heavy military expenditures.
  • Although indirect conflict between Cold War powers continued through the late 1960s and early 1970s, tensions began to ease, as the period of détente began. The Chinese had sought improved relations with the US in order to gain advantage over the soviets. In February 1972, Richard Nixon travelled to Beijing and met with Mao Zedong and Chou En-Lai. Nixon and Henry Kissinger then announced a stunning rapprochement with Mao’s China.
  • Later, in June, Nixon and Kissinger met with Soviet leaders I Moscow, and announced the first of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, aimed at limiting the development of costly antiballistic missiles and offensive nuclear missiles. Between 1972 and 1974, the two sides also agreed to strengthen their economic ties. Meanwhile, these developments coincided with the “Ostpolitik” of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Other agreements were concluded to stabilize the situation in Europe, culminating in the Helsinki Accords signed by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975.
  • However, the détente of the 1970s was short-lived. The US congress limited the economic pact between Nixon and Brezhnev so much that the soviet repudiated it in 1975. Indirect conflict between the superpowers continued through this period of détente in the Third World, particularly during political crises in the Middle East, Chile and Angola. While president jimmy carter tried to place another limit on the arms race with a SALT II agreement in 1979, his efforts were undercut by the other events that year, including the Iranian Revolution and the Nicaraguan Revolution, which both ousted pro-US regimes and his retaliation against soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December.


The “Second Cold War” (1979-1985)

  • In November 1982 American ten-year-old Samantha Smith wrote a letter to the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov expressing her fear of nuclear war, and pleading with him to work toward peace. Andropov himself replied, and gave her a personal invitation to visit the country. Smith’s visit was one of few prominent attempts to improve relations between the superpowers during Andropov’s brief leadership from 1982-1984 at a dangerously low point in US-Soviet relations.
  • The term “second Cold War” has been used by some historians to refer to the period of intensive reawakening of Cold War tensions in the early 1980s. In 1980 Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, vowing to increase military spending and confront the Soviets everywhere. Both Reagan and Britain’s new Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, denounced the Soviet Union in ideological terms that rivaled that of the worst days of the cold war in the late 1940s.


KAL 007 and the deployment of missiles in Western Europe

  • With the background of the build-up of tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, NATO decided, under the impetus of the Reagan presidency, to deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe, primarily West Germany. This deployment would have placed missiles just 6 minutes striking distance from Moscow, the capitol of the “Evil Empire”, as Reagan had termed it. Yet support for the deployment was wavering and many doubted whether the push for deployment could be sustained. But on Sept. 1, 1983, the Soviet Union shoot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, a Boeing 747 with 269 people aboard, in international waters just past the west coast of Sakhalin Island – an act which Reagan characterized as a “massacre”. The barbarity of this act, as the U.S. and indeed the world understood it, galvanized support for the deployment – which stood in place until the later accords between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Reagan spent $2.2 trillion for the military over eight years. Military spending, combined with the legacy of the economic structural problems of the 1970s, transformed the US from the world’s leading creditor in 1981 to the world’s leading debtor. Tensions intensified in the early 1980s when Reagan installed US cruise missiles in Europe and announced his experimental Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed “Star Wars” by the media, to shoot down missiles in mid-flight. Reagan also imposed economic sanctions to protest the suppression of the opposition Solidarity movement in Poland.
  • US domestic public concerns about intervening in foreign conflicts persisted from the end of the Vietnam war. But Reagan did not encounter major public opposition to his foreign policies. The Reagan administration emphasized the use of quick, low cost counterinsurgency tactics to intervene in foreign conflicts. In 1983, the Reagan administration intervened in the multisided Lebanese Civil War, invaded Grenada, bombed Libya and backed the Central American Contras—right-wing paramilitaries seeking to overthrow the soviet-aligned Sandinista government in Nicaragua. While Reagan’s interventions against Grenada and Libya were popular in the US, his backing of the Contra rebels was mired in controversy. In 1985, the president authorized the sale of arms to Iran; later, administration subordinates illegally diverted the proceeds to the Contras.
  • Meanwhile, the Soviets incurred high costs for their own foreign interventions. Although Brezhnev was convinced in 1979 that the Soviet war in Afghanistan would be brief, Muslim guerrillas waged a surprisingly fierce resistance against the invasion. The Kremlin sent nearly 100,000 troops to support its puppet regime in Afghanistan, leading many outside observers to call the war the Soviets’ Vietnam. However, Moscow’s quagmire in Afghanistan was far more disastrous for the Soviets than Vietnam had been for the Americans because the conflict coincided with a period of internal decay and domestic crisis in the soviet system. A high US state department official predicted such an outcome as early as 1980, positing that the invasion resulted in part from a “domestic crisis within the Soviet system…It may be that the thermodynamic law of entropy has…caught up with the soviet system, which now seems to expend more energy on simply maintaining its equilibrium than on improving itself. We could,” he construed, “be seeing a period of foreign movement at a time of internal decay.”


End of the Cold War

  • By the early 1980s, the soviet armed forces were the largest in the world by many measures—in terms of the numbers and types of weapons they possessed, in the number of troops in their ranks, and in the sheer size of their military-industrial base. However, the quantitative advantages held by the soviet military often concealed areas where the Eastern bloc dramatically lagged behind the West. This led many US observers to vastly overestimate soviet power.
  • By the late years of the Cold War, Moscow had built up a military that consumed as much as twenty-five percent of the soviet union’s gross national product at the expense of consumer goods and investment in civilian sectors. But the size of the soviet armed forces was not necessarily the result of a simple action-reaction arms race with the United States. Instead, soviet spending on the arms race and other Cold War commitments can be understood as both a cause and effect of the deep-seated structural during the Brezhnev years. Soviet investment in the defense sector was not necessarily driven by military necessity, but in large part by the interests of massive party and state bureaucracies dependent on the sector for their own power and privileges.
  • By the time Mikhail Gorbachev had ascended to power in 1985, the soviets suffered from an economic growth rate close to zero percent, combined with a sharp fall in hard currency earnings as a result of the downward slide in world oil prices in the 1980s. (Petroleum exports made up around 60 percent of the Soviet Union’s total export earnings.) To restructure the soviet economy before it collapsed, Gorbachev announced an agenda of rapid from costly Cold War military commitments to more profitable areas in the civilian sector. As a result, Gorbachev offered major concessions to the United States on the levels of conventional forces, nuclear weapons, and policy in Eastern Europe.
  • Many US soviet experts and administration officials doubted that Gorbachev was serious about winding down the arms race but the new soviet leader eventually proved more concerned about reversing the Soviet Union’s deteriorating economic condition than fighting the arms race with the West. The Kremlin made major military and political concessions; in response Reagan agreed to renew talks on economic issues and the scaling-back of the arms race. The East-West tensions that had reached intense new heights earlier in the decade rapidly subsided through the mid-to-late 1980s. In 1988, the Soviet officially declared that they would no longer intervene in the affairs of allied states in Eastern Europe – the so-called Sinatra Doctrine. In 1989, soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan.
  • In December 1989, Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush declared the Cold War officially over at a summit meeting in Malta. But by then, the soviet alliance system was on the brink of collapse, and the Communist leaders of the Warsaw Pact states were losing power. In the USSR itself, Gorbachev tried to reform the party to destroy resistance to his reforms, but, in doing so, ultimately weakened the bonds that held the state and union together. By February 1990, the Communist Party was forced to surrender its 73-year old monopoly on state power. By December of the next year, the union-stat also dissolved, breaking the USSR up into fifteen separate independent states. With the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of Soviet Union the Cold War came to an end.