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Friday, March 4, 2011

Cold War-Impacts

The Cold War was a period of tension and hostility between the United States of America and the Soviet Union from the mid-40s to the late 80s. It began with the end of the Second World War. It was called the Cold War because there was no active war between the two nations, which was probably due to the fear of nuclear escalation. There were many indirect conflicts like the Vietnam and Korea wars. There was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 which was the closest the world ever came to a nuclear war. An American U2 spy plane took photographs of Soviet intermediate ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads. The Soviet Union sent a total of 42 medium range missiles and 24 intermediate range missiles to Cuba. The US threatened to invade Cuba over the issue. Ultimately the Soviets removed the missiles on America’s promise of not invading Cuba.

Although the Soviet Union and China started off as allies in 1949 there emerged an estrangement between them, which was cleverly exploited by the Americans. The US formed an alliance with China in 1971 to contain the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1980, which led to the United States and its allies boycotting the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow. In retaliation, the Soviet Union and its allies boycotted the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles, USA. The US financed and armed the Afghan guerrillas to fight against the Soviet troops. The Afghan War was a major factor in bankrupting the Soviet Union.

In the '80s President Ronald Reagan of the US dubbed the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and predicted that it would be consigned to the ash heap of history. He announced a major weapons buildup and the SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) also dubbed "Star Wars". The Soviet Union was too economically enfeebled to reply in kind. In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union. He adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the Americans and many arms reduction pacts were signed. In 1989 there was a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and in 1990 the Soviets agreed to the reunification of Germany. Movements against communist governments in Eastern Europe followed this. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 marking the end of the Cold War.

Causes of the Cold War

1. The Soviet Union wanted to spread its ideology of communism worldwide, which alarmed the Americans who followed democracy.

2. The acquisition of atomic weapons by America caused fear in the Soviets.

3. Both countries feared an attack from each other.

4. The Soviet Union’s action of taking control over Eastern Europe was a major factor for US suspicions.

5. The US President had a personal dislike of the Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

6. America was annoyed by the Soviet Union’s actions in the part of Germany it had occupied.

7. The Soviets feared that America would use Western Europe as a base to attack it.

8. American fear of communist attack

9. Truman’s dislike of Stalin

10. Russia’s fear of the American's atomic bomb

11. Russia’s dislike of capitalism

12. Russia’s actions in the Soviet zone of Germany

13. America’s refusal to share nuclear secrets

14. Russia’s expansion west into Eastern Europe + broken election promises

15. Russia’s fear of American attack

16. Russia’s need for a secure western border

17. Russia’s aim of spreading world communism

Effects of the Cold War

1. Both the United States of America and the Soviet Union built up huge arsenals of atomic weapons and ballistic missiles.

2. The military blocs NATO and The Warsaw Pact were formed

3. It led to destructive conflicts like the Vietnam War and the Korean War.

4. The Soviet Union collapsed due to economic weaknesses.

5. The Berlin Wall was demolished and the two German nations were unified.

6. The Warsaw Pact disintegrated.

7. The Baltic States and some former Soviet republics achieved independence.

8. America became the sole superpower of the world.

9. Communism collapsed worldwide.

The Cold War indeed took a heavy economic toll on the world. Let's hope that nations learn to live in peace in the 21st century, as there are no winners in a nuclear war.

The Cold War had a vast impact on the developing nations, with vastly differing outcomes depending on all manner of factors: the geopolitics of the time, perceived strategic importance and so on. To give a 'broad brush' overview of the differences, one can look at the different regions of the devloping world and how the impact was vastly different:

East Asia

In East Asia, China fell to the Communists in 1949. The countries around 'Red China' hurried to form alliances either with the US or with each other against the threat. It is often noted that Japan (though not technically a developing country in the 1950s, but still struggling to rebuild after WW2) was helped in this respect by the conflict in Korea, which boosted Japanese exports - an oft-quoted example being early transistor radios for American GIs. South Korea itself directly received large amounts of US aid.

South East Asia

In South East Asia, the Cold War had widely differing effects. Vietnam suffered several decades of bloody conflict that cost the lives of millions of Vietnamese people, as the US and its allies tried - ultimately unsuccessfully - to prevent reunification of the country under a Communist government. This conflict spilled over into Laos and Cambodia, which also both turned Communist in the mid 1970s (at the same time as the war in Vietnam ended). In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, in attempting to implement an agrarian 'workers' paradise', killed millions of Cambodians through starvation and genocide - a legacy that means that Cambodia still ranks among the world's poorest countries.

In neighbouring Thailand though, the story was happier - American aid, economic and military, flowed in to prevent this 'bastion of democracy' from falling to Communism. This led to high economic growth, and Communism was successfully repulsed. Many note though that, ironically, in order to keep Communism out and 'democracy' in, the country was ruled for most of the latter 20th Century by a military junta (which only last year - 2006 - seized power again from the democratically elected government) Others note that increased Western influence in Thailand - in particular the presence of US military personnel - led directly to the rise of HIV AIDS and the sex industry in Thailand.

A similar story to the Philippines, where US support kept the highly corrupt and undemocratic Marcos in power for a generation. Like Thailand however, this must be viewed against a story of fairly high economic growth.

Further to the south in South East Asia, Malaysia (with British military assistance) successfully crushed a Communist insurgency in a long 'Emergency' that lasted over the 1950s. With Communism crushed, Malaysia successfully implemented a high growth strategy that even now propels it forwards in terms of economic growth, but as with Thailand, it's democratic records is more questionable. Indonesia's brutal suppression of domestic Communists (with a massive death toll) was so bloody as to equal some of the worst excesses of Communism elsewhere.

Central and South America

In Central (and to a lesser extent South) America, the struggle against Communism and Communist insurgencies lead to US interventions which often resulted in protracted and bloody civil wars.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Across sub-Saharan Africa did the Cold War have perhaps the most enduring negative impact on the developing world. Cold War rivalries encountered newly-independent countries still struggling to find their feet. Both Communists and the 'Free World' found their champions in either the governments or 'freedom movements' in each particular country. Arms, money and other forms of support flowed, and the picture was (and still is) complicated further by the resource-rich nature of many of the countries involved. The results were often catastrophic - Angola, for example, suffered one of the longest conflicts in modern history. Unlike in certain parts of East and South East Asia, there were very few Cold War 'success stories' in sub-Saharan Africa, as superpower interference had a negative influence almost everywhere.

The Cold War existed between the 1940s to the 1990s. It was a conflict between the United States and the USSR together with their respective allies. The powers at war engaged in boosting their respective defense systems that led to massive spending of their national resources.The Cold War was firmly expressed through propaganda, military coalitions, weapons development, espionage, industrial advances as well as technological development. Such activities successfully heightened further competition and tension between the warring parties.

The cold war led to numerous proxy wars, and new developments in both nuclear and conventional arms. Hence, because of the Cold War, numerous countries in the world today possess nuclear weapons that pose a great threat to world existence.

The Cold War also led to significant effects in neighboring countries as well as those far away. Such international crises as the Korean War, the Berlin Blockade, the Vietnam War, the Berlin crisis, and Soviet's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 were a direct manifestation of the cold war. Quite a number of countries experienced massive losses in wealth and life at such times.

Yet another adverse effect of the war was the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 that widely drew fears of an impending Third World War. In addition, in November 1983, a ten-day NATO command exercise that spanned a major part of Western Europe simulated a time of conflict escalation, with heightened nuclear alerts, which finally culminated in a well-coordinated nuclear release.

At the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, several counties including the Soviet Union suffered monumental economic stagnation as a direct result of investment in the war. The effects of the war are far reaching and they contributed to the final collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, leaving the US as a sole superpower.

Lecture notes prepared by Biju P R,Assistant Professor in Political Science,Govt Brennen College Thalassery

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