Cold War and Decolonization
After the end of World War II, the world somehow split into two halves and two large groups of countries were formed: the communist block and the western democratic-capitalist states. The first block was led by the Soviet Union, which developed its economy and military force that was equal to the one from the US. Another block was led by the United States of America and included other countries such as Great Britain and France, as well as the defeated post-fascism countries like Germany. The aim of this block was to enforce the necessary reforms in the world in order to save the capitalistic order among its countries.
There was a third block too. It included ex-colonial countries that had to choose which block to join: communist or capitalist. And even if they chose one, for example communist, they had to choose whether to ally with the USSR or with China – its competitor.
World War II was the reason of the biggest ever human tolls caused by any previous conflicts. Mobilized people losses were over 17 million people while over 40 million of civil population of the world died. Also, this number includes 6 million Jews who perished during the Nazi Holocaust.
One of the reasons why the US was able to take of role of the world superpower is that its territory was untouched by military actions. However, even though the USSR was suffering from losses after the war, it still managed to spread its power as well (in Asia and in Europe).
We can say that the world had a somewhat bipolar order, but still the two superpowers were even cooperating in some way and recognized each other.
One of the steps to cooperate in order to maintain peace in the world undertaken by the representatives of both blocks was the Yalta Conference in 1945. “The Big Three” – Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin negotiated and decided upon creating an international organization – The United Nations Organizations. Its principles were somehow based on the previous formation – the League of Nations.
However, soon after Roosevelt’s death, the USSR and the US relationships began cooling down which later resulted in the beginning of the Cold War. Both sides had its reasons for it: Russia was fearing Western intervention in its deals and the West did not want to allow the spread of communism regime in the world. One of the causes for the beginning of this war was Stalin’s policies: he refused to hold free democratic elections in the countries and he also imposed communism regimes on countries like Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Yugoslavia, Albania, and later – Czechoslovakia, which later resulted in statements about him lowering “the Iron Curtain” between the East and the West. Also, later misunderstandings between the USSR and the US resulted in a terrible civil war in Greece.
One of the final steps in separating the world into two blocks was the division of Germany into FRG – the Federal Republic of Germany, and GDR – German Democratic Republic. On the border between there was built the Berlin Wall in order to prevent people fleeing to the more developed part – FRG. Czechoslovakia and Hungary literally had barbed wire and watchtowers on the border with other western states. The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 symbolized the Iron Curtain and when it was destroyed in 1989, the whole world felt that the Iron Curtain fell down too.
Development of nuclear power imposed a lot of fear on both sides. Both blocks were rather advanced in technologies. The US created the first hydrogen bomb, which, as the US government has revealed, released energy hundreds of times bigger than of the bomb in Hiroshima. The USSR, in its turn, created the first artificial satellite Sputnik.
Through time the capitalist bloc acquired the name “the West” and the communist bloc was very often referred to as “the East”, or “the socialist camp”.
After the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, a lot of parts of the communist bloc started undertaking their actions independently, for example – Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia. And the successor of Stalin – Nikita Khrushchev – led a policy of “thaw”, which was aimed to relax the relationship between the two blocs. However, this did not mean that there was a tendency of weakening the Soviet power. Soviet military interventions continued, for example – in Czechoslovakia to suppress the movement of liberalization in 1968.
The “Brezhnev Doctrine” was the policy held by Khrushchev’s successor – Leonid Brezhnev. Brezhnev declared that his country had a right to intervene in any European country where socialism was in danger.
China – the most populated country on Earth – went through considerable changes as well. Mao Zedong’s revolutionary forces defeated the Nationalist movement of Chiang Kai-shek, who later had to flee to an island of Taiwan with his army where they formed an independent state with Taipei as a capital. China was now becoming another superpower and the US was really concerned about their relationships. A lot of countries in the world viewed China as a strategic commerce partner. And even though some presidents of the US aimed for non-relaxed ties with China, Richard Nixon decided to change the policy and paid an official visit to Beijing in 1972. This was the beginning of “friendship” with China and now there was a triangle of somehow tightened relationship – the US, the USSR and China. And later this tension started easing and got the name of détente, started with a summit in Helsinki in 1975.
A lot of European countries started forming their own economic and political blocs. For example, in 1957, six European countries – France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Italy – formed the European Economic Community (EEC). It was later joined by Greece, Spain and Portugal. The aim of this formation was to allow free trade between the member countries and to make it possible to capitals and labor to move inside its frontiers.
France, being a part of EEC, at some point became independent from NATO’s influence. The French President – Charles de Gaulle – eliminated the presences of NATO in France and the country started having its own nuclear power. The policy imposed by de Gaulle was also followed by other French leaders after him.
Between the 1940’s and the 1960’s there was a period of decolonization of the world. A lot of countries, among which there were the ones defeated during the war, decided to gave up their colonies. It was a great chance for the colonies to finally became fully independent state. And for the former empires it was a good chance to get rid of their colonies that now were a burden rather than an advantage for them.
Great Britain is one of the examples of a decolonized empire. It gradually gave independences to its colonies which now form a Commonwealth of countries.
A huge step for decolonization of Britain (and the whole world in general) was the independence of India. However, its way to independence was not so easy. For example, due to misunderstandings between the majority of Hindu and the Muslims a part of India’s land separated from it to form an independent state – Pakistan. Pakistan, in its turn, had some rebellions against its government which later resulted in the formation of one more country – Bangladesh. And India itself was going through difficulties in its politics and economy. A prime minister, who was not liked by certain groups, was shot.
A lot of countries in Africa, for example Ghana and Nigeria, became independent, too. However, it was not an easy process for all of them. As a lot of people had moved to Africa from Great Britain, Africa was now there home and it was not easy to withdraw them back making them lose their property and position. One of the countries, for which gaining independence was not an easy process, was Kenya where the black population rebelled against the whites taking over power.
South Africa also had a lot of difficulties in the period of decolonization. It had the largest amount of white population in Africa. Part of its white population was form Great Britain, and another really big part of it consisted of people that were Dutch. The whites organized the policy of “apartheid” , which was “separate development”. It meant that the blacks were not allowed to vote, they had to live and exist separately from the white population and had to carry around special passes for the blacks. One of the leaders of protesters – Nelson Mandela – was thrown to prison for twenty-five years but later became the President of the country and ended the awful notion of apartheid.
Palestine was, and still is, going through tough times as well. The territory of the country originally belonged to Jews, but with time there were more and more Muslims with the rise of Islam. However, inspired by the Zionist ideals, the Jews decided that it was the time for them to return to the so-called “Promised Land”. This is when the war broke out. Even though with the help of United Nations the territory was separated into Palestine (for Muslims) and Israel (for Jews) even now there is a constant misunderstanding and fighting between these two peoples. Since 1946 there have been bombings and terrorist attacks from both sides.
Israel has managed to gain recognition of the majority of non-Islamic states of the world. And also there were attempts to overthrow an Egyptian nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had nationalized the Suez Canal. This event was important for forming the policies of many countries in the world and for the establishment of diplomatic relationships the course of which is continuing until now. For example, Israel since then started relying on the help of the United States. Great Britain also decided that they could not act without the help of the US, and France realized that they have to act inside the frame of European Community.
A Six-Day War took place in Israel in 1967. And in 1973, Eguptians and Syrians opened a surprise attack on Israel during a national holiday Yon Kippur. With the help of the United States, Israel had a chance to fight the attacks off and gradually with the help of United Nations there was established a cease-fire. Later, Arab oil-exporting countries imposed embargoes for those countries that decided to support Israel in the conflict. And because the industrial world is very dependent on oil, Israel was forced to find ways for a peaceful agreement with Israel.
Egypt was shifting its preferences too. They now started supporting the US policies more that the USSR because they understood that the US was the only country on which Israel was relying.
During the course of time, Israel continued suffering from attacks of guerilla fighters. And the Israeli forces have also caused a lot of damage themselves to Lebanese civil population. During this period of time, one of the worst events in Marine Corps history of the United States happened. A suicide bomber drove a truck with explosives into a building with American soldiers in Lebanon and 240 marines died. And even though the US President did not want to eliminate the US presence in Lebanon, they soon left this territory. Israeli forces also left, only occupying a small piece of land there. And they also left that land in 2000 after peaceful negotiations with Syria.
Even though Great Britain was giving independence to all its colonies that later formed a Commonwealth, France, on the other hand, decided not to give up its colonies so quickly. They decided to form the so-called “French Union”. However, it was easy to do it only with countries that had a lot of respect for the French culture and that had a chance for French education.
France resorted to war actions in two countries: Algeria and Indochina. However, soon these countries gained their independence too. Algeria became independent in 1962 and Indochina (separated into Laos and Cambodia) became independent in1954. But there also was Vietnam that was on the brink of civil war between the communist north and non-communist South. France refused to participate in the conflict, and the United States decided to intrude. However, surprisingly, in this conflict victory was gained by the communists.
Still, some smaller European countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal were hoping to be able to get some of their colonial territories back to themselves. For example, the Netherlands were trying to establish control on some territories in the East, but soon they had to recognize a newly-formed independent country of Indonesia, where around one hundred people were living at that time.
Belgium was not prepared to give up their territory of Congo and to give them independence. However, they had to do it soon. And they also had to deal with another country forming by military rule – Zaire.
Angola and Mozambique that used to be colonies of Portugal, also gained their independence. And even though Portugal was absolutely against it, they still managed to do it, mostly with the help of guerilla attacks. In Mozambique, this process mostly had a peaceful character, but Angola had to go through war to finally get independence. There was a civil war between three competing parties. And also there was intervension form the side of Zaire, the United Stated, the USSR, Cuba and South Africa. Its official independence started only in 1991.
Namibia, a former German colony, also went through a hard time of gaining independence and finally received it only in 1990.
So, we can see that The basic, legal building blocks for the Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War were the bilateral ‘Treaties of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance’ between the states of East Central Europe and the Soviet Union (Selvage 2). And the whole world was also going through a difficult time of decolonization and it often involved bitter conflicts (Greer-Lewis 603).
Greer, Thomas H., and Lewis, Gavin. A Brief History of the Western World. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson, 2005. Print.
Selvage, Douglas. The Truth about Friendship Treaties: Behind the Iron Curtain. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.