The Cold war period can be described as the duration during there was political and military tension between USA and the Soviet Union. The war was between the Eastern bloc and the Western Bloc. The Eastern bloc primarily consisted of the Soviet Union, which included countries like Russia. The Western bloc, on the other hand, comprised of The United States of America and the National Alliance Treaty Organization (NATO). There are twenty-eight NATO member states, which include France, Italy, Canada, Germany, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal and Spain, just to mention a few(Kerkendall, 2010, p. 34). It is on this background that this paper seeks to determine or rather verify whether the cold war can be used as a tool of learning contemporary world politics.
The Cold War describes the relationship that existed between USA and The Soviet Union after World War 2, sometime between the year nineteen forty five and nineteen eighty. Despite its name, it was never a full blown out war, the warring sides never directly fought each other. They mostly used their allies to fight for the beliefs they strongly believed in. For instance, The Soviet Union was communist, while the United States of America was capitalist. When South Vietnam and North Vietnam was fighting, they played a big role. America supplied South Vietnam, which was anticommunist, with weapons while Russia and China supplied North Vietnam, which was pro communist, with weapons. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in nineteen seventy-nine, America supplied the rebel afghans with weapons. Therefore, the two sides never directly attacked each other but supported their respective allies against each other(Robin, 2009, pp. 126-128). Having fought side by side as allies during the world war two, the cold war between United States and America came as a surprise to many regular folk who did not know the underlying issues that caused it.
During World War 2, the two sides fought were allies mainly because they had a common enemy, Nazi Germany. They had issues they had not dealt with, and these issues started cropping out not only after the war, but even before it ended. Various factors caused the cold war; first, it was the mutual distrust and the suspicion of each other. These two factors greatly deepened the cold war. This lack of trust led either side to treat the other with great suspicion, and this made them act questionably. Other cause economic systems also contributed to the cold war. Communism can be described as a system where everything belongs to the community while the workers own the means of production. The communism system seeks social equality of everyone through economic equality. Through communism, the returns from any form of investment not only belongs to the owner, but also the laborers. Communists believed in an economy where the government controls everything (Bren & Neuberger, 2009, pp. 45-56). Capitalism, on the other hand, is the extreme opposite. Whereas communism advocates for communal ownership of property, capitalism is a system, which advocates for private ownership of means of production.
In this system, operations, investments of capital, production and distribution of commodities is determined by the free market, not the state. In fact, in a pure capitalist economy, things like roads and highways owned by the state, public works, public schools, unemployment compensation, and personnel insurance would not exist. Both America and the Soviet Union strongly believed that their economic systems were ideal for everyone. Soviet Union strongly disliked capitalism, and they wanted to spread communism throughout the world while America wanted their capitalism system. These varying ideals naturally clashed and contributed to the cold war.
America believed in personal freedom for everybody while the Soviet Union controlled their society using the secret police. This set of different beliefs also caused the different sides to clash. America believed the Soviet Union treated their citizens too ruthlessly and did not give them enough freedom to act as they pleased. The Soviet Union on the other hand thought America was too liberal with their citizens and felt that it was better to restrict the actions of the populace, giving them too much free will was wrong.
Another pair of different beliefs that clashed was the American belief of survival for the fittest and the Soviet Union’s belief of everybody helps everybody. America’s system for survival for the fittest believed that each and every person had to work hard, that the strongest survive any condition while those who are weak do not stand a chance. The Soviet Union believed in the exact opposite, that is, everyone had to help everyone, no one person struggles on his or her own.
The clash of the different beliefs aforementioned was one of the causes of the cold war; another cause included the fear of attacks (Bideleux, 2008, p. 134). The United States feared an attack by the communist Soviet Union while the Soviet Union also feared an attack by America. They lived in constant fear of each other. The Soviet Union also feared America because of their atomic bomb. They did not know how many they had or how to develop their own and America refused to share nuclear secrets. Refusal by America to share nuclear secrets agitated the Soviet Union, and it made them feel clueless and vulnerable. This, coupled with the fears from both sides, also caused the cold war.
The tense relationship between the then United States President Harry S. Truman and Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin also contributed to the cold war. Stalin started regarding the United States with great suspicion when during World War 2 President Truman told him about a terrifying weapon they would use to attack Japan, he only learned of the effects of this deadly weapon when reports on the Hiroshima attack reached Moscow. Truman did not like Stalin any more than Stalin liked him. When two powerful leaders do not agree and strongly dislike each other, a war is almost imminent.
The broken election promises by the Soviet Union and their determination to expand west into Eastern Europe also caused the cold war. America was not comfortable with their expansion into Eastern Europe because they did not agree with any ideals of the Soviet Union, and they did not want them to spread any of their ideals. They also did not want the Soviet Union growing stronger and bigger by conquering other regions (Berend, 2008, p. 162). America tried to stop them while Soviet Union was determined to proceed. This standoff led to the cold war.
Both the Soviet Union and America were superpowers in their own right. The Soviet Union had the largest army in the field called The Red Army; it was very vast, and Hukov led it while America had the deadliest weapon in the world. When such strong sides fight, whether it is a cold war or a fully blown out hot war, the consequence are adverse and greatly tragic. One such consequence was the urban missile crisis. Other crises that occurred because of the cold war were the Vietnam War and the Korean War (Hanhimaki & Westad, 2009, p. 311).
The Cuban missile crisis was among the succession of crises that were as a result of the cold war. It was at this point that the cold war almost turned into a nuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis happened in October, the year nineteen sixty-two, and it involved a thirteen day confrontation between the Soviet Union and Cuba against the United States. America had strategically placed nuclear weapons in Turkey; Italy aimed at Moscow, and they had tried and failed to overthrow the Cuban regime. As a retaliation measure, the then prime minister of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev approached Fidel Castro and proposed placing nuclear missiles in Cuba to prevent future attacks from the United States. Construction of the missiles began and the America got wind of it through their Defense Intelligence Agency. They declared a military blockade. This prompted the Soviet Premier to write to the then President John F. Kennedy that the blockade would lead to a nuclear missile war.
Negotiations to solve the crisis began between the President and the Premier. During the negotiations, tensions were very high, and a Soviet missile even shot down the U-2 plane. On 28 October, the year nineteen sixty-two, the confrontation ended. The President, the Premier and the United Nations Secretary General reached an agreement. The Soviets agreed to dismantle their weapons and return them to the Soviet Union in exchange for a U.S public announcement never to invade Cuba again. The United States also secretly agreed to dismantle their nuclear weapons in Turkey and Italy aimed for the Soviet Union. This confrontation, characterized by the tense negotiations, led to the establishment of a Moscow-Washington hotline to enable quick and direct communications. This was to stop further confrontations.
The second effect of the cold war was the outrageous costs, both financial and otherwise, to both sides. Both America and the Soviet Union lost their citizens with America losing as much as one hundred thousand of their own in Korea and Vietnam. The cold war cost America almost eight trillion dollars in military expenses with an even higher figure in the Soviet Union.
Unemployment also shot up because of the cold war. After the war, Russia dramatically cut military spending. This rendered millions jobless because one out of five male adults enlisted the military. Consequently, the standards of living greatly deteriorated and Russia suffered an economic downfall worse than the one Germany and the United States had suffered earlier.
In addition, the cold war also led to nuclear arms proliferation. Countries sought to arm themselves well in preparation of say another war of that kind. This preparation also led to the advancement of military weapons. Countries wanted to have a state of the art weapons so that if they happen to find themselves in a position of war, they are in a better position than their opponents to win it. Many countries, therefore, invested heavily towards the upgrade of their military machinery (Westad, 2007, p. 78).
The Cold War teaches us vital lessons about contemporary world politics, key among which is pluralism. The lack of pluralism was one of the major factors that lead to the cold war. The warring countries were not willing to accept that each country has different political, social and economic systems. Rather, they wanted to impose their own systems on others. Pluralism plays a big role in the international relations, in the post cold war era. Unlike the cold war era, countries are now willing and able to accept others the way they are. They have come to accept pluralism of cultures, academic disciplines, political systems, economic structures and social systems. The end of the cold war itself was a plural mix of various factors such as force and diplomacy, guerilla resistance and civil resistance, threats and reassurance, among others. Countries no longer fight with each other just because they have different ideologies. Embracing pluralism has not only strengthened the international relations among countries, but it has also contributed to tremendous growth and development in the respective countries (Peel, 2007, p. 209).
In addition to embracing pluralism, diplomacy greatly improved international relations between countries. Diplomacy is the skill of managing communications and relationships between different nations. It usually conducted by representatives of the different states and the representatives are called ambassadors. For example, the United States has ambassadors from China, Ukraine, Russia, United Kingdom, Kenya, and many others. Embracing diplomacy strengthens communication among nations. Effective, quick and clear channels of communication prevent conflicts and diplomacy ensures such communications happen. This is another way of ensuring another cold war does not take place.
Many policies and theories prevailed both after and during the cold war. Some theories are the game theory and the deterrence theory. The game theory developed by Thomas Schelling and Robert Aumann makes sure that no nation can gain advantage through nuclear attacks. It created a balance known as the Mutual Assured Distraction (MAD), which required open acknowledgement of every nation’s strength and vulnerability. If say a nation builds nuclear weapons, the other nation is to retaliate by targeting those nuclear weapons. In the end, no nation is willing to play a game in which the result involves celebrating with only handful survivors.
The deterrence theory was another theory that prevailed. Deterrence is the act of preventing an adversary from doing something that another nation wants. The basis and primary foundation of deterrence is using the power to hurt as a bargaining tool in times of war. It states that the capacity to hurt another country is useful as a motivational tool to prevent other nations from avoiding it and it influences another nation’s behavior. For example, the capacity for the United States to hurt China will influence Russia’s behavior towards the United States (Genter, 2011, p. 123).
In conclusion, the cold war did indeed teach us valuable lessons about contemporary world politics. As earlier discussed, it taught us how sensitive each nation is to their ideals and how important it is to embrace pluralism and democracy. It also the position of this paper that the cold war can be used to explain the importance of good international relations among different states.
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