The Cold War The Cold War is an interesting name given to a conflict between two superpowers. But there is no other way to describe the conflict between the Union Soviet Socialist Republic (“USSR”) and the United States of America because the armies from both countries did not clash in a battlefield.
The conflict was played out in the anticipation of World War III through the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction as well as through proxy wars fought by their respective allies.
The United States played defense and at the same time became proactive by supporting other nations to strategically weaken the power of the USSR.
The conflict between the USSR and U.S. did not come from the desire to expand their territories. The Cold War is the byproduct of a conflict in ideology. The United States government is a government by the people and of the people while the USSR is a government ruled by the communist party.
The Americans believed in the principles of democracy and free enterprise while the Russians believed that the whole world must convert to a system of governance according to the teachings of Karl Marx and Lenin.
At the core of these teachings is the idea of social equality as the masses triumph over the elite and creating a utopian society in the process. It is a seemingly attractive proposition but Karl Marx and Lenin did not anticipate the impact of human nature such as greed, lust for power, the need to control people, and more importantly the corruption that comes from having a central government.
Nevertheless, the advocates of communism felt so strongly for their cause that they are willing to transform nations into a communist country and one by one they came into the fold starting from China then North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and Eastern Europe and even half of present day Germany.
It must be made clear that the dilemma brought by the Cold War did not happen overnight. It can be argued that without the implications of World War II then there would be no two superpowers trying to subdivide the world into what they label as the free world and the Communist bloc. The end of World War created shift in the political arena creating a vacuum that must be occupied by America or the USSR.
At the end of World War II the Germans were devastated as well as its allies Italy, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire. Great Britain emerged victorious, however, its people paid a tremendous price for glory and so after becoming the unofficial leader in two world wars, the British decided that they no longer have the energy and the resources to become the watchdog and enforcer of international laws in the international stage.
France, Belgium and other European powers were also in a state of decline. As a result there were only two superpowers left standing and these are the United States and the USSR.
American presidents in the post-World War II era could not help but be threatened by the rapid acceleration of the USSR in terms of political, economic and military might. It was an understandable reaction; the fear regarding the rise of Soviet power is expected when the memory of Nazi Germany was still fresh in the minds of American political leaders.
It was impossible to ignore the behavior of Stalin and later on Khrushchev and not consider their propensity for world domination. As Eastern Europe and most of Asia went under the influence of the Soviets there was cause for worry. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan their worst fears were confirmed.
The unfolding events from China’s decision to openly embrace Marxism-Leninism to the Korean War of the 1950s prompted the American government to strengthen its military capability. This was viewed as a threat by the USSR and so in response they enhanced their fighting capability.
It can be argued that most of the time the purpose of the massive military build-up was just a mere show for the purpose of telling the world who possess the best form of governance. This chest-thumping and ego boosting activities extended even to outer space as both countries tried to outdo each other when it comes to their space program.
However, the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction as well as the funding of an oversized military force created a stalemate. The United States government and the Communist Party of the USSR both understood so well that if World War III becomes a reality then the combined arsenal of these countries can destroy Central Asia and North America in mutually destructive attack.
When the Soviets began to finance and support the takeover of weak monarchies and governments and transform nations almost overnight into communist countries the United States government found itself in a terrible dilemma. After World War II the Allied forces shared a common sentiment that nothing good can be had out of war.
The promulgation of democracy as well as the establishment of the United Nations headquarters in the U.S. mainland made it morally and politically impossible for the American government to attack the USSR. And more importantly the prospect of a nuclear holocaust forces them to be defensive minded. Nevertheless, the United States and the USSR found a way to battle each other out in numerous theaters of war.
It is now known as “proxy war” because American forces and Soviet forces did not actually meet in the battlefield but their proxies. The best example is the Korean War in the 1950s and the Afghanistan conflict where the United States government provided military aid to Afghan warriors in order for them to defeat the superior forces of the Soviets.
The first proxy war was held in the Korean peninsula that resulted in what is now known as North and South Korea. The allies of both the United States and the USSR did the dirty work for them while they stayed in the background. It was a proactive participation on both players because they supplied intelligence gathered through their spy networks, state-of-the art weapons, and provided help whenever it is needed such as logistical support.
The alliance that the United States made with Korea in World War II made this possible. On the other side of the fence the alliance of USSR with China gave them the ability to venture into the Far East.
But According to one historian it was the first time when a proxy war almost became a full-blown war and he wrote, “It was the only occasion in the Cold War when the military forces of the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union, and the United States us its Western allies) met in combat … the Korean War was not merely a war fought between proxies of the major powers, like the latter conflicts in Vietnam or Afghanistan, but a much more significant conflagration.”
It was almost like seeing the beginnings of World War III but the United States and the USSR were clever enough to mask the truth by making it appear that it was a war fought by armies in the North and South of Korea in a fight for the Korean peninsula.
Aside from the war in Vietnam, it can be argued that the second major proxy war was held in Afghanistan. It has to be pointed out that the nation of Afghanistan was a creation of Great Britain as it tried to develop a buffer zone protecting its interests from other powerful nations in the region. But as mentioned earlier the end of the Second World War also revealed the depleted power of the British government. Moreover, there was no use to spend money in maintaining forces in a land lacking in desirable levels of natural resources.
In the words of one commentator, “The Afghan’s homeland is green and pleasant only in the memory of the exiles … summers are hot and dry and winters bitter, especially in the high country, and from November to mid-March snow makes travel difficult.” The Soviets however saw a strategic location and they were more than willing to take over.
According to Alexander Haig, the former U.S. secretary of state, “The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to undermine the strengthening of the Islamic fundamentalist belt at its southern borders.” But there is another major reason why the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
In the words of one Russian historian, “by the mid-seventies our military had reached a state of parity with America … they (USSR) were anxious to try their strength somewhere” and Afghanistan seemed to be the best place to test newly acquired military advantage. The stage was set and the war between two superpowers resulted in hundreds of casualties and yet it was not clear what the actual outcome of the war was.
Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Carter played important roles during the Cold War but the person who ended it was none other than Ronald Reagan. His reaction to the Soviet threat has been celebrated in books and movies.
It was truly an amazing feat but no one really knew the burden that he carried with him during those dark days when the whole nuclear program of the Soviets were focused on the destruction of the United States of America. The following is a mere overview of what the political arena looked like during the time of Reagan:
By New Year’s Day of 1980, the international wreckage caused by recent Soviet advances was visible virtually everywhere. In Southeast Asia, South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos had fallen into Soviet orbit; in southern Africa, Angola and Mozambique had fallen, with the aid of tens of thousands of Cuban troops; in the Horn of Africa, it was Ethiopia and South Yemen, again with the help of Cuba; in the Caribbean, Nicaragua and Grenada; and finally …. like a dagger at the heart of the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan.
There were many historians and political analyst who argued that the success of Reagan’s administration when it comes to the Soviet threat is attributed to his being a realist.
Leaders like Truman and Carter, “tried to play it safe and they espoused the principles of detente and containment to be their main foreign policy regarding the Soviet Union.” No U.S. president dared to imagine what the world will be like in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust and so the goal was to prevent war at all cost.
Reagan did not believe in the exchange of intercontinental ballistic missiles loaded with nuclear warheads. However, he understood the following principle: “Every single geopolitical nation, together with its current leadership, struggles for power and wants more of it; every single geopolitical nation, together with its current leadership, struggles for security and wants more of it.
He knew that the Soviet Union will not stop until the perceived threat to the sustainability of their way of life has been eliminated and the thorn in their path is the United States.
Reagan was ready to fight and he used his great power of communication to clarify to the American public what they are facing. He said that nothing good can come out from the Communist Party and he labeled the USSR as the evil empire of Communism. As a result he prepared the country in order to defend itself and if needed to counterattack. Reagan authorized multi-billion dollar expenditure in the creation of the greatest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction the American people had ever seen.
Reagan worked tirelessly to weaken the hegemony built by the Soviet Union and he did it through an arms race. He was always doing something to create an advantage over the Soviets. But after eight years of massive military build-up he recognized that the Cold War had to end.
In an extraordinary feat of political maneuvering he met with his Russian counterpart, Gorbachev and using his skills and charm once again he made the Soviets agree to his terms and that is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the arsenal of both countries. In a few years time Reagan succeeded and the Soviet Union was no more. Regan ended the Cold War.
The Cold War began after the end of the Second World War. In the United States there were many presidents who tried to deal with the Soviet threat and their strategies range from appeasement to the participation in proxy wars.
Nobody wanted to start a Third World War. The United States had a defensive mindset and yet at the same time proactive in doing indirect actions in order to weaken the Soviet Union’s power.
However, it was Ronald Reagan who created deliberate steps to finally end the Cold War. He did by spending billions of dollars to create a deterrent and in the final stages he masterminded an arms reduction program that forced the Soviet Union to end its bid to conquer the world.
1 Carter, Malkasian. The Korean War (University Park, IL.: Osprey Publishing, 2001), p.7.
2 David, Isby, Russia’s War in Afghanistan (UK: Osprey Publishing), p.3.
3 Artyom, Borovik, The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist’s Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, (New York: Grove Press, 1990), 9.
James Huston, Outposts and Allies: U.S. Army Logistics in the Cold War, (New Jersey:Associated University Press, 1988), 20.
Andrew Busch, A Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom, (MD: Rowman & LittlefieldPublishers, 2001), 186.
Odd Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times.(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 247.
Ashley Tellis, “Reconstructing Political Realism: The Long March to Scientific Theory,” in Roots of Realism, ed. Benjamin Frankel (Portland, Oregon: Frank Cass, Inc., 1996), 3.
Peggy Noonan, “Ronald Reagan: He Brought Big Government to its Knees and Stared Down the Soviet Union,” Time Magazine, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,988167,00.html.
Alexei Filitov, Victory in the Postwar Era: Despite the Cold War or Because of it?” In The End of the Cold War, ed. Michael Hogan (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 78.
Lee Edwards, The Essential Ronald Reagan, (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005), 77.
Borovik, Artyom. The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist’s Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan. New York: Grove Press, 1990.
Busch, Andrew. A Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom. MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.
Edwards, Lee. The Essential Ronald Reagan, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.
Filitov, Alexei. Victory in the Postwar Era: Despite the Cold War or Because of it?”
In The End of the Cold War, edited by Michael Hogan, 77-90. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Huston, James. Outposts and Allies: U.S. Army Logistics in the Cold War. New Jersey: Associated University Press, 1988.
Isby, David. Russia’s War in Afghanistan. UK: Osprey Publishing, 2002.
Malkasian, Carter. The Korean War. University Park, IL.: Osprey Publishing, 2001.
Noonan, Peggy. “Ronald Reagan: He Brought Big Government to its Knees and Stared Down the Soviet Union,” Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,988167,00.html.
Tellis, Ashley. “Reconstructing Political Realism: The Long March to Scientific Theory,” In Roots of Realism, edited by Benjamin Frankel, 3-20. Portland, Oregon: Frank Cass, Inc., 1996.
Westad, Odd. The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.