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Published: Thursday 31st of October 2013
The Cold War is one of the events that shaped modern history. It extended over a significant period of time, beginning as a rivalry between the United States and their allies on one side and the Soviet Union, backed by Eastern European countries, on the other side. It started at the end of World War II and practically lasted until the USSR ceased to exist in 1990. The Cold War did not involve the use of arms, at least not to a significant degree, rather the threat thereof, especially the menace to use nuclear arms since both superpowers involved in the conflict eagerly developed their nuclear programs. In a way, these two powerful countries held the fate of the entire world in their hands as the weapons they possessed were powerful enough to wipe out humanity. The race between a couple of opponents was based mainly on technological progress; they each struggled to create an advantage in their space programs and development of computers, means of transportation, communication systems, and medicine as well as in perfecting weapons they could use against each other. The Cold war heavily relied on propaganda through which each opposing side was portrayed as monstrous and threatening.
The Cold War encompassed a number of hostilities exerted by the United States and the Soviet Union, assisted by their respective allies. The war was predominantly fought by means not involving the direct use of arms. Mutual accusations of imperialistic aspirations were made on both sides, the US emphasizing the threat of the expansion of communism throughout the world, and the USSR accusing their opponent of trying to establish a monopoly over nuclear bombs and to rule the world. Ever since the World War II ended, it was clear that the wartime alliance between the US and Great Britain on one side, and the Soviet Union on the other side, was not going to last. The USSR supported left-wing governments to come to power in most Eastern European countries. The communist parties of these countries were strongly influenced by the Soviet Communist party, which had a decisive role in their politics. This way, the USSR was able to dominate and control the political scene of Eastern Europe, which posed a threat for the US and its allies since Western Europe was under threat of communist parties coming to power in their countries as well. The Soviets were determined to prevent war-ravaged Nazi Germany from being reconstructed quickly and from allowing it to become a significant world power. Ideologically they were keen on spreading communism throughout the world. To solidify their influence in Western Europe, the US created the Marshall Plan providing US aid to Western European countries financially exhausted by the Second World War.
The differences in political systems of these two opponents were obvious; the USSR was ruled by a single-party communist government, while the US was a capitalist economy led by a democratically elected government.
The end of the Cold War was made possible after Mikhail Gorbachev was elected president of the USSR in 1985. He realized the tremendous expense the participation in a nuclear race had for the Soviet economy and was willing to relax the tensions that existed between his country and the US, thus, ending the era of constant frictions and mutual distrust. During his administration, the Soviet society began its democratic reforms, and the totalitarian system was abandoned. As soon as the influence of the Soviet communist party on other Eastern European communist regimes began to subside, they were overthrown in all countries of the former Soviet bloc. The unification of West and East Germany quickly ensued. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed by US and USSR presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, which signified the end of the forty-five years of Cold War.
Although the Cold War officially began after the World War II ended in 1945, the stage for it was arguably set during the Russian revolution of 1917, which led to a transformation of the Russian society in a way that it embraced socialist ideas by nationalizing private property and empowering the working class to participate in politics. The western capitalist’s world felt threatened by these changes and made sure to oppose them strongly. In fact, the US-led allied forces even intervened in Northern Russia during the Russian Civil War.
However, some opinions associate the outbreak of the Cold War with issues concerning the US and Russian interest in countries of the Middle East and South East Asia, along with the ideological differences and struggle for dominance at the European continent. During the 45-year period of the Cold War, the US and the USSR exchanged antagonisms and competed with each other by building up and modernizing their armed forces, by spreading slanderous propaganda aimed at discrediting the opponent, by committing espionage and investing substantial amounts of money into technological development which escalated into a full-blown space-race. The improvements in medicine and humanities were also noteworthy, although having a lesser impact on the events of the Cold War.
The USSR’s ideological interest was to extend its sphere of dominance through the spread of communism in countries across Europe and worldwide. The United States could not stand on the side peacefully and watch this happen. On the other hand, the development of atomic weapons and their wartime use against the Japanese towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented a threat to the leadership of the USSR. It developed nuclear arms of its own and the race was on. In fear of possible atomic attacks from their opponent, each side was working on creating more and more powerful weapons which, if used, could wipe out the entire humanity. In an attempt to maintain and even expand its control over countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the USSR used a number of tactics. Some of them included offering support for overthrowing existing governments of these countries and establishing the communist rule; forming the Warsaw Pact; enforcing the Brezhnev Doctrine, which gave the USSR the right to intrude upon the sovereignty of any country, trying to replace a communist social system with capitalism; and, keeping the Red Army troops all over Eastern Europe. Needless to say, this course of action did not appeal to the government of the United States.
Personal animosities between the two presidents of superpowers were also prominent. Even in 1953, after the death of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who had been greatly disliked by the American president, the opposing powers remained in a position of a stand-off. The US was threatened by the Soviet presence in East Germany, while the USSR was concerned that the US might attack them from the territory of Western European countries, over which the US exerted a strong military influence through NATO.
The Cold War had both beneficial and detrimental consequences for the United States and the Soviet Union. Here is a list of some of them:
The Cold War can be described as an era of significant animosities between the United States and the Soviet Union, which were mostly exhibited through ideological disagreements and military threats. Capitalist America and communist Soviets opposed each other mainly by using propaganda and attempting to spread their political influence to other countries, without engaging in conventional warfare. The nuclear threat was ever present for almost half a century, which, if realized, could have destroyed the entire world population. The cold war ended with the establishment of the United States into the only world power.
The Cold War still continues to exert its influence years after it was brought to an end. A conflict of ideologies on the surface, it had profound effects on all the societal domains of the countries involved. Its effects were felt in the American economy, politics, culture and every other aspect of human existence. The Cold War taught a valuable lesson on the importance of allies since it showed Americans that a favorable outcome could not have been achieved without an alliance with countries sharing the same ideology and goals. The Soviet-led Eastern bloc could not counter that since it was formed on the principles of imposing the Soviet command to nations who were not willing participants in the alliance.
The prolonged duration of the Cold War demanded great determination and tenacity from the opposing parties. The US success can be ascribed to the political abilities exerted by presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. At the beginning of the conflict, the containment strategy was proven to be useful in limiting the Soviet expansion in Europe. Later on, the United States made the most of the economic downfall of the USSR, using its economic difficulties as a weapon against them and fueling further instability. On its part, the US experienced significant economic growth due to changes in taxes and reducing the government power in specific industries with the intent of creating more competition. This allowed an increase in military funding both for the US and its ally forces. Following this initiative, the Soviet Union attempted to do the same, but could not withstand the financial pressure this exerted on its failing economy. By the time the Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev introduced economic reforms in an effort to save the Soviet Empire from disintegration, it was already too late, and the Soviet Union came to its end, making the United States victors of the Cold War.
The end of the Cold War brought noticeable change to the entire world. Its consequences are still felt in the political and economic spheres of many countries. It allowed the US to become a sole global power with tremendous influence on other nations. The leadership of the United States showed outstanding political, economic and military skill in confronting a formidable opponent such as the Soviet Union. The decisions of the American government laid the foundation for the modern American society, and shaped its future policy, both in internal affairs and in its relations with other countries. It propelled the US to prosperity in all domains of life and allowed it to become the greatest economic and military power of the world.