The world history is marked by numerous significant events, movements, and figures that shaped the history of the world in various ways. The Cold War is one such an event. It is a name given to the nature of the relationship that primarily developed between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States of America (USA) after the Second World War (McCauley, 2004). It dominated the international affairs for several decades. It was an open yet restricted rivalry between the two major powers that emerged after the Second World War. It was waged on economic, propaganda, and political fronts and the recourse to weapons was limited. The term the “Cold War” was first used by George Orwell in his article that was published in 1945 referring to what he predicted would be a nuclear stalemate between the world’s two monstrous super powers (Walker, 1995). Since the USSR and the USA fought as allies during the Second World War, it was expected that their relationship would subsequently be friendly and firm. However, this never happened and instead they turned out to be enemies and rivals (Sheehan, 2003). This paper will discuss the Cold War and its various aspects including the nature of the war; causes of the war; the effects of the war; the end of the war; and the aftermath of the Cold War.
The Nature of the Cold War
After the Second World War, the USSR and the US emerged as the world’s two superpowers with profound ideological, political and economic differences. These two superpowers were very distrustful of each other; they lacked mutual understanding of alien culture and each sought to enhance their economic and military capabilities (Gaddis, 2007). Both of them created some of the most intriguing economic and political policies, and developed weapons of destructive capability. So, what exactly was the nature of the Cold War? This question can be answered by understanding the ideological, economic and political policies that each of them upheld and attempted to spread to other parts of the world. All these policies were largely aimed at enhancing these two superpowers’ individual political and economic capability within the international system. They each wanted to control a large number of allies on their sides and to benefit from resources from the allies that they would have wooed to their side (LaFeber and LaFeber, 2008).
On one side, the US advocated for democratic states characterized with periodic free elections, upholding of rule of law, respect of human rights, freedom of expression and movement, and constitutionalism among others. On the other hand, the USSR was advocating for autocratic states characterized with fixed or no elections and limited freedoms and rights among citizens (Walker, 1995) The USSR preferred states that have strong central government and whose citizens have limited freedoms and rights. Also, the US on one hand pushed for capitalism as the preferred economic system around the world, while the USSR advocated for communism as her preferred economic system. Capitalism is an economic system that is founded on the concept of individualism and free market (LaFeber and LaFeber, 2008). On the other hand, communism is founded on the concept of collectivism and state control of the markets. In pursuing their divergent interests, the US and the USSR separately acquired allies mainly in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The conflict between these two superpowers became increasingly apparent through military coalitions with their respective allies, espionage, nuclear and conventional arms race, strategic conventional military deployments, enormous propaganda campaigns, as well as through technological competitions (Gaddis, 2007).
Causes of the Cold War
Historians are of the view that there were multiple factors that caused the Cold War. The first main cause was that the Soviet Union wanted to propagate and spread its communism ideology worldwide and this alarmed the Western world and especially the Americans who were believers of democracy (Sheehan, 2003). Most American politicians and government officials agreed that the USSR intention needs to be contained; they believed that the best defence against USSR threat and agenda was through the “containment” strategy. Containment was a policy that was aimed at containing the USSR’s expansive tendencies particularly of its communism ideology. The second main cause of the Cold War was America’s acquisition of the atomic weapons, a situation that caused enormous fear in USSR. Consequently, USSR also enhanced its atomic weapons power thus escalating tensions between the two superpowers. Both superpowers adhered to mutual mass destruction and kept enhancing their nuclear weapons capability. As a result, the both feared attack from each other and in the process fuelling tensions between them as reflected by various aspects of the Cold War (McCauley, 2004).
The other cause of the Cold war was that the USSR aggressive efforts of taking control over Eastern Europe made the US suspicious as it feared for its interests and power in the long run. Historians also believe that the Cold War was caused by the personal dislike of the USSR leader Joseph Stalin by the US President (LaFeber and LaFeber, 2008). The consequence of this was that they could not engage in diplomatic manner to address their deep-rooted differences. Also, America was annoyed by the actions of the USSR in Germany where it had occupied some part of the country. The US considered this as aggression and also could form a basis for USSR’s subsequent expansion. On the other hand, Soviets were wary of the possibility that the US would use Western Europe as a base for attacking it. All these factors together played a major role in causing and fuelling the Cold War (Gaddis, 2007).
The Effects of the Cold War
Like any major historical event, the Cold War had significant effects. It led to both the USSR and the US to build up enormous arsenals of ballistic missiles and atomic weapons. Also, it led to the formation of military blocs, namely the Warsaw Pact and NATO (Sheehan, 2003). In addition, it resulted to destructive conflicts like the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Since the Cold War was of huge intensity, it had economic implications to both superpowers and particularly the USSR whose economy collapsed and thus collapsing the Soviet Union and ultimately leading to the end of the Cold War. The other effect of the Cold War was that it led to the demolition of the Berlin Wall and unification of the two German nations. It also resulted to the attainment of independence by some of the former Soviet Republics and the Baltic States as well. The end of the Cold War led to the diminishing and eventual collapse of communism worldwide. Besides, it led to the US becoming the world’s sole superpower (Walker, 1995).
The End and the Aftermath of the Cold War
Although there were efforts to end the Cold War right from the time that it started, the period between 1980 and 1989 are considered to be the turning point of this war. Throughout the 1980s, the USSR was fighting an increasingly frustrating war in the Afghanistan and its economy was weakening because the arms race costs were escalating (McCauley, 2004). The problem faced by the USSR during this period was further compounded by the fact that there was a growing dissent at home because the economy was stagnant as a result of heavy burden imposed by the Cold War over the years. Due to this, USSR was becoming increasingly weak and unable to rebuff some of its national and international challenges. It was losing its control of the Eastern Europe (Gaddis, 2007). Eventually the Berlin wall came down in 1989 marking the end of the Cold War. The Soviet Union borders were opened, and free elections conducted in the Soviet Union. Free elections led to the ousting of the Communist regimes not only in USSR, but also in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union itself dissolved its component republics in late 1991. To many historians, the end of the cold war was a common victory to the world as a whole as it helped to tone down tensions among nations and paved way for liberal democracy to flourish around the world (Sheehan, 2003).
The end of the Cold War and subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union significantly altered the world situation. It left the US as the world’s only superpower and it has been influencing major world’ policy since then. The end of the Cold War saw the US emerging as the world’s wealthiest and strongest nation and with broad interests. Apart from the emergence of the US as the world hegemony, the aftermath of the Cold War is characterized by other features (LaFeber and LaFeber, 2008). The key feature is the expansion of the concept and practice of liberal democracy. After the Cold War came to an end, more and more nations were able to relate easily and with reduced tensions. International cooperation was largely enhanced and nations became to work together towards achieving their common interests. Democracy was expanded to more countries around the world. The key elements of democracy such as constitutionalism, free elections, freedom, consent of the governed, respect for human rights and freedoms were entrenched in many nations of the world. In addition, the end of the Cold War saw nations engaging in trade at enhanced level. Capitalism became increasingly embraced across the world and was characterized by free markets and reduced state control of economic activities (Sheehan, 2003).
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McCauley, M. (2004). Russia, America and the Cold War, 1949-1991. Harlow: Longman.
Sheehan, S. (2003). The Cold War. North Mankato, Minn: Smart Apple Media.
Walker, M. (1995). The cold war: A history. New York, NY: Holt.