In this article, you can get a brief on the cold war. This is an important term in international affairs and affects world politics to this day, although the cold war first ‘broke out’ in the aftermath of the Second World War. Questions can be asked from this topic in the IAS exam, particularly the UPSC mains exam.
A state of military and political tension between the Western Bloc comprising of the USA, its NATO allies and some others and the powers in the Eastern Bloc comprising of the Soviet Union along with its allies from the Warsaw Pact post World War II is known as the Cold War. The term “cold” signifies absence of fighting on a large-scale directly between the two opponents despite major regional wars, termed proxy wars, supported by both the sides. The USSR and the USA were left as two superpowers with political and economic differences as a result of the Cold War that split the temporary wartime alliance against the Nazi Germany.
The Cold War that took place between the Soviet Union and the United States lasted for decades.The Cold War was at its peak in the period of 1948–53.The Cold War tensions relaxed somewhat between 1953 to 1957.The Warsaw Pact, which was a unified military organisation, was formed in the year 1955. Then in the period of 1958-1962,again cold war became intense.Intercontinental ballistic missiles were being made by the Soviet Union as well as the United States.The Soviets began installing their missiles in Cuba secretly and these could be used to launch nuclear attacks on the cities of U.S.Throughout the entire cold war duration, the Soviet Union and the United States avoided direct Military confrontation in Europe.
Cold War Causes
- During the Second World War, the major powers of the USA and the USSR aligned with one another in order to defeat Nazi Germany. There were promises that this friendship would continue well after the war.
- But, after the war, tensions started rising up. The USA was the strongest power that emerged after the war. It was a superpower in economic and military strengths.
- The USSR was the second most powerful country and it had played a key role in Germany’s defeat in the war. This increased its prestige in the world.
- After the war, in eastern Europe, many countries had communist governments. These nations saw the USSR with favourable eyes.
- The USA, as also the western European countries saw communism as a threat to its way of life and towards freedom also.
- They were threatened by the rise of communist USSR.
- The world was polarised into two blocs – the communist powers led by the USSR and the powers opposed to communism led by the USA. The former group comprised of mostly eastern European nations while the latter by the western European countries.
- The USA began to view every development in the world as either supportive of or against the rise of communism. It even went to the extent of supporting colonial powers in their subjugation of the people if it meant curbing communism. This was their reasoning behind supporting the colonial domination of France in Indo-China. Ideological differences also led to the cold war.
- The arms race by the two powers also was a factor in rising tensions between them. There was also a phenomenon called star wars in which the escalations were supposed to be taken to outer space as well.
Another reason which led to the increase of the cold war tensions in the world was the establishment of military blocs by the power centres of the USA and the Soviet Union. These blocs were:
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – led by USA
- Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany)
- South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) – led by USA
- New Zealand
- The Philippines
- Baghdad Pact – led by USA (name changed to Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) in 1958)
- Iraq (withdrew after a revolution in Iraq in 1958)
- Warsaw Pact – led by Soviet Union
- German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
Cold War Timeline
Some of the important developments in the cold war period are given below:
Cuban Missile Crisis
The USSR deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba which were ready to be launched onto the cities of the USA. The USA responded with a naval blockade of Cuba and both superpowers are on the verge of war. The standoff ended after 13 days when the USSR withdrew the missiles.
The US intervened in the Vietnam crisis in 1965 by sending troops to aid South Vietnam in its fight against communist North Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the USSR and China. The war proved very costly for the US where they lost about 58000 men. In 1975, the Vietnam war ended with victory for the communist forces.
This occurred in 1968. The communist government of Czechoslovakia tried to bring in reforms such as multiparty democracy and more freedom for the media. This was thwarted by the USSR which intervened with troops.
Tensions between the US and the Soviet Union were abating in the seventies. But the situation in Afghanistan reversed this trend. The Soviet army invaded Afghanistan to help the communist government there fight the Islamic insurgents called Mujahideen. USA responded by supporting the Mujahideen elements fight a war that lasted ten years there. The Taliban emerged directly as a result of this war. The US funded the Mujahideen through Pakistan’s ISI. The Afghan war ended in 1989 when Soviet troops withdrew from there.
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev rose to become the leader of the USSR. He initiates capitalist reforms known as perestroika and glasnost. He also lets the Berlin Wall to crumble in 1989. Finally, in 1991, the Soviet Union is disbanded and new countries Russia and others emerge as independent nations. Most of the eastern European countries have popular uprisings against communist governments.
Another outcome of the cold war is the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). When the cold war emerged, there were many newly independent countries in the continents of Asia and Africa. Most of them including India did not want to be aligned with either the USA or the USSR. This led to the development of the NAM which played a huge role in curbing the spread of the cold war to cover the entire globe. NAM was opposed to military blocs like NATO. The major leaders of the NAM countries who played a significant role in it were India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Yugoslavia’s President Tito.
Read more about NAM here.