The cold war and its legacy
Cold War and it's legacy. How modern war on terrorism grow from cold war.
Now confined to the pages of our history books the cold war was once as important to American Foreign policy decision as the war against terrorism today.
For 40 years from the end of the Second World War till the late 1980s, the term cold war was a term used to describe the foreign policy conflict between the capitalist nations led by the U.S. and the Communist Nations led by the Soviet Union. Though the Cold war did not involve any actual battle between nations it did lead to a huge military buildup of nuclear weapons and the support for political conflicts in various countries across the globe. The Cold war defined U.S. foreign policy decisions in Europe Asia and South America for more than 40 years. Post Second World War the world was divided into two blocs. The Western Bloc comprised of countries following democracy and the economic fundamentals of Capitalism. The Western Bloc was led by the United States and included Japan, U.K. France, and other countries in Europe which embraced Capitalism after World War II. The Eastern Bloc was led by the USSR and comprised of China and those Countries of Eastern Europe which had embraced the doctrine of communism and had an economic system controlled by the State. This bipolar division of the East and the West in terms of Capitalist and Communist ideologies was what defined the start of the Cold war. The cold war was a unique conflict; it did not have a single arena or manifestation. It was played out in several countries and continents and was manifested in many ways.
"We helped keep the Cold War cold... A war without casualties cannot be as famous as a horrible war, but it is preferable." - Edward Teller (All the Best Quotes "Cold War Quotes")
The Cold war is characterized by the nuclear arms race between the two Super Powers. In a show of one up-man-ship both the U.S. and the Soviet Union spend heavily on their defense and amassed a massive collection of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Both countries also heavily engaged in espionage through their intelligence agencies to keep an eye on each other and also to find out what the other was plotting next. America spends billions of its tax payer's money in maintaining foreign bases in Europe and Asia. Both the Western Allies and the Soviet Allies entered into mutual treaties and formed military alliances to protect their interests. NATO is one such organization which was formed to safeguard the interests of the Western Allies.
The Cold war was characterized by a series of "proxy wars" These wars were not fought between the two super powers because of the fear that a direct confrontation between the two would lead to a nuclear war. Rather they were fought with U.S. and Russian Support on foreign Soil. These proxy wars were fuelled by the doctrine of Containment. The Western Bloc believed that the spread of communism should be contained before it spread from the Soviet Union and China to other countries in Asia. They propagated this doctrine by claiming that a domino effect would occur even if one country in Asia would fall to communism. All the others would automatically follow.
The doctrine of containment led to an active buildup of American Forces in Asia. The Korean Conflict (1950-1953), was one of the first major "proxy wars" The U.S. sent its troops to Korea to prevent it from turning Communist. The U.S.S.R though not directly involved supported the communist insurgents through weapons and ideology. The result was a bitter three year civil war which ended with the division of Korea into the North and South with the North following communist principles and the South following Capitalism.
The Second major crises of the Cold War occurred in 1963 in Cuba.
Termed the Cuban Missile Crises it was the closest that the two Super powers ever got to a nuclear war. Luckily through the crises blew over due to diplomatic intervention and the two super powers stepped back from the brink of launching a Third World War. In fact the Cuban Missile Crises is an excellent example of the policy of "Brinkmanship" that characterizes the relationship between the two super powers during the cold war.
"The Cold War isn't thawing; it is burning with a deadly heat. Communism isn't sleeping; it is, as always, plotting, scheming, working, fighting"- Richard M Nixon (All the Best Quotes "Cold War Quotes")
The Third Major Crises came in Vietnam. Communist insurgents in the North led by Ho Chi Minh had been waging a civil war since 1965. The U.S. was supporting the democratic regime in the South while the U.S.S.R. was providing Ho Chi Minh's troop with weapons. To prevent Vietnam from turning communist the U.S. launched a military offensive against the Communist insurgents. The result was a colossal and very deadly civil war which resulted in a lot of American casualties. The war ended in 1975 when despite all American effort Saigon fell and a Communist regime was established in Vietnam.
The Cold war temporarily ended with the emergence of detente a French terms which means "a release of tensions" It was a period in which relationship between the two super powers took a more friendly turn. However this was short lived and the 1980s marked the emergence of a new "cold war".
The Cold War was dealt a deathly blow in the late 1980s with the launch of Mikhail Gorbachev's polices of perestroika and glasnost. In the late 1980s, most of Eastern Europe broke away from communism and the Eastern Bloc as it was often called ceased to exist. The Soviet Union itself could not escape the winds of change sweeping from Eastern Europe and collapsed in 1991. The end of the Soviet Union finally put the Cold war to rest forever.
The Cold War has vanished but what has it left us with?
The end of the cold war signified a new world order. The world is no longer divided into Capitalist and Communist Blocks. New nations have emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union and its Eastern allies. Sometimes the transition to democratic government and capitalist economies has been smooth like in Germany, sometimes it has not. In Yugoslavia for example the breakup of communism lead to a bloody Civil War and the break up of the country. In other parts of the former Soviet Union such as Chechnya ethnic rivalries broke out after the fall of communism resulting in a lengthy and violent Civil War. The transition to capitalism was not very smooth for Russia as well. With the fall of communism and the heavy cut in military expenditure thousands of people lost their jobs. Russia in the 1990s suffered an economic depression. Thousands of Russians faced poverty, long ques for food and even homelessness. Though transition to capitalism was initially rocky for the Russian economy today it appears to be on solid ground.
The end of the Cold war has rendered the countless military bases that the U.S. build in Europe and Asia to protect its interests from the Soviet Union useless. The Pentagon has closed quite a few of the bases that were set up during the cold war, yet others have been utilized to access current military hotspots in the Middle East and Central Asia. It has also rendered the several military alliances like NATO useless. Though some of them still exist, they have a very little role in a changed global structure.
Though the cold war has ended some of the errors that it helped create still exist. North and South Korea still remain divided. North Korea is a constant thorn in the flesh of American interests in Asia and with rumors of the States possession of Nuclear weapons it poses more of a threat now than in the past.
Though Russia withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in 1989, 9 years of occupation left the country deeply fragmented. The ensuing civil war was deadly and led to the rise of the religious fundamentalist regime of the Taliban. The Taliban who had granted asylum to the terrorist Ossama Bin Ladin were toppled by the Americans in 2001 in a devastating military operation.
Though the nuclear race ended with the cold war, the fear of contamination from nuclear waste remains a very real and potentially disastrous threat. A concerted action needs to be taken address this threat of nuclear contamination both for ourselves and for our future generations. In her essay "The Hot Legacy of the Cold War" Francis Macy highlights the growing concern about contamination from radio active materials as follows:
"The Cold War has left a legacy in the United States and in the former Soviet Union of uranium mining sites, nuclear weapons production sites and weapons testing sites that are the most dangerously toxic territories on the surface of the Earth. Governments have recently revealed that the radioactivity on these sites is not contained, but is migrating off the sites through the air, the soil, and water systems."
The Cold War denotes a significant period in world history which influenced the destinies of millions of people and changed the world structure forever. There are many lessons to be learnt from this period and it should be studied carefully by policy makers to ensure that future generations do not make the same errors that were committed in the past.
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