What is Cold War?

Cold War is the name given to the relationship that developed primarily between the USA and the USSR after the Second World War. The Cold War was to dominate the international affairs for four decades and way responsible for many major crises such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam war and the creation of Berlin Wall.

What exactly was the Cold War? In diplomatic terms, there are three types of war. The first is Hot War. This is actual warfare. It occurs when all talks have failed and the armies are fighting. The second is the Warm War. This is where talks are still going on and there would always be a chance of a peaceful outcome but armies, navies etc. are being fully mobilized and war plans are being put into operation ready for the command to fight. The third is known as Cold War. This term is used to describe the relationship between America and the Soviet Union between 1945 to 1989. Neither side ever fought the other because the consequences would be too appalling. The Cold War ( known as Kholodnaya Voina in Russian) was the geopolitical, ideological and economic struggle that emerged after World War II between a worldwide military alliance of capitalist states led by the United States and a rival alliance of communist states led by the Soviet Union.

According to the Columbia Encyclopaedia, the cold war was a term used to describe ‘the shifting struggle for power and prestige between the Western powers and the Communist bloc from the end of World War II until 1989. Of worldwide proportions, the conflict was tacit in the ideological differences between communism and capitalist democracy. Similarly, the Britannica Concise Dictionary defines Cold War as ‘Open yet restricted rivalry and hostility that developed after World War II between the US. and the Soviet Union and their respective Allies’. The term Cold War was first used by Bernard Baruch during a Congressional debate in 1947 mainly a political, economic and propaganda instrument which had only limited recourse to weapons.

Origin and Causes of Cold War

The term Cold War was used to describe the post-World War II struggle between the United States and its allies and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its allies. During the Cold War period, which lasted from the mid-1940s until the end of the 1980s, international politics was heavily shaped by the intense rivalry between these two great blocs for power and the political ideologies they represented – democracy and capitalism in the case of the United States and its allies, and Communism in the case of the Soviet bloc.

The principal allies of the United States during the Cold War included Britain, France, West Germany, Japan, and Canada. On the Soviet side were many countries of Eastern Europe including Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, Romania, Cuba and China. Countries that had no formal commitment to either bloc were known as neutrals or, within the Third World, as non-aligned nations (see Non-aligned Movement). It was termed Cold War because open hostilities never occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union. Instead, the “war” took the form of an arms race involving nuclear and conventional weapons, networks of military alliances, economic warfare and trade embargo, propaganda, espionage and proxy wars, especially those involving superpower support for opposing sides within civil wars.

The origin of the term “Cold War” is debated. The term was used hypothetically by George Orwell in 1945, though not with reference to the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, which had not yet been initiated. American politician Bernard Baruch began using the term in April 1947. But the term cold war first came into general use in September 1947 when journalist Walter Lippmann published a series of newspaper columns (and books) on United States-Soviet Union tensions entitled ‘The Cold War’. By using the term, Lippmann meant to suggest that relations between the USSR and its World War II allies (primarily the United States, Britain, and France) had deteriorated to the point of war without the occurrence of actual warfare. Over the next few years, the emerging rivalry between these two camps hardened into a mutual and permanent preoccupation. It dominated the foreign policy agendas of both sides and led to the formation of vast military alliances such as NATO and Warsaw Pact.

As for the causes of the cold war, they were primarily rooted in the post-war circumstances. Since the USA and the USSR fought as allies during the second World War, it was expected that their relationship after the war would be firm and friendly. However, this never happened and any appearance that these two powers were friendly during the war proved illusory. Mutual suspicion had long existed between the West and the USSR, and friction would sometimes manifest in the Grand Alliance during world War II. Even before the defeat of Nazi Germany, the United States and the USSR and Great Britain meeting at Yalta in February 1945 showed diverging political, ideological and social differences.

The Yalta Conference revealed that the Soviet Union wanted to bring Eastern Europe into their own sphere of influence, thereby creating a cordon of buffer states around Soviet territory. The focus of dissent in Eastern Europe centered around the political future of Poland. Whereas allied had a special interest in Poland, Stalin, whose forces had driven the Germans out of Poland in 1944 and 1945 and established a pro-Communist provisional government there, believed that Soviet control of Poland was necessary for his country’s security. This met with opposition from the Allies, and it was not long before the quarrel had extended to the political future of other Eastern European nations. The incremental consolidation of Soviet power in Eastern Europe between Yalta and early 1947 did much to contribute to the super powers estrangement.

Similarly in the case of Germany, the allies were unable to resolve their differences over its future. After the surrender, Germany was divided into four zones each under the control of USA, USSR, France and England. The allies were not clear whether Germany should be demilitarized, disarmed or partitioned. Again while the USSR wanted to keep Germany weak and pauper so that it could not pose a threat in future, USA wanted to reconstruct German economy so that it could sell the overproduction of its wartime economy. Also the continuing bickering among the commanders of different zones led to the conclusion that there would be no unitary policy on Germany.

After the war, the West felt threatened by the continued expansionist policy of the Soviet Union, and the traditional Russian fear of incursion from the West continued. Communists seized power in Eastern Europe with the support of the Red Army, the Russian occupation zones in Germany and Austria were sealed off by army patrols, and threats were directed against Turkey and Greece. The Soviet takeover of East European states led Winston Churchill to warn in 1946 that an “iron curtain” was coming down in the middle of Europe. For his part, Joseph Stalin deepened the mistrust between the United States and the Soviet Union when he said in 1946 that World War II was an unavoidable consequence of “capitalist imperialism”, and implied that such a war might reoccur.

In 1945, Igor Gouzenko, working as a Cipher clerk in the Soviet Embassy to Canada in Ottawa, defected from the Soviet Union with 109 documents of Soviet espionage activity in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The, Gouzenko Affair changed Western perspective of the Soviet Union as a friend to an enemy. Many people credit this event as the trigger to the Cold War.

Economic determinists such as William Appleman emphasize United States economic expansionism as the root cause of the Cold War.

These geopolitical and ideological rivalries were accompanied by a third factor that had just emerged from World War H as a new problem in world affairs. It was the problem of effective international control of nuclear energy. In 1946 the Soviet Union rejected a United States proposal for such control, (which had been formulated by Bernard Baruch on the basis of an earlier report authored by Dean Acheson and David Lilienthal) with the objection that such an agreement would undermine the principle of national sovereignty.

Thus, broadly speaking, the causes of the cold war between the USA and USSR can be described as: American fear of communist attack. Truman’s dislike of Stalin, Russia’s fear of the American’s atomic bomb, Russia’s
dislike of capitalism, Russia’s actions in the Soviet zone of Germany, America’s refusal to share nuclear secrets, Russia’s expansion towards Eastern Europe and broken election promises, Russia’s fear of American attack, Russia’s need for a secure Western border, and Russia’s aim of Spreading world communism. The feeling of suspicion led to mutual distrust and this did a great deal to deepen the Cold War.

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