The Cold War: It’s Origin, Causes, Phases and Consequences

The Cold War: It’s Origin, Causes, Phases and Consequences

After the end of the World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), emerged as the two greatest powers in the world. One nation tried to reduce the power of other. Indirectly the competition between these super powers led to the Cold War. The Cold War was a division between Russia and western countries (the US and its allies, like Britain), which started in the 1940s and lasted until 1991. It is hard to pinpoint an exact date for when it started. It was a war between two ideas and ways of ruling – communism (the east) and capitalism (the west). The Russians operated a communist state (from 1922 to 1991), while western countries like the US were capitalist countries. Throughout the Cold War, communist and capitalist nations tried to out-do each other, competing to develop the best technologies and weapons. As a result of which both stood as rivals to each other.

  • In a capitalist system: Citizens are allowed to have their own businesses and make their own money. It revolves around something called free markets, in which companies and business people can buy and sell products and services, depending on what customers and the public want (which also determines how much things will cost), with little or no government control. Usually, there are multiple political parties that stand for different parts of society (but this doesn’t always have to be the case in a capitalist society). Governments are chosen in democratic elections, in which citizens have their say on who they want to be in charge (a democracy). People’s rights and freedoms are an important part of life, including being able to say what they feel (freedom of speech). The press enjoys freedom of speech too and is not controlled by the state.
  • In a communist system: Businesses are owned by the state and any wealth from them is controlled by the people in power. There is one political party in charge. There is no opportunity for citizens to vote for who they want to be in charge or change the government (a dictatorship). It is more important to serve the state and be obedient to those in charge than it is to have personal freedoms. The media is controlled by those in power.

Where did communism come from? To understand why the Cold War started, it is necessary to understand where communism in Russia came from, as it was the first time that this system of ruling had been introduced. In 1917, the Bolsheviks took power in Russia after the October Revolution and a new political system called communism was introduced. (In the years to follow, some other countries including China, North Korea and Cuba would adopt communism too). In 1922, Russia – along with countries under its control – formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR) – better known as the Soviet Union (or the Soviets). It was a communist group and did not agree with western, capitalist countries or their way of ruling.

Cold War: The Cold War was a period of economic, political and military tension between the United States and Soviet Union from 1945 to 1991. Following the end of the Second World War, complications arose centering on the shifting of international power. The Soviet Union wanted to acquire additional territory while the United States attempted to limit the gains desired by the Soviets. This battle of ideologies resulted in increased national security, diplomatic tension and proxy wars between the two powerful nations. The Cold War was a long period of tension between the democracies of the Western World and the communist countries of Eastern Europe. The west was led by the United States and Eastern Europe was led by the Soviet Union. These two countries became known as superpowers. Although the two superpowers never officially declared war on each other, they fought indirectly in proxy wars, the arms race, and the space race.

In the graphic language of Hartman, “Cold War is a state of tension between countries in which each side adopts policies designed to strengthen it and weaken the other by falling short by actual war”. In fact, Cold War is a kind of verbal war which is fought through newspapers, magazines, radio and other propaganda methods. It is a propaganda to which a great power resorts against the other power. It is a sort of diplomatic war.

The Cold War began not too long after World War II ended in 1945. Although, the Soviet Union was an important member of the Allied Powers, there was great distrust between the Soviet Union and the rest of the Allies. The Allies were concerned with the brutal leadership of Joseph Stalin as well as the spread of communism. The Cold War came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Origin of Cold War: There is no unanimity amongst scholars regarding the origin of the Cold War. In 1941 when Hitler invaded Russia, Roosevelt the President of USA sent armaments to Russia. It is only because the relationship between Roosevelt and Stalin was very good. But after the defeat of Germany, when Stalin wanted to implement Communist ideology in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania, at that time England and America suspected Stalin. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England in his ‘Fulton Speech’ on 5 March 1945 said that Soviet Russia was covered by an Iron Curtain. It led Stalin to think deeply. As a result of which suspicion became wider between Soviet Russia and western countries and thus the Cold War took birth.

Causes of the Cold War: There are various causes which were responsible for the outbreak of the Cold War. At first, the difference between Soviet Russia and USA led to the Cold War. The United States of America could not tolerate the Communist ideology of Soviet Russia. On the other hand, Russia could not accept the dominance of United States of America upon the other European Countries. Secondly, the Race of Armament between the two super powers served another cause for the Cold War. After the Second World War, Soviet Russia had increased its military strength which was a threat to the Western Countries. So America started to manufacture the Atom bomb, Hydrogen bomb and other deadly weapons. The other European Countries also participated in this race. So, the whole world was divided into two power blocs and paved the way for the Cold War.  Thirdly, the Ideological Difference was another cause for the Cold War. When Soviet Russia spread Communist, at that time America propagated Capitalism. This propaganda ultimately accelerated the Cold War.  Fourthly, Russian Declaration made another cause for the Cold War. Soviet Russia highlighted Communism in mass media and encouraged the labour revolution. On the other hand, America helped the Capitalists against the Communism. So it helped to the growth of Cold War.  Fifthly, the Nuclear Programme of America was responsible for another cause for the Cold War. After the bombardment of America on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Soviet Russia got afraid for her existence. So, it also followed the same path to combat America. This led to the growth of Cold War.  Lastly, the Enforcement of Veto by Soviet Russia against the western countries made them to hate Russia. When the western countries put forth any view in the Security Council of the UNO, Soviet Russia immediately opposed it through veto. So western countries became annoyed in Soviet Russia which gave birth to the Cold War.

Various Phases of the Cold War: The Cold War did not occur in a day. It passed through several phases.

  • First Phase (1945-1949): In this phase America and Soviet Russia disbelieved each other. America always tried to control the Red Regime in Russia. Without any hesitation Soviet Russia established Communism by destroying democracy in the Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Yugoslavia and other Eastern European Countries. In order to reduce Russia’s hegemony, America helped Greece and Turkey by following Truman Doctrine which came into force on 12 March 1947. According to Marshall Plan which was declared on 5 June, 1947 America gave financial assistance to Western European Countries. In this phase, non withdrawal of army from Iran by Soviet Russia, Berlin blockade etc. made the cold was more furious. After the formation of NATO in 1949, the Cold War took a halt.
  • Second Phase (1949-1953): In this phase a treaty was signed between Australia, New-Zeland and America in September, 1957 which was known as ANZUS. America also signed a treaty with Japan on 8 September, 1951. At that time by taking armaments from Russia and army from China, North Korea declared war against South Korea. Then with the help of UNO, America sent military aid to South Korea. However, both North Korea and South Korea signed peace treaty in 1953 and ended the war. In order to reduce the impact of Soviet Communism, America spent a huge amount of dollar in propaganda against Communism. On the other hand, Soviet Russia tried to be equal with America by testing atom bomb.
  • Third Phase (1953-1957): Now United States of America formed SEATO in 1954 in order to reduce Soviet Russia’s influence. In 1955 America formed MEDO in Middle East. Within a short span of time, America gave military assistance to 43 countries and formed 3300 military bases around Soviet Russia. At that time, the Vietnamese War started on 1955. To reduce the American Power, Russia signed WARSAW PACT in 1955. Russia also signed a defence pact with 12 Countries. Germany was divided into Federal Republic of Germany which was under the American control where as German Democratic Republic was under Soviet Russia. In 1957 Soviet Russia included Sputnik in her defence programme. In 1953 Stalin died and Khrushchev became the President of Russia. In 1956 an agreement was signed between America and Russia regarding the Suez Crisis. America agreed not to help her allies like England and France. In fact West Asia was saved from a great danger.
  • Fourth Phase (1957-1962): In 1959 the Russian President Khrushchev went on a historical tour to America. Both the countries were annoyed for U2 accident and for Berlin Crisis. In 13 August 1961, Soviet Russia made a Berlin Wall of 25 kilometres in order to check the immigration from eastern Berlin to Western Berlin. In 1962, Cuba’s Missile Crisis contributed a lot to the cold war. This incident created an atmosphere of conversation between American President Kennedy and Russian President Khrushchev. America assured Russia that she would not attack Cuba and Russia also withdrew missile station from Cuba.
  • Fifth Phase (1962-1969): The Fifth Phase which began from 1962 also marked a mutual suspicion between USA and USSR. There was a worldwide concern demanding ban on nuclear weapons. In this period Hot Line was established between the White House and Kremlin. This compelled both the parties to refrain from nuclear war. In spite of that the Vietnam problem and the Problem in Germany kept Cold War between USA and USSR in fact.
  • Sixth Phase (1969-1978): This phase commencing from 1969 was marked by DETENTE between USA and USSR- the American President Nixon and Russian President Brezhnev played a vital role for putting an end to the Cold War. The SALT of 1972, the summit Conference on Security’ of 1975 in Helsinki and Belgrade Conference of 1978 brought America and Russia closer. In 1971, American Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger paid a secret visit to China to explore the possibilities of rapprochement with China. The American move to convert Diego Garcia into a military base was primarily designed to check the Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean. During the Bangladesh crisis of 1971 and the Egypt-Israel War of 1973 the two super powers extended support to the opposite sides.
  • Last Phase (1979-1987): In this phase certain changes were noticed in the Cold War. That is why historians call this phase as New Cold War. In 1979, the American President Carter and Russian President Brezhnev signed SALT II. But in 1979 the prospects of mitigating Cold War were marred by sudden development in Afghanistan. Vietnam (1975), Angola (1976), Ethiopia (1972) and Afghanistan (1979) issues brought success to Russia which was unbearable for America. American President Carter’s Human Rights and Open Diplomacy were criticised by Russia. The SALT II was not ratified by the US Senate. In 1980 America boycotted the Olympic held at Moscow. In 1983, Russia withdrew from a talk on missile with America. In 1984 Russia boycotted the Olympic game held at Los-Angeles. The Star War of the American President Ronald Regan annoyed Russia. In this way the ‘New Cold War’ between America and Russia continued till 1987. Throughout the 1980s, the Soviet Union fought an increasingly frustrating war in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Soviet economy faced the continuously escalating costs of the arms race. Dissent at home grew while the stagnant economy faltered under the combined burden. Attempted reforms at home left the Soviet Union unwilling to rebuff challenges to its control in Eastern Europe. During 1989 and 1990, the Berlin Wall came down, borders opened, and free elections ousted Communist regimes everywhere in eastern Europe. In late 1991 the Soviet Union itself dissolved into its component republics. With stunning speed, the Iron Curtain was lifted and the Cold War came to an end.

What is the situation of the Cold War today? Even though the Cold War has come to an end, tensions between Russia and the west still make headlines today. In February 2019, the US and Russia suspended their involvement in a treaty, which both nations signed back in 1987, towards the end of the Cold War. The treaty – called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty – banned both nations from using short and medium-range missiles (except sea-launched weapons). By 1991 – when the Cold War came to an end – nearly 2,700 missiles had been destroyed. But on 1 February, the US said it would withdraw from what was agreed in the treaty and Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would start developing new missiles too. While this Cold War has come to an end, nations in the east and west don’t always agree with each other. But Malcolm Craig – a senior lecturer in US history at Liverpool John Moores University – explains: “Russia is not the Soviet Union and its international position is quite, quite different. It is much more tightly integrated into the global economic system than the USSR was.”

Consequences of the Cold War: The Cold War had far-reaching implications in the international affairs.

  1. The Cold War gave rise to a fear psychosis which resulted in a mad race for the manufacture of more sophisticated armaments. Various alliances like NATO, SEATO, WARSAW PACT, CENTO, ANZUS etc. were formed only to increase world tension.
  2. The Cold War rendered the UNO ineffective because both super powers tried to oppose the actions proposed by the opponent. The Korean Crisis, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War etc. were the bright examples in this direction.
  3. Due to the Cold War, a Third World was created. A large number of nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America decided to keep away from the military alliances of the two super powers. They liked to remain neutral. So, Non-Alignments Movement became the direct outcome of the Cold War.
  4. The Cold War was designed against mankind. The unnecessary expenditure in the armament production created a barrier against the progress of the world and adversely affected a country and prevented improvement in the living standards of the people.
  5. The principle ‘Whole World as a Family’, was shattered on the rock of frustration due to the Cold War. It divided the world into two groups which was not a healthy sign for mankind.
  6. The Cold War created an atmosphere of disbelief among the countries. They questioned among themselves how unsafe were they under Russia or America.
  7. Importantly, the Cold War disturbed the World Peace. The alliances and counter-alliances created a disturbing atmosphere. It was a curse for the world. Though Russia and America, being super powers, came forward to solve the international crisis, yet they could not be able to establish a perpetual peace in the world.

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