The Grand Alliance that was developed between the USSR, U.S. and the United Kingdom during the Second World War was highly effective in defeating the wave of Japanese expansionism and European fascism. The Cold War (1947-1991) emerged as the unity amongst these states deteriorated, pitting the united states against the soviet union and their allies, which influenced international relations for the better part of the 20th century.
The Cold War assumed economic, social, political and technological fronts, despite the lack of a direct military confrontation between the two superpowers, the United States and the USSR. The Cold War culminated with the collapse of the Soviet Union, given that the period was marked by numerous wars in different locations around the world. The failure of the Soviet Union has been associated with the ineffectiveness of its economic system and the repression of political freedom for its population. The high prevalence of the communist system across European states that were conquered by the Soviets alarmed western states. Churchill in 1946 noted that there was an “Iron Curtain” that impeded Europe from achieving a desired level of freedom and democracy (Freedman, 2011).
In 1947 American president Truman noted that it was imperative to adopt policies for containing the spread of communism into other parts of the world achieving this goal resulted in the implementation of the Marshall Plan across the United States. This plan was driven by the need to prevent impoverishment amongst populations’ which favored communist expansion across Europe. The first phase of the Cold War took place in Germany, which had been divided into four primary occupation areas namely American, British, French and soviet territories. Germany was subsequently divided into two regions in 1949 namely, Federal Republic of Germany (Western Germany) and German Democratic Republic (Eastern Germany under soviet control).
Such is evidence of the role of capitalist and communist influences, from western states and the Soviet Union respectively, in the development of the Cold War. In the same period, the Cold War moved into Asia, which was marked by Mao Zedong’s proclamation of the Republic of China in October 1949 with the assistance of the communist states. In addition, the Korean War (1950-1953) resulted in the partition of Korea into two countries- North and South Korea. North Korea emerged as a communist state backed by china and Russia, whereas South Korea was under Western influence (Freedman, 2011).
The division of Korea and Germany into blocs led by Western and Soviet influences highlighted the emergence of two superpowers- the United States and the USSR. The United States undertook a number of measures to establish a strong foundation for global influence by initially reinforcing its relationship Western European states. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) emerged in 1949, which is the largest military alliance around the world. Furthermore, the United States pursued the economic integration of European states resulting in the emergence of the European Economic Community in 1957 (Roberts, 2013).
On the other hand, the Soviets’ influence across Asia was affirmed by the victory of Mao Zedong in 1949, which resulted in military agreements between the Chinese and soviets to counter Western influences. The death of Stalin in the year 1953 brought about a new era in the Soviet Union, resulting in improved diplomatic relations between the United States and the USSR, bringing about in a “thaw” of hostile relations between the two superpowers. However, this era of newfound peace was marked by events such as the construction of the Berlin Wall, Americas Cuban Missile Crisis and the breakdown in USSR-China relations. The decline of the Cold War is suggested to be as a result of the “balance of terror” as both superpowers accelerated their military capabilities to accommodate atomic power. There was a widely held assumption that a conflict between the two states would result in the destruction of the entire planet (Roberts, 2013).
The conflict between communism and capitalism was also evident in the massive migration of Germans from East into West Germany as a result of significant differences in socioeconomic conditions and a lack of democracy and freedom. The Berlin Wall became as the “great wall of shame” as it denoted the deplorable living conditions in East Germany and lack of freedoms. In addition, Fidel Castro’s ascent into power through the Cuban Revolution culminated in hostility between the communist led Cuba and the United States. Such events highlight the mistrust and fear that exacerbated hostilities between communists and western states.
Essentially the Cuban Revolution was not communist in principle; however, the revolutionaries supported the communist movement due to mistrust of the western superpowers. America n aggression against Cuba prompted Castro to seek out the assistance of the USSR, resulting in the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuban territory. The Cuban Missile Crisis induced tensions between the USSR and the United states, with fears of an imminent nuclear war between the superpowers. The USSR later agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba with expectations that the United States would not invade Cuba (Gottfried & Reim, 2003).
The USSR and United states entered into a period of policy détente marked by systemic adoption of new policies. This new period that was marked by new agreements failed in prevention of a number of conflicts such as those in the Middle East and Vietnam. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was an example of a treaty signed during this period by the United Kingdom, United States and USSR. In addition, the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement (SALT I) signed in 1972 sought to limit the overall intercontinental missiles owned by the USSR and the United States.
The competition between these superpowers has been extended into conflicts abroad in regions such as the Middle East, as a result of a battle for supremacy through foreign policies and engagements with these states. Furthermore, such is illustrative that the Cold War was centered on political and economic interests of the two superpowers in resources present in different parts of the world. A number of conflicts such as Vietnam War, Yom Kippur, and Six Day War all highlighted the presence of different foreign interests in these states. Studies suggest that competition for resources and supremacy induced fear, resulting in a new wave of international foreign relations (Gottfried & Reim, 2003).
Economic difficulties experienced by western states after the oil crisis in 1973 and the failure by the United States to engage in military activities after its disastrous withdrawal from Vietnam contributed to the soviet’s involvement in different parts of the world. However, a weak economic system founded on communist practices contributed to the eventual decline of the USSR. In addition, this was compounded by a new wave of American provocation after President Ronald Reagan brought about policies intended to counter the Soviet’s expansionist intentions in Europe and around the world (Gottfried & Reim, 2003). The Soviet Union was unable to cope with provocation from the Americans due to economic challenges, resulting in the “thawing” of the Cold War and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. The election of a new leader in the USSR in 1985, Mijail Gorbachov instituted reform to address economic uncertainty , which resulted in the collapse of the communist bloc with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 being an indication of the end of the cold war.
Freedman, L. (2011). The cold war. Faber and Faber.
Gottfried, T., & Reim, M. (2003). The Cold War. Brookfield, Conn: Twenty-First Century Books.
Roberts, P. M. (2013). The Cold War. Stroud: The History Press.