In what ways did the Cold War affect international relations between 1945 and 1990?

Abdi Hassan: Kingston University, London

The Cold War was a period of confrontation that took place between 1945 and 1990 although some International scholars held the idea that the Cold War started in 1917 Russian revelation nevertheless,  it was  between the USA and its allies mainly the Western countries and the Eastern bloc spearheaded by the USSR however, the two powers did not fight or used weapons against each other, it was fought through Nuclear Arms race, proxy wars, ideological influence and propaganda war and therefore had a great impact on the world. This essay will examine ways in which the Cold War affected international relation between 1945 up to its end. This essay is going to explore its impacts  and how those impacts affected the world.

The Cold War has affected international relations in different ways first and for most the Cold War divided the world in to three distinct camps, the NATO camp, the Warsaw camp, and the nonaligned the first two camps were armed with nuclear weapons.  The rivalry between the two super powers quickly spread to the rest of the world. The USA encourage other friendly regions in the world to form their own alliance such as CENTO in the Middle East and SEATO in the South East Asia the aim as suggested by Murphy (2003) was to surround the USSR with military alliance and as result increased tensions. Furthermore both super powers possessed nuclear missiles that can reach Moscow and Washington respectively. Thus, the Cold War become global and directly affected international stability (Murphy, 2003).  In addition both superpowers resorted to confrontation and propaganda and this in turn was played out in the rest of the world.

The Cold War led the division of Europe in general and Germany in particular it also as pointed by Cornwell (2001) made possible the modernization and “reintegration” of the defeated powers of Germany Italy and Japan (Cornwell, 2003) Its impact was felt especially in Africa where as further stated by Painter ( 2001) made possible the emergence and creation of new nation states, as the colonial masters no longer able to sustain those colonies. The Cold War considerably affected Europe where it originated as well as internationally. It led the Berlin Blockade, created the divisions of Vietnam and Korea, resulted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 which furthers exacerbated the relationship of the West and the Soviet Union it further exacerbated and fuelled other conflicts and wars in the middle East (Painter, 2001).

Another aspect of Cold War that had an impact on international relations was protecting sphere of interest by both sides “truly at global level” for example 1956 Hungarian uprising and the subsequent intervention by the Soviet troops because the soviet did not like the Hungarian’s intention to leave the Warsaw Pact, (Bell, 2001) Similarly the USA was also maintaining sphere of interest in other parts of the world especially in Latin America. During the Cold War fear of the spread of communism has resulted US military involvement in Latin America in various ways for example, the US helped train and provided arms and other assistance to anti-communist in Nicaragua and El-Salvador and by using force to further safeguard its interest in the region a  good example of this was the armed intervention by United States in the Dominican Republic in 1965, here the US aim was as suggested by Young & Kent, (2004) to stop the spread of  communism in the region in other words this was a pre-emptive attack against communism. Another example was the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala and the failed attempt to overthrow Castro’s government in Cuba because America regarded Castro as an unfriendly and enemy (Bell, 2001).

Furthermore super power rivalry was played out in parts of the world for example,  in sub Saharan Africa particularly Angola which became a battle ground for the super powers.  On the one hand the USSR and Cuba were supporting and arming Angolan government while on the other hand the USA and South Africa supported the UNITA rebels. In many other cases the super powers’s support economically and militarily to various government and rebels in Africa exacerbated the civil war that engulfed the continent (Wayne et al., 2005).

Due to the super power rivalry played out in the third world, millions of people died as result of the Cold War because of civil war and other conflict that affected many parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Indeed as Painter ( 2001) pointed out most of the millions who perished during the cold war died in the third world thus,  the cold war had a  profoundly effect on those parts of the world.

The Cold War increased tensions within international community because of the actions of the two super powers; they pursued political and ideological goals some of which were ever more opposing with the objectives of the other for example, the Soviet believed that America is an imperialist power and therefore committed in spreading capitalist ideology with the intention of dominating the rest of world, on the other hand the USA saw the Soviet as an ideologically motivated and “antagonistically” expansionist evil empire that is committed to the spread of communism (Painter, 2001). Thus as Bell (2001) pointed out both superpowers advocated that their system of belief was the only way forward for a better world.

However, another bad effect of the Cold War was the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 that internationally created fears of an imminent nuclear war between the US and the USSR this clearly further increased  tension between the two super powers and their allies and as Baylis et al. (2008) suggested this was the “most dangerous moment” the world have ever seen since the end of the second world war (Baylis et al 2008, p.62). furthermore, in November 1983, NATO carried out operation “Able Archer” exercise which “simulated a coordinated” Nuclear attack against the Soviet this further led the Soviets to believe that America is preparing to attack them and they in turn took steps to prepare their Nuclear forces this further exacerbated tension in the region as the tension developed a possible war between them meant that the entire world might be destroyed in an all out nuclear war (Murphy, 2003).

Indeed the Cold War divided the world into three camps; some of those camps were armed with conventional and nuclear missiles that can reach each other’s cities  both super powers were ready to protect their sphere of interests using whatever means necessary  thus,  their actions caused tensions within the international community. Although the Cold War caused and exacerbated conflict in some parts of the world, it also maintained order and peace that existed (Mearsheimer, 1990) and made possible the reconstruction and assimilation of defeated powers of Germany, Italy

and the “transformation” of Japan from a war torn country to the second most powerful economy in the world (McWilliams & Piotrowski, 2005). But this positive aspect  cannot be compared with  the negative impact it had on the Third Word specially that of Africa where the Cold War fuelled the civil war and caused many deaths and destructions through proxy wars and civil wars. Decolonisation and the emergence of new nations-states attracted the attention of the super powers, arms and other support poured into continent and the result was disastrous (Mcmahon, 2003).

The Cold War led to major impact to International order; because the post Cold War order of bipolarity and the balance of power has ended making the US the only super power in the world and therefore can take whatever actions she desires with impunity this change ended an era of peace in the world this view is held by Mearsheimer (1994) as cited by (Baylis et al., 2008) Mearsheimer held the idea that, the Cold War era was a period of peace and stability.

Furthermore, towards the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the Soviet Union suffered considerable economic decline as a direct result of the Cold War because of huge military spending. (Young & Kent, 2004)  thus the effects of the Cold War are far-reaching and they added to the ultimate fall down of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of bipolarity, which left the United States as the only hegemony power in the world.

In conclusion, the cold war divided the world into two nuclear armed camps and one neutral one, it maintained the status quo that existed in Germany, and it also paved the way the emergence of new nation states, the rise of those newly born states attracted the intention of the two powers, and super rivalry was played out in order to keep and maintain sphere of interest. With end of bipolarity a period of peace and stability and balance of power has ended, and left the US the only hegemony power in the world. The question is, will United States respect the fragile peace that the world has now; or because of the absence of another super power will it keep invading other countries?

 

Bibliography

Baylis, J., Smith, S. & Owens, P, (2008.) International and Global Security. In J. Baylis, ed. The Globalization of World Politics. 4th ed. Oxford and Newyork: Oxford University Press. p.231.

Baylis, J., Smith, S. & Owens, P, (2008) International History 1900-90. In L. Scott, ed. The Globalzation of World Politics, An introduction to international relations. 4th ed. Oxford and Newyork: Oxford University Press. p.62.

Bell, P.M.H., (2001). The world since 1945, and international history. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.

Cornwell, R. (2003). independent.co.uk. [Online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/white-house-has-plans-to-rebuild-iraq-within-a-year-591503.html [Accessed 22 December 2009].

Mcmahon, R.J., (2003) The cold war, a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McWilliams, W.C. & Piotrowski, H. ( 2005) Transition to New Era. In The World Since 1945 a History of International Relations. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc. pp.407,408.

Mearsheimer, J.J. (1990) Why We Will Soon Miss The Cold War. The Atlantic Monthly, 266(2), pp.35-50.

Murphy, D, (2003) The Cold War 1945-1991. London: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Painter, D.S. (2001) The Oxford Companion to United States History. [Online] Available at: http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t119.e0319 [Accessed 23 November 2009].

Wayne, C., McWilliams & Piotrowski, H.( 2005) Africa. In The World Since 1945, A history of International Relations. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. p.277.

Young, J.W. & Kent, J. (2004) In International Relations since 1945. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Pres.

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