Cold war



  • The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies, the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc, which began following World War II
  • The Cold War never escalated to the point of direct confrontation between the US and the USSR. In fact, aside from the nuclear arms race
    • Thus, the struggle for world dominance was primarily waged through propaganda campaigns, espionage, proxy wars, athletic rivalry at the Olympics, and the Space Race
  • The Cold War ended in 1991, after the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union.



Origins of the Cold War

  • Following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945 near the close of World War II, the uneasy wartime alliance between the United States and Great Britain on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other began to unravel.
  • The Americans and the British feared the permanent Soviet domination of eastern Europe and the threat of Soviet-influenced communist parties coming to power in the democracies of western Europe
  • The Soviets, on the other hand, were determined to maintain control of eastern Europe in order to safeguard against any possible renewed threat from Germany, and they were intent on spreading communism worldwide
  • The Cold War had solidified by 1947–48, when U.S. aid provided under the Marshall Plan to western Europe had brought those countries under American influence and the Soviets had installed openly communist regimes in eastern Europe


Why was it called the ‘Cold’ War?

  • It was called the Cold War for the following reasons:
    • First of all, neither the Soviet Union nor the United States officially declared war on the other. In fact, there was never any direct large-scale fighting between the two superpowers
    • The war was only waged through indirect conflict. The US and USSR supported regional conflicts in their own interests, known as proxy wars
    • It describes the ‘chilly’ relationship between the two Second World War allies


Cold War: Causes

  • Early tensions
    • The wartime alliance between the US and USSR was one of circumstances and not ideology.
    • When Hitler broke the non-aggression pact he had signed with Soviet Union, making important territorial gains, it forced the Soviet Union to join allied powers
    • Thus, at the end of the Second World War, the uneasy wartime alliance had begun to unravel and had begun to take a different course all together
  • Ideological differences
    • The emergence of communism
      • The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 replaced Russia’s Tsar with a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, and established a communist state.
      • The Bolsheviks then decided to withdraw Russia from World War One as civil war engulfed the country, leaving Britain and France to fight the Axis powers alone.
      • The White Army, tsarist supporters who fought the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War, were then supported by the Western powers
    • Capitalism and communism: ideological opposites
      • The political and economic systems of the capitalist USA and communist USSR were ideologically incompatible.
      • Both sides wanted to affirm their model and force countries around the world to conform to their ideologies
  • Disagreements over Germany
    • At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the US, USSR, and Britain agreed to divide Germany into four zones. Each zone was administered by one of the Allied powers, including France.
    • The Western powers envisioned a booming capitalist Germany that contributed to world trade
      • While, Stalin, on the other hand, wanted to destroy the German economy and ensure that Germany could never become powerful again
      • As a result, The French, US, and British sectors remained free to trade and reconstruction was started, whilst Stalin forbade the Russian zone from trading with other zones
    • In 1947, Bizonia was created: the British and American zones unified economically thanks to a new currency
      • Fearing the spread of new idea to the Soviet zone and strengthen rather than weaken Germany. He decided to introduce his own currency in East Germany, called the Ostmark
    • This eventually took turn to Berlin Blockade, where Stalin to block all road and rail access to the western part of Berlin from June 24, 1948
  • Formation of Alliances
    • The western alliance was formalised into an organisation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which came into existence in April 1949.
      • It was an association of twelve states which declared that armed attack on any one of them in Europe or North America would be regarded as an attack on all of them.
      • Each of these states would be obliged to help the other.
    • While, the eastern alliance, known as the Warsaw Pact, was led by the Soviet Union.
      • It was created in 1955 and its principal function was to counter NATO’s forces in Europe

Alliances during 1950s

  • Nuclear arms race
    • The Americans believed that the Soviets had caught up technologically, which led to a nuclear arms race.
    • The two superpowers tried amassed nuclear weapons, both sides fearing they might fall behind in research and production.
    • Over 55,000 nuclear warheads were produced during the Cold War, with the US spending an estimated $5.8 trillion on nuclear weapons, laboratories, reactors, bombers, submarines, missiles, and silos
    • Nuclear warfare eventually became a deterrent rather than a weapon

Important events during Cold War

  • Wars around the world
    • There was never any direct large-scale fighting between the US and USSR. The two superpowers waged war only by supporting different regional conflicts, known as proxy wars
    • Korean War
      • In 1950, Korea was divided into two zones: the communist north, and the capitalist democratic south. In a bid to contain the spread of communism to South Korea, the US sent troops to the country. The Chinese responded by sending their own troops to the border.
      • This war however ended in a stalemate, while till present both North & South Korea are still at war
    • Vietnam War
      • The Vietnam War was an extremely long and costly conflict that pitted North Vietnam against South Vietnam and the United States in the 1960s.
      • The Soviet Union sent money and supplied weapons to the communist forces. By 1975, the US was forced to withdraw, and the North seized control of the South
    • Afghanistan War
      • In the 1980s, just as the United States had done in Vietnam, the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan
      • In response, the US supported the Mujahideen (Afghani guerrillas) against the USSR, by sending them money and weapons
      • The USSR was unsuccessful in its efforts to turn the country into a communist state during the Afghan War, and the Taliban, a US-funded Islamic extremist group, eventually claimed power in the region
  • Space Race
    • The space race was a series of technological advancements that were exhibits of superiority in spaceflight, each nation trying to outdo the other.
    • The origins of the space race lie in the nuclear arms race between the two nations after the Second World War when ballistic missiles were being developed
    • On 4 October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, into orbit. On 20 July 1969, the US successfully landed on the moon, thanks to the Apollo 11 space mission
  • Cuban missile crisis
    • In 1962, the Soviet Union began to secretly install missiles in communist Cuba, in easy striking distance of the US
    • The confrontation that followed became known as the Cuban missile crisis. The US and USSR were on the brink of nuclear war.
    • Eventually, an agreement was arrived at, which showed that the two countries were extremely wary of using nuclear missiles against each other, both fearing mutual annihilation


How did the Cold War end?

The Cold War came to an end, with the following series of events

  • Break of Unity in Eastern Bloc
    • Unity in the Eastern bloc started to falter during the 1960s and 1970s when the alliance between China and the Soviet Union fell apart.
    • In the meantime, some Western countries as well as Japan became more economically independent of the US
      • This led to more complex relationships internationally, which meant that smaller nations were more resistant to efforts to vie for their support.
  • Gorbachev: perestroika and glasnost
    • The Cold War began to break down properly in the late 1980s, during Mikhail Gorbachev’s administration
      • He introduced reforms to distract people form the Economic problems in Eastern Bloc where goods were in short supply
      • To stop citizens from revolting, economic reforms known as perestroika, or ‘restructuring’, were passed and the restrictions on freedom of expression were relaxed in a policy called glasnost, or ‘openness.’
    • But, these reforms came in too late. As Communist regimes in Eastern Europe were collapsing as democratic governments rose to replace them in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia
  • The Fall of the Berlin Wall
    • In 1989, the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Iron Curtain, was torn down by Germans on both sides as they sought to unify Germany.
    • At the same time, waves of anti-communist feeling spread throughout the Eastern Bloc.
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union
    • The end of the Cold War was finally marked by the dissolution of the Soviet Union into fifteen newly independent nations in 1991.
    • The USSR became the Russian Federation and no longer had a communist leader.


India during Cold War

  • As a leader of Non Aligned Movement, India’s response to the ongoing Cold War was two-fold:
    • At one level, it took particular care in staying away from the two alliances.
    • Second, it raised its voice against the newly decolonised countries becoming part of these alliances
  • India’s policy was neither negative nor passive.
    • As Nehru reminded the world, nonalignment was not a policy of ‘fleeing away’.
    • On the contrary, India was in favour of actively intervening in world affairs to soften Cold War rivalries. India tried to reduce the differences between the alliances and thereby prevent differences from escalating into a full-scale war
    • Indian diplomats and leaders were often used to communicate and mediate between Cold War rivals such as in the Korean War in the early 1950s.
  • Also, during this time, India chose to involve other members also into Non-Aligned group
    • During the Cold War, India repeatedly tried to activate those regional and international organisations, which were not a part of the alliances led by the US and USSR.
    • Nehru reposed great faith in ‘a genuine commonwealth of free and cooperating nations’ that would play a positive role in softening, if not ending, the Cold War
  • However, India saw a pro-soviet tilt during the ‘Indira Years’
    • During the 1960s India was seeking to boost its military power post the 1962 defeat, and while the West was hesitant to upset the India-Pakistan balance
    • Given these circumstances, India leant towards the USSR
      • India could anyhow not realistically attain strategic autonomy with its dependence on foreign powers for military equipment.
      • Gaining Moscow’s military and political backing was a pragmatic means of securing India’s security interests while also not completely discarding nonalignment as India had not entered into a formal alliance with the USSR.
      • As such, Indira’s foreign policy was driven primarily by a quest for power, aligning with the Cold War norm
    • Also, Indira’s signing of a Peace, Friendship and Cooperation Treaty with the USSR before the 1971 India-Pakistan War is widely seen as a breach of nonalignment; while India was arguably maintaining the subcontinental balance of power