How The Cold War affected International Relations

This essay will look at ways the Cold War affected international relations between 1945-1990.

The cold war is a term that denotes the ideological conflict between western capitalism (USA) and Soviet-Marxism-Leninism (USSR), which involves the competition for domination between two economic and political systems ( Summy & Salla, 1995, p.20).

From 1945 until 1990, International Relations revolved round the resumed quarrel between the two superpowers. The ideology of the conflict ‘cold-war’ was transported around different parts of the world. (Cassels, A, 1996, p.207).

The extension of the ideology to a universal diplomatic terrain was furthered by the invention of the atomic bomb. The failure of the United States of America and the Soviet union to agree on an international atomic energy control system left the west in sole possession of nuclear weaponry until 1949 when the Soviets exploded their first nuclear device and then, some years later, acquired a missile – delivery capability (Cassels, A, 1996, p.207).

The frightening power of nuclear weapons imposed a bar on their use, a ‘self-deterrence’ that operated even when the West enjoyed a monopoly. Both superpowers came to possess the ultimate weapon, parity was less important than Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) even when both threatened, there were elements of bluff involved. Because of the destruction atomic or nuclear war would cause and fearful of armed clash with each other, they were compelled to play their powers in third world. (Cassels, A, 1996, p.207).

The United States of America and the Soviet Union notion of the third world countries is underdevelopment, with little or no political advancement. They sought whatever kind of allies they could assemble, not minding their human rights records, be it a dictatorship or democratically elected government, they piled their arms in a determined effort to outmanoeuvre their main ideological rival in places as far apart as Cuba & Afghanistan, Vietnam & Angola. (Baylis, Smith & Owens, 2008, p.82).

Proxy Wars such as events and conflicts in Asia and elsewhere also affected international relations between the periods of 1945-1990. In 1949, thirty-year-long Chinese civil war ended in victory for the communist. In June 1950, the North Korean attack on South Korea was interpreted as part of a general communist strategy, over 3 million people died. (Baylis, Smith & Owens, 2008, p.61).

The Middle East experienced a more difficult era during the cold war. The founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Though, both the USA and the USSR helped the creation of a Jewish state in previously owned Arab lands. However, in the 1950s, relations between the superpowers had gone ‘cold’, the Soviet foreign policy supported Arab nationalism. The state of Israel was created by force. Israel developed relations with the British and the French, culminating in their secret agreement to attack Egypt in 1956. (Baylis, Smith & Owens, 2008, p.61).

The death of Stalin in 1953 had significant consequences for the USSR, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, helped unleash reformist forces in Eastern Europe. While Poland was controlled , the situation in Hungary threatened Soviet hegemony, and in 1956, the intervention of the Red Army brought bloodshed to the street of Budapest and worldwide condemnation of Moscow’s action. International relations were heading downhill. Khrushchev’s policies aroused fears in the West of a global communist challenge. The cold war saw the growth of large permanent intelligent organisations, whose roles ranged from estimating intentions and capabilities of adversaries to covert intervention in the affairs of other states. (Baylis, Smith & Owens, 2008, p.62).

The Cold War affected international relations between 1945-1990 in so many ways but one of the most important is the replacement of a ‘multipolar’ with a ‘bipolar configuration of power (Gaddis,J.L, 1992, p.172). A Balance of power between the USA and the USSR, ‘two states, isolationist by tradition, famed for impulsive behaviour, they both showed in crucial cases to wary, alert, cautious, flexible and forbearing. This was a period of nuclear stand-off between two great powers.(Gaddis,J.L, 1992, p.172).

Germany’s reconstruction after the Second World War was in jeopardy because of the ‘cold-war’ between the two superpowers. The United States was in control of West Germany, while the Soviet Union was in control of East Germany. The cold-war had resulted to economic warfare, when the US introduced currency reforms, the USSR reacted immediately. They blockaded all links by land and cut all other supplies, subjecting the East to poverty and squalor while the Western part of Germany wallowed in economic reform and reconstruction. (McCauley, M, 1995, p.97).

The Berlin blockade increased the feeling of military insecurity in northern, western and southern Europe and there was pressure for a common military force. This led to the drawing up of North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington on 4th April 1949 and eventually to a common defence force, known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). (McCauley, M, 1995, p.98).

The Soviet union by way of rejoinder, established the council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) in 1949 and the WARSAW PACT, the Soviet Union’s answer to NATO, in 1955. With the formation of the (WEST) European Economic Area in 1958, the division of Europe was complete. (McCauley, M, 1995, p.97).

Because of the Soviet -American confrontation, a parallel process was underway – the formation of blocs. The division of Germany and the splitting of Europe, and indeed the world, into two camps, was a fait accompli by 1955. From then onwards, the two major political groupings competed for spheres of influence. (McCauley, M, 1995, p.99).

The bipolar world of two superpowers also affected countries who were not directly involved in the ‘war’ but had an allegiance to either Moscow or Washington. The Marshall plan, an economic reform programme, was introduced by the United States to help ‘kick-start’ the economies of European states including the Soviet Union. It placed the Soviet Union in a serious predicament, since the economy of European states was spiralling downhill thus needed the United States capital and goods to recover. The USSR believed the plan was an extension of Truman’s doctrine, which involved interference in internal affairs of other states and also the US intention to dominate political and economic dominance of Europe. The soviet response to Marshall Plan was negative. (McCauley, M, 1995, p.89).

The Cold War affected international relations, in the sense that, it limited the sovereignty of allies, especially that of the USSR, the Soviets decision to reject the Marshall Plan left the plan in tatters because of their mistrust of American motives, they were able to split Europe because of their deep pessimism about their ability to contain US influence (McCauley, M, 1995, p.91). Despite the initial approval of other communist countries, immediately the Soviet Union rejected the plan and applied pressure on its allies, they all withdrew from the Marshal Plan (McCauley, M, 1995, p.90). However, as the economic situation in Czechoslovakia began to deteriorate, crises developed and because of their support for Moscow, there appeared little hope of obtaining outside assistance. (McCauley, M, 1995, p.94).

The role of the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) The Corporation that were enjoyed in countries other than the USA and USSR suffered a setback. Communists in southern and western Europe were ordered to break with social democrats because they were seen as a tool of US imperialism. The Cold War, thus, ceased to be merely an expression of international politics; it had become a reality of internal politics by affecting every part of decision making process of allies loyal to the US or the USSR. (McCauley, M, 1995, p.92).

The ‘War’ also had an economic effect on the two superpowers, the end of the post-war boom and the onset of a period of low and declining profit rates which had detrimental effects on them. The boom had been sustained by the arms race. The USSR and the USA were doubly disadvantaged. They were affected by the global crises that meant relatively stagnant growth from the mid-1970s. Since they were the largest arms spenders, the consequences were more devastating for the USSR for two reasons. The arms race compelled the USSR to match the military build up of the US. The Soviet economy was much smaller and therefore much less efficient than that of the USA. (Summy & Salla, 1995, p.162).

As soviet – Chinese relations were deteriorating, and America’s involvement in Vietnam deepening, the tensions were getting out of control, thereby, resulting in the period of relative peace known as Détente. Both Washington and Moscow agreed on the peculiar status of Berlin, and the sovereignty of East Germany. The Détente of both superpowers had its roots in mutual recognition of the need to avoid nuclear crises, and in the economic sense, to avoid unconstrained nuclear arms race. But, the perception that the USSR was using arms control agreements to gain military advantage and the support for revolutionary movements in the ‘Third World’, Ethiopia in 1975 and Angola in 1978 killed détente. Some argued, that Reagan’s own incautious killed détente (Baylis, Smith & Owens, 2008, p.64).

As part of the consequences of the cold war, international relations between the USA and some European countries took a new dimension, the Truman administration sought to justify limited aid to Turkey and Greece to arouse awareness of Soviet ambition and a declaration that America would support those threatened by Soviet expansion. (Baylis, Smith & Owens, 2008, p.61).

The cold war was no longer between US and USSR, they had their trusted allies by their side as a way of engineering support and unleashing whatever consequences they deem fit for any oppression against any member of their association. The war has both directly and indirectly affected international politics as well as diplomatic relations between countries.


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