A very secretive and highly political era involving espionage, diplomatic rhetoric, intense propaganda, extreme nationalism, and nuclear weapons. This time is definitely the most-interesting, politically speaking. So, READ UP, fool, if you’re interested …
First, what was going on, and when was the Cold War? —
The Cold War was during the post WWII-era (1945) to 1991, so it was a long span of time.
Imagine the world after Word War II. Germany, Russia (which had been Communist since 1918), Italy, Britain, France, and all over Europe more generally, were all super destroyed from bombing, troop movement, occupation, death camps, raids, tanks, mortars, and all other types of destruction. During this time, it’s safe to say that Europe (and Eastern Russia) had to rebuild. … Everybody knew that.
The question was, how to rebuild? Who was in charge? If nobody is in charge, then it’s essentially anarchy. So the Soviet Union and the United States took charge (the two biggest and most-powerful countries). These two countries had the strongest political systems, the most people, and the largest armies — because Europe depleted most of their armies with two World Wars.
So, they held a conference, and this conference essentially decided the fate of reconstruction, which essentially drew lines in the sand of who was to become communist, and who would become democratic (in some form). This conference was called the Yalta Conference, and it was held in the Crimea. If you’re a student of international politics, this conference is the most-important historical event to happen to the world following World War II. (However, the most-important contemporary date is September 11, because it changed the course of American foreign policy)
Here is the most-important stuff that was decided at Yalta:
1) Germany would demilitarize (and be split).
2) France, Britain, US, and Russia would all occupy parts of Germany (and Berlin) for reconstruction (technically, Russia militarily took half of Berlin in the last days of the German defeat).
3) Poland’s border was defined (because Hitler annexed it). Also, Yugoslavia and Poland would have communist governments.
4) Russia would take part in the United Nations. Russia also agreed to help defeat the Japanese, and, in return, they would acquire some islands.
This stuff was pretty important because whoever had what territory would be responsible for what happens there (reconstruction, governmental formation, and other stuff).
So, Berlin was effectively split in half. Also, because the country was split into reconstruction blocs, Germany effectively had an East and a West Germany — one side reconstructed by likeminded, liberal Western countries (France, Britain, US), the other by Communist Russia.
This created two distinct cultures in Germany during the Cold War — but eventually Germany was unified again (after the Cold War).
Cold War EVENTS!
There were a few problems that arose from this configuration (having the world split in half along political and ideological lines). There was a cultural divide between the democratic-oriented, capitalist Western mentalities, and the communist countries in the East.
Eventually, the Berlin Wall was built to keep the two sides separate.
Here were some of the major events and crises during the Cold War (in order, bold for major events):
1) 1948 – The Soviet Union refuses to let trains and trucks into Western Germany; in response, Western countries drop food and supplies via planes. This helped win German hearts and minds.
2) 1949 – Because the US had a nuclear bomb, Russia (then the Soviet Union) built their own. That same year, an organization of likeminded countries got together to ensure safety from now-nuclear communist countries. The Western-centric military defense organization was called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO, which still exists). Also in ’49, the Chinese Communist Revolution occurs — so the Soviets gained an ally (although China and Russia never had a super-strong alliance because they disagree over land arrangements, natural resources, and the such).
3) 1950 – The US and the United Nations defend South Korea from North Korean communists, ending in a stalemate, and the country split into two states (to this day).
4) 1953 – The CIA overthrows Iranian leadership — we see lots of anti-American sentiments over this even today. The fact is that the United States wanted pro-American governments in as many places as they could, and this meant paying off dictators, or whoever would take American support. This eventually causes lots of problems, and we see some of those problems today.
5) 1955 – Communist countries counter the NATO alliance, and create the Warsaw Pact countries. This is bad because there were two opposing defensive groups with nuclear power.
6) 1961 – The CIA fails to kill Castro in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.
7) 1962 – Russia tries to hide nuclear weapons in Cuba, and the US freaks out — the Cuban Missile Crisis is probably the closest to nuclear war the world has ever gotten.
8) 1964 – China gets the bomb.
9) 1965 – US troops committed to Vietnam in an attempt to stop communist governments from gaining traction in Indo-China.
10) 1979 – The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. In response, the CIA funds, trains, and arms the Mujahadeen forces (some of which later become Al Qaeda members — including Osama bin Laden). Again, the United States wanted to fund and train anyone who wanted to be anti-Soviet around this time.
11) 1989 – Chinese government kills thousands of college protestors in Tiananmen Square. Shortly after, capitalists are allowed in the country, but the government (to this day) remains very communist (government has control of decision-making, social and economic policies, etc.). The Berlin Wall is destroyed.
12) 1991 – The Soviet Union falls. There are pro-democratic protests cropping up in various communist states during this year. Around this time, the Soviets (probably the KGB) attempt to overthrow Gorbachev (who doesn’t kill protestors like the Chinese did), which fails. Boris Yeltsin takes control after this timeframe.
13) 1994 – Germany becomes one country again. Eventually, attempts to bring Europe close together occur in the form of the European Union, which is where we are today. Admittedly, the Union today is looking a bit fragile economically speaking.
… So what was the Cold War?
So you’re asking yourself: Why was it called a war? Also, doesn’t that imply winners and losers? First, yes, it was a war — but not a conventional war. Rather than using guns, bombs, and other stuff directly (this would be a “hot” war), lines were drawn, and the game was to get as many countries as possible on your side, because nobody wanted to have another World War.
Because this was the objective, smaller wars were fought amid smaller countries that were funded, supported, and armed by the larger communist or liberal states.
Basically this means that the US and Soviet Union played chess with smaller countries so they could spread their versions of economics and governance. At the root of the Cold War dispute was free trade (capitalism) against planned economies (communist governments).
So, who won, and who lost?
1) The US won plenty of points when it airlifted supplies to German people after the Soviets blocked supply routes. Also, the Marshall Plan pumped LOTS of money into Europe to help reconstruction … money has a lot of power to dispel grievances or win people over.
2) Korea was a stalemate, and, it’s safe to say, the US lost in Vietnam (a long war that ended up not very fruitful for the US).
3) The US lost in Cuba during the attempted overthrow (Bay of Pigs), but ultimately won the Missile standoff. The Soviets never hid missiles in Cuba — although the US had to take away some missile sites in Turkey, I believe.
4) The Soviets lost in Afghanistan, where the CIA-supported rebels ended up kicking the Soviets out.
5) The Chinese lost when people started demanding free trade.
6) Ultimately, the Soviets lost because of the failed Afghan war, bluffing on economic strength, and trying to match Regan-led military spending. In the end, the Soviets were spent to death.
Also, after the Berlin Wall fell, lots of uprisings happened in Soviet countries, and people demanded some form of democracy. Yugoslavia broke apart (with lots of problems — including genocide), Germany (and Europe) were unified, and the United States came out as the healthiest country in the world after decades of high tension and standoffs.
Well, post-Cold War, people were very optimistic that countries would begin free trading, and finally everyone would be on the same page. The United States started to tackle global poverty, human rights, and promoted democracy for every country. … But that didn’t last long. Because of the rise of extremism in the world, 9/11 changed the game.
The United States reacted violently, human rights were put on the backburner, Russia (most recently) returned to imperialist-centric actions, China wants to build up their army and take territory back, the most-recent Iranian nuclear deal is pretty shaky at the moment, and the United Nations failed to prevent genocide, conflict, and various civil wars.
But the United States is still the top global power, for the time being. Some people say it will stay that way, other say that Chinese power will ultimately influence global affairs. Whatever happens, it seems as though the United States is allowing Chinese influence, very cautiously.
Because we know China is building an army (it’s unclear what for as of yet), the best option is to allow it, as opposed to repress it. If you repress it, you’re risking a great power war (which hasn’t happened since WWII).
So, the stance has been to allow these powers to operate autonomously, and (hopefully) rise peacefully. Generally, leaders emphasize the United Nations as a method of dealing with international conflict. While the organization is weak and fragile, it is the go-to place to yell and scream about what countries want. Also, the United Nations isn’t suppose to act as a global police force (NATO might be closer to that), rather, the function is to keep the leaders talking so you can mitigate miscommunication, misreading intentions, and to agree on very general global policies.
Also, repressive countries are having to deal with new information flows, and restricting that information is increasingly becoming more difficult. This leads some people to believe that countries will naturally democratize — and most cite the Arab Spring. … I’m a bit skeptical of that, because authoritarian leaders have a tendency of being violent when challenged.
Also, there are still very extreme, traditional and religious ideologies in the world that cause people to become very violent. So global poverty is gradually replacing human rights and the primary global problem — because poverty is linked to less education, a lack of food, clean water, etc … this, in turn causes extremist breeding grounds for recruitment.
So, what’s next? It’s anyone’s best guess. Outcomes could range from global cooperation (which seems to have happened in the Iranian deal, but may fall apart at any time) to conventional, great-power war (I would say this is less likely). I will say that extreme religious, cultural-conservative ideas seem to be gaining traction all over the world. Wars today are no longer between governments and such — they’re between ethnic, racial, and religious groups.
So lines are being drawn between smaller groups of people, and not countries as a whole. … But hopefully things don’t get too crazy. Although they might.