At the end of World War II, it seemed that humanity had already lived through the major horrors of violent conflict and could at least temporarily enter a phase of calm. However, the problems that emerged during that war were not fully resolved and instead became deeply entrenched: this led to the development of a bipolar world in which the main geopolitical emphases were placed on the United States and the Soviet Union. The term ‘Cold War’ has traditionally been used to describe the economic, political, cultural, and scientific confrontation between these countries, although the actual era was not a war in the classical sense. In fact, the confrontation between the countries took place in the field of information since no concrete violent action was taken. Nevertheless, it was this nonviolent war that could have caused a nuclear catastrophe. This paper critically assesses the background of the Cold War and discusses the critical theaters of action.
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The Arms Race
As early as World War II, one of the significant geopolitical trends was the intensification of domestic scientific development for the military industry. The U.S. nuclear bombs used in 1945 served as a strong indication of what the U.S. was able to achieve by the end of World War II (It’s History 2015). In the decades of the Cold War, however, this trend continued as both the United States and the Soviet Union used all available resources of research initiative and public propaganda to create an image of a strong power with better weapons. Thus, one of the first prerequisites of the Cold War was the desire of the warring countries to demonstrate their military might.
There is no doubt that one of the goals of World War II was the geographical division of European regions and the destruction of sovereign states. Although the Cold War rarely operated on territorial claims as instruments of conflict, the desire to conquer new territory is permanent for any state aiming for expansion (Tignor et al. 2017). At the conclusion of World War II, Winston Churchill accused the USSR of illegally claiming the sovereignty of the Eastern European powers, which is the formal reason for the outbreak of the Cold War (It’s History 2015; ICS 1946). In this communication, the USSR was portrayed as an aggressor whose sole mission was constant territorial expansion at the expense of weaker states. In this context, then, it is clear that an essential reason for the outbreak of the Cold War was the countries’ territorial claims.
In the Cold War era, fighting ceased to be physical, involving weapons and blood, and instead became informational. In this context, the state ideologies of the different poles of the world became particularly important: capitalism in the United States and socialism in the USSR (It’s History 2015). This focus on instructions of how to manage the state system properly was a consequence of the deep crisis of the fascist system during World War II. Fascism as another ideology showed its inadequacy. It is true, however, that Hitler’s Germany was one of the most influential European countries of the first half of the twentieth century. Having ousted Hitler and shown the unsustainability of fascism, countries were faced with the dilemma of which of the alternative ideologies (socialism or capitalism) would prove solid and persuasive enough to conquer the world. It was the catalyzed development of fascism in the first half of the last century, combined with its resounding fall, which set the stage for the Cold War.
Fear of World War III
Just as crucial in shaping the Cold War was the permanent expectation of World War III as a natural evolution of the global first two wars. Realizing that there was no guarantee that the phenomena of world wars could not recur, governments of fear wished to preemptively extend their geopolitical influences in the event of a new conflict. In the case of World War III, whether it was the same as World War II or nuclear, having allies committed to a common ideology would prove to be a crucial step in defense and offensive (Tignor et al. 2017). Therefore, one function of the Cold War as a natural extension of World War II was to demonstrate one’s national strength and influence in the face of the threat of World War III.
The Main Theaters of the Cold War
The Cold War, unlike previous world wars, was much longer because it was not realized through bloody battles. One of the first theaters of the Cold War in the first seven years after Hitler’s fall were the Balkan countries of Europe, in which the USSR implemented a program of communist intervention, and the United States implemented a program of limiting Soviet influence. In the following years, three new crises at once reflected increasing tensions between the two poles: the Suez Crisis (1956), the Berlin Crisis (1961), and the Caribbean Crisis (1962) (CVCE 2016). Of all these crises, the Caribbean is the most diplomatically tense because it was the only one in which nuclear weapons were deployed. In brief, each side deployed its stockpile of nuclear weapons in close proximity to its opponent on the territory of allied countries. The result of this escalation could have been World War III with nuclear weapons. However, as history shows, this did not happen.
To summarize, it should be emphasized that the Cold War problem did not arise by accident but instead was shaped by the foundations of past decades. World War II with Hitler’s Nazi Germany catalyzed many hidden geopolitical conflicts that could only manifest themselves after a move. The Cold War was not physical and did not require bloodshed, but it was its tension that could lead to nuclear catastrophe.
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CVCE. 2016. “Introduction.” ePublications. Web.
ICS. 1946. “The Sinews of Peace (‘Iron Curtain Speech’).” 1946 – 1963: Elder Statesman. Web.
It’s History. 2015. “Zero Hour — Origins of the Cold War.” YouTube video. Web.
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