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Was the Cold War Really a Cold War?

The Cold War (1945-1991) was a period of political confrontations between two blocks, the Capitalist America and the communist USSR. The caution of political leaders did not obviate the risk of reckless subordinates (Gaddis 54). However, it would seem that nuclear weapons made nuclear powers tactically cautious whilst increasing the sense of strategic threat. At no time was the Cold War regarded as the sole component of the international system: historians portray that in each state, there were leaders who favored other views, championing, amongst others things, internal reform, national renewal, imperial consolidation or intra-capitalist competition. The Cold War was a period of “hot” political and military confrontations but can be seen as a “cold” conflict without military operations and interventions.

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The typology of Cold War historiography is necessarily simplified, but it does accurately portray two features of much of this work. First, it assumes that the Cold War was merely a name for a Soviet-American conflict played out on a global scale. Second, even within this bilateral context, the emphasis is on American motivations and policy. Although these tendencies have been criticized, there are, actually, good reasons why they arose (Gaddis 42). No-one would deny that the Soviet-American relationship was of key importance; and historians have a well-justified reluctance to concentrate on areas where there is a dearth of evidence to support their conclusions. The aim of the book is to explain why the Cold War remained central to international relations for so long. It addresses four main questions (Zubok 11). To interpret the Cold War as bipolar is to stress the centrality of the direct interaction between the Soviet Union and the United States and the impact they had on other states. A multipolar view, by contrast, not only suggests that other states helped shape the individual actions of the two main protagonists, but that interactions between states other than the USSR and the USA actually shaped the Cold War system itself. There is a difference between a multipolar Cold War and a multipolar world. It has been argued, for instance, that after about 1970 the Cold War became ‘tripolar’ with the emergence of China as a political, if not an economic or military, superpower (Jones 11).

“US international and security policy, rooted in the structure of power in the domestic society, has as its primary goal the preservation of what we might call ‘the Fifth Freedom’… the freedom to rob, to exploit and to dominate, to undertake any course of action to ensure that existing privilege is protected and advanced…” (Ambrose( et al 53).

It has also been argued that about the same time the world capitalist system started to become ‘tripolar’ with the emergence of roughly balanced zones of advanced industrial prosperity in North America, Western Europe and East Asia. It is important to ask whether the Cold War not only passed through bipolar and multipolar stages but whether polarity also (Walker 32).

Historians of the Cold War give a special attention to the problem of polarity. The historians show to a wide target audience of readers that foreign policy could threaten the legitimacy of even a stable political system; as the conduct of the Vietnam War did in America (Gaddis 76). Foreign policy could legitimize a regime which other factors tended to undermine — the situation in the Soviet Union for most of its history. If we identify the scope of those threatened by foreign-policy failure — the nation, the political system, the government, an organization, an individual —and the severity of the challenge which would arise from failure, fundamental, serious or minor, we can note that the wider the scope and the more severe the challenge the more important management of the domestic political process became, except in those cases where the threat derived from crude direct intervention by a foreign power (Zubok 52).

The security of a nation must be viewed as that which provides peace and stability for its citizens as well as for its government, and in that interpretation, economic security is an essential component of security as well. People who have no assurance of employment, food to eat, or housing are not secure. Those who cannot afford medical insurance or medical care are not secure (Jones 32). Those who cannot count on their government to provide assistance in catastrophe are not secure. An economically unstable government is vulnerable to political unrest and to other agencies that would exploit the people for political gain. Economic insecurity goes hand in hand with espionage, terrorism, and political or social captivity (Zubok 73). People who do not have the means to take care of their families are susceptible to crime, traitorous acts, and other desperate acts as a means of supplying food and shelter. A nation where large numbers of people are poor and starving lends itself to rioting, looting, and even murder (Gaddis 54). Therefore, economic security is absolutely critical to national security. The difference between ideology is sometimes seen as the main interpretative challenge in analyzing these four aspects of decision-making. The ideological prism of leaders often determined the decisions they were able to take. States which stressed the importance of the sources of national power rather than the structure. of the international system could be regarded as less ideological (Walker 87).

Political issues, the assumption that all states will do the utmost to increase their power whilst guaranteeing their own survival, are an ideology, its adherents claiming access to objective truth in much the same way as Marxist-Leninists did. John Lewis Gaddis addresses the question that decision-making is often a battleground between ideologues and those who see the specificity of various situations. One would expect that in states possessing an officially promulgated state ideology there would be more ideologues and that they would have more influence, but this should not blind one to the existence of ideologues in states without a self-proclaimed ideology. All transitions have the theme to the next. Al events and political strategies of the Cold War and involves the unique author’s view on the problem of international relations and affairs (Zubok 62).

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This perspective challenges the traditional view of security as being primarily military, pointing out that the real issue of a nation’s security is predicated on whether it can protect what is most important to it. This ability to protect is dependent on more than military power; it is rooted in economic sufficiency and stability. The industrialization, rise of capitalism, and economic boom saw some getting much richer and other becoming much poorer. Workers and rural families suffered the most, as industrialization forced others to the fast track where their incomes and profits increased, while they themselves watched the economic distance between them and their neighbors increase continually. It is a characteristic of capitalism that those who cannot participate in the profit-building capitalistic activities grow farther and farther behind economically, and this was certainly the case with newly capitalist society (Walker 76; Ambrose and Carr 27).

The missal crisis shows that military security must be established, yet it cannot provide the internal security required by a nation or its people. Military security is only useful as a defense against outside enemies. “Cuban/Soviet relations by sustaining mutual uncertainty in Havana and Moscow” (Zubok 87The enemies within the nation can defeat it just as easily as those without. In order to be a truly secure nation, the USA needs economic security as well as military security. Although rules and legislation are important for keeping an economy on track, it is difficult to legislate security. Security is a result of knowing that food, money, jobs, and freedom are available to everyone and that fairness prevails. It is knowing that regardless of what happens to or within a nation, the people will pull together and help one another, not take advantage of each other’s misfortune. This kind of security must be predicated on justice, not political platforms. It has to be aimed at raising the poor and guiding the rich so that everyone has a fair chance to prosper and a good standard of living (Zubok 65).

Preparations for the Third World War, the period of the Cold War, lay in the further exploitation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Their full development came too late to affect the outcome of the Second World War, but, in its final stages, the advent of atomic bombs, the V-1 cruise-missile and the V-2 ballistic missile foreshadowed the nature of future conflict. Today, critics stand at the threshold of new ways of fighting or determining wars through cybernetics and automated troop control. These developments are pregnant with possibilities, not least of which is the impact they will have on the balance between attrition and maneuver in warfare. Many believe that the emerging military revolution (EMR) elevates information above both weapons of attrition and maneuver, thus allowing them to be applied with sensationally accurate results (Walker 61).

The disappearance of a massive unidirectional threat has refocused European minds on the appearance of less precise or predictable risks with potential for escalation and spillover. Consequently, the definition of security is broadening after having a very narrow focus during the period of the Cold War (Gaddis 76). The term, ‘security’, being so widely and literally interpreted, deserves some clarification. In its current, all-embracing sense, it is a product of the twentieth century, being used in this form to describe past aspirations for ‘collective security’ through the League of Nations and the United Nations Security can be defined as attempts to resolve conflicts that might endanger peace, and defense as any deterrent or retaliatory action by countries to secure their territorial integrity and protect their vital interests. Yet, it would, of course, be overly simplistic to claim that defense begins when security has failed (Jones 87). Defensive tasks typically take place concurrently with security, such as the building of air-defense infrastructures, pre-positioning of forces and the maintenance of nuclear deterrence. It is unhelpful and contentious to compose an exhaustive list of the elements that go to make up security, as they will vary with circumstances. In the case of European security in the last few years of the twentieth century, the definition must include (but not be limited to) territorial integrity, the functioning of the national economy, safeguards against subversion and the preservation of international peace (Zubok 54).

Also, European security must be pursued by a combination of diplomatic, military and economic means. The challenges to Europe’s future fall broadly into two categories: ‘hard’ security and ‘soft’ security. ‘Hard’ security issues are characterised by external armed attack against the land mass or the threat of mass destruction and are broadly issues of defence. Soft security issues form ‘lower-level’ threats including the collapse of democratic forms of government, international organised crime, mass migration, poverty and social problems around the European perimeter and dependence on raw materials (Walker 32).

Attempts to achieve collective security can easily fragment an alliance, whereas collective defense has a bonding effect. Surely a current example would be the differing perceptions concerning the security imperative as seen by the US determination to maintain trade sanctions against Cuba against the wishes of the European powers who want normal trading relations. Contrast this disunity with the situation in 1962 when the Soviet Union started deploying nuclear ballistic missiles in Cuba. Europe has few immediate problems. The threat of a massive short‐ notice conventional attack from the East has receded to a very long-term potential that would need years of preparation to bring to fruition. Although the states which border Europe to the south and south-east pose security problems, they have no capability to invade Europe, although Turkey could conceivably face attack from her Middle Eastern neighbors (Zubok 98).

In the aftermath of the Cold War, as the nations of the world struggled to readjust to its effects, it became obvious that military security was not the only force that must remain strong in order to provide overriding security for a nation. Military security in the sense of the number of fighter planes in the hangar or the number of rockets ready to be launched only covered one aspect of a nation’s security. A nation could be militarily secure but the people could still suffer from insecurity in other forms. A country where children go to bed at night not knowing whether they will have anything to eat in the morning is not a secure country, regardless of how many weapons it has accumulated (Larson 192).

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An impression held by many, both in Europe and in the US, is that the American military presence in Europe is anomalous, and was narrowly derived from its protracted ideological and military competition with Soviet communism. Proponents of this view argue that the American military presence will (or should) be withdrawn and its security perimeter returned to its nineteenth-century focus on the defence of the Western Hemisphere. While such a point of view exists in some sectors of American political opinion, it is a minority perspective and unlikely to prevail in any debate on the issue of NATO enlargement. The US has been involved in European security for nearly a century (Larson 192; Jones 65). It is widely understood that developments affecting European security eventually affect American interests as well, although the way US interests are engaged is likely to differ in the next decade and US and transatlantic security are intertwined. US policy has long sought to prevent occupation of the opposite shores of adjacent oceans by hostile powers. This aim has been reflected in the maritime posture implemented by the US Navy throughout its history. This has occurred despite an otherwise inward-focused foreign policy aimed at continental development during the first century of national existence of the US. This posture has matured in the twentieth century as a result of US involvement in global conflict (Larson 42). The aim of these alliances has been to secure US access in times of military confrontation, and to assure a ‘seat at the table’ in economic and political aspects of regional affairs (Zubok 61). “All in all great changes in history, the Cold war left mixed legacy. … the arm races came to n end” (Jones 503).

In sum, the Cold War shows that defense is therefore an issue that is increasingly taking a back seat as the Cold War becomes a distant memory. Consequently, there is a greater squeeze on defense budgets, leading to smaller, less capable defense forces. Nevertheless, the tools of defense are almost exactly the same tools as used for security, particularly when the Western trend in security operations is to use overwhelming force to minimize casualties. These lower levels of armed forces will soon affect the West’s capability to deploy forces for missions that are not vital to national survival but are, nevertheless, important to regional stability.

Works Cited

Ambrose, Stephen E. Carr, Caleb Fleming, Thomas. The Cold War: A Military History. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005.

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History, Penguin Group USA, 2007

Jones, Howard. Crucible of Power: A History of U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1897, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001

Larson, Deborah Welch. Anatomy of Mistrust: U.S.-Soviet Relations during the Cold War, Cornell University Press, 1997

Walker, M. A Cold War: A History. Holt Paperbacks, 1995.

Zubok, W. M. A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (New Cold War History). The University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

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