I would prefer to abandon the terminology of the past. ‘Superpower’ is something which we used during the cold war time. Why use it now?” -Vladimir Putin
Cold War is defined as competition and confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union, which started since the end of World War II and ended with the fall of communism. When one analyzes four decades of competition which divided the world into two blocks on the basis of two different ideologies Communism and Capitalism, it had caused conflicts and violence across the globe. The aim of the paper is not just to discuss about the consequences of cold war to international system, but it rather pursues to explain the factors which caused the fall of communism. Within this regards, while investigating ideological difference between communism and capitalism, paper introduces phases of cold war and decline of Soviet Union policy as well as major root causes such as economic failure and reforms which resulted the breakup of USSR. Essay equally considers important to cover information on protests and struggle against communism ideology in Eastern European countries. In general context, paper describes how the cold war came to end and what major factors influenced for the collapse of bipolar system.
Introduction and aim
Thorough analysis and investigation of historical findings clearly indicate that Cold War was not just about the competition between Soviet Union and USA in ideological context but also it was to some extend as diplomatic war in the history. What is important in this topic is that this confrontation between two superpowers divided the world into two blocks and caused the eruption of conflicts and violence in different part of the globe. In this regard Matthew Godwin mentioned “the sponsorship of different sides in regional conflicts, notably in the third world, i.e. in the periphery, a position that put third world countries in an important strategic position”(Godwin, 2013, p.1). By social scientists view, war in Vietnam, war between South and North Korea, Afghan war or other ethnic conflicts and tensions in Africa and Latin America, were directly connected with cold war. The list of countries and nations which suffered from war because of competition between Communism and Capitalism is quite long. In other words USA and the USSR not only competed with their military but they also experimented their ideologies.
Furthermore, as scholars highlight, cold war had several phases. If the early phase (which started right after the end of the Second World War) was more about the political tension, the next stage starting from 1950s is described by scientists as military competition between USSR and USA. There is interesting point in this regard from the teaching glossary of the George Washington University, whereby they highlighted that
By 1950, however, certain factors had made the Cold War an increasingly militarized struggle. The communist takeover in China, the pronouncement of the Truman Doctrine, the advent of a Soviet nuclear weapon, tensions over occupied Germany, the outbreak of the Korean War and the formulation of the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as rival alliances had all enhanced the Cold War’s military dimension (Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt, 2016).
By this point, starting from 1950s cold war stepped in the next stage when both superpowers had nuclear weapon. Historians argue that nuclear weaponcompetition brought a greater threat to the whole world. There are also different opinion in this regard, if some scholars argue that world was in front of nuclear war, there are also those who argue that the role of certain leaders were very powerful to transform the nuclear war threat to demilitarization and the end of cold war.
In other words, race of military forces, nuclear weapons and space advancement was the main keys to show superiority and both sides aimed at spreading their ideology from economic and political context prior to the fall of communism. While analyzing the cold war which lasted close to five decades, one can conclude that it definitely had several phases and there were also other influential factors which caused the end of cold war. Therefore, this paper not only discusses about phases of cold war but also it gives explanation about the end of the competition between USA and USSR. Paper focuses on the main factors which caused the fall of communism. According to social scientists, the end of cold war started with the massive protests in Eastern Europe that led to the fall of Berlin wall. Within this regards, paper also covers information on how Eastern European countries released from communism.
Origins and phases of Cold War
Cold war by most scholars is identified as the bipolar system which was created because of ideological competition between the USA and USSR. JeremiSuri emphasized, “The devastation of Europe and Asia in 1945 left two states with inordinate influence on the future course of international affairs – the United States and the Soviet Union” (JeremiSuri, 2016, p.1). By the author’s opinion after the Second World War, USSR and USA becamestronger than before they entered it. Moreover, they started to mobilize their resource and compete with each other in ideological context across the globe.
Another interesting point is that “the Cold War was a power struggle in which two competing systems contested every facet of life, from governance and economics, to democracy and justice, to art and culture” (Dianne Kirby and Michael Mahadeo, 2011, p.2). By this point cold war is about the division of the world into two blocks. This bipolar system divided European, Asian and other countries in the world. It is worth to note that both sides were concerned on protecting its influence and ideology in all sectors. Especially in the case of the USSR, communist ideology penetrated in every sector, film industry, literature, culture and others. Therefore, when one thinks about the cold war it is associated with the division of the world into two blocks based on ideologies: communism and capitalism. When communist ideology collapsed, social scientists started to talk about the end of cold war, because this bipolar system finally was over. However, before analyzing root causes and main factors which explain the end of the cold war, it would be important to discuss about origins of cold war.
While referring to origins of cold war, there are certain circumstances that resulted the beginning of political tension between USA and USSR, which later transformed into not only political but also to military and nuclear weapon competition. By social scientists opinion, the end of World War II left the European countries ruined and poor. Officials of United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union started to actively participate in restoration processes of major Eastern European countries. One of the causes of outbreak was that United States started to be concerned about occupation and dominance of Soviet Union after the defeat of Hitler. As a result, European major powers start to think about the future of European countries including the Eastern Europe. In other words, ambition of major powers to shape the territories in Europe is considered to be as one of the causes for the start of Cold War. However, the early stage of the rivalry between the USSR and USA was still seen as the political confrontation before it overlapped into military rivalry.
The next stage of cold war was in nuclear weapon competition, bringing a greater threat to the whole world. First, both sides started to prove to each other and to international community that they have nuclear bombs. In this regard, JeremiSuri wrote that the two states gained capability to annihilate one another, and most of the rest of the planet, in short order. Their leaders would determine whether humankind survived or vanished in a radioactive firestorm (JeremiSuri, 2016, p.1). In fact, arms race was by far the most dangerous time for people living at that time and one push of the button could destroy the whole country in a matter of minutes. In this context, the next level of competition between two blocks started to deteriorate when arms race reached the peak of tension, threatening planet with the use of nuclear tests.
In terms of military competition, scholars refer to the Cuban crisis of 1962 when United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War reached the moment closest to nuclear conflict. According to historical sources, “During the Cuban Missile Crisis, leaders of the USA and the Soviet Union engaged in a tense, 13-day political and military standoff in October 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores”(History.com Staff, 2010).At the same time, Cuban crisis was a turning point on reconsidering the nuclear weapon competition between two countries. According to US State Department of Office of Historians, “While having approached the brink of nuclear conflict, both superpowers began to reconsider the nuclear arms race and took the first steps in agreeing to a nuclear Test Ban Treaty”(Milestones, 2013). In this respect, when the leaders of two superpowers came too close for nuclear war, they also understood the reality and risks of their competition. Therefore, after the Cuban crisis scientists describe the decline of cold war. The total decline of rivalry between USSR and USA comes when Soviet policy tries to take reforms due to its economic and political crisis from the mid of 1980s.
Ideological competition in cold war
While discussing about the cold war period social scientists also give much attention to ideological difference between the USA and USSR. The purpose of two ideological branches varies in many ways. When one refers to the main difference, it derives from the notion of freedom. Freedom is one of the main principles of Capitalism and western culture. For instance, USA and the West pursued the application of human rights values and freedom of speech whereas it was restricted in Communist regime. The communistic ideology, which was based on non-religious moral values, through soviet propaganda created soviet policy which aimed at spreading it across the globe. In contrast to capitalist view, soviet policy denied multi-party system, individualism and pluralism.
Furthermore, in USA and European society pluralism, competition, multi-party system, human rights and other democratic values were main driving force of their ideology, whereas Soviet regimehad one party system dominated by communists and considered capitalism as unacceptable prior to reforms taken by the last USSR Secretary Michael Gorbachev. When Soviets promoted communism it was not welcomed everywhere. For instance, the Eastern European countries shared common values with the Western Europe and they struggled against Soviet regime till the end of communism.
Within this regards, while discussing the end of the cold war, scholars and historians also mention about massive protests and public riots in Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic.As some reporters explain, “There were riots in Poland in 1956, and Khrushchev had to send in Russian troops to help the Polish government put them down. Worse was to follow in Hungary. There, in October 1956, students rioted and smashed statues of Stalin”(John D Clare, 2005). This means that youth also were against new government of Soviet Union and protests and riots organized by students worsened the tension that has never happened before. Strictly speaking, massive public protests and riots started to weaken the ideological application of communism and led to the fall of communism. One would ask why the last Secretary of USSR Michael Gorbachev started radical reforms which were not common to communism ideology. I would stress out that it is actually connected with the protests in Eastern Europe. Because of longstanding Solidarity movement in Poland and protest in other Eastern European countries, Soviets started to reshape their policy.
Joseph Nye, Harvard University Professor connected the end of bipolar system with the decline of communism and the failure of the Soviet economy. He emphasized “when Gorbachev launched reforms through perestroika and strategy of glasnost, it opened door for discussion and democratization process (Joseph Nye, 2011). It was a sign of the decline of communist ideology. With the introduction of glasnost and perestroika people started to express their view and gave a certain degree of freedom for people of Eastern European countries who wanted to liberate from Soviet ideology.
As for failure of Soviet Economy, it also has valid point. As Joseph Nye wrote by the late 1980s, only eight percent of Soviet industry was competitive at world standards. Author thereby argued that it was difficult to remain a superpower when 92 percent of industry is not competitive (Joseph Nye, 2011).Within this regard, one can conclude that with the economic stagnation Soviet Union was out of competition with USA and later it affected military sector as well.
End of Cold War
Analysis of earliest works on cold war shows that several factors influenced the end of the Cold War. Even though it lasted for more than forty years, state leaders could come to one solution and stop this atomic age. The crisis in Soviet Economy is identified as main root causes of the fall of USSR. According to Soviet historians, import and production of goods and services drastically fell in Soviet Union starting from 1980s, which led bankruptcy in economic sector. In fact, lots of researchers and historian include President Gorbachev’s incompatibility with the United States during his rule.
Gorbachev himself stated, “We will be pulled into an arms race that is beyond our capabilities, and we will lose it because we are at the limit of our capabilities. … If the new round [of an arms race] begins, the pressures on our economy will be unbelievable”(Caleb Crain, 2015). Indeed, economic crisis drastically affected the rate of technological advancement in Soviet Union, creating more and more visible gap in arms race in comparison with the United States and other Western countries. Sociologists also argue, “The new surge of arms spending under US president Ronald Reagan demanded a response from the Soviet Union. At the same time Soviet troops were losing a bloody colonial war in Afghanistan, with potentially dangerous consequences for the rest of the empire”(Dave Crouch, 1997). However, apart from spending for military, the economic decline extremely affected the military industry of Soviet Union. For instance, Soviet government could no longer supply troops with weapons and other means.
The next significant factor that crucially makes an impact on the end of war is Gorbachev’s approaches and his personal values during his governance. One of the features that distinguishhis governance from other Soviet leaders is that Gorbachev tries to negotiate and build peaceful relations with Western countries. According to some explanations of scholars, “Gorbachev was personally affected by his Law school classmate ZdenekMlynar, member of reformist circles in Czechoslovakia. Personal talks to Italian communist E.Berlinguer and Spanish Prime-Minister F.Gonzales also resulted in Gorbachev’s desire to develop democratic values in the Soviet Union”(NikolayTyan,2016). Instructions of his mentors later on develop in the leaders mind more liberalistic and democratic approach and this attempts efficiently adjust the economic state, foreign policy, technological and industrial development upside down.
Moreover, Mikhail Gorbachev’s new economic plans resulted total collapse of the centralized Communist economy. As historians explain, “the best way to revive the Soviet economy, Gorbachev thought, was to loosen the government’s grip on it. He believed that private initiative would lead to innovation, so individuals and cooperatives were allowed to own businesses for the first time since the 1920s. Workers were given the right to strike for better wages and conditions”(History.com Staff, 2011). However, freedom in domestic industry of labor market showed even worse results, more and more people start to become frustrated with the revolutions of Gorbachev. At the same time, as it is argued by Joseph Nye,establishing new democratic rules to the system of governance also contributed not only to economic crisis in Soviet Union but also changed people’s mind in freedom (Joseph Nye, 2011). When public view changed it somehow influenced for denial of communist ideology, which resulted the breakup of Soviet Union.
The next important event connected with the end of communism is tightly related to the subsequent revolutions in Eastern Europe against USSR’s control. Public riots hardened the foreign affairs and Soviet Union weakened its military force in Poland, Germany, Hungary and other neighboring countries. According to some historical facts, “The seeds of the revolution were present from the very beginning, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia were pre-cursors to the Revolutions of 1989, which were the final cataclysm that ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union itself just two years later”(“Revolutions of 1989”, 2006).The frequent dissatisfaction of people living in Europe finally has led to the fall of Berlin Wall. Soviet Union’s Government could no longer suppress the protesters by sending military troops. The scale of protest in some of the Eastern European countries reached such a level that it was beyond the control of Soviet Union.
Why current tension between USA and Russia is not a new Cold War?
There are also politicians who argue that even today world is facing cold war between Russia and USA. According to experts, the case of war in Ukraine, Syria are also product of competition between the Russia and USA. For instance, on October 23, 2016, The Telegraph stated “Russia and the West have entered a new Cold War that could lead to growing confrontations across the globe, as Vladimir Putin challenges American international hegemony”(Ronald Oliphant, 2016, p.2). To some extend this opinion has valid point. Today, we see how Russia again started to get involved in geopolitical game and Russia openly started to protect its interest.However, it doesn’t mean that world is confronted with the new phase of cold war.
Although the topic of the end of cold war is disputable I stay with the view that it ended with the disillusion of USSR. As for current tensions between Russia and the West, it is completely different then during the cold war. Current tension is not about ideological competition.Russia has no clear ideology contrast to Soviet period.Current international system is not divided into two blocks. With the fall of communism world is confronted with multipolar system. If during the cold war Asian, European, African and Latin American countries were divided in ideological context, today there are more powerful states across the globe.
While giving the most convincing explanations of the end of cold war, I would mention about the end of bi-polar system and fall of communism. As it is discussed above during the cold war world was divided into two blocks. When Soviet Union collapsed bipolar system also ended. As analysis showed, there are three main factor which influenced the fall of communism. The first is connected with the failure of Soviet Economy, which could no longer invest to its military competition against USA. Economic crisis in Soviet system contributed protests and revolt against communism. This overlapped to the second main reason- massive protests in Eastern Europe. Protests in Eastern Europe erupted due to unacceptable communist ideology. Eastern European countries did not share common value with Communists. Therefore, when Soviet Union tried to establish communism by force it did not work out. With massive protests it broke out and resulted political and economic crisis in Soviet system.
The last explaining factor of the end of communism derives from reforms and personal values of Gorbachev. As historical analysis show when Gorbachev came to power Soviet Economy already was in crisis and he took decision to take radical reforms into Soviet system. The perestroika and glasnost strategy was welcomed by Soviet people. It was a fresh approach and gave a certain degree of freedom. However, reforms were followed by protests against communist regime. Through expressing their view and protests, communist ideology was totally destructed.
*Cholpon Kainazarova, is a student at the International Alatoo University in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
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