The Cold War in Europe Essay Sample

The Cold War in Europe Pages
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Cold War in Europe: Hostile diplomatic relations and military buildup between the US and the USSR and their respective allies in the European theatre

Big Powers: US and USSR, for simplicity – though France and Britain do have certain dealings abroad in the period described that had to do with the Cold War, but these were only marginal and not as significant as US and USSR’s actions

Wars outside Europe: Armed conflicts taking place outside the European theatre, including also conflicts not started by but participated in by the superpowers

1950 – 1980: The period between the stabilisation of the Cold War in Europe after the Berlin Blockade and the emergence of d�tente between the superpowers


* Important to note that globalised conflicts may have Cold War connotations to them, involving allies or interests of the superpowers – thus the outcome of the conflict can affect the Cold War situation

* However, while globalised conflicts may change the balance of power in the Cold War, more often than not superpowers did not enter into these conflicts with the explicit aim of doing so, or if they did, these intentions were superceded by other interests, especially the interests of local players

* Also the degree with which superpowers used the Cold War experience in Europe to justify involvement in global conflicts changed over time, and between the superpowers

* Thus while the Cold War in Europe may have made involvement in global conflicts more attractive, this was most of the time a secondary concern, and other factors compelled the superpowers to get involved in global conflicts besides the European Cold War

Why Cold War in Europe could spur superpowers to globalise the Cold War

1. Stabilisation of Cold War in Europe

* Invasion and conquest of E European countries by the Red Army complete after WWII, together with the setting up of puppet Communist regimes in E European states to form a buffer against potential future attack from the West on Russia

o Stalin had little intention to continue expanding Soviet influence into W Europe after the E European buffer was acquired

* Remaining non-Communist European states did not have powerful Communist parties, due to

o Lack of support from Moscow, or orders not to act aggressively

o Economic reconstruction under Marshall Plan, leading to…

o Lack of local support for Communist parties

* With the Berlin Blockade both sides showed a reluctance to engage in military conflict with the other in Europe

* Superpower rivalries thus sought another theatre in which to play themselves out – stable situation in Europe meant that the superpowers turned their attention outwards to look for allies elsewhere, esp. among the 3rd World

2. Perceptions of the other superpower cemented in European Cold War

* US saw USSR as expansionist, and was determined to contain Soviet influence on the European front

* USSR saw US as aggressive, especially with the nuclear deterrent of Massive Retaliation before 1953, and was determined to defend itself against efforts to contain it

* Thus US used the European experience of Cold War to justify opposing perceived Soviet expansionism elsewhere in applying the containment concept in other theatres and through other means (primarily military)

* Similarly, the SU sought to protect its interests and ideology in areas where it saw the US as aggressively trying to restrict the spread of Communism, and even to roll back Communism

Other factors that limit the role of the European Cold War in spurring superpower involvement in globalised conflicts

1. Perceptions of the other superpower’s likelihood to respond

* This limited each superpower’s scope to act greatly; if it was judged that the other superpower would respond with military force, then it was far less likely for a superpower to become involved directly and explicitly in a globalised conflict

* This was especially true for the USSR facing the US nuclear deterrent

* Both sides were determined not to engage in direct armed conflict, for the fear of the catastrophic damage that could be caused to both themselves and their interests (allies) abroad, as already demonstrated in Europe with the Berlin Blockade

2. Economic restrictions

* Limits to involvement include the sheer shortage of aid resources that can be sent to support one side in a globalised conflict

* USSR’s severe economic damage from WWII and its draining aid obligations to its E European satellites limited the amount of aid it could send to its allies like N Korea and Vietnam

3. Interests of local players

* More often than not local players were able to exploit superpower Cold War interests to compel them to enter into a regional conflict – in this sense the experience of the European Cold War gave other states an argument to convince the superpowers to become involved immediately elsewhere, in order to prevent an European deadlock from appearing elsewhere

* However it is clear that the local players were able to manipulate the superpowers, sometimes to decisive extents, to suit their local interests above the Cold War interests of the superpowers

Case 1: Korean War

* Origins of the Korean War

o The USSR’s role in the Korean War disagrees with the given statement as the Cold War had no part to play in bringing about the Korean War, which was initiated by Kim’s “deep nationalist conviction to unify the country and revolutionise the south” (Bruce Cumings)

o Kim used USSR’s ideological commitment to aiding all Socialist states to extract support from USSR for his nationalist (rather than ideological) war

* USSR’s Role

o Stalin was a grudging assistant to Kim Il Sung’s plan to invade South Korea, which is evident in the minimalist intervention and aid of the USSR both in preparation for the invasion, and even more so during the actual war – Stalin had to be persuaded repeatedly before sanctioning North Korea’s attack on South Korea, and even then only on the condition that Mao also agreed, showing his considerable reluctance for the invasion

o This can be explained by his unwillingness to be involved in a war that might have repercussions with the US, shown by his telling Kim that “he was on his own if the United States intervened” (Byrnes) and by his decision “one week after the war began to withdraw all Soviet pilots and advisors from North Korea”

o Stalin had no desire to provoke the US; “Thus the North Korean invasion was not part of a general Soviet offensive in the cold war” (Byrnes)

o This isolation from the Cold War is further emphasized by Stalin’s continued lack of involvement in the Korean War, even when the North Korean troops were driven back into North Korea, and later when North Korea was invaded by the US troops, to the extent that China became involved to protect their own borders

o Complete Soviet indifference and passiveness after initial aid, particularly when US became involved. Clearly the Korean War was not a pawn in the Cold War, at least not for the USSR, or the outcome would have been far more important and hence involvement would have been crucial.

* US’s Role

o Was not involved with the sparking off of the war, but became embroiled in efforts to end it through the US-led UN force sent to end the war

o US saw Korea as the first sign of Soviet expansionism outside of Europe, and sought to apply containment militarily to preempt the spread of Communism into Asia: “Aggression had to be stopped as early as possible. If not answered in Korea, it would only result in new [Soviet] advances in more central areas” (Lundestad)

o Also, after China entered the war and pushed UN forces back out of North Korea, MacArthur proposed using nuclear weapons against China, but Truman dismissed him instead – this shows that even in the age of nuclear monopoly for the US, they were careful not to carry out too provocative moves that could have instigated the SU into an armed response in Europe or elsewhere

o Thus in this case the US’s behaviour in Korea was largely governed by the fresh memories of the European Cold War experience, and the determination not to allow a repeat to happen elsewhere

Case 2: Middle-East Conflicts

* The Arab-Israeli wars too, largely, disagree with the idea that the wars outside of Europe that the super powers were involved in were due to the Cold War.

* In the Arab-Israeli wars, the background of the historical tension between the Israelis and other Arab states are omnipresent, and serve as an underlying factor in all the wars. This has nothing to do with the Cold War, or the super powers.

* Looking into specifics, each Arab-Israeli war has its causes that are largely isolated from the Cold War, and though there may be aid from super powers, the origins and sustaining factors of the war are generally local.

Case 2A: Six-Day War

* Origins and Process of the War

o This was the climax of a series of attacks, coming from surrounding Arab states and Palestinian nationalist and paramilitary groups on Israel, which were reciprocated by Israel onto its Arab neighbours, from late 1966 – 1967

o Clashes between Israel and the fedayeen from Jordan and Israel and Syria

o Egypt and Syria signed a mutual defence pact in Nov 1966 that increased their perceived threat to Israel

o Air battle between Syria and Israel in April 1967

o Erroneous Information from the USSR that Israeli troops had mobilized and intended to invade Syria resulted in Egyptian and Syrian and Jordanian troops being mobilized, and closing off the Straits of Tiran which was crucial to Israel’s trade, which caused Israel to launch a pre-emptive strike against the coalition, to get the upper-hand in a war that seemed inevitable.

* Role of USSR

o Played a part in triggering off the war, by causing mobilization of Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian troops with their misleading information – however, was it deliberate?

o One theory is that Israel deliberately misled Soviet intelligence gatherers in order to pre-empt Nasser into military confrontation, which indicates that Israel was in control of initiating the war, and not USSR; the super powers had no control over the origins.

o The other theory that the Soviet information was deliberately misleading so as to start a war, as this would stretch American commitment and compromise the US position in Vietnam. However, as Israel was not a US proxy, the US was under no obligation to provide it with aid, and hence this would not be stretching the US’ resources, hence the basis for this theory seems largely unfounded.

o Also, Egypt’s own intelligence showed that Israel was mobilizing its forces, hence the war might have taken place even had Soviet intelligence not been mistaken.

o Furthermore, once the war was under way, Egypt, Syria and Jordan were swiftly defeated without any aid from the USSR except the provision of arms, which had been ongoing since years before.

o Hence, it is evident that the war was caused by local issues that had been going on for years, and the USSR merely helped to hasten the advent of the war, and even this hastening was probably accidental and not deliberate. No further help was given during the war, despite the coalition that the USSR was supporting losing, hence it cannot be said that this war was fought by the USSR.

o It can be said, however, that local players (Arabs and Israelis) tried to exploit the superpowers by taking advantage of weapons deals to supply their armies to use in the attacks

* Role of USA:

o Almost non-existent

o Played no part in the origins of the war, and no part during the war

o Intervened only diplomatically: helped to facilitate Israeli diplomats negotiate with the Egyptian Vice-President for the reopening of the straits, which failed

o Since the role of the US was minuscule, and the only aid they provided was diplomatic, no sides were taken and no involvement in the war, hence this war can’t even be connected to the US, much less the Cold War.

o Perhaps the US was trying its best to be careful about confronting Soviet-supported Arabs militarily

Case 2B: The Yom-Kippur War (October 1973)

* Origins of the War

o as with the other Arab-Israeli wars, origins are in the on-going tensions between Palestinians and Arabs and Jews – the participants are once again, Syria and Egypt against Israel

o Local contributing factors include the change in leadership of Egypt, from Nasser to Sadat, who had plans to reclaim Sinai for Egypt, and Syria wanting to claim back the Golan Heights – both these losses took place in previous wars, showing the extent that history between the Arab-Israelis are the greatest forces for war, and these are completely local.

o Thus the war was started due to local interests, and the superpowers’ influences were used to fuel the war not for Cold War interests but those of the Arabs and Israelis trying to vie for power

* Role of USSR:

o No direct involvement to outbreak, except again providing aid to Egypt and Syria by supplying military arms, in an effort to gain their support against the US, especially in gaining access to Mid East oil supplies

o Russian military advisers were actually expelled in 1972, due to Sadat’s frustration with Moscow’s delayed arms supplies.

o This shows how in control the supposed “clients” of the USSR was; they were the ones calling the shots.

o During the war which started on 6th October, between 8th and 24th October, the USSR was giving Syria and Egypt military aid; acted as an assistant.

o When Egypt and Syria were losing, no additional Soviet aid was given or Soviet troops employed

o The USSR while making Egypt’s and Syria’s attack possible, and probably encouraged them with military aid, was by no means controlling any aspects of the war. The impression is that the USSR was a tool to be used to the local powers’ advantages, and there did not seem to be any degree of deliberation or planning about their actions – the Cold War may have spurred the USSR to extend aid to a certain extent, but this was by no means a war fought by the USSR for USSR’s aims, they merely helped to provide the means for it.

* Role of USA:

o Delayed aid – American airlift of military equipment only began on 12th Oct, 6 days after the war started.

o In the Cold War, the sides of the super powers were very clear, and both were determined not to let the other side gain a victory. However, the US delay of aid was explained in two ways:

o The Americans were afraid to offend the Arabs, and further minimize any influence the USA might have on the region, since they were also trying to gain 3rd World support and access to Mid East oil

o Sadat had sent the US a message not to act on Israel’s behalf too hastily as Sadat guaranteed that the assault was a limited operation, aimed at forcing Israel to return land won in 1967, which would be followed by a peace agreement.

o Hence, it’s seen that Egypt which had received military aid from the USSR, and has been traditionally backed by the USSR, had a fairly strong influence over the US. This blurring of side-taking was not a characteristic of the Cold War at all, and indicated the capability of the local players to manipulate the super powers to their own agenda.

While the role of the US was larger and more important than in the previous Arab-Israeli wars, of almost negligible intervention, it is still clear that all along the scene is set by the local powers, and the war carried out entirely for their own purposes. In a way, the USSR and US are trying to hitch a ride, perhaps attempting to use the war to establish some form of dominance over the Arab states, which were crucial for their supply of oil, and their competition is linked to the Cold War. However, they did not succeed in “fighting [the war]”, the USSR being relegated to military aid supplier, and the USA as saviour, but neither the initiator nor in control of the war, nor gaining any form of Cold War victory.

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