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International Relations Term Paper – An Analysis of the Causes for the “Long Peace” During the Cold War

Group Number: E06 Professor: E.SRIDHARAN

Team Members - Ananth Balasubramanian, Pavithra R, Swathi Pottabathini, Vandana Menon

Topic: What were the causes of the “long peace” during the Cold War years, 1945-1990, when nuclear weapons were never used despite some close calls and major power wars did not break out? Analyse the superpower arms race, strategic rivalry, deterrence and arms control, and geopolitical competition including various regional crises (Korea, Berlin, Cuba, Vietnam, Afghanistan) as part of your answer.

Abstract The devastating World War II was followed by a period from 1945 to 1991 known as the Cold War, which refers to a state of geopolitical tension that prevailed between the two superpowers that emerged after WWII -- the USA and the USSR -- which resulted in the creation of two power blocs. This period of tension between two nuclear powers - even while resulting in relatively small military conflicts in parts of the world - did not result in a major and direct military confrontation between the two major powers. This period is thus known as the period of “long peace� during the Cold War. This paper explores in detail the role played by the structure of international system, superpowers arms race, nuclear-deterrence and arms control, and geopolitical competition in ensuring the long peace.

Introduction The Second World War ended with the Allied forces prevailing over the Axis forces With colonialism and the British empire on the decline, the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) were the two countries that became global superpowers after WWII. The tension and rivalry between blocs of countries led by the USA and the USSR respectively came to be known as the Cold War, and lasted between 1945 and 1990. Since the two countries never engaged in direct outright war during this period, the years between 1945 and 1990 also resulted in a “long peace�. While analyzing the behavior of the superpowers is crucial to understand the reasons behind the long peace that marked this era, it is also essential to study the structure of international system at this point. Kenneth Waltz, in the Theory of International Politics, remarks that stability cannot be ensured with behavior alone if the structural prerequisites for it are absent, while in certain circumstances, stability can be imposed with just structure if the behavioral prerequisites are unpromising.1 The Cold War witnessed a balance of power between two poles- USA and USSR, with the spheres of influence of both the superpowers extending across the globe. International Relations theories point to certain structural elements that make bipolarity more stable than a multipolar set-up. They focus on three important reasons to explain the same - fewer opportunities for war, less likelihood of imbalance in power and a lower potential for miscalculation2. All these conditions were met during this period. The tension in such a bipolar world driven not just by competing strategic interests, but also by the ideological differences between the


Gaddis, John Lewis. "The long peace: Elements of stability in the postwar international system." International security 10.4 (1986): 99-142. 2 The causes of great power war pg 3 - Mearsheimer, John. The Tragedy Of Great Power Politics. 1st ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2011. Pp 335-399. Print.

superpowers - the USA was capitalist, and the USSR was communist. That these countries were polar opposites even in terms of ideology reinforced the bipolarity of the world.

Image 1: Timeline of the Cold War Source: As can be seen from the diagram above, the Cold War spanned several decades and bore witness to several changes in the international order. No single reason for the long peace can be isolated: instead, a combination of continuing events across the world, the structure of the international order and actions from both countries contributed to the period of tension. One predominant cause was the fear of the outbreak of full-fledged nuclear war, which manifested through the quickening of the race for armaments as both countries built up their nuclear stockpile in anticipation for war while simultaneously resorting to signing several agreements and treaties to ensure that such a scenario would not occur. Other causes included the development of both countries into relatively self-sufficient stable economies, improvement of intelligence systems and espionage which allowed them to monitor each other closely, and popular citizen movements in the USA and its allies. Finally, the geographical distance between the

countries meant that many factors that could have exacerbated tensions due to geographical proximity were absent. Through the course of this paper, we will be exploring the various major factors that helped maintain the long peace - strategic rivalry, arms race, nuclear deterrence and the geopolitical competition that existed between the USA and the USSR during this period. Strategic Rivalry Strategic rivalries are relationships in which a state distinctively identifies another state(s) as a rival and an enemy posing potential threat.3 Strategic rivalry was at the core of the Cold War, with the interplay of ideological, military, geopolitical and other interests shaping the course of action of both superpowers. It is hard to isolate the behaviour of nations from their historical experiences and insecurities. The behaviour of both superpowers during the Cold War was shaped as much by their historical experience as it was morphed by the events of the war itself. Both powers have a history of suffering from surprise attacks- Soviet Union suffered a surprise attack by Hitler in 1941 while USA suffered a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour by Japan in the same year. This created a sense of insecurity and scepticism, which led both powers to deploy extensive reconnaissance and ramp up intelligence gathering. This also led to the establishment of the office of net assessment by USA and similar efforts by USSR to analytically determine the relation of forces and formulate strategies accordingly. Extensive Soviet writing on the ‘Military-Technical Revolution’ (MTR) in the late 1970s intellectualizing over the military technological advancements of USA, and USA responding with reformulation of its strategies


Colaresi, Michael P., Karen Rasler, and William R. Thompson. Strategic Rivalries in World Politics: Position, Space and Conflict Escalation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. 18-21. Print.

through a new initiative of ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ (RMA)4 - all point to the rigorous intelligence efforts of both sides, and how this helped them constantly reform their strategies to strengthen their defense and ensure stability. Much of the USA’s strategy was shaped as a response to how USSR’s behaviour was perceived. Early Cold War issues in the immediate aftermath of the second World War revolved around the question of Germany’s future, the withholding elections in certain central and eastern European countries by the Soviet Union, the Turkish Strait crisis and ownership of oil fields in the Middle East. Here, President Truman of the USA adopted strategy of pushing multiple resolutions through the United Nations Security Council that served US interests by striking compromises with the USSR. This strategy was based on the assumption that “one’s adversary was rational and not fanatical”5, which was proved right by Stalin’s concessions. This line of thinking pushed the USA to adopt a ‘containment strategy’, through the formulation of Truman Doctrine (1947), the Marshall Plan (1948) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949). These were guided by the strategic rationale provided by George F. Keenan, a diplomat in the Truman administration. The Soviet Atomic bomb tests of 1949 and the onset of Korean War in 1950 led to a reformulation of this strategy, and resulted in a huge increase in the defense spending of USA and kickstarted an arms race between USA and USSR. In both the ‘containment strategy’ and its reformulation, the USA’s was firm on avoiding a preemptive attack on the USSR, even while building up arms as a deterrent to possible Soviet aggression. Given that the USA was economically and militarily superior to USSR at this point, its commitment to avoiding a direct confrontation helped maintain stability. This


Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., The Military-Technical Revolution: A Preliminary Assessment, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2002. 5 Lacey, Jim. Great Strategic Rivalries: From the Classical World to the Cold War. New York: Oxford UP, 2016. Pp. 516. Print.

commitment was also partly a result of the prevailing moral and public sensibility in the USA6 (post its nuclear attack on Japan) to avoid any first-strike initiative (especially nuclear). In the years that followed, the political and military strategies of both superpowers were shaped by the geopolitical tensions, leading to a simultaneous build-up of military capability and the adoption of numerous nuclear deterrence measures.

The Arms Race In his 1971 paper titled the ‘The Arms Race Phenomenon’, Colin S. Gray lays out four essential elements of an ‘arms race’. The elements are as follows: 1. It must consist of two parties, both aware of their antagonism to each other. 2. The structuring of their armed forces must be done keeping in mind probable effectiveness in a situation of confrontation with the opponent. 3. The two parties must compete in terms of quality and/or quantity of their armed forces. 4. There must be a rapid improvement in quality or increase in quantity of their armed forces.7 It is clear from the above definition that there was indeed an arms race between the USA and the USSR during the cold war, because a) The cold war consisted of two parties – the USA and USSR. b) Both sides developed weapons like thermonuclear bombs, and delivery systems like bombers, ICBMs, SLBMs and MIRVs, specifically targeted at each other.8 (More details on this later in this section)


McMahon, Robert J. The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Pp. 56-77. Print. Gray, Colin S. "The Arms Race Phenomenon." EconBiz. N.p., 01 Jan. 1971. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. 8 7

c) Both sides invested heavily in military build-up and R&D, which resulted in the developments mentioned above.9 d) There was a rapid increase in the capabilities of their respective armed forces. For example, consider the graph10 below, which shows the nuclear weapon stockpiles of both sides during and after the cold war:

Source: Arms Races in International Politics: From the Nineteenth to the Twentyfirst Century, Page 136. Of all the causes that can be attributed to the “long peace” during the cold war, perhaps none is as important as the fact that from 1949 onwards, both the USA and the USSR were nuclear powers, and engaged in an arms race. In game theoretic terms, a Nash Equilibrium11 was created and maintained, which meant that neither

9 Mahnken, Thomas G., Joseph Maiolo, and D. Stevenson. "Chapter 6: The United States and the Cold War Arms Race." Arms Races in International Politics: From the Nineteenth to the Twenty-first Century. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. Pp. 136. Print. 11 By the word ‘Equilibrium’, we do not intend to suggest that both countries were equally matched in all aspects of military power throughout the cold war. They were not. Instead, we are referring to the fact that 10

side had an incentive to deviate from the status quo unless the other did too, and if either side deviated from the status quo of peace, both sides would be worse off than before. This is best understood through representation in a payoff matrix as shown below: USA USSR Initiate

Initiate Conflict (-ve, -ve)

Status Quo

(+ve, -ve)

Conflict (0,0) Status Quo

(-ve, +ve) (Nash Eq.)

Payoffs represented in the order (USSR, USA) Assuming that the eventuality that one side could attack without inviting a retaliation from the other was not possible, we can see from the payoff matrix above that only two situations were possible: Both sides being worse-off after a conflict, or both sides maintaining the equilibrium. This equilibrium, however, was dynamic in nature, which meant that even while the equilibrium existed, there was still an effort by both sides to gain a significant advantage over the other, and to prevent the other side from gaining a significant advantage over it. This dynamic equilibrium manifested itself in the form of a set of developments during the cold war – characterized by a massive and rapid build-up of arms on both sides - which we can now term as an arms race between the USA and the USSR. The payoff matrix12 for this situation of an arms race, in which both sides

both countries were nuclear states, which means that they were capable of inflicting massive damage on the other in the event of a conflict. 12

were building up arms in the absence of complete information about the other side can be represented as: USA USSR

Don’t Build

Build Arms


Don’t Build (2,2)




Arms Build Arms

Payoffs represented in the order (USSR, USA)

From the payoff matrix13 above, it is clear that a realistic optimal outcome for both sides would be to not build arms, and this situation did indeed come into play once talks started between the USA and the USSR, but for most part of the cold war, the relationship between the two countries was one marked by suspicion and hostility. Thus, while neither side would have preferred to build up arms if they were assured that other side would not, the cost of not building up arms in case the other side did would have been too high. Here, it is important to make a distinction between the causes of the arms build-up and the effects of the arms build-up. The arms build-up on either side was not just a reaction to the actions of the other side, but also driven by internal and global factors like internal politics, competition between different organs of the armed forces and economic costs.14 In other words, there was an arms race, but both sides in the race


The numbers assigned to the payoffs are not estimations of actual payoffs. They must be considered only as representative of relative gain or loss. 14 Mahnken, Thomas G., Joseph Maiolo, and D. Stevenson. "Chapter 6: The United States and the Cold War Arms Race." Arms Races in International Politics: From the Nineteenth to the Twenty-first Century. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 141-57. Print.

were influenced by things both within and outside of the race. But whatever the causes driving the arms race were, the effect of the arms race was that neither side had an incentive to declare a full-blown war, thus resulting in the “long peace”. The arms race during the cold war can be broadly divided into three distinct periods – 1945 to 1960, 1960 to 1978 and 1978 to 1990 – as each of these periods had their own distinct aspects that separate them from the rest. What follows is an analysis of each of these periods and various significant events that contributed to the long peace in the context of the arms race. 1945 – 1960: The NSC-68 15 was a document presented in 1950 to the president of the USA, Harry S Truman. This document, prepared in the aftermath of the Soviet nuclear tests in 1949 and considered during the Korean War which began in 1950, marked a major shift in the strategic policy of the USA and effectively set off the arms race. The NSC68 called for a rapid build-up of both conventional and nuclear arms in order to counter the Soviet Union. This led to the testing of the hydrogen bomb by the USA in 1952, to which the USSR responded by testing its own hydrogen bomb in 1953. These thermonuclear devices had the potential to be hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII. In a speech given on 12th January 1954, John Dulles, the Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration spelled out what would come to define a new strategic policy of ‘massive retaliation’ in response to any act of aggression. This marked the beginning of the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Within days of this speech, the USA launched the world’s first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus. Meanwhile, by the late 1950s, the USSR became the first country to develop ICBMs


(Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles). This development heightened the arms race, and spurred the first generation of BMDs (Ballistic Missile Defences) in the USA.16 1960 – 1978: The early 1960s were marked by concerns in the USA about the massive defence spending and the dangers of nuclear weapons, following the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. President Kennedy revised the policy of President Eisenhower - which entailed a nuclear retaliation to any aggression - and instead adopted a policy of ‘flexible response’, which gave the USA the choice to exercise a variety of responses to an act of aggression, including conventional warfare at multiple levels. The deployment of satellites during this period gave the USA a realistic estimate of Soviet capabilities, thereby putting fears about the real extent of USSR’s capabilities created by Nikita Khrushchev’s threats to deploy nuclear weapons even for relatively minor conflicts like the Suez crisis of 1956 to rest.17 Simultaneously, arms control negotiations between the USA and the USSR began. This led to SALT-I (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty – 1) and ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) treaty being signed in 1972. This period also saw the development of MIRVs (Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicles) by both sides, which made the deployment of ABM systems expensive and unreliable, thereby providing a further reason for both sides to sign SALT 1. In summary, 1960-78 was marked by further development of arms by both sides, but also saw a cessation in the pace of arms build-up.


Mahnken, Thomas G., Joseph Maiolo, and D. Stevenson. "Chapter 6: The United States and the Cold War Arms Race." Arms Races in International Politics: From the Nineteenth to the Twenty-first Century. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 141-57. Print. 17 Ibid.

1978 – 1990: The last months of the Carter administration marked a new phase in the cold war arms race. Increasingly suspicious of Soviet intentions after its invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the USA provided covert support to the Mujahedeen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. During this time, the Soviets deployed the SS-20 missile in Europe, and in response, the NATO positioned the highly accurate ground-launched Pershing-II cruise missile in Western Europe.18 This was indicative of a new arms race getting underway. This new arms race was further spurred by the fact the President Carter was up for re-election against Ronald Reagan, who was fighting on a platform that called for tougher posturing against the USSR and the abandonment of détente, a policy of relaxation of tensions that was being followed since the Nixon administration. This was another factor that possibly dictated President Carter’s aggressive posture towards the end of his tenure. A renewed thrust on a build-up of arms and expansion of nuclear capabilities was characteristic of the early years of the Reagan administration. But by 1983, increased pressure from within the government and civil society made President Reagan announce the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), which entailed the development of a sophisticated defence system against ballistic missiles, which President Reagan argued was a more ‘moral’ deterrent than weapons of mass destruction.19 By the early 1980s, the Soviet economy was beginning to stagnate, and the USA had achieved a decisive advantage in military technology.20This led the Soviet Union under Gorbachev to pursue talks with the USA with the objective of controlling the arms race, which resulted in the 18 Hoffman, David E. "Introduction." The Dead Hand-The Untold Story of the Cold War. N.p.: Faber & Faber, 2011. 32-36. Print. 19 President Ronald W. Reagan, ‘Address to the Nation on National Security’, 23 March 1983 at 20 Mahnken, Thomas G., Joseph Maiolo, and D. Stevenson. "Chapter 6: The United States and the Cold War Arms Race." Arms Races in International Politics: From the Nineteenth to the Twenty-first Century. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 141-57. Print.

Intermediate Nuclear Force treaty in 1987. The breakup of the USSR marked the conclusion of a long a protracted arms race that had lasted for decades after WWII.

Nuclear Deterrence and Arms Control This section of the paper explores in more detail the concept of nuclear deterrence and the various arms control agreements, both of which were crucial to the ‘long peace’. Gaddis, in his 1986 paper on the long peace, very aptly states that despite the postwar power distribution in the world, minimal interdependence among the USA and the USSR, domestic issues, the “same willingness to risk war” had relatively vanished in the period of Cold War. This willingness to not risk a war meant following the principle of nuclear deterrence and arms control—which was a result of a transition from unilateral deterrence followed by the then superpowers (USA and USSR) to “mutual deterrence”. By mid-1960s, the theory of nuclear deterrence became prevalent as it would result in Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)—which continues to be a crucial element of the defense strategies and policies of the USA and Russia. It meant that the superpowers would refrain from attacking one another in the hindsight that it would mean second strike from the other side and their mutual destruction. This notion of nuclear deterrence and arms control is sometimes thought to have preceded the manufacture of the weapons themselves. Long before the Trinity Test (first ever detonation of a nuclear weapon), some scientists in the Manhattan project predicted the utility of nuclear technology and the consequences it could have on humanity. Niels Bohr, amongst many, lobbied for discussions and negotiations with the Russians to establish a postwar international control of nuclear weapons, but was unfortunately overruled by Churchill. Another important signpost in the timeline,

comes with the first ever nuclear arms control proposal which USA put forth in 1946-Baruch Plan--which called for an international body to control the production of atomic energy and the right to intrusive inspection. But, the Russians then were in the midst of developing their own nuclear technology and didn’t pay much heed to it. Thus, the plan failed. 21

But as the Cold War timeline progressed, it slowly dawned to the superpowers that deterrence was necessary for survival. This was also further strengthened by the near nuclear-war moment in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Harmel Report of 196722 published by NATO stressing on ‘detente while maintaining deterrence’.

The superpowers realized that for an effective deterrence doctrine to be in place, the fear of a surprise attack had to be minimized or controlled23. The nuclear triad was a result of this—three different types of delivery systems (land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), strategic bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) were used to assure the second strike capability.


Bohlen, Avis T. "Arms Control in the Cold War." Foreign Policy Research Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. 22 23 "Cold War: A Brief History." N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Though ballistic missile defenses were outlawed, first strike weapons were decommissioned and civil defense was discouraged, both the superpowers were still uncomfortable relying on deterrence as their defense. Some important treaties were however signed to foster mutual deterrence: Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT): PTBT, also know as Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) and Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (NTBT), is an abbreviation of the 1963 treaty which banned all the nuclear weapon tests except those conducted underground. This required no control posts, on-site inspection, or international supervisory body.24 It was signed by the governments of the USSR, the UK and the USA in Moscow, in 1963 and was further extended to 100 other countries. The move was meant to slow down nuclear proliferation and nuclear arms race, amidst growing public anxiety over the new tests of thermonuclear weapons. In 1977, negotiations for a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty began, which would further extend the ban to underground tests, which continued till 1980. The Reagan administration decided to abandon them in 1982 due to political pressure. In 1991, the Soviet announced a moratorium on nuclear tests, which acted as a counter pressure source for the USA to adopt the norms. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into effect in 1970 with 190 signatories, became one of the foundation stones of the nonproliferation regime. The treaty is based on three mutually reinforcing pillars—disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It propounds the countries with nuclear weapons to move towards disarmament, those without them to not acquire them and all countries to access


Freedman, Lawrence D. "Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

peaceful nuclear technology, under safeguards. Countries such as India, Israel and Pakistan didn’t sign the treaty25. Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT): Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), were negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union that culminated into agreements--SALT I (1972) and SALT II (1979)--which were intended to restrain the arms race in strategic (long-range or intercontinental) ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons26. SALT I: Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev, the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and U.S. President Richard Nixon met in November of 1969 to draw a treaty that would contain the arms race. Two important treaties, namely the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, or ABM, and the Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms were signed. The various provisions under ABM treaty included regulation of anti-ballistic missiles that could possibly be used to destroy incoming ICBM’s launched by other countries, and limitations to only one launching area for ABMs and 100 interceptor missiles. Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms was planned for 5 years and was intended to fix the number of strategic ballistic missiles, such as the ICBM’s and the SLBM’s, at the then current level (1972)27. SALT II: Negotiations for SALT II began in late 1972 and continued for seven years, culminating into the SALT II treaty between Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter, in Vienna in 1979. Since USSR was developing large warheads and US was designing missiles with specific accuracy, a need to change regulations was observed. Various provisions included limits on the number of strategic launchers and weapon systems, 25

"Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)." Nuclear Threat Initiative - Ten Years of Building a Safer World. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. 26 The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT)." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 July 1998. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. 27 "SALT I and II." Cold War Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

and the various types of missiles. Though SALT II treaty wasn’t ratified, some of the standards set in SALT II were voluntarily being observed by the two sides till the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) began28. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF): In 1987, US and USSR signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5500 km29. This was the first arms control agreement between the two nations as SALT II ratification had failed, and also as the previous agreement included destruction of the existing weapons, while INF treaty involved limitations on the future deployments. Further, it was also the first time, that extensive verification measures including intrusive inspections were put in place 30. Following the treaty, US and USSR destroyed around 2692 short, medium and intermediate-range missiles. Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START): Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) between the United States and the Soviet Union began in 1982 and spanned over a period of three decades. The aim was still the same regarding reduction of nuclear arsenals, missiles and bombers capable of delivering such weapons. An approximate 35% cut was expected in the strategic warheads arsenals 31. In 1991, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the agreement in Moscow. But the collapse of the Soviet released confusion regarding the efficacy of the treaty as USSR’s nuclear weapons were spanned across the three republics, which were no more under the Soviet’s control. Gradually, the republics ratified the treaty 28

"SALT I and II." Cold War Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. "The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty at a Glance." Arms Control Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. 30 "Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), 1987." U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. 31 "Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Strategic Offensive Reductions (START I)." Nuclear Threat Initiative - Ten Years of Building a Safer World. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. 29

and decided to annihilate the weapons held under their territories or hand over them to Russia. Over the years, START would become the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history by 2001. Thus, all these agreements and deterrence efforts acted as a confidence-building measure between both the powers and helped avert nuclear confrontations, despite the ongoing geopolitical rivalries.

Geopolitical Rivalry The USA and the USSR engaged in geopolitical rivalry, constantly focusing on questions of territory and military power. The long peace was only nominal: the rivalry between the USA and the USSR also played out through several proxy wars over the span of fifty years. These wars were centered around regional crises which were either naturally occurring or were provoked by the two powers. The major powers never directly involved themselves in these wars, and chose instead to support the opposing factions and sent aid to fuel the violence. Thus, the proxy wars provided convenient battlegrounds for the superpowers to indirectly engage with each other. Victories in these wars meant victory of their political ideology, thereby establishing superiority (albeit in a limited way), which was otherwise not possible due to the absence of direct confrontations. In most of these proxy wars, ‘brinkmanship’ was a common tactic that was adopted by both the powers. This involved one party seeming to approach the verge of war in order to push the opponent to surrender/retreat. The credible threat of nuclear force in the Cold War made it possible for the superpowers to effectively use this strategy against each other. The most important of these proxy wars and the role of superpowers in the same are discussed below:

Berlin Blockade: The Berlin Blockade, between 1948 and 1949, was the first time that the Cold War was brought to a climax. The crisis arose out of disagreements over the treatment of Germany, which had been divided into four zones (split between the USA, USSR, the UK and France) after the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam. In 1948, the three Western zones- belonging to the Allied Powers- were merged to form a single economic unit, while Stalin kept the Eastern Russian faction separate. As a result, Berlin, the capital of Germany, was also split into two, between the East and the West. In June 1948, the West introduced a new currency and ended price controls in West Berlin. At this point Russia decided that this “island of capitalism�32, so far inside the communist zone in Germany, must not be sustained any further. Thus, it forced the West to withdraw from West Berlin, and reduced it to starvation point by cutting all links between West Berlin and West Germany. The Western powers were forced to airlift supplies to West Berlin, until the Russians came to terms with the dwindling efficacy of the blockade and lifted it in 1949. The first tangible crisis of the Cold War occurred as both factions were desperate to prove their might over the other- both ideologically and militarily. Truman even mobilized a fleet of B-29 bombers in Britain, to specifically target Berlin in case the Russians used weapons in Berlin. This competition over establishing sovereignty on German soil led to the imminent division of Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Berlin Blockade also incidentally led to the formation of NATO, as the USA realized the need to coordinate defences with the other Western powers. Korean War:


Lowe, Norman. Mastering Modern World History. 1st ed. Basingstoke [etc.]: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997. Print.

In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and the Korean War began as the first testing ground of the ideological polarities that had formed in the geopolitical order. Truman saw the invasion as a deliberate attempt of communism to establish an international order. In keeping with his policy of containment, Truman decided that it was essential for the west to take a stand by supporting South Korea in what had now become a “battle against communism”. But instead of announcing ceasefire when the American troops had overrun communist troops in South Korea, the USA invaded North Korea. As a result, besides the Russians, the Chinese government was alarmed. They launched a counter-offensive strike, driving the invading troops out of North Korea, and past the 38th parallel, which became the point of division between North and South Korea.

The conflict brought a new dimension to the Cold War, in which the world was forced to acknowledge the military strength of communist China. While the defeat was mainly due to Chinese power, the USA saw it as a communist victory, and became more resolute in defeating communism and all of its symbols: the biggest one of which was the USSR.

Cuban Missile Crisis Cuba became involved in the Cold War in 1959 when Fidel Castro seized power from the American backed Batista. Aware of Cuba’s increasing leftist identity, Kennedy approved the invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, in which a group of Batista supporters tried to invade Cuba with the backing of the CIA. However, the invasion was crushed and in response Castro announced that he was a Marxist and that Cuba is a socialist country.

In a gesture of solidarity to the newly left Cuba, and in response to the setting up of an American missile base in Turkey, Krushchev decided to set up nuclear missile launchers in Cuba which were aimed at the USA. Originally intended to be a bargaining chip for the removal of American missiles from Europe or a withdrawal from Berlin, Kennedy ignored any attempts at bargaining and demanded the dismantling of the missile sites and began a blockade around Cuba to prevent the Russian ships bringing the missiles from entering Cuba. The situation was diffused in a few days, and Krushchev agreed to dismantle the missile sites in Cuba, and in return Kennedy agreed not to invade Cuba and disarmed the Jupiter missiles in the American base in Turkey. This is a classic example of the use of brinkmanship tactic, where both powers continuously upped the ante, leaving something to chance. The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most tense moments in the Cold War, when both the powers came closest to full-scale war. It is also the best example of geopolitical competition in the Cold War, with America using Turkey because of its proximity to Russia, and Russia using Cuba for the same reasons.

Vietnam War The USA got involved in the civil war in South Vietnam in 1955 over the persistent fear of communism and the domino theory, which became Eisenhower’s postulation. When it became clear that the President Ngo Dinh Diem was having difficulty dealing with the National Liberation Front, the Americans decided to increase their military presence in Vietnam, especially given the events in North Korea and Cuba. The Vietcong, as the guerillas were now known, were receiving aid from North Vietnam which Ho Chi Minh felt was justified as only force could unite the two halves of the country since the South refused to hold elections: however, this only strengthened the resolve of the USA to try and violently expel communism from the

country. The Vietcong, on the other hand, was receiving help from China and Russia. After 1970, the Russian contribution was vital to sustain the war, as the Russians were the sole suppliers of arms to the Vietcong. For the Russians, the war represented the fight against the Americans, and the larger problem of Vietnam was ignored in the light of American enmity. Vietnam is the best example of the proxy wars the Cold War witnessed. What had initially been a question of Vietnamese independence morphed into a battle for supremacy between the USA and the USSR, with China supporting Russia in communist solidarity, especially after the Korean War. The Afghan War: The Afghan War was fought between a Soviet-backed communist government and a consolidation of various rebel groups, the mujahideen. After a coup, the new communist government enjoyed negligible popular support and was thus forced to rely on Russian support to keep the government in power. The mujahideen were fragmented, and made largely uncoordinated though powerful efforts against the Russians. In the bid to fight both communism in Asia and the USSR, the USA began to supply the mujahideen with arms and tried to unite them to launch a more organised offence against the Russians. The war continued until an agreement was made in 1989, for the Russians to withdraw. This war brought a halt to the detente efforts of the superpowers, till they were renewed by Gorbachev in mid-1980s. These proxy wars mostly resulted in zero-sum games, leading to a stalemate between the two powers, as was characteristic of this entire period of world history. For example, in the case of Korea and Vietnam, the world witnessed the American obsession to “defeat” capitalism and the resulting destruction which arose from this obsession, while in the specific case of Afghanistan, the Russian’s battle against the mujahideen led to absolute carnage. All these crises were originally regional, and

they were forced into the global limelight when they became a convenient excuse for the display of competing might by the two powers. Conclusion The geopolitical rivalry between the USA and the USSR from the end of the Second World War till the break-up of the Soviet Union was a manifestation of a larger ideological battle that the 20th century witnessed - between communism and capitalism, with the USA and the USSR becoming the torchbearers and emblems of their respective ideologies. This paper explored various aspects of the Cold War, and attempted to explain why a full-fledged nuclear confrontation did not occur. This paper further argued that the long peace during the Cold War was not a foregone conclusion, but was in fact a result of multiple contemporaneous developments across the world, the structure of the global order, the arms race, nuclear deterrence, arms control agreements, and as the Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrates, perhaps even chance.

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An Analysis of the Causes for the “Long Peace” During the Cold War  

By Ananth Balasubramanian, Pavithra R, Swathi Pottabathini, Vandana Menon The devastating World War II was followed by a period from 1945 to...

An Analysis of the Causes for the “Long Peace” During the Cold War  

By Ananth Balasubramanian, Pavithra R, Swathi Pottabathini, Vandana Menon The devastating World War II was followed by a period from 1945 to...