Cold war is the term often used to describe tension-like situations amongst two nations, or blocks not amounting to full scale war or similar such measures. The Cold War era has been in existence for couple decades, even resulting into two major world wars, besides having its imprint on scores of political decisions of concerned nations. There was a time, before 1991, when the world community was divided in two major blocks namely the USSR block and the US block.
Those supportive of the policies of the USSR used to take cues from the policy announcements from Moscow while those supportive of the US policies used to plan their moves depending upon the announcements from Washington. Quite often the world community appeared sharply divided in two different poles which resulted into a ‘bipolar world’. Mastny (2008) underlines three important components of cold war legacy namely;
Legacy of Western Diplomacy of the early Cold War years resulting into steps like formation of NATO, EU etc.
Arms control legacy, which basically deals with the relationship between diplomacy and military strength
Multilateral diplomacy, resulting into a number of military campaigns around the world
It is pertinent to note here that Kalantzis and Cope (2006) highlight the plight of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan by citing the huge investments done by the American government during Cold War days in consolidating its hold on the military arsenal. It has been emphasized that important milestones like winning of Second World War, and development of the Marshall Plan were possible due to huge investments in the military power by US during the cold war era (Kalantzis and Cope, 2006).
In fact, the fate of USSR, other pole in the erstwhile bipolar world, also led to far-reaching changes in the region when USSR disintegrated into a number of smaller nations like Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine etc. Such incidents are a pointer towards the peculiarities of cold war strategies. While normal diplomatic ties and differences are handled in transparent manner, cold war strategists prefer to counter the apparent offensive from the competing blocks in not-so transparent manner.
Strategies are termed as Cold War, because while on the face of it, there’s no war, the unease amongst both the blocks gives enough indications towards mutual bitterness amongst the two nations. While analyzing the 50 years of cold war between the Soviet Union and the Western democracies, Knightley (2010) states that espionage missions were the integral components fueling the ferocity of cold war during all these years.
Espionage missions formed an important weapon in the armory of ‘warring’ nations during the cold war period. With the help of inside information gathered from different sources an idea was formed about the weaker links and accordingly efforts were made to damage the interest of rival nation/s. America’s CIA, UK’s SIS and USSR’s KGB happened to be important partners in the hush-hush warfare being undertaken during the cold war period.
Influencing the economic interests of rival countries, providing fuel to dissensions and political unrest in foreign terrain happened to be key tools during the cold war period. During these days of liberalization and globalization, economic interests of countries are dependent upon the policies and interests of other countries, and these things are often highlighted by the concerned economies, but during the days of cold war, efforts are made by the concerned countries not to openly come out in public.
Putting embargo on import and export of trade supplies from rival countries leads to damaging the economic interests of the concerned country. Pursuing friendly countries also to follow similar trade policies vis-a-vis the rival nations is an accepted principle of the cold war era.
Cold war era is also characterized by the formation of groups depending upon a whole range of factors like economic interests, political compulsions, vicinity with the leading country, geographical location etc. In fact the interests and the level of stakes also keep changing over a period of time. It was this transition which resulted into a number of former allies of WW-II becoming bitter critics of each other’s policies.
During the pre-disintegration era of Soviet Union, the world community was sharply divided on many issues in two contrasting opinions. While the US block used to see the issues with the perspective of American interests, the Soviet bloc used to work towards ensuring its own interests. It was during this period that the world community was divided into two poles. International bodies like the United Nations’ used to be a favorite platform for scoring points and trying to bring down the interests of rival nations.
During those days, the rivalry used to have an adverse impact on the functioning of the UN as well (UN, 2010). Some analysts have been of the opinion that, at times, the bipolar nature of the world also worked to the advantage of the world community in general and the smaller nations in particular.
After the demise of Soviet bloc, it has been opined that many countries were forced to adopt their policies on the lines of the policies being adopted by the US, as it is considered to be the only superpower now.
For example, the campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan by the allied forces and the resultant sanction of UN Security Council on these campaigns were seen as the international body’s following the authoritative rule of America in international affairs. A large number of UN member states did not want these campaigns to be carried out in this manner but they had no choice as the US and some of its allies were forceful in their submissions. It is another matter that the campaigns have take much longer than originally planned for.
The original plans of the allied forces to go for incisive campaigns and then return the allied forces to their respective countries has not materialized till now. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars followed by subsequent efforts for enhanced security have been proving a big drain on the exchequer of US and allied nations.
The increasing amount of uncertainly and apparent restlessness on the faces of civilian and military leadership has made issues more complicated. These war campaigns remained high on the agenda even during the US presidential campaigns. The uni-polar decisions seem to have taken its toll with differences amongst the ruling combine as well. John McCain, the Presidential candidate from the Republicans’ clearly said, during the run off that he opposed President Bush on the way the Iraq war was conducted (CNN, 2008).
These developments do indicate that even though apparently US is the only superpower amongst the comity of nations, there are forces which have been indicated of another power centre around us. Besides the ongoing military campaigns, there are examples like the dominance of China in the Asia-Pacific region and the confrontationist stances taken up by China on many issues. Chinese authorities termed the stand of US in entering into defense trade with Taiwan as big irritant in smooth relations with America (People’s Daily, 2010).
Similarly, the support extended to Google by the US administration during the recent confrontation of the company with the Chinese authorities also led to the decision being termed as influenced by the pre-cold war mentality (People’s Daily, 2010). Such developments do point out that the concept of bipolarity is indeed still alive and the cold war era is still quite apparent on many fronts.
CNN (2008). Transcript of first presidential debate. Available online at http://edition.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/09/26/debate.mississippi.transcript/ (October 26, 2008)
Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope (2006). On globalisation and diversity. Computers and Composition 23 (2006) 402–411.
Knightley, Phillip (2010). The Cambridge Spies. BBC-World Wars in-depth. Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/coldwar/cambridge_spies_01.shtml (Oct 24, 2010)
Mastny, V (2002). Diplomacy and the Legacy of the Cold War: Post-11 September. Cold War History, 2:3, 15 — 28. Routledge Publications
People’s Daily (2010). U.S.’ Cold War mentality and reverse-time paradox. Available online at http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90780/91343/6886865.html (Oct. 24, 2010)
UN (2010). United Nations Peacekeeping. Available online at http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/ (Oct 24, 2010)