After the end of the Bolshevik revolution, Russia had emerged as another nodal superpower that irked the west. Initially, the western powers were against the communist government that was set after the revolution. Before the beginning of the Second World War, in order to maintain peace, Russia had tried to bring all power holders under the security system of the League of Nations. In the early years of the Second World War, Russia had opposed western powers’ Policy of Appeasement towards Germany that ignored her moves to annex neighbouring countries. The seeds of the Cold War germinated from that time onwards.
Despite Russia joining the Allies during the Second World War to fight Germany, it did not help in bridging the distrust as they lacked coordination. This was because Anglo-Americans had delayed opening second front to defend Russia from Germany. Also, America had maintained its secret of the manufacturing of an atom bomb from Russia. With the end of Cold War two opposite conditions evolved: one was America’s aim in bringing out stability in the world to avoid economic depression through the use of capitalist ideology and second, Soviet wanted Germany to be partitioned so that it could be used as a buffer zone between West and friendly Eastern Europe countries.
The final turning point was that triggered Cold War was the Soviet’s refusal to open Black sea straits and Danube waters to curtail America’s expansion towards Eastern Europe. Thus, in 1946 Winston Churchill’s speech in the United Kingdom said: "A shadow has fallen upon the scene so lately lighted by the international organization from Stettin in Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent" (Britannica Encyclopedia, 1998). He called for Anglo-American alliance and declared that Soviet Union hegemony can be fought only by the language of force. Thus this marked the beginning of the Cold War.
Phases and Politics of Cold War
Cold War has gone through many ups and downs. While at some moments it was a silent current, at other times, it blew out. In all these phases what we see was that there were indirect conflicts where superpowers were at loggerheads. Broadly, the Cold War can be divided into the following phases:
First Phase (1946-1949):
The Second World War ended in 1945 and strain erupted between two superpowers i.e., US and USSR in the first phase. The problem started at Yalta Conference when it was decided that immediately after the end of War free elections would be held in Eastern Europe. America had always tried to control the spread of the Red Regime in Russia. The geopolitical climate during this phase changed so swiftly that Russia got a chance to set up a communist government first in Poland. It was then through plots and ploys communist government extended to Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and then to other Eastern European countries. This was usually done by the use of deceptive measures such as killing opposition leaders or jailing them and sometimes by use of force. This extended the influence of Russia which was seen as a strategy to counter America. Following Russia’s example, America helped Greece and Turkey in establishing capitalism through the use of the Truman Doctrine (March, 1947). The aim of this doctrine was "to support free people who were resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure". It led to receiving aid and arms from the USA to counter the communist pressure.
After these interventions, the USA increased its policy of containing communism by announcing the Marshall Plan in June 1947. According to this plan, America gave financial and ammunition assistance to Western European countries who were reeling under poverty, hunger, and instability. Russia, on the other hand, tried to safeguard its allies by announcing the Moltovo Plan that gave assistance to its satellites and setting up of Cominform to draw together all satellite communist parties and bring them under one umbrella. Following its extensive campaign to bring as many countries under communism as possible, Russia intervened in Czechoslovakia and brought her also under the communist rule in 1948.
With tensions mounting in both the camps, Germany got to see superpower rivalry next. This happened when western powers merged their areas to create Trizonia that later came to be known as the Federal Republic of Germany while the Soviet Union converted its occupied territory of Germany to the German Democratic Republic. This partition of Germany was the result of the Postdam resolution that was held in 1945. Tensions escalated between the two camps when Soviet stopped western powers access to Berlin that led to massive airlift (known as Berlin Blockade and Airlift). These tensions were further escalated when the USA refused to accord recognition to the communist government of China and support to Formosa Government and Russia refused to withdraw the army from Iran. After the formation of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1949, the furious race of nuclear weapons took place that created more tension. However, with the death of Stalin and the change of regime in the USA, the Cold War took a halt.
Second Phase (1949-1953):
This phase marked some cooling off period which was due to a change in leadership in both the countries. In 1945, at the Moscow Conference, Soviet Russia, America, and the UK had decided to bring stability in Far-East especially Korea. At that time majority of the Koreans favoured complete independence. As the talks were going on to form the commission as per Moscow agreement, the USA showed reluctance to form the commission fearing that interim communist government of North Korea might win. This suspicion led to the matter being referred to the United Nations in 1950.
Before any decision could come, North Korea declared war against South Korea by taking armaments help from Russia and army personnel from China. With things getting out of hand, America used this situation to gain legitimate sanctions from the United Nations and sent military aid to South Korea. With a favourable political climate, both North Korea and South Korea signed a peace treaty in 1953 and ended the war. Fearing more such actions the USA tried to reduce the impact of Soviet Communism, by spending a huge amount of dollars in propaganda against Communism. On the other hand, Soviet Russia tried to equalize itself with America and tested an atom bomb. Despite the signing of treaty both the powers continued to exercise their influence in Korea thereby triggering hostility. In this phase what we see is that both the powers tried to curtail the influence of the other and played a game of power with politics of vengeance.
Third Phase (1953-1957):
During this phase, a number of regional co-operations were announced. United States of America continued its military and economic offences with rigour against Soviet Russia. Firstly, it formed the South-East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in the South East region with its supporters in 1954 in order to minimize Soviet Russia’s influence. Next in 1955, America formed the Middle East Defence Organization (MEDO) in the Middle East. Within a short span of time, America encircled Soviet Russia thereby restricting its expansion by giving military assistance to 43 countries and forming 3300 military bases around Soviet Russia. This mutual confrontation then showed off in the Vietnamese War that started in 1955.
To counter the American Power, Russia signed WARSAW PACT, a Defence pact with 12 Countries in 1955. At the same time, America finding an opportunity ripe, tried to free Hungary from communist rule. This attempt was foiled. Both the superpowers continued to increase their military strength and tested the hydrogen bomb. Their actions showed as if war was inevitable but they maintained restraint.
With the change of leadership political relationship between the two superpowers changed. The first thing that happened was that an agreement was signed between America and Russia in 1956 regarding the Suez Crisis that moderated international relations. According to this agreement, America agreed not to help her allies like England and France and Soviet agreed to help opposing parties. This move saved West Asia from a great danger of full war and destruction. Very soon the Vietnam War started that again pitched both the powers against each other. However, the intensity of the war subsided when the first peace talk summit was held in Geneva in 1955. Later a treaty was also signed between Australia, New Zealand and America in September, 1957 which was known as ANZUS to strengthen military and economic relations.
Fourth Phase (1957-1962):
This phase was marked by two extreme ends. On one hand, the theory of peaceful coexistence developed, and on the other hand, the world saw the most dangerous nuclear confrontation in the form of the Cuban missile crisis which brought mankind to the brink of the third war. Initially, both powers showed mutual co-existence by having social, cultural, and economic exchanges. In 1959 the Russian President, Khrushchev went on a historical tour to America that sent a new message of cooperation that would begin the political history of two countries.
However, this was very short-lived as new incidences marred their relationship. For instance, the U-2 accident occurred where an American-spy plane was shot down in the heart of Russia which was accepted by America. Next, the Berlin crisis took place when Russian President insisted on withdrawals by American forces from West Berlin which was rejected by America. At the same time, the problem further escalated – East Germany people were reeling under economic strains that were making living impossible as a result thousands of them were escaping to West Germany. This prompted Russia to build a 25 km Berlin wall in 1961, in order to check the immigration of eastern Berlin people to Western Berlin.
All these incidents narrowed down to one of the biggest nuclear wars in 1962, through the Cuban Missile Crisis. It aggravated the Cold War. This incident was the predecessor to political events in Cuba which started from Fidel Castro coming to power and nationalizing American owned estates and industries. This put a strain on Cuba-American relations, while Russia-Cuba relationship improved. America, convinced of curtailing the spread of communism in Cuba, attacked Cuba in the Bay of Pigs. However, the intensity of attacks was easily turned down by the Cuban government who defeated the American forces.
Following this incident, Russia decided to set up nuclear missile launches in Cuba (only a hundred miles from the USA border) which were aimed at the USA. The missiles’ range was very large that could destroy all major cities of the USA. While military advisers of Kennedy wanted him to attack Russian bases, he acted in restraint because he was aware of possible aftermath which may take place if he retaliated. This incident created an atmosphere of conversation between American President Kennedy and Russian President Khrushchev under the guidance of United Nations President. In this discussion, America assured Russia that she would not attack Cuba, and Russia, in turn, would also withdraw missile stations from Cuba.
Fifth Phase (1962-1969):
This phase saw a marked increase in the cooperative relationships between the USA and USSR. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was a worldwide acceptance that demanded a ban on nuclear weapons. This compelled both the parties to refrain from nuclear war and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1968. Peaceful co-existence became the norm that pushed for agreement for disarmament. As a result, a Hot Line was established between the USA and Russia. However, the Cold War continued due to the tensions caused by the Vietnam War and the problem in Germany.
Sixth Phase (1969-1978):
This phase saw a series of peace agreements between the two superpowers that led to the scholars of International relations to announce DETENTE. (The word détente meant "permanent relaxation between east and west." This was made possible by the American President Nixon and Russian President Brezhnev who played important roles in putting an end to the Cold War. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) of 1972, the Helsinki Summit Conference on Security of 1975, and the Belgrade Conference of 1978 brought both the powers closer. America wanted to improve its relationship with China which led to American Foreign Secretary, Henry Kissinger, paying a secret visit to China in 1971 to explore the possibilities of reconciliations with China. However, this co-operation was short-lived. As America moved to convert Diego Garcia into a military base, it increased suspicion in the minds of Soviets who saw it as a move to check their presence in the Indian Ocean.
During the Bangladesh crisis of 1971 and the Egypt-Israel War of 1973, the two superpowers extended support to the opposite sides thereby standing opposite to each other again.
Last Phase (1979-1987)
In this phase, certain changes were noticed in the Cold War due to which scholars referred to this phase as the New Cold War. Though in 1979, American President Carter and Russian President Brezhnev signed the SALT-II treaty that aimed at reducing arms, in 1979 new developments took place that reduced the prospects of mitigating the Cold War. This started with new interventions of both the powers in Afghanistan. This led to direct confrontation between the two superpowers in Afghanistan, by supporting and creating their allies, which impacted the geo-political scenario of the region.
At the same time, the new American President started Human Rights and Open Diplomacy that was aimed at defaming Russia. Both these policies questioned the well being of citizens living in Russia as the American agencies tried to report gross violations of human rights happening in Communist Russia. To add fuel to fire the SALT-II treaty was not ratified by the US Senate. In 1980, America boycotted the Olympic held at Moscow thus ending their co-operation. By 1985, conditions worsened in Afghanistan that brought a lot of embarrassment to the USSR.
New agreements were signed in which both the parties decided to pull off from Afghanistan and stopped aid to its allies in Afghanistan. At the same time to counter America, a new chapter in the Sino-Russia relationship began when five-year trade agreements were signed in 1985 and regular contact took place.