US During Cold War

This is 2nd article in a series of 3 Articles in which we will try to understand: How did US became US? How global power dynamics worked during cold War? and About US-China relationship

Winston Churchill never wanted to partner (but he did partner) with the Soviet Union as he knew it will further increase the communist USSR’s influence in Europe. After the Russian revolution 1918, Russia had substantially industrialized itself, major land reforms were introduced, factories were given to workers, banks were nationalized, etc. The kind of picture Russia presented of communism to the world, highly influenced other nations. Europe saw many communist parties coming into existence in this period. India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru was himself very fond of Russia’s economic policies. As a result, India adopted a lighter version of communism i.e., socialism.

As eastern Europe was liberated by Red Army soon Soviet Union installed left-wing governments into these nations. Eastern Europe was completely isolated from western Europe and the term ‘Iron Curtain’ originated. US and Britain felt highly threatened by Russia, as it started consolidating its military and ideological gains. Apart from these, what threatens US and its allies most was, Russia was now a nuclear power just like US. To combat Russian expansion US took several key steps, one was the Marshall plan and another was the formation of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which was basically a unified military alliance of North American and western European nations to combat any military threat from the Soviet Union. 

The cold war was basically, an ideological war where US and Soviet Union were fighting to prove each other wrong. US was representing democracy, capitalism, private ownership, right of property, freedom, etc. on the other hand Soviet Union was representing equality, public ownership, collective farming, fulfillment of basic needs (food, shelter, and clothes), etc.

After WW2 many nations got independence, for example, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Philippines, Korea, etc. these newly born nations were lacking political structure, economic resources, industrialization, etc. and they desperately needed a model which can alleviate poverty, provide basic infrastructure (i.e., roads, schools, hospitals, etc.) and employment in the shortest time possible. These nations became easier targets for US and Soviet Union.

Soviet Union model seemed more promising to nations as it incorporated centralized planning, public ownership, fast decision-making, equality, etc. and it can quickly mobilize resources into one direction without much answering to people (which sometimes can become a hurdle in implementing policy as happens in democracies). On the other hand, US was proposing capitalism, innovation, individual freedom, performance-based-incentive model, etc. but people knew that such model will certainly create inequality, crony capitalism, wealth concentration, etc. People also knew that elements like freedom, liberty, justice, dignity, right to choose their own representative can only be possible in a democracy that US proposed. 

During the Cold war US and Soviet did not involve in direct conflict with each other but constantly supported like-minded groups in other nations. For example, Korea where North Korean people wanted a communist government (supported by Russia/China) and South Korean people wanted a democratic government (supported by US). Finally, Korea got divided at the 38th parallel into two different nations with two different ideologies. A similar war was fought in Vietnam but there, support was more for the communist government therefore, US failed after losing lots of financial and military resources.

Various graffiti are painted on the Berlin Wall on the West Berlin side on April 29, 1984.

But what best depicts the drama of the cold war is Berlin (capital of Germany). Berlin was divided into two i.e., east Berlin and West Berlin. In 1961 Berlin wall was built to stop the movement of people between two sides. East Berlin represented a communist form of government and west Berlin had a democratic form of government. US took it on itself to build west Germany to show to the world the kind of prosperity and freedom it was proposing. West Germans had political rights, they had good educational institutions, health infrastructure, they use a variety of goods and services, for example, cars, tv (with multiple channels unlike east Germany), beauty products, supermarkets, ACs, etc. Whereas East Germany had limited, low on quality and variety state-produced goods and services. In essence, people under Soviet rule were just living.


India adopted a policy of Non-alignment in which it restricted itself from openly supporting any one power. India was not an easy target unlike Korea or Vietnam or any other nation, because of India’s national movements for independence. During national movements, Indian leaders very thoroughly discussed, debated, and analyzed well in advance on issues like what form of government it will have, its foreign policy, economic policies, political and civil rights, etc. As India adopted democracy it was natural to assume that India will support US but it didn’t. Moreover, India adopted socialism as its economic and social policy. Therefore, Soviet Union thought India will fall for communism sooner or later and without pressurizing, helped India in building its military strength. US criticized India for not taking a stand and to counter it US started supporting Pakistan.

India did not restrict itself, from spreading this policy of Non-alignment. India’s PM Jawahar Lal Nehru along with Indonesia’s Sukarno, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Yugoslavia’s President Tito formed a Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) in which member nations decided not to join any power i.e., US and Soviet Union. Further, excluded themselves from joining military blocs like NATO, SENTO, Bagdad pact, etc. NAM played a huge role in curbing the spread of the cold war to the whole world.


During WW2, Japan had control over Manchuria and wanted to expand towards China. China’s Nationalist leader Chiang Kia-Shek (who was the head of government) was facing a dual-threat. One, advancement of Japanese troops and another rise of communism under the leadership of Mao Zedong. As Chinese government was busy fighting the Japanese, Mao’s successful land reforms in the countryside won the support of peasants.

As Nationalists fall in the Sino-Japanese war, communists under Mao gained political power. In 1949, Mao established the People’s Republic of China. Mao was good at mobilizing people and guerrilla warfare but had little experience in running a state. So, Soviet Union was the only model they could copy. Mao had ideological differences from Stalin. Also, he did not like the way Stalin treated him. But China was a poor and vulnerable state it needed strong friends therefore Mao publicly never opposed Soviet Union. In 1949 itself, Mao traveled to Moscow and signed a bilateral treaty known as the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance. Under the treaty Soviet Union provide loans to China, technical assistance for industrial development, and the design of economic policies. Treaty also provided for military support, if any one of them is attacked by an enemy.

In the mid-1950s during the Korean civil war, China decided to help communist groups although its economic condition did not allow it. Yet China went ahead assuming that Russia will come for its aid (Russia supported but from very far) but Russia restrained itself from engaging in one more conflict with US. As a result, Mao felt highly betrayed. In 1953, Stalin died and Nikita Khrushchev succeeded him. In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev in his famous ‘Secret Speech’ condemned the personality cult, purges, and violence during Stalin’s reign. This put China in an awkward position.

 In 1957, China and Soviet Union signed a military alliance under which Russia promised to share its Nuclear prototype with China. But soon difference over ideology started to widen as Nikita Khrushchev wanted peaceful coexistence of communist and capitalist nations therefore, on several occasions he went soft towards US and its allies. As China’s foreign policies were entirely dependent on anti-western and anti-American propaganda. Once again china felt betrayed. In the mid-1960 Russia pulled out all its technical and military support. This was the start of intense rivalry between two communist nations.

Sino-Soviet rivalry opened up the way for strengthening the Indo-Soviet relationship. Russia always thought India is in process of becoming a communist nation therefore it always gave India adequate time and support. Unlike US, Russia did not push India for any treaty, pact, or agreement to show its loyalty. There were many intergovernmental pacts like the Bagdad pact or SENTO which were led by US which India declined to join as per its Non-alignment Policy. US criticized India for this on several occasions. In the Indo-China war 1962, India had a severe defeat from China, therefore, to have a strong military, strong economic, and technological advancement. As India needed help it further pushed India towards Soviet. India could have asked US for help but its support was always entitled to several conditions which India could not accept.

Cuba Crisis and Nuclear Proliferation

Banner headlines of Britain’s daily newspapers Oct. 23 announcing President Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba.

Among all the warfare and drama of cold war Cuban missile crisis of 1961 seems most interesting. As US had stationed nuclear bases in western Europe and Turkey, Soviet felt highly threatened. In 1959, the communist government came into power in Cuba under Fidel Castro, which was highly dependent on Soviet for military and economic aid. US and Cuba already had some rivalry. Soviet took this as an opportunity and decided to install nuclear missiles in Cuba to balance the power (Russia did not intend to use them) by bringing nuclear weapons in the proximity of US. These missiles could easily destroy the eastern US in few minutes.

Threatened US retaliated by blockade of the island to prevent Soviet from supplying additional missiles and military equipment. The issue escalated so much both powers were on the verge of using nuclear weapons. Fear among each power (of course in other nations too) was so high that neither of the power missed the opportunity of communication and coming to an agreement. Soviet removed missiles in exchange US decided not to invade Cuba and secretly US also agreed to remove its nuclear weapon from Turkey.

After Soviet became Nuclear power after US in 1949. The intense competition between the two powers led to the development of more powerful thermonuclear bombs (also known as Hydrogen bombs or H-bomb) and to enlarge their stocks of nuclear weapons. At the height of this competition, US and Soviet together possessed many thousands of nuclear warheads, enough to eradicate all life on Earth many times over. In response to the growing threat of nuclear war, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), was concluded by the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China in 1968. Prior to this in 1957, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established, a United Nations organization for promoting the safe and peaceful use of nuclear technology.

In 2015, the Obama administration had a nuclear deal with Iran (from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew) in order to limit its nuclear program in exchange for relief from US and other economic sanctions. Nuclear power in irresponsible hands can cause irreversible destruction to the world.

End of Cold War

As new leaders came to power, they preferred dialogues and discussion in order to resolve any dispute among nations. Meanwhile, institutions like the UN had shown the world their credibility and sustainability unlike the League of Nations (LoN). US President Richard Nixon (1969-1974), after a visit to China in 1972, encouraged UN to recognize its communist Chinese government. President Nixon and Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), which prohibited the manufacture of nuclear missiles by both sides and took a step toward reducing the decades-old threat of nuclear war.

Despite President Nixon’s effort Cold war heated up once again under President Ronald Reagan’s term (1981-1989), he believed that communism anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere. But it short-lived as, Soviet was disintegrating due to political and economic instability. Finally, under the leadership of Premier Mikhail Gorbachev who took office in 1985 and introduced two policies that redefined Russia’s relationship to the rest of the world: “glasnost,” or political openness, and “perestroika,” or economic reform.

US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signing the arms control agreement
, Washington DC, 8th December 1987.

In 1989, Soviet influence in Eastern Europe perished and soon democratic governments were installed in these eastern European nations. The most visible symbol of the cold war ‘Berlin wall’ was finally destroyed and Germany was once again integrated. By 1991, Soviet Union itself had fallen apart and the cold war was over.

US came out as the winner of the Cold War with bright colors. As Soviet was struggling to keep itself from scattering. Post-WW2, US was becoming a global influence in economic, political, military, cultural, and technological affairs. Its unemployment rate was reducing, the living standard of its citizen was increasing, durable goods (Fan, AC, Car, TV, Furniture) were penetrating every American life, Social and political Movement like, Civil rights movement under Dr. MLK were mitigating racial discrimination and gender inequality, better education and health facilities were developed, innovation was being promoted which led to better quality computer, mobile phones, internet, fast transportation service, etc. all this was happening while it was fighting Cold War. 

Categories: History, International Affairs

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