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Essay: Cold War Q & As

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Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the contending explanations for the start of the Cold War.

The blame placed on Moscow ultimate elucidates the United States perception of why the Cold war began. The USSR expansionism and oppressive regimes caused USSR to be viewed as aggressive and hostile. The domestic level of analysis used however does not consider the security concerns of USSR’s which were aggravated by the United states. The blaming of the US for the Cold War is also not appropriate because it considers the US’s rising influence in European economic affairs and the atom bomb as hostile. However, both of these were a result of World War 2. The explanations that the Cold war was caused due to clashing ideologies and the bipolarity of international relations is credible as it holds truth to the contrasting natures of the two nations whilst recognizing the importance of competition within global politics. The distrust between both Stalin and Truman magnified the issue, cascading the misunderstanding and growing mistrust. Therefore, there are multiple reasons that could be attriable to the cause of the Cold War, and a singular reason cannot be pinpointed.

Outline the goals of the U.S. policy of containment, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the formation of NATO.

The goal of containment, the Truman Doctrine, The Marshall Plan, and NATO is to stop the spread of Communism. The containment of the influence of the Soviet Union was the primary focus. The Truman Doctrine had policies that focused on the direct containment of the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan focused on stopping the proliferation of communism through an economic means, by relieving the economic pressures in europe by reviving the economies of the West European Unions. NATO was established to form a defense, and to mitigate any attempt of a Soviet hegemony in Europe.

Identify the main periods of increase and relaxation in Cold War tensions.

1945 to 1968 and 1979 to 1985 can be classified as times of increased Cold War tensions while the period between 1968 and 1979 and that between 1985 and 1991 can be classified as times of decreased Cold War tensions. From 1945 to 1968, the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, and Johnson can be described as generally proactive in the condemnation and combating of the USSR. With the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, doctrine of massive retaliation, the Korea Crisis, Bay of Pigs invasion, Vietnam War, and Cuban Missile Crisis, tensions between the United States and communist forces, especially the Soviet Union, generally increased. Although the period after the Cuban Missile crisis can be described as a slight relaxation in Cold War tensions, other points of conflict between communist and capitalist forces quickly surfaced, the most notable of which being the Vietnam War. In addition an arms and technological race between the two world superpowers emerged during this time. It was only during the Chinese Revolution did lasting peace become established. Furthermore, the Nixon administration extended olive branches to communist nations, including the USSR, in the form of visits to China, helping China gain a permanent seat in the UN, and arrangement of SALT 1 with the Soviet Union. However, during this détente, tensions were still present due to the occurrence of conflicts in Israel. In 1979, the Cold War was reborn by the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Compounding the resurgence of the Cold War was the ascent of Ronald Reagan to the presidency. With his commitment to containment, Nixon embarked on an expensive effort to support anti-communist regimes in third world countries and a demonization of the USSR. Cold War tensions experienced another decrease under the regime of Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s liberal reforms of Glasnost and Perestroika were not enough to reinvigorate the Soviet economy and contributed to the subsequent collapse of the USSR. Furthermore, attempted revocation of the Brezhnev Doctrine sparked mass uprisings, destabilizing the regime even more. Due to the inability of communist governments to subdue the mass discontent, the Soviet Union and its satellites quickly dissolved, ending the Cold War.

Describe the transformation of the global economy in the post-World War II world.

After World War II, the United States was the economic hegemon. Through the Marshall Plan, the United States helped rebuild Western Europe, though the Soviet Union did not receive any aid. Furthermore, by re-establishing western European countries, the United States created a network of countries to help thwart the spread of communism in Europe. Also a consequence of the Marshall Plan was a facilitation of the economic and political integration of Europe. Later, the seeds of unity planted by the Marshall Plan would develop into the modern-day European Union.

Describe the precipitating events and consequences of the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Reagan Doctrine.

The Korean War, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War, invasion of Afghanistan, and the Reagan Doctrine were major components of the Cold War. The Korean War arguably resulted from allowing communist forces in North Korea operate unchecked following the withdrawal of American and Soviet forces in the Korean Peninsula. As a result of the North Korean invasion of South Korea, the United States was required to intervene. Threats posed to the People’s Republic of China by the South Korean government also required the nation to involve itself in the conflict until the 38th parallel border between North and South Korea was established. Khrushchev was prompted to place missiles in Cuba as a security precaution against the United States. Upon discovery by American reconnaissance, pressure on the Soviet regime caused the weapons to be removed from Cuba, allowing a slight relaxation in Cold War tensions to follow. The United States intervened in the Vietnam War in an effort to stop the spread of communism throughout Vietnam. Increasing amount of U.S. aid to efforts to fight communist forces in Vietnam generated public disapproval, culminating in the withdrawal of the United States from the Vietnam War. In 1979, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan revitalized Cold War tensions after a relatively peaceful period of international relations. Compounded with the Reagan Doctrine that entailed supporting anti-communist, third world nations fight communist influence, the Cold War would escalate until 1985, when the Gorbachev era initiated the demise of the Soviet regime.

Describe the periods of cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, including the era of détente and the SALT process.

The cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union began primarily with the Nixon presidency. Nixon formally recognized the Soviet Union as a world power, signalling that the United States would treat the Soviet Union as a peer. The SALT 1 agreements, which stabilized the arms race and limited the destructive capabilities of both “belligerent nations,” between Nixon and Brezhnev further demonstrated the extent of cooperation of two superpowers during this time. However, the Arab-Israeli conflicts and differing views on the goals of the détente eventually led to a renewal of the Cold War beginning to a minor extent with the presidency of Carter and officially re-initiated under the Reagan administration.

Assess the strengths and shortcomings of the contending explanations for the Cold War’s end.

Individual, domestic, and systemic levels of analyses have been applied to explain the reasons for the end of the Cold War. At the individual level, historians cite the personality of Mikhail Gorbachev as a major factor in affecting the war’s end. Gorbachev’s liberal policies and his acceptance of the START 1 and INF Treaty agreements demilitarized the Cold War. Combined with his liberal policies of Glasnost and Perestroika as well as withdrawal of Soviet economic and political aid to communist regimes in eastern Europe, Gorbachev neutralized some of the major points of conflict of the Cold War. At the domestic level, the failure of communism and the demise of the Soviet Union serve as explanations for the end of the Cold War. Since the Soviet Union was unable to keep pace with the rate of technological advanced by its capitalist adversary, the Soviet elite was convinced that it was unable to maintain the Cold War. Political changes within the Soviet Union that favored democracy instead of totalitarianism further debased regime and eventually led to the end of the Cold War. Lastly, at the systemic level of analysis, historians point to the decrease in bipolarity as a contributing factor to the end of the Cold War. Nations, such as Germany and Japan, that operated in the background of the Cold War benefited from the bipolar nature of the conflict, since “uninvolved” nations enjoyed neutrality and hence prosperity. As the Soviet Union wanted in influence, the world transitioned towards multipolarity or unipolarity (with the United States as a dominant force). Either way, the United States and its allies would benefit from the fall of the bipolar system.

Apply the levels of analysis to explain events from the period of the Cold War.

At the individual level of analysis, the Cold War can be understood in terms of the temperaments of the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union. Mutual mistrust was epitomized in the characters of Truman, Stalin, Eisenhower, and Reagan. To a lesser extent, this also included JFK, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Johnson, and Carter. Greater trust between communist forces and the United States was embodied by Nixon and Gorbachev. The time periods in which each of the above figures ruled was marked by an increase in tensions or a decrease in tensions, respectively. At the domestic level of analysis, the eventual triumph of capitalism over communism illustrates the Cold War. For example, at the outset of the Cold War following WW2, the Soviet Union posed a great threat to American dominance politically, economically, and ideologically. The magnitude of Soviet influence with the dramatic difference in ideology between the United States essentially destined the two nations to clash. Expanding this conflict to the systemic level of analysis, the fact that the world consisted of only these two superpowers at the time inherently pitted them against each other. Operating in a zero-sum world, the gain of one party was at the loss of another, triggering an incessant chain of competition between the two nations until one of them, the Soviet Union, could no longer last in the conflict.

Apply realism, liberalism, and constructivism to events from the period of the Cold War.

When applying realism, constructivism, and liberalism to the Cold War, it is evident that the former hold more significance than the latter. For example, the majority of the Cold War can be explained in terms of a zero-sum system, not a variable-sum system as suggested by liberalism. Essentially, the end of the Cold War was brought about because the United States outlasted the Soviet Union in the competition for dominance. In addition, it must be noted that the period of voluntary cooperation and hence decrease in tension was relatively short, only lasting approximately 2 American presidencies while conflict plagued the administrations of 5 other U.S. presidents. Thus, it can be deduced that the two belligerent nations were acting in their own self-interest, as suggested by the realist school of thought. Even during the détente that subscribers of liberalism would point to as evidence that all parties benefit from cooperation, there was controversy lying beneath the surface since the Soviet Union and the United States had differing views on the goals of the détente. Constructivism can be applied to the Cold War since the designation of the United States as capitalist and the designation of the Soviet Union as communist were both internally given. Seemingly, both nations opted to mistrust the other following WW2, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle of mistrust that fueled the Cold War.


Which explanation for the start of the Cold War do you find most persuasive? Give the strengths and weaknesses of your explanation and discuss the level of analysis your explanation represents.

Of the explanations for the beginning of the Cold War, the most convincing is the citation of the bipolar nature of world politics following WW2 as the main cause of the conflict. The fact that the United States and the Soviet Union were major superpowers after WW2 accentuated the points of conflict between the two nations, chiefly the mutual distrust between national leaders, misinterpretation of the actions of the opposing nations, and the ideological clash between communism and capitalism. Had Britain or any other nation assumed the place of the Soviet Union in the competition between the United States for the post WW2 globe, points of conflict between the given nation and the United States would be magnified to the extent at which they would become grounds for conflict. Thus, the bipolar nature of world politics after World War 2 can be viewed as the mother of the other factors that contributed to the Cold War and hence is the most important.

Discuss the significance of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Why did this confrontation occur and why was it resolved in the way that it was? Which level of analysis best explains its beginning and resolution?

The Cuban Missile Crisis was significant in that it initially launched a time of relaxed tensions, caused the Soviet’s to concern themselves with arms development (taking away money from development of industry, technology, and social welfare which contributed to demise of the Soviet Union), initiated greater communication between Moscow and Washington, and the caused the United States to underestimate the difficulty of containing communism in the third world. The individual level of analysis is most appropriate in analyzing the beginning and resolution of the conflict. Initially, Khrushchev placed missiles in Cuba because he wanted to correct the strategic disparities between the United States and the Soviet Union and believed that he could exploit the seeming political weakness of JFK. The United States’ response to this action by the Soviet’s was highly influenced by JFK, since he was the individual who proposed a blockade of Cuba. Furthermore, after achieving the capitulation of the Soviets, JFK tried to diffuse the humiliation faced by the Soviets through agreeing to Soviet concessions and engineering treaties with the USSR.

Discuss the significance of Nixon’s trip to China, détente, and the Reagan Doctrine.

Nixon’s trip to China and the détente signified a relaxation in Cold War tensions. The visit to China helped improve America’s image to China and conveyed that the United States was becoming more flexible in its response to communist powers. Simultaneously, achieving this state of accord with China checked Soviet influence by beginning the establishment of another communist powerhouse that could rival the USSR. The détente achieved by the SALT agreements between Nixon and Brezhnev allowed relative peace to descend over the world, yet the peace was somewhat superficial. This superficiality was revealed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, President Carter’s prompt condemnation of Soviet atrocities, and finally, Reagan’s revitalization of the commitment to containment was demonstrated by the Reagan Doctrine..

Identify examples of realism, liberalism, and constructivism evident during the Cold War.

Examples of realism during the Cold War include the involvement of Chinese forces in the Korean War, North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, and the U.S. policy of containment throughout the Cold War. Examples of liberalism include the SALT agreements, Marshall Plan (in the case of Western Europe and the United States), NATO, the Warsaw Pact, Bretton Woods System, establishment of a Washington-Moscow “hotline,” granting a permanent UNSC seat to China, Glasnost, and Perestroika. Examples of constructivism include Glasnost, Perestroika (Soviet Union trying to assign itself a liberal disposition), and the discontent of the Soviet public with the Soviet regime.

Discuss the effects of bipolarity during the Cold War. Define the concept and provide examples from the Cold War of how bipolarity affected states’ behavior.

Bipolarity is a condition in which two powers hold the majority of influence over world affairs and constantly vie for dominance over the other major power. In the context of the Cold War, the copious examples of competition between the United States and the USSR illustrate the concept of bipolarity. For example, when managing the Korean Peninsula, the United States and the USSR both established their own forms of governments, which eventually came into direct conflict with each other. Militarily, the nuclear arms race between the Americans and Soviets illustrates the constant competition for dominance. Technologically, the space race between the two parties also exhibited this same competition. Politically, the engineering the NATO and the Warsaw Pact illustrated the divide. In the end, the indirect competition between the United States and the USSR for superiority became a war of attrition in which the victor was determined by the nation that possessed more capacity for enduring competition which was, in this case, the United States.

Which explanation for the end of the Cold War do you find most persuasive? Give the strengths and weaknesses of that explanation and discuss the level of analysis the explanation represents.

The most persuasive explanation for the end of the Cold War is that which cites the fall of the Soviet Union as the main force. The Soviet Union embodied the communist ideals of the world, and due to its economic shortcomings, it was unable to compete against its capitalist counterpart. Increased emphasis on military development induced a de-emphasis on sectors such as industry, social welfare, and technology that are necessary for the proper function of a country. Overall this negligence contributed to public discontent which, inflamed by the promises offered by liberalization, brought about the downfall of the repressive Soviet regime. However, this explanation for the end of the Cold War overlooks the importance of key individuals, such as Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in bringing about the end of the Cold War. It was thanks to Gorbachev that democratic ideals were successfully introduced into the USSR, and hence it is arguable that Gorbachev played a role in causing the fall of the Soviet Union.


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