Global Security Headlines

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cold War Series Part I: Soviet Communist Ascendancy

November 9, 2009, marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the odious Berlin Wall, a symbolic event for ushering in the end of the Cold War. An ´´Iron Curtain,´´ separating East and West Europe, walls, vicious guard dogs, prison camps, barbed wire, minefields, no-mans land, Checkpoint Charlie, and soldiers at the ready were implements of tyrannical regimes to enslave their people, dash their dreams, and maintain total control through the gun barrel.

The Western democracies led by the United States rejected this barbarism.

GSM in a four part series reviews the Cold War. Part I covers the ascendancy of Soviet communism. Part II shows how the Cold War was not won. Part III demonstrates how the West´s iron-willed determination forced Moscow to relent. Finally, Part IV expounds upon the lessons learned which are applicable to the current international system.

 From the ashes of World War II sprang almost immediately the Cold War, the titanic struggle between the West (NATO) and the East (Warsaw Pact). Namely, the United States and the Soviet Union managed a rivalry across the global chessboard for supremacy. Would tyranny and command economics triumph over freedom and market economics? For 46 years, the two sides competed for prestige, allies to carry forward the fight, and of course, victory.

The early contests began in the divided Germany - Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in the former Nazi capital - Berlin. The West led by US President Harry Truman defied Soviet attempts to block land routes into western Berlin (where the western Allies had divided the capital into zones) with a massive airlift transferring supplies to 2.2 million inhabitants. The Soviets did not act to stop the airlift and the crisis abated and West Berlin became an island of freedom and market economics in the heart of East Germany. West Berlin and the divided Germany would be a constant thorn in the side of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War.

The US-Soviet rivalry stretched across the globe touching every continent. US President Truman believed China´s helped spark the Korean Conflict which was fought to a stalemate. That unsettled conflict precipitated a challenge later in Vietnam where first the French were evicted by a nationalistic communist insurgency and later the United States who left the quagmire with a shameful defeat. The dominoes fell later as predicted in Laos and Cambodia who also fell under communist tyranny. Re-education camps and ´´the killing fields´´of Cambodia proceeded to subject millions to a fate of certain death.

Indeed, the 1970s can arguably be the apogee of Soviet communism. The West was reeling. Many observers believed Moscow´s march was unstoppable and that capitalism was a spent force. At the height of the Arab-Israeli War in 1973, US President Nixon put the country on DEFCON3 (Defense Readiness Condition) to deter the Soviets from intervening.

However deadly serious, the second direct confrontation between Moscow and Washington occurred a decade earlier during the  Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 which nudged the United States and the Soviet Union closer to mutually assured destruction (MAD). The wily Castro in Havana and reckless Khrushchev in Moscow pushed the US Kennedy Administration to the brink over nuclear missiles in Cuba.

These hot points during the Cold War again redounded to a test of wills. Join us for Part II of our series where we explore how the Cold War was not won. Our final post on the series reflects more on the extraordinary time period the Cold War covered in world history and lessons applicable to global security challenges today.

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