Factors Contributing to Cold War Tensions
The Cold War is generally known phenomenon of confrontation between two systems: capitalism and communism, the West and the East. Although it sounds almost as white and black, good and back this confrontation was very controversial from both sides. The time period of the Cold War lasted from the end of the Second World War and until 1990s. The main opponents in this confrontation were two superpowers: the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The Cold War phenomenon influenced immensely both political and economical life of these two states. Moreover, it also made a great impact on social life of American and Soviet people. Ideology of Cold War as well as propaganda were used much to “brainwash” the population of two opponent countries. The hostility of one nation towards another was fed by the governments of both states. The fact that these peoples were not hostile or aggressive towards each other was covered by another phenomenon called “iron curtain”. Iron curtain prevented direct communication between peoples of the states who were in the Cold War. In the Soviet Union, for example, there were jammers – the devices that made artificial radio noise (radio interference) to prevent the Soviet people from listening to the Western radio stations like the Voice of America.
The paper aims at analyzing the factors – economic, political and social – that contributed to the escalation of Cold War tensions in the 1970s and early 1980s. This period is generally characterized as highly controversial. It was neither the peak of confrontation of two states nor was it the period of détente. However, the beginning of this period may be characterized as the attempt of establishing some kind of relations (signing peace and disarmament treaties – SALT-I and SALT-II) and the end of this period is highly provocative from the side of the Soviet Union (The Soviet invasion to Afghanistan in December 1979). The latter tension was supported by the United States in the way it boycotted the Olympics of 1980 in Moscow. Political, social and economic factors are analyzed in this paper in the way they worsened the stability of relations between Washington and Moscow, and the escalation of the Cold War tensions is the objective of the research.
American détente had been the product of two factors. The first was the need to find a way of mitigating the global impact of defeat in, and withdrawal from, Vietnam. The second was the emergence of an approximate technical and numerical parity in American and Soviet strategic nuclear forces and, indeed, in military power more generally. These two factors complemented each other; but the most important was the relatively short-term Vietnam problem. This problem was definitively “solved” by the 1973 Paris accords or, at the very latest, by the North Vietnamese conquest of South Vietnam in 1975. At the end of the Nixon era and in the first year of the Ford administration Henry Kissinger, combining the offices of Secretary of State and National Security Adviser, was the dominant force in American Cold War policy. By 1976, however, the Reagan challenge within the Republican Party and powerful Congressional figures such as Senator Henry Jackson were undermining his policies. In January 1974 the Secretary of Defence, James Schlesinger, had publicly argued that the United States’ main concern should be the possibility that the Soviet Union would “marry together the technologies that are now emerging in their R&D programme to throw weight and numbers that they have been allowed under the Interim Agreement, [and] that they would develop a capability that was preponderant to that of the United States”. By preponderance, Schlesinger meant “that at some point around 1980 or beyond, they would be in a position in which they had a major counterforce option against the United States [i.e. weapons systems capable of destroying American nuclear forces] and we would lack a similar option”. He argued that such a situation would emerge if “the Soviets were able to develop … improved technologies presently available to the United States in the form of guidance, MIRVs, warhead technology” and if the United States failed to pursue such technologies because it had used them as bargaining chips to organise a stable diplomatic relationship with the Soviet Union. “We must have a symmetrical balancing of strategic forces on both sides”, he claimed. “We cannot be in a position in which a major option is open to the Soviet Union which we through a self-denying ordinance have precluded for the United States.”
The 1970s should have been a decade of optimism for the Soviet leadership. Just as their power projection capabilities outside Eastern Europe became truly formidable the main adversary’s capabilities were weakened. Anxiety about the possibility of domestic crisis remained muted. This bred a dangerous arrogance in the conduct of international affairs. The view of the international system and the USSR’s place within it developed and articulated by the Soviet leadership was initially based upon the optimistic prognoses of the early 1970s. The entire system of international relations had been changed; not because imperialism had changed but because it had been weakened. The Soviet Union had forced itself into a position of equality with the United States and would soon be able to surpass it. Andrey Gromyko declared that no important problem in the world could be resolved without the participation of the USSR. The efflorescence of such rhetoric was brief. It was effectively ended by the October 1973 crisis in the Middle East.
By the end of the 1970s a re-evaluation of sorts was taking place in the Soviet world view. This re-evaluation was far from fundamental. It merely suggested that the capitalist threat to the Soviet Union was as great as some pessimists had always believed and that a change in the correlation of forces would bring not peaceful transition but increased risks. Brezhnev could publicly proclaim that the world was becoming more dangerous because the intra-capitalist contradictions at the root of war had become more acute as the struggle for markets, raw materials and energy intensified, yet at the same time Soviet leaders were perturbed by the seeming resilience and political unity of the capitalist world. As so often in Soviet politics, the fear of conspiracy rather than accidental contingency soon became the dominant theme. The fear of a united capitalist world was increased as the Soviet Union’s allies in the Third World, in whom a great deal of hope had been placed since the 1960s, began, increasingly, to look like broken reeds. These developments threatened the Soviet leadership on three levels: the retention of power by communist parties outside the Soviet Union was challenged; Soviet independence of international action was increasingly constrained; and the avoidance of war seemed to have become more difficult.
If the Far East lessened in importance, the situation in Europe remained central. Soviet leaders believed that they could dominate political processes in Western Europe by playing on Europeans’ fears about the proximity of Soviet military power and their extreme vulnerability to nuclear strike. In 1977-8 there had been considerable opposition in Western Europe to the Carter administration’s proposed deployment of “neutron bombs”- weapons that were perceived as killing people whilst preserving property. The US government withdrew its proposal to deploy the weapons and this was seen as the model for “mass action” against future US nuclear deployment.
The Soviet invasion to Afghanistan in December 1979 highly escalated tensions between the United States and the USSR. According to Carter: “My opinion of the Russians has changed more drastically in the last week than even the previous two and one half years before that. It is only now dawning upon the world the magnitude of the actions the Soviets undertook in invading Afghanistan”. Afghanistan touched a raw nerve in the American political psyche. It combined fears about America’s economy, largely the product of economic competition with other capitalist nations and concerns about oil supplies unrelated to the Cold War, with a direct military threat. Although less dependent on oil imports than other Western nations, the United States had seen its oil import bill rise from $4.3 billion in 1972 to $74 billion in 1980 after the Iranian revolution.
The USSR invasion to Afghanistan and the United States boycott of the Olympics in 1980 taking place in Moscow were the two factors influencing political, social and even economic aspects of the Cold War tensions. The general political actions of two hostile systems were not consistent. Some year their relations were closing in, and some year turned completely hostile. The factors adding to the Cold War tensions were political (invasion to Afghanistan), economic (economic competition, arms race) and social (boycott of the Olympics). The examples of these factors are numerous, and they all point to one fact – each of two superpowers is responsible for the Cold War tensions and their escalation.
Litwak, Robert. Détente and the Nixon Doctrine: American Foreign Policy and the Pursuit of Stability, 1969-1976. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, 151-6.
Sestanovich, Stephen. “The Third World in Soviet Foreign Policy, 1955-1985”, in Andrzej Korbonski and Francis Fukuyama, eds., The Soviet Union and the Third World: The Last Three Decades. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987, 1-23.
Light, Margot. The Soviet Theory of International Relations, 1917-1982. Brighton, Wheatsheaf, 1988, 249-93.
McGwire, Michael. Perestroika and Soviet National Security. Washington: Brookings, 1991, 115-73.
Smith, Gaddis. Morality, Reason and Power: American Diplomacy in the Carter Years. New York: Hill and Wang, 1986, 223-4.
 Litwak, Détente and the Nixon Doctrine pp. 168-9.
 Stephen Sestanovich, “The Third World in Soviet Foreign Policy, 1955-1985”, in Andrzej Korbonski and Francis Fukuyama, eds., The Soviet Union and the Third World: The Last Three Decades ( Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1987), pp. 1-23.
 Margot Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations, 1917-1982 ( Brighton, Wheatsheaf, 1988), pp. 249-93.
 Michael McGwire, Perestroika and Soviet National Security ( Washington, Brookings, 1991), pp. 115-73.
 Smith, Morality, Reason and Power, pp. 223-4.
 Figures derived from T. B. Millar, The East-West Strategic Balance ( London, George Allen & Unwin, 1981), pp. 77-84 and Fred Halliday, The Making of the Second Cold War 2nd edn ( London, Verso, 1983), p. 187.