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Forum LockedDid the U.S. prolong the Cold War or shorten it?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Aleksandr01 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Did the U.S. prolong the Cold War or shorten it?
    Posted: 26-Apr-2009 at 05:08
Hey y'all here's a question I thought of while reading Howard Zinn's People's History. I'd be really impressed if anybody had some coherent arguments:
As the Cold War drew to a close and the Soviet Union began to disintegrate under Gorbachev, could the U.S. have avoided building up a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons to 'out-produce' the Soviet Union and force it to crumble? Did the massive increases in defense & military spending during the Reagan administration speed up the inevitable fall of the U.S.S.R., or did it actually delay it, throwing tons of unneeded nuclear firepower into the world market and setting the stage for a nuclear Armageddon that could occur at any minute!?

This is more a question about the Soviet Union than the U.S. I think the key here is to analyze the momentum of Soviet politics after the Kruschev era. Was the state headed inevitably towards collapse and disunion, or was it truly necessary for the U.S. to show its economic muscles and push along the fall of the U.S.S.R. Did the economic muscle-showing convince Soviet premiers of the 70's and 80's to find an end to the more hostile Soviet policies, or did it reinvigorate Soviet patriotism and prolong the Cold War? So if you're interested you can read what former ambassador to the Soviet Union, George Kennan, had to say about the subject.

This is an important question because deals with the all-too-human theme of myopia during times of conflict. The U.S. did not consider what kind of effect it would have on the world climate and on the future of American politics to spend such unprecedented sums on military armament. Now we've got threats of nuclear weapons in Iran and we only blame the Soviet Union!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Apr-2009 at 11:13
Reagan's huge military buildup forced the Soviet Union to attempt to meet him - the Soviet Union was an economic timebomb, only partly being kept afloat by the high oil prices of the 1980s. When Reagan moved the Cold War to a battle of national resources, the US was destined to win handily. The US could simply boast infintely more productive resources and wealth than the Soviet Union could dream. Hence more and more and more of the Soviet Unions more scant resources went into attempting to meet the awesome power of the US economy, which in itself was a loosing battle.

Earlier periods, such as the Vietnam war are often seen as failures of the Cold War. I'd have to disagree. The US could win any war on resources, and they could have continued in Vietnam if they had the political capital at home (Which they clearly and perhaps rightly did not) The war itself drained other communist nations of resources and prevented them from any real challenge to US interests in the region.

Reagans interventions in Latin America were extremely important to geopolitical goals. Latin America is a traditional sphere of US influence and allowing it to be consumed by communist revolutions would lead to disaster at her own backdoor. Look at the geopolitical headache Cuba caused for the US.

Not that any of this is justified in any real moral sense, but in the context of the Cold War where it was essential for the US to keep the upper hand (I'd rather American tyranny over Russian or Chinese tryanny any day of the week) it was all vital.

I would also question the logic that since the Soviet Union was winding down anyway, the arms race prolonged the cold war. Doesn't make sense to me. Many countries can wind down and still maintain a dangerous presence. Reagan effectively forced the Soviet Union to exert itself, when it should have been more cautiously stewarding its resources. In that sense, it forced the Soviet Union to take risks which it could ill afford to take.


Edited by Parnell - 26-Apr-2009 at 11:17
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Apr-2009 at 12:54

Reagan shortened the cold war. As Parnell says it doesn't make sense to say it prolonged it.

However, it should be remembered that Reagan financed that shortening by borrowing from other countries, not from using indigenoous resources. In do doing he did what may be irrecoverable damage to the USA, since they turned it from the major creditor nation to the world's biggest debtor, with results that are still surroounding us.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Apr-2009 at 15:01

I beg to differ here.

The Soviet union was already in deep trouble since the 70s. The triumph in Vietnam only served to eclipse the deep ethnic and economic trouble the country already faced.
 
As for Reagan shortening the age of the USSR, well I am afraid this is not true, Soviet military expenditure as percentage of GDP was already falling before he even set foot in the oval office and collapsed when Gorbachev came:
 
 
As for the war in Vietnam, well there were elections in 68, 70 and 72 and there were no major changes in the balance inside the congress between anti-war and pro war forces. In fact the largely pro-war republicans gained a net 52 seats in the house only in the period from 64 to 72 which proves that the war was actually popular (even with the democrats). A couple of million leftist students don't represent 200 million.
 
The US could have won in Vietnam, only if they launched a WWII style campaign but nothing, no strategic nor economic reason justified this. Back in the day when the British failed to invade Afghanistan and had their army slaughtered the ate their pride and withdrew but the US didn't.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Apr-2009 at 15:15
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

I beg to differ here.

The Soviet union was already in deep trouble since the 70s. The triumph in Vietnam only served to eclipse the deep ethnic and economic trouble the country already faced.
 
As for Reagan shortening the age of the USSR, well I am afraid this is not true, Soviet military expenditure as percentage of GDP was already falling before he even set foot in the oval office and collapsed when Gorbachev came:
 AL-Jassas
Hardly anyone denies the Soviet system was doomed, and would have failed eventually whatever the US did. I can even see a possible case for arguing that Reagan's policies made no difference to the collapse of the SU.
 
But what Parnell and I said was that it would be inconceivable to suggest that what Reagan carried out prolonged the life of the SU. It certainly didn't make the Soviet economy healthier, or the satellite countries happier with their role.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Apr-2009 at 16:29
Having experienced much of the Cold War, gcle understands what was involved, what was at stake, and how the world was viewed at the time.  I concur with his points with the exception of the obvious inevitability of the fall of the USSR.  Looking back now, it seems inevitable, but in 1984 or 1986, I don't know if we can say that.
 
The activity in the Western Hemisphere, much of it in the 1980s, undertaken by Soviet clients, and supported by Moscow or surrogates could hardly be ignored or downplayed as the dying gasps of a disintegrating USSR.  Nor were they.  Here Parnell recognizes the vital geopolitical interests of the United States in the Hemisphere. 
 
US geopolitical activity on the Eurasian mainland was minimal after 1973 and the disengagement from Viet Nam.  The Soviet Union subsequently took every opportunity to exend it's military influence:
 
- In south Asia (Afghanistan - a geographic threat to the Gulf), southeast Asia (naval forces at Cam Ranh Bay), Africa (Angola, mostly with Cuban proxies) and in the Western Hemisphere's most vital US interest, the Caribbean (Nicaragua and the projected military base and transit point on Grenada - both astride US lines of communication and commerce to South America).
 
Southeast Asia strategically had already been eclipsed by the Middle East in terms of US interest, so Afghanistan was contested clandestinely, and by proxy.  Africa has always been a peripheral area of US interest, although the prospect of Soviet naval and air forces on the trade route from the Gulf to the Western Hemisphere (and Europe) was a concern.  Incursions into the Hemisphere could not go unchallenged.
 
If anyone prolonged the Cold War, it was the USSR. 
 
The point about justification "in any real moral sense" does not have relevance in terms of geopolitics.  If one seeks morality, there are churches and monasteries; for vital interests there are clandestine services and military forces.
 
    


Edited by pikeshot1600 - 28-Apr-2009 at 21:13
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Apr-2009 at 18:35
Originally posted by pikeshot1600 pikeshot1600 wrote:

Having experienced much of the Cold War, gcle understands what was involved, what was at stake, and how the world was viewed at the time.  I concur with his points with the exception of the obvious inevitability of the fall of the USSR. 
I didn't really mean it was widely seen as inevitable that the USSR would break up (though that's efffectively what I said). I meant that it was generally accepted by the early eighties that the economic/political regime would eventually fall. I think that feeling grew from the point where the USSR and China stopped being allies, and started going their separate ways. It was strengthened in the early eighties with the foundation of Solidarity in Poland, where the USSR didn't play anything like the powerful role it had in East Germany in 1953, Poland and Hungary in 1956 or during the "Czech spring" of 1968.
 
There was still the possibility that that fall would be preceded by war, as a last gasp throw, but that wasn't taken as seriously as it had been in the first 30 or so post-war years.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Apr-2009 at 22:47
Originally posted by pikeshot1600 pikeshot1600 wrote:

Having experienced much of the Cold War, gcle understands what was involved, what was at stake, and how the world was viewed at the time.  I concur with his points with the exception of the obvious inevitability of the fall of the USSR.  Looking back now, it seems inevitable, but in 1984 or 1986, I don't know if we can say that.
 
The activity in the Western Hemisphere, much of it in the 1980s, undertaken by Soviet clients, and supported by Moscow or surrogates could hardly be ignored or downplayed as the dying gasps of a disintegrating USSR.  Nor were they.  Here Parnell recognizes the vital geopolitical interests of the United States in the Hemisphere. 
 
US geopolitical activity on the Eurasian mainland was minimal after 1973 and the disengagement from Viet Nam.  The Soviet Union subsequently took every opportunity to exend it's military influence:
 
- In south Asia (Afghanistan - a geographic threat to the Gulf), southeast Asia (naval forces at Cam Ranh Bay), Africa (Angola, mostly with Cuban proxies) and in the Western Hemisphere's most vital US interest, the Caribbean (Nicaragua and the projected military base and transit point on Grenada - both astride US lines of communication and commerce to South America).
 
Southeast Asia strategically had already been eclipsed by the Middle East in terms of US interest, so Afghanistan was contested clandestinely.  Africa has always been a peripheral area of US interest, although the prospect of Soviet naval and air forces on the trade route from the Gulf to the Western Hemisphere (and Europe) was a concern.  Incursions into the Hemisphere could not go unchallenged.
 
If anyone prolonged the Cold War, it was the USSR. 
 
The point about justification "in any real moral sense" does not have relevance in terms of geopolitics.  If one seeks morality, there are churches and monasteries; for vital interests there are clandestine services and military forces.
 
    
 
We'll I was going to say it was the Soviet Union that shortened the Cold War using much the same argument as yours above. It was under no direct threat from the US, it was its military spending that destroyed it, feasibly it could have developed a defensive posture slashed its conventional forces and sat behind its nuclear deterant and maybe lasted another decade or two and perhaps be in its death roll as we write this post. Then again looking at N Korea, maybe outlived us.
 


Edited by Paul - 26-Apr-2009 at 22:49
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Aleksandr01 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Apr-2009 at 03:44
Jesus Christ look at all these comments! OK I only have time to skim but I'm gathering a consensus that the Soviet Union was crumbling well before 1989. However, the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal kept rising at an (alarmingly) steady rate until at least 1985 [NRDC; http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/nudb/dafig10.asp]. When the Soviet Union broke up, a large portion of this huge stockpile was sold to private arms dealers to fund the downward spiraling Russian economy. Now, those weapons are dispersed in the Middle-East and Asia. Although my wording may have spoken differently, my main point was not that Reagan's decisions prolonged the war, but that they forced the Soviet Union to exert itself and to take risks which it could ill afford to take, as Parnell said. Let's take a hypothetical -- let's say Reagan didn't bolster military spending so much but instead just let the Soviet Union crumble, as it was already in the stages of realizing that its government was inefficient, corrupt, and generally unsound. Had this course of action been taken, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of its most progressive premier in history, mind you, perhaps would not have continued to build its arms and the world would be much safer today without threats of WMD's every which way. I guess what I meant was that Reagan prolonged not the cold war but the arms race.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pinguin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Apr-2009 at 05:22
I really believe the balooney plan of Ronald Reagan, to build the Star Wars ballistic missiles shield, was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.
The reason is simple. If that project was feasible, it would put in jeopardy all the strategy of the military ballance of power. In case of a nuclear war, most misiles from the Soviet Union would be stoped, leaving the devastation mainly in that country. That was something soviets couldn't afford. However, they didn't have the money to follow the U.S. in a new Star Wars arm race.
 
When Soviets realize that, they decided if they wanted to keep going as a superpower they needed to reform the economy first, as China once did. And that was theirs major mistake. With Perestroika everything started to fall down, and then Walesa, John Paul II and all the events of the 90s started to accelerate for the major fall down of the red regime all over Eastern Europe.
 
And all started with a very stupid plan, inspired in a movie for children, that was exposed in a brillian manner by Reagan. I believe it is no coincide Reagan was an actor, and the Star Wars play was the more important role he ever played.
 
 
 
 


Edited by pinguin - 27-Apr-2009 at 05:23
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote DukeC Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-May-2009 at 18:37
I'm halfway through Edward Lucas' "The New Cold War".
 
The premise of the book is that Cold War isn't over, it moved into a new phase. Many of those in power in the Kremlin are former KGB and events of the last few years indicate a underlying Russian hostility to the west.
 
- Blackmail with energy supplies.
- Cyberwarfare in Estonia.
- Armed conflict in Georgia and now Russian troops based on Ossetias' southern border. The region has basically been absorbed by the Russians as many have been predicting.
 
Since Putin took power Russian bombers have regularly resumed the Soviet pratice of probing NATO airspace. A few months ago a Russian bomber preceeded the arrival of Obama on his first official visit to Canada. It was shown off by CF-18s, but it was kind of a pointed message I think.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-May-2009 at 21:49
IMHO, Russia and Russians, as opposed to ageing KGB men, have had underlying hostility to the West for centuries - at least since the age of Peter the Great - a love-hate relationship with Western ideas.  It is a cultural issue that had been papered over while Russia turned in upon itself.  "The West as a threat" is a propaganda tool at least as old as Napoleon.  That has played well in regaining influence in the Causasus, a geostrategic vital interest.
 
Frankly, Russia may not survive the 21st century without re-establishing sufficient influence in central Asia and Ukraine to 1) exercise veto power over any of their state policies that affect Russian interests, and 2) get favorable terms on access to Ukraine's food resources and to central Asian mineral resources.  Denying other power centers strategic access to those geographic regions is also a major concern.  There was after all a reason for a Russian empire, and that has only changed in form rather than substance.   
 
The indicators of Russia's potential demise are too obvious for their policy makers to make her a good neighbor rather than a Bear with a sore butt.
 
 


Edited by pikeshot1600 - 06-May-2009 at 22:22
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-May-2009 at 23:00
Pikeshot,

Your comment brings to mind a book we used to have in our old school library. In the late 1980s a class returned from a school trip to Moscow (Don't ask me how it came about) and brought back and book written in English for teenagers concerning day to day life in the USSR. It was fascinating. It displayed everyone as extremely happy, as belonging to one great ethnic conglomerate, every group happily doing their bit for socialism. What will always stick out in my mind was their justification for having a huge army and for occupying the eastern European states: Something like 'Russians have been the victims of huge invasions throughout history, and with our large army and our massive western buffer the chances of history repeating itself are slim'. It really was a fascinating little book.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-May-2009 at 01:30
Parnell,
 
That book would reflect the disconnect that Russia has had with the West since Peter.
 
What is interesting, and what is often overlooked, is that after each "huge invasion," Russia pushed it's influence and physical presence further westward, perhaps as a buffer against the West. 
 
After the war with Sweden in the early 1700s, Russia gained the Baltic region (in collusion with the Baltic nobility).  After the Napoleonic Wars, Russia solidified her influence and military position in Poland, and even temporarily in western Europe (Netherlands/Italy).  Russian troops assisted Austria in the 1848-49 Hungarian revolutionary war.
 
After 1945, well...that is recent history.
 
If you ever get the chance, read up on the mid 19th century Russian novelists and the pan-Slavs.  Dostoevsky and others had little good to say about the West.  The common conception seems to be that the inevitable conflict of civilizations would occur and that Mother Russia would win. Confused
 
 


Edited by pikeshot1600 - 07-May-2009 at 01:31
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-May-2009 at 12:35
When we were studying the Soviet Union in the army we had to go every week to a showing of a Soviet film. Apart from being incredibly boring they all conformed to the standard pattern of being full of Stakhanivite tractor drivers winning the girl, they came from the same mould as Parnell's book.
 
However, at least once the War Office (or someone) took pity on us and showed Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, a film of very different calibre, but one that shows the myth of barbarous Western invasions and Russian bravery in defence of the motherland at its fullest.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-May-2009 at 12:57
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

When we were studying the Soviet Union in the army we had to go every week to a showing of a Soviet film. Apart from being incredibly boring they all conformed to the standard pattern of being full of Stakhanivite tractor drivers winning the girl, they came from the same mould as Parnell's book.
 
However, at least once the War Office (or someone) took pity on us and showed Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, a film of very different calibre, but one that shows the myth of barbarous Western invasions and Russian bravery in defence of the motherland at its fullest.
 
We westerners are all a bunch of....savages?  Wink
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-May-2009 at 14:50
Depends how far west....
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zaitsev Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-May-2009 at 15:19
More depends on one's cultural perspective of 'savages'.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote hugoestr Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-May-2009 at 17:01
A big misconception on Reagan is that he somehow had something to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. He didn't. The policy of trying to outspend the U.S. in war spending was started in the U.S. with Truman, with the nice cooperation of its Soviet counterparts. Subsequent leaders kept the policy going.

According to a magazine article that I read back in 2000, the USSR never had any kind of equity in terms of weapons compared to the U.S., and both countries knew it. However, the war interests in both countries took advantage of the misinformation on this issue, and would do an annual dance where the spending of one country prompted the other country to waste their money on more war spending.

The USSR, being the poorer country, just happened to have gone bust before. Had they both had about the same amount of money to begin with, both would have probably gone bankrupt at the same time.

So, did the big increase on war spending make a difference? Probably, but if so, it was unintentional. The Reagan spending assumed that the USSR was going to be around for a long time, thus justifying the massive war spending. Saying that this was an intentional way of destroying the enemy seems to me as after the fact analysis from those dedicated on turning Reagan into an American saint.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-May-2009 at 17:16
To be fair, Reagan really accelerated the spending. Haven't the figures on me but it was substantial.
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