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The ‘Cold War’ is one of the most interesting ‘wars’ fought in world history. The sheer number of countries both directly and indirectly involved is enough to pose the question – To what extent was the Cold War a truly Global War? This essay will examine this idea. It will identify two main areas of argument, focusing on the earlier part of the conflict (1945-1963). Firstly it will examine the growing US and Soviet influence in the world post 1945. Secondly it will examine three main conflicts, the Berlin Blockade, the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis that these two super powers were involved in. Overall this essay will argue that the Cold War was no doubt a truly global war.
In order to understand this idea, it must first be defined what exactly would constitute a ‘Global War’. In my view a Global War is one that involves a number of countries, whether directly or indirectly that has the potential to transform the world . A good example of this would be the First World War (1914-18). It was a conflict that whilst occurring in Europe, involved countries e.g. New Zealand, Australia and the USA, all three countries that are a large distance away from the actual conflict zone. As it involves a major portion of the world, this would constitute a global war.
Now that the idea of a global war has been established, it is important to establish the role of the United States (USA). One of the most important documents in establishing this was the ‘Truman Doctrine’. President Harry S. Truman (1945-53) outlined what would become the basis of US foreign policy for the duration of the Cold War. This was the policy of containment – trying to keep communism from spreading to the rest of the world. His speech to Congress in March 1947 outlines this policy. “I believe that it must be the policy of the US to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures.” . The original main idea of the Truman doctrine and the policy of containment were to support Turkey and Greece – who were on the verge of being subjugated to the Soviet Union and communism. They needed the assistance of an outside power to help them fight off this threat . The main point to understand this is that it set the precedent that the USA would help any country that was under threat from the Soviet Union in any way, including a communist government trying to take power.
To have a balanced argument, it must be examined the influence that the Soviet Union had in this period. It can best be described in two parts – firstly the solidification of the communist states in Eastern Europe for example Czechoslovakia. In 1948, Josef Stalin approved a plan by the Czechoslovakian communists to seize power in the only democratic state left in Eastern Europe . This was shown as making a point that the Eastern European states will remain communist and he would make sure that they did. An example from the 1950’s is the October 1956 Revolution against communism in Hungary. Russian tanks had stormed into Budapest and with the support of the AVN (Soviet backed Hungarian Secret Police) brought Communism back into Hungary . To make a comparison, Stalin and the Soviet Union had in essence, a policy of expansion – to spread communism throughout the world. The USA on the other hand, wanted to try to contain the spread of communism. These two ideas would come into conflict until the late 1980s.
The first major instance of this clash was the Berlin Blockade. In 1948, Stalin decided that he would stop the West from transiting through Soviet controlled Germany into the British, French and American zones of Berlin. The whole incident is mainly on economic terms. The west intended to introduce a new currency – The Deutschmark into the Western Berlin, making the old Reichmark currency worthless . In order to stop this from occurring, Stalin sealed the borders from the west into East Germany (the only way to get to Berlin by land), therefore not allowing this change to take place. The allies however, decided to use the air routes to transport supplies into West Berlin. This became an issue for the Russians. Were they to interfere with the air routes and possibly risk atomic warfare, or just do nothing? Because of the American shift of B-29 Bombers from the USA to Britain (the Bombers used on Japan for the dispersal of Atomic weapons), it was in the Russians best interest to not interfere with the air routes . With the involvement of the Western Allies, the success of the Airlift into Berlin made for a victory in May of 1949 . How does this support the idea of a truly global war? It goes back to the definition stated earlier – a group of countries from around the world involved in a centralised conflict. As there were other allies of the United States involved in a German conflict; this would constitute a global war.
The next major instance occurred with the Korean War. On October 1 1949, Mao Zedong and his communist forces became the rulers of the now ‘Peoples Republic of China’ (PRC) . Over the course of 1948/9, Soviet and American forces, who jointly occupied the Korean peninsula, started to withdraw . However, this left an unstable government, split between the Communist north, and the Capitalist south. Now with China; which had now become a Communist state along with the Soviet Union (both of which share borders with North Korea); became a threat to the Republic of Korea (South Korea, US allied). In January of 1950 – with a supportive Soviet Union, North Korea invaded the South. This was set to become a global conflict. With the Truman Doctrine, as stated earlier, the US had an obligation to go and support any nation that was being “subjugated by outside pressures” .
Whilst the war did go on for three years, it is more important to look at how this was a global conflict. In essence it is because of the outside backing from other nations for this war. It was, like the Berlin Blockade – A proxy war. In this context it is “a war between regional states that may be regarded as a substitute for direct confrontation between the superpowers.”
This war was essentially a mandate on the USA policy of supporting a country being subjugated from another outside power. It set the precedent that the USA would help a threatened country. It also meant changes in Europe. Because of the threat that the Korean War showed – More American troops were placed in Europe, more money was injected from Britain and France and the emerging West Germany was in the process of being rearmed . It showed that a small, limited war could have such large ratifications on the other side of the world – making for a truly global conflict.
The third major conflict occurred in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. This had the utmost potential to cause a near global nuclear war. This is another example of a ‘proxy war’ as stated earlier. October 16, 1962 – a U-2 (a USA spy aircraft) took photographs of what looked like Soviet Missiles being placed in Cuba . The US had an issue – do they blockade Cuba and stop any more missiles coming, or a military strike . Both had the potential for a global war, because if the USA blocked Cuba, then the Soviets could surround and block Berlin (as what happened in 1948) . Thus began the stalemate. It was eventually resolved by the USA and the Soviets agreeing on a trade – the Removal of US missiles in Turkey, would result in the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. The Soviets would not interfere in Turkey – through invasion or internal affairs if this was resolved .
But how is this evidence of a Global War? It goes back to the definition – it was a war that was fought over [albeit indirectly] two territories (Cuba and Turkey) by the outside influence of the Soviets and the USA respectively. It had the potential to change world influence – with the possible use of nuclear weapons. The fact that a Cuban conflict had the potential to bring in Europe (through Berlin) and US missiles in Turkey would no doubt suggest a Global War.
This essay has posed the question – To what extent was the Cold War a truly Global War? By using the evidence of three major conflicts – the Berlin Blockade, the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, it can be shown the major extent that the cold war had on a global scale. This essay has pointed out the use of the idea of a ‘proxy war’- where the two major superpowers (USA and Russia) used other countries battles to not directly fight a war between them. This use of this ideology made sure that other countries were involved in the Cold War. As this war had the impact of changing world landscapes (as stated in my definition), there can be no doubt that the Cold War was a truly global war.
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