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Cold War

Oct 08, 1999 2093 Words
Cold War

My first inclination would be to answer the first question with a clear "YES". But come to think of it, the causes of war really have not changed at all, or at least very little. Rather than changes, there has been a shift in the causes. The cause of war which has dominated the last 50 years was the cause of ideology. However, due to the recent end of the Cold War, this cause of war, has significantly declined and is almost trivial. The causes of war have shifted from mainly ideological ones to economic, ethnic and others. Although these reasons have always played a role as causes of war throughout history, they were in the last 50 years overshadowed by the cause of ideology. Now, with ideology not on top of the agenda anymore, these causes have regained their importance.

After the second World War the world was dominated by two superpowers; the USA and the USSR. The Cold War was a result of this division of power and of the important policy of spheres of influence. In the post WWII-era the Americans thought that the Russians were aiming to incorporate Western Europe (the US & British sphere of influence) into their sphere of influence (Eastern Europe) by supporting the communists in these countries. Their fears were enforced when a "coup substituted communist for coalition rule in Prague." (Calvocoressi, p.15)(even though this is an Eastern European Country, the fact that a coup was staged against a democratic government is reason enough to raise their fears). In this ideologically hostile environment the Cold War began. It was characterised by the arms race between the two superpowers who were eager to preserve their spheres of influence. Both developed such powerful weapons which were too dangerous to be used in practice, but which contributed to the feeling of security, because they acted as deterrent. (These weapons could be used "politically"[as deterrent] but not "militarily"[since they would bring complete annihilation].) "Each side armed itself to win a war which it expected the other to begin but for which it had no stomach and no plans." (Calvocoressi p.4)

Europe was a very stable area in the post-WWII era. All the conflicts between the superpowers, were never directly between US and Soviet troops, but in these conflicts one superpower supported one side and the other one the other side. These were staged in the Middle-East, Africa, and Asia. These Wars were "proxy" wars, which almost always began because one superpower saw its (often ideological) interests threatened. Thus they begun to support one side; for example in Korea and Vietnam, where the US feared a communist government to take over instead of a "democratic" one.

On one occasion, the whole World held its breath, as everyone thought that now the Cold War would turn "hot"; the Cuban missile crises. The stationing of Russian missiles on Cuba was seen as an atrocious provocation by the US, since it was in what the Americans had always considered as their "backyard", and they had no defence (weapons) facing that way(actually, the fact that Castro was in power was sufficient reason for them to be enraged, and they tried several times to assassinate or overthrow him). Ever since that incident, there has been an era of détente, but only in terms of arms, not in terms of ideology.

When, during the 1980´s, Gorbachev was in power, he signed several arms treaties and introduced reforms into the Soviet Union. Critics argued however, that the reforms were to radical, and they said that they were introduced too quickly. As a result to this, and of the re-unification of Germany on the 3rd of October 1989, the whole eastern bloc could be seen to move into a more liberal direction; the Soviet Union started to disintegrate. Several states declared their independence from mother Russia, for example the Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia. Due to the reforms Russia fell into economic chaos. Inflation rose to four figures, and prices for the bare necessities of life, e.g. Bread, soared up. People could not just buy bread when they wanted, which was not just due to the high prices, but also because there were shortages in supply. There still is more or less economic chaos in Russia; inflation is still high, and because of the economic chaos, crime rates have soared up. Still, it looks like if it finally is going to change for the better; last year the stock prices of Russian Companies rose by 300%.

Since the end of the Cold War a "new World order" has established itself. The main cause for this is the shift in the respective positions of power of the USA and the USSR. The days of Russia as a superpower are over. It is now nothing more than a regional power. (Due to the disintegration of the USSR mentioned earlier.) Although it is still a nuclear power, its importance on the world stage has certainly declined from what it was ten years ago. It is much less hostile towards the USA, and the other democratic international community. This could be seen in 1991, when a "multi-national-force" (although mainly US troops) invaded Kuwait and parts of Iraq; Russia did not condemn these actions.

The position of the USA as a superpower has also changed. It still is a superpower, but its influence has declined. Nowadays, several countries openly criticise America and US foreign policy. For example, if the US had put an embargo on a country ten years ago, then all other western countries would have, without saying anything, followed that directive. If the US does so now, then these countries (although some still follow the US) complain and neglect this directive. Especially some Multinational Corporations neglect these directives, since there is a lot of money to be made. An example is the recent breach of an embargo which the US had put on a Middle-Eastern Country and which was broken by a French MNC. The US condemned this breach, whereupon the French government quite frankly expressed its support for the MNC and told the US to mind its own business. The US has certainly lost some importance of its leading role in the world, and this is also due to its internal problems with which it seems unable to cope with. There is a tremendous high crime rate within the USA, and poverty is like in some Third World countries. The USA also has to cope with inflation and an either stagnating or declining economy (the last two problems previously unknown to the USA). Thus criticism arose as to whether the USA is still suitable to take up the role of leading world power and interfere in conflicts between other states, since it seems to be unable to cope with its own problems. Recent criticism also arose over the role of the USA in the UN. It is argued that several other states should have a permanent membership on the UN security council with the right to veto a decision, since several other states (notably Germany and Japan) are economically much stronger than the USA (although not militarily). To reform this it will however take at least ten more years (or a major crises).

The post-Cold War "new world order" is not, like in the Cold War, dominated by ideology, but by economics. Countries want to achieve economic growth and want to prosper. Poorer countries are eager to attract foreign investors and rich countries are eager to become even richer. Within this age of globalization, and with the iron curtain now something of the past, this aim seems to be easier to achieve than before. Companies can take up opportunities in the former Eastern Bloc states and by doing so help them to become more equal on an economic level to the Western States. Countries are unlikely to go to war just because they do not agree in terms of ideology. The reasons for war have shifted. This can be seen at the example of the war in former Yugoslavia. Here the war was started by Serbia, and the reasons date back hundreds of years. One other big reason for them to start the war with Croatia is that Serbia was economically very dependent on Croatia. So here economic reason beyond any doubt also plays a role.

Issues of (national) identity also may be a reason to take up arms. "Issues of identity will inevitably impinge upon the incident of armed conflict, whether this is between or within states. Thus national identity, ethnicity or religious affiliation is likely to contribute to the outbreak of conflict or to be used as a source of legitimation for recourse to arms." (Charlotte Bretherton, p.103) This also contributed to the war in former Yugoslavia, as different ethnic groups started to fight for what they thought was "their" land. (Ethnic cleansing was also a fact in the war in former Yugoslavia) Religion has always been a source of conflict, as several examples throughout history show us. Examples of this are the unrests in N. Ireland, the Muslim fundamentalists throughout the world (e.g. Afghanistan) and, to take an older example, the prosecution of Calvinists in the 16th and 17th Century. In N. Ireland the conflict consists out of a combination of conflict over national identity and religious affiliation; one Party is Protestant and wants to belong to Britain, and the other Party is Catholic and wants to belong to The Republic of Ireland. One example of religion as a cause, which I think will be a source of conflict in the future (as it has been in the past) is the problem of the Palestinians and Israel in the Middle-East.

So it is clear that armed conflicts mostly do not arise because of just one of the reasons mentioned before. Armed conflicts arise due to several reasons which can be interstate or innerstate ones (or both), and which can be quite complicated. The reasons I mention here are not new reasons (causes), and this brings me back to the point I mentioned earlier; the importance of these reasons has increased, due to the shift from the ideological reasons to the reasons mentioned above. This shift in causes does not significantly affect the effort of maintaining peace, since they always (or at least very often) played a part in resolving a conflict and maintaining peace. In fact, with the importance of ideology not being such an important cause (or not being a cause at all) anymore, the people concerned with maintaining peace have one reason less to worry about, and one difficulty less to conquer.

Potential sources of conflict can be found throughout the world. I think that armed conflict might arise in some of the ex-USSR states, and, if Netanyahu keeps up with his politics (and as I mentioned as an example before), in the Middle-East, notably in and around Israel. Another area where conflict might arise is in Africa. This is not alone due to internal tensions of various kinds, but also due to the "North-South Divide". Europe can be under threat by Africa if there will be long-term economical dissatisfaction and if some charismatic leaders can unite Africa (or at least some African states) against Europe. However all these are just hypothesis and it remains to be seen whether any of them will take place in the future. Of two things however I remain sure; firstly, the importance of economic benefits in conflicts and in political decisions will increase, and secondly, that it will be impossible to have a world without war, since to me it seems that war is a part of human nature and one can see this throughout history. Wars have built and destroyed them empires, and people have lived just to go to war. So the only way how this shift in the causes of war will effect the effort of maintaining peace, is that there is one cause less to worry about. The effort of maintaining peace will always be needed, since, in my opinion, there will always be minor armed conflicts and wars (about 148 at the moment….) In order to prove my opinion that war will always exist, one would have to write another essay to explore the reasons for this assumption more thoroughly, all I can say is to look at history, and then one will find the answer…..

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