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CBSE Notes | Class 12 | Political Science | Contemporary World Politics | Chapter 1 - Cold War Era

The chapter introduces students to the 'Cold War Era', it draws a major contrast between the Cuban missile crisis to the alliance politics at the global stage. It also highlights the arenas of the cold war and other proxy wars that happened. The chapter also analyses the 'New International Economic Order'.

Cuban Missile Crisis


In April 1961, the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was concerned that the US would invade Cuba, a Soviet ally that received diplomatic and financial assistance from it, and depose Fidel Castro (Cuba's president).


In 1962, Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to turn Cuba into a Russian military base and stationed nuclear missiles there.


For the first time, the weapons placed the United States under threat from a very close range, nearly doubling the number of bases on the American mainland that could be threatened by the Soviet Union.


After three weeks of installation, Americans became aware of it. President John F. Kennedy of the United States was wary of doing anything that could lead to a full-scale nuclear war between the two superpowers.


Because the nuclear war was never a better option, Khrushchev was ordered to remove nuclear weapons and missiles from Cuba, and American warships were ordered to intercept Soviet ships heading to Cuba as a symbol of the warning's seriousness.


The prospect of a war between the Two alarmed the entire world, as it would have been no ordinary conflict.


Both sides eventually decided to avoid war. The Soviet ships slowed and reversed course. The Cuban missile crisis was a turning point in the so-called "Cold War."


How Is The Cold War Defined?


The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension following World War II between the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as their respective allies, the Eastern and Western Blocs. The world war ended when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan's cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (The Little Boy and Fat Man).


The period is generally considered to begin with the 1947 Truman Doctrine and end with the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991.


The term "cold" is used to refer to the absence of large-scale conflict between the two superpowers.


The conflict was centred on the two powers' ideological and geopolitical competition for global influence following their temporary alliance and victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.


The conflict was primarily a geopolitical one. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction discouraged either side from launching a pre-emptive attack.


Apart from the development of nuclear arsenals and conventional military deployment, the struggle for supremacy was expressed indirectly through psychological warfare, propaganda campaigns, espionage, far-reaching embargoes, rivalry at sporting events, and technological competitions such as the Space Race.


The war had engulfed nearly every major power in the world and had spread to regions outside of Europe, including Southeast Asia, China, Burma (now Myanmar), and parts of India's north-eastern region.


The Cold War: The War Of The Atoms


As soon as World War II ended, the majority of American officials agreed that the best defence against the Soviet threat was a strategy known as "containment."


Furthermore, the containment strategy justified the United States' unprecedented arms buildup.


Truman's recommendation that the country uses military force to rein in communist expansionism wherever it appeared to be occurring was reaffirmed in 1950 by a National Security Council report dubbed NSC–68. The report recommended quadrupling defence spending to achieve this goal.


The capitalist bloc advocated for the development of nuclear weapons similar to those used to end WWII. As a result, a deadly "Arms Race" erupted. In 1949, the Soviet Union conducted its own nuclear test.



The Space Race


Space exploration was another dramatic arena for Cold War competition.


On October 4, 1957, a Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile launched Sputnik (Russian for "travelling companion"), the world's first artificial satellite and the first man-made object to enter Earth's orbit.


The majority of Americans were taken aback by the launch of Sputnik, which was not pleasant.


The United States launched Explorer I, a satellite designed by the US Army under the direction of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, in 1958, initiating the Space Race.


In the same year, the President of the United States signed a public order establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a federal agency devoted to space exploration and several programmes aimed at maximising the military potential of space.


The Soviets were one step ahead in April 1961, launching the first man into space.



The emergence of two power Blocs


Both superpowers desired to broaden their spheres of influence throughout the world. A state was supposed to remain tethered to its protective superpower in order to contain the other superpower's and its allies' influence in a world sharply divided between the two alliance systems.


The alliances' smaller members were acting in their own self-interest, having been promised protection, weapons, and economic assistance in the face of their adversaries.


This alliance system divided the world into two camps: western and eastern alliances.


Europe was the first continent to be partitioned. The majority of countries in western Europe sided with the US, while the majority of countries in eastern Europe sided with the Soviet Union.

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The Alliances


Western Alliance

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was founded in April 1949, was created to formalise the alliance.


It was a group of twelve countries who agreed that any armed attack on one of them in Europe or North America would be considered an attack on all of them.


Every one of these countries would be obligated to assist the other.


Eastern Alliance


The Soviet Union led the eastern alliance, known as the Warsaw Pact. It was founded in 1955 with the primary goal of countering NATO forces in Europe.


Europe became the main battleground for the superpowers. The superpowers used military might to entice countries to join their alliances.


The Soviet invasion of east Europe serves as an example.


The Soviet Union used its clout in eastern Europe, backed up by a large military presence in the region, to ensure that the eastern half of Europe remained within its sphere of influence.


The United States established an alliance system in East and Southeast Asia, as well as West Asia (the Middle East), known as the Southeast Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organisation (CTO) (CENTO).


In response, the Soviet Union and communist China developed close ties with countries in the region, including North Vietnam, North Korea, and Iraq.


Many newly independent countries, such as Britain and France, were concerned after gaining independence from the colonial rule because they feared losing their independence too soon.


In the late 1950s, Communist China and the Soviet Union fought a brief war over a territorial dispute.


The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) provided a way for newly independent countries to remain outside of the alliance system.



What was the point of having allies for the superpowers?


The superpower was so powerful that all of Asia's and Africa's smaller states combined could not compete with it.


Smaller states aided superpowers in obtaining resources such as minerals and oil.


Gaining Access to territories from which the superpower's weapons and troops could be launched. They are the most important, and they receive financial assistance for military expenses.


Allies were also significant for ideological reasons, as their loyalty indicated that the superpower was winning the war ideas and that liberal democracy and capitalism were superior to socialism, or vice versa.

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Arenas Of Cold War


Several crises occurred during the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis. Including various shooting wars that erupted during the Cold War, but it's worth noting that none of these crises or wars resulted in another world war.


In Korea, the two superpowers were on the verge of a direct confrontation (1950 - 53). During the wars of 1958-62, Berlin was also affected, as was the Congo in the early 1960s.


Because none of them was willing to back down, the situation deteriorated. When the term "cold war" is used, it refers to the Cold War Arenas, which were areas where confrontations occurred or were likely to occur but did not go beyond certain bounds.


Many lives were lost in some of these battlegrounds, such as Afghanistan, Korea, and Vietnam, but the world was spared a full-fledged nuclear conflict.


The countries of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) were instrumental in reducing Cold War conflicts and averting some serious crises. Jawaharlal Nehru was an important mediator between the two Koreas.


The UN Secretary-General was a key mediator in the Congo crisis. In most cases, it was a superpower's realisation that war should be avoided at all costs that caused them to exercise restraint and act more responsibly in international affairs.


Mutual suspicions led them to arm themselves to the teeth and constantly prepare for war, despite the fact that the Cold War did not eliminate rivalries between the two alliances.


Large stockpiles of weapons were thought to be necessary to prevent wars from breaking out. Both sides recognised that war could erupt despite restraint. 


Either side could underestimate the number of weapons in the other's possession. They may misinterpret the other side's intentions, which could result in a nuclear disaster.


As a result, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to work together to limit or eliminate certain types of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons.


They decided that 'arms control' could maintain a stable balance of weapons.


Within a decade, the two sides signed three major agreements, beginning in the 1960s:


  • The Limited Test Ban Treaty 

  • The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

  • The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.


Following that, the superpowers held several rounds of arms control talks and signed several more arms control treaties.

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The Emergence of a New International Economic Order


The non-aligned countries served as more than just mediators during the Cold War. The majority of non-aligned countries — the majority of which were classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) — faced the challenge of economic development and poverty alleviation.


Economic development was also critical to the newly independent countries' survival. Without continued development, a country cannot be truly free.


It would remain economically dependent on wealthier countries, including colonial powers, from which it had gained political independence. This realisation was the impetus for the establishment of NIEO.


Towards a New Trade Policy for Development was published in 1972 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).


The report recommended reforming the global trading system to:


Give LDCs control over the natural resources exploited by developed Western countries. Gain access to Western markets so that LDCs can sell their goods, thereby increasing the benefits of trade for poorer countries


Reduce Western countries' technology costs and give LDCs a greater voice in international financial institutions. (Economic issues were not a priority at the first Belgrade summit in 1961.) By the mid-1970s, they had risen to prominence as the most pressing issues.)

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The Cold War And India


India's response to the ongoing Cold War was twofold because it was the leader of NAM: It took special precautions to avoid the two alliances on one level.


Second, it spoke out against the inclusion of newly decolonized countries in these alliances. India had neither a negative nor a passive policy.


Non-Alignment, as J L Nehru reminded the world, was not a policy of retreat.


It's worth remembering that India chose to include other non-aligned countries in this mission. Throughout the Cold War, India attempted to activate regional and international organisations that were not part of the US and USSR-led alliances.


Nehru believed that the creation of a "true commonwealth of free and cooperating nations" would help to soften, if not end, the Cold War.


India attempted to reduce tensions between the alliances in order to prevent them from escalating into a full-fledged war.


During the Korean War in the early 1950s, Indian diplomats and leaders were frequently used to communicate and mediate between Cold War adversaries.


India's interests were directly served by a non-aligned stance in at least two ways:


  • Non-alignment enabled India to make international decisions and take positions that benefited India rather than the superpowers and their allies.


  • India was frequently able to counterbalance two superpowers. If India feels ignored or overly pressured by one superpower, it may shift its allegiance to the other.


  • India could not be taken for granted or bullied by either alliance system.


  • India's non-alignment policy has been criticised on several fronts.



Only two criticisms can be mentioned here:


  • India's non-alignment has been described as "unprincipled." India, it was claimed, often refused to take a firm stance on critical international issues in the name of pursuing its national interest.


  • It's been suggested that India was indecisive and took opposing positions. After criticising others for forming alliances, India signed a 20-year treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Union in August 1971.


  • India's stance was that it required military and diplomatic assistance during the Bangladesh crisis.