- Why George Kennan is significant
George Kennan was an American historian, advisor, and diplomat. He is known for expressing concern about the threat of the expansion of the Soviet Union, and advocating for policy that sought to contain that expansion. He provided an assessment of the soviets through his writings. The Long Telegraph’s assessment of the soviet power was that while it lacked reason and logic, it was very responsive to force.
His appointment as head of Policy Planning Staff by C. Marshall, the then Secretary of State, fuelled his efforts from his initial mere threat assessment to the pursuit of interests. Based on his belief that the threat the soviet posed was not military; that, rather, it was political and ideological, he sought to halt the expansion of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, expressing the fear that the soviets might be on their way back to recapturing the territories that were under their control before the war. Had the authorities and global authorities listened to him, there may have been an opportunity to formulate and enforce policies at the international level, including diplomatic strategies, to stem or control the Russian ambitions, and hence mitigate the Cold War’s serious impact.
- Cuban Missile crisis
The Cuban missile crisis started with President John F. Kennedy’s being informed about the discovery of Soviet-made nuclear missiles in Cuba. The president expressed his disapproval. However, he avoided invading Cuba for the fear that the action would kindle a cold war. To stagnate the missile project, he chose stop the delivery of missiles to the Cuban sites by implementing a naval blockade against Russian ships.
There was a warning that Russia would misconstrue the measure as an act of war. Military tension between the two powers was raised. Russian forces prepared themselves for a potential war; the Unites States nuclear bombers were made ready for flight; an invasion of Cuba seemed to be impending. The event was thought to be the end of the cold war.
Secretly, the Americans found a resolution to the problem. The United States suggested that it and the Soviet Union trade missile bases. The Soviet Union took over the United States missile bases in Turkey in exchange, of which the United States took over Russia’s missile bases in Cuba.
Cuban-headed Russian ships were reverted back and Khrushchev promised to order the dismantling of Cuban basis on the condition that Kennedy lifted the blockade and abandoned his intention to invade Cuba. He later asked that the Turkish bases be dismantle. A United States U2 was attacked at that crucial moment. Kennedy overlooked its shooting down, publicly accepting the first letter, and agreeing to the second secretly. That was the end of the Cuban nuclear crisis.
- From Détente to the Helsiniki Accords
The Détente policy was established at the time between the 60’s and the 70’s when the tension between the two world powers had eased, and it was intended to encourage the cooperation and avoidance of conflict between the two powers. Among the causes of Détente were: America’s shock and disappointment by the Vietnam War, the outcome of which made it want to distant itself from world affairs; the competition for the superiority of arms was becoming too costly for both countries; and the economic instability that resulted from the rise in the price of oil in the 70’s that affected both powers. However, the Détente failed, owing to its limitation: it did not stop other countries like china from developing nuclear weapons; both powers violated the SALT 1 Agreement; and the United States sided with Israel while Russia sided with Syria and Egypt in the 70’s Arab-Israeli War.
Following the failure of the Détente, in an endeavor to soften relations between the West and the communist bloc, a conference was held in Helsinki, Finland to discuss cooperation and security in Europe. The agreement covered three areas: national borders in Europe could not be violated; technology and trade would be promoted across the iron curtain; and freedom of speech and human rights would be respected across the continent. Contrary to the West’s expectations, the governments of soviet bloc paid lip service or ignored.
- The Realist and Liberal Explanations of the Cold War
In the explanation of the cold war, two different approaches can be taken: the realist approach and the liberal approach. The realist view is based on the premise that, when under anarchy, states pursue security by trying to contain the powers of their rivals. The liberal approach’s explains conflict in terms of market capitalism, democracy, and politics, where liberal states tend to drift towards “separation” amongst themselves.
The realist view would explain the cold war in terms of the theory that states that countries will always form an alliance against the most powerful state in the international community. This is not what happened during the cold war. Most of the countries that sided with the Soviet Union are those that had been occupied by the Soviets during world war two. On the contrary, the soviets found it difficult to attract allies. The world’s smaller and weaker states sided with the United States.
Another realist explanation would be that the Soviet Union and the United States wanted to fight their conflicts in regions outside their territories. This fails to agree with the theory of the balance of power. In the case of bipolarity, the theory of balance of power implies that the balancing of power relies heavily on how each of the two parties is able to internally mobilize it resources, and this is usually done through an arms race. Weak and poor secondary countries or states do not affect the balance.
As to the explanation for the end of the cold war, realism take the view that as to whether there will be a rivalry or balance between two powers, it will depend on the stimulation of the bipolar system. That is, the behavior of the two powers will depend on the shifts in how international power is distributed. Yet there is no evidence in the shifts in the international power.
The liberal explanation for the start of the cold war includes the following: The cold war was started by the failure of both powers to control nuclear weapons; the United States and the soviet union felt that the actions of each other threatened each other’s ideology; Stalin was threatened by Truman and misinterpreted by Roosevelt;
The liberal explanation does not offer and explanation how the cold war went on but it gives reasons for its end: the Détente and Helsinki accords made the two powers more interdependent; the emergence of nongovernmental peace research groups in the soviet union and European countries played a part; and the outmaneuver of hardliners by Gorbachev which facilitated a resumption of a harmonious East-West relations.
Both of them offer an explanation for the cold war and its end.
- The US’s Protracted Land war in Vietnam
In 1954, French forces were defeated in Vietnam by the Vietnamese communist forces that were based in the north of the country, under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. The defeat caused the negotiations of accords that split the country into communist North and the American-loyal South. A demilitarized zone was set between the two. The promise of a solution through the decision of countrywide elections never came true, and, half a decade later, the communist north started a war against the south, seeking to spread communism there.
The entire South East Asia was under the threat to the spread of communism. The purpose for the United States’ involvement in the war was to stop the spreading of communism to South Vietnam. In fact, The United States sought to contain the spread of communism across South East Asia and the rest of the world. The United States was determined to curb Russia’s influence (by its Russia’s spreading of communism) across the world. For that reason, it justified its involvement in the war. There was also the belief that if one Asian country fell to the communist ideology, the ideology would easily and quickly spread to other Asian countries.
The war ended in the defeat of the United States and, by argument, the there was a higher chance of the United States loosing the Vietnam War than winning it. The Americans had high technology military equipment whose downsides were that they sometimes ended up killing the wrong people. The consequence of this was the demoralization of its forces and the dwindling of the locals’ support. Furthermore, the United States had to supply its military equipment from thousands of miles away from Vietnam. Another reason was the weakness and corruption of the South Vietnamese government and the loss of public support for the war back in the United States.
When the United States entered the war, they thought that it would be a quick in and out job. Things turned out differently in the end. The lesson is that the United States assessment before their involvement in the war was inadequate. Furthermore, the number of deaths caused by the war was enormous. Four million civilian Vietnamese lost their loves, over a million communist solders died, over two hundred thousand South Vietnamese fighters, and fifty thousand American soldiers died.
The devastation of the Vietnam War is a lesson from which it should have been learnt that there is need for a careful consideration of any more military commitments in foreign lands. It has been found out that there would have been Vietnamese peace talks that would have potentially avoided the Vietnamese conflict but President Nixon sabotaged the talks in order to prevent them from derailing his campaign. It would not be necessary for a president to start a war in foreign lands for the mere sake of promoting American interests, unless those interests are important and necessary to the country they are fighting in, that the interests are worth fighting for, and that they are sure that they are going to win that war. Additionally, before starting the war, they should also be sure that they can and will rebuild the country and restore social and political order in that country.
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Hanhimaki, Jussi M. “Détente in Europe 1962–1975.” Cambridge History of the Cold War 2 (2010): 198-218.
Leffler, Melvyn P. “Remembering George Kennan.” (2006).
Thomas, Daniel C. “The Helsinki accords and political change in Eastern Europe.” Cambridge studies in international relations 66 (1999): 205-233.
Waltz, Kenneth N. “Structural realism after the Cold War.” International security 25.1 (2000): 5-41.
Westheider, James E. The Vietnam War. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.