Cold War


How International Tension Caused the Arms Race?

Both the USA and USSR viewed each other’s expanding nuclear arsenals with suspicion. Each development one superpower made would be followed by the development of new weaponry by their opponent. The US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 lead to the Soviets developing their own nuclear weapons in 1949, and the communist takeover of China in 1949 lead to the US developing the H-bomb in 1953. 

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Arms Race causes: National Pride & Personalities

Nuclear capabilities became a symbol for national prestige. Superiority was needed to impress emerging third world countries of the relative successes of capitalism and communism. Eisenhower was pushed towards nuclear stockpiling, as he thought it would increase his domestic support. Kennedy saw nuclear stockpiling as a way to make up for his relative youth and inexperience during international negotiations.

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How Domestic Factors Caused the Arms Race?

The emergence of nuclear weapons provided wealth and influence for those involved in their construction. In Russia, nuclear technology allowed the military to extend its influence over the USSR’s defence policy. Any cuts to the defence budget were therefore deeply resisted. In America, manufacturers, development teams and the military also became increasingly influential as a result of nuclear development. This military-industrial complex employed over 30 million people. This made it hard for any President to cut down nuclear technology development, as it risked creating unemployment. The complex also created fear and paranoia around the Soviets’ nuclear capabilities. This was reciprocated by the Soviet military, perpetuating the escalation of tensions and nuclear development. 

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Timeline of Nuclear Development #1

  • July 1945 – the Manhattan Project. An atomic bomb is tested in New Mexico. (The US has superiority).

  • August 1945 – Atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Attempts are made to try and control nuclear weapon development. (The US has superiority).

  • 1946 – The UN starts the Baruch Plan, aimed at preventing other nations developing nuclear technology. (The US has superiority).

  • August 1949 – The Soviets explode their first atomic bomb in Kazakhstan. It was developed with such speed thanks to the activities of Soviet moles, and kidnapped German scientists. The US is alarmed at the speed at which the bomb was developed. (The superpowers have parity).

  • November 1952 – American insecurity following the Berlin Blockade and Chinese Revolution lead to the development of the first H-bomb – vastly more powerful than the Atomic bomb dropped on Japan. (The US has superiority).

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Timeline of Nuclear Development #2

  • August 1953 – The USSR test the first Lithium bomb. It is much easier to deploy than the hydrogen bomb, which needs to be refrigerated using large and complex machinery. (The USSR has superiority).

  • March 1954 – The USA tests their first Lithium bomb. The arms race now shifts to delivery systems: planes, missiles, submarines etc. (The superpowers have parity).

  • 1955 – the USA develop the first bomber with intercontinental range. (The USA has superiority).

  • 1956 – The USSR develop their own intercontinental bomber. (The superpowers have parity).

  • 1957 – Ballistic missile developed by the USSR. It is first launched in Kazakhstan. (The USSR has superiority). 

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Timeline of Nuclear Development #3

  • October 1957 – Sputnik is launched. It creates fear in the US over the possible military applications for space technology. Sputnik 2 launched in November, carrying a dog. A malfunction leads to the dog’s death, but the US is even less successful. Its own satellite fails completely. (The USSR has superiority). 
  • 1961 – The USSR put Yuri Gagarin into space. He is the first human to ever enter space. (The USSR has superiority).
  • The early 1960s – By July 1960, Kennedy launches the first submarine launched ballistic missile. The US Government later authorises the development of 41 nuclear submarines. The USSR are in possession of 1054 ICBMs and 4000 missile warheads. The USSR has only 220. Kennedy also commits to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
  • The situation by the 1960s: A range of delivery systems have been developed: planes, submarines and missiles. Both sides are capable of launching attacks and, from 1962 onwards, counter-attacks on each other. This has lead to the development of mutually assured destruction: if one superpower launches an attack on the other, both will be assured.
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A brief history of Cuba.

Since Cuba's independence from Spain in 1898 it had essentially been a puppet state of the United States. In the 1950s, Fulgencio Batista staged a coup d’etat. He oversaw a pro-American dictatorship, where much of the population lived in extreme poverty and where much of the land was owned by US corporations. However, Batista was overthrown by the 26th of July Movement, lead by Fidel Castro, in 1959. Castro wanted to free Cuba from American dominance. His regime instituted major reforms; illiteracy was almost eradicated, and Cuba created one of the best health cares in the world. The Mafia was also driven from Cuba, when it had once dominated the country.

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Cuban-US Relations.

Relations with the United States significantly deteriorated, though. In 1961, amidst increasing tensions, ordered that all American property be seized. The USSR also gave support for Castro's fledgling Government; it gave Cuba a lot of cheap oil, but the refineries in Cuba, which were all American owned. Castro simply nationalised them. In response, the United States cut the amount of sugar it imported from Cuba. This could have had disastrous consequences for Cuba; sugar exports were a major source of income for the country. In retaliation, Castro nationalised even more American-owned companies and tied Cuba's economy to that of the USSR's even more.

The Kennedy Administration considered this to be a deliberate “policy of hostility”. Kennedy instituted an economic embargo on Cuba, blocking it from exporting anything to the US. This raised loud protestation even from American allies. Kennedy also funded Cuban exiles and rebels. The CIA also developed a plan to arm Cuban exiles who would stage an invasion of Cuba. Kennedy was assured the plan would succeed, and that the exiles could quickly defeat Cuba's army. Kennedy gave the plan his blessing and the Bay of Pigs Invasion began in April 1961.

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The Bay of Pigs Invasion.

1500 Cuban exiles invaded Cuba, but the US failed to provide air support. Ships that were designed to supply the rebels were sank by the Cuban army, and the invasion was quickly invaded. The captured rebels were triumphantly paraded around Havana. Castro was politically strengthened, and the CIA resorted to launching several hundred assassination attempts on him. None succeeded. Anti-American sentiments in Cuba were strengthened, and Castro declared Cuba to be a socialist state aligned with the USSR.

Khrushchev wanted to help Castro, who feared another US invasion attempt, for a number of reasons. For one, Castro was trying to expand Communism into Latin American countries. Khrushchev also wanted to portray himself as a defender of the rights of small countries against American imperialism. He believed that placing Soviet nuclear weapons on Cuban soil would prevent American hostility towards Cuba.

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Cuban Missile Crisis Timeline #1.

  • November 1961 to October 1962: Following the failed invasion, Kennedy sponsors Cuban domestic terrorists to undermine Castro's Government from within Cuba (Operation Mongoose). Their actions included burning sugar fields and blowing up railway lines.

  • 14th October 1962: an American U2 spy plane takes photographs of Soviet missile bases in Cuba. Kennedy is warned that he has only 10 days until they are operational.

  • 16th October 1962: Kennedy establishes a committee of the National Security Council to advise him on the crisis. Two options are considered: immediate military action and air strikes or a blockade of Soviet ships. 

  • 22nd October 1962: Kennedy announces that he is instituting a naval blockade of Cuba. B52 bombers are deployed, with 1/8th of them already airborne. A western spy working in the USSR is arrested. His last message reads: “Soviet attack imminent”.

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Cuban Missile Crisis Timeline #2.

  • A quarantine zone is established around Cuba with 54 nuclear bombers and 150 ICBMs on standby.

  • 23rd October 1962: Khrushchev accuses the USA of piracy. He explained that the Soviet military presence in Cuba is solely designed to protect Cuba from US aggression. 20 Russian ships are headed to Cuba.

  • 24th October 1962: The first Russian ship reaches the blockade. It is an oil ship and is allowed through. All other Soviet ships turn back. The US comment: “the other fellow just blinked.” Secret talks are begun. The US offers to withdraw its missiles in Turkey in return for the Soviets withdrawing their missiles from Cuba. Khrushchev considers this to be a fair compromise: the US would withdraw their missiles from the USSR's zone of influence and the USSR would do the same.

  • 26th October 1962: The Soviet Union is still building its missile bases. Kennedy starts planning a military attack of Cuba. At 6pm, Khrushchev sends a telegram to the Kennedy brothers. He offers to dismantle the sites in return for the blockade being lifted and Kennedy agreeing not to invade Cuba. The Kennedys meet the Russian ambassador who again mentions withdrawing US missiles from Turkey.

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Cuban Missile Crisis Timeline #3.

  • 27th October 1962: A day later, Khrushchev sends another telegram, demanding Kennedy dismantle US missile bases in Turkey. Khrushchev main priority is clearly to protect the USSR and avoid war. This explains why he was so vehement about the USSR withdrawing its missiles from Turkey. Kennedy makes a statement saying that he would lift the blockade and not invade Cuba in return for Khrushchev dismantling Soviet bases in Cuba. He also secretly promises to withdraw American missiles from Turkey. Clearly, Kennedy is keen to de-escalate tensions, and avoid the threat of nuclear war.

  • 28th October 1962: Khrushchev agrees to Kennedy's suggestion. The crisis is ended.

  • 20th November 1962: Russian bombers leave Cuba and Kennedy lifts the naval blockade. 

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Key turning points of the Crisis.

  • Khrushchev begins to place medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba; U2 planes detect the building sites.

  • Kennedy rejects demands to invade Cuba. He institutes a naval blockade and threatens war.

  • Khrushchev makes a deal - America removes missiles from Turkey in return for the USSR withdrawing missiles from Cuba.

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Positive Outcomes from the Crisis for the US:

  • The Hot Line telephone link was established between the White House and the Kremlin. It was designed to provide direct communication between the President and Premier in times of crisis.
  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1963, banning all nuclear testing except those conducted underground.

  • Kennedy was provided with a much needed Foreign Policy win.

  • Both leaders begin to show more restraint. Khrushchev does not over-react when a U2 enters Soviet airspace and Kennedy doesn't when a U2 is shot down over Cuba.

  • Kennedy had proved himself to a skilled negotiator. He had skilfully balanced compromise and aggressive rhetoric.

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Positive Outcomes from the Crisis for the USSR:

  • Khrushchev could claim he had secured an American promise to not invade Cuba. This increased his standing, and meant he could present himself as a defender of the rights of small countries.

  • The threat of nuclear war became very apparent during the crisis. This lead to greater co-operation between the USA and USSR. The hotline was established and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed.

  • Castro remains in power.

  • The success of a nation became much more concerned with their military might. This particularly benefited the Soviet Union, who had an incredibly strong military, but was essentially morally and politically bankrupt.

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Negative Outcomes from the Crisis for the USSR:

  • Khrushchev's compromise was attacked by the military; he was dismissed as Soviet leader in 1964.

  • The Arms race actually intensified

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Negative Outcomes from the Crisis for the USA:

  • Castro remained in power.

  • America realised the precariousness of their own security.

  • The Arms race intensified, albeit under the limits established by US-Soviet treaties, like the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

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How did the Cuban Crisis improve Superpower relati

  • The crisis led to an increased awareness about the dangers of nuclear war and the dangers of threatening each other's spheres of influence. Both administrations would henceforth be more considerate about not violating these spheres of influence.
  • There was also an increased sense of cooperation between the US and the USSR. The hotline telephone link was established between the Kremlin and White House. Both the US and USSR signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which limited nuclear testing, but only between the US, USSR and the UK. China and France refused to sign. Such legislation was indicative of improved relations between superpowers.
  • Although the arms race did escalate, it largely took place within the confines of US-Soviet treaties like the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963). This meant that the arms race became much more predictable.
  • However, Kennedy was torn between improving US-Soviet relations and working with the Civil Rights movement. So, neither received his full attention.
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How did the Arms Race stabilize relations?

  • Mutually Assured Destruction: by late 1962, the US had developed the ability to launch a counter-strike in case it were attacked by the USSR. The USSR developed similar capabilities quite quickly. Both countries had nuclear parity. This meant that in the event of a nuclear strike, it was likely that both sides would be destroyed. Following the failure of flexible response, mutually assured destruction became central to Kennedy's foreign policy. Although the Soviets never used the term, it also underpinned their tactics.

  • Limited War: The threat of nuclear war lead to the development of limited war. Both sides tried to limit conflicts so that they did not escalate into a nuclear war. Korea is a perfect example of a limited war. Stalin never committed his own troops, Truman fired McArthur for wanting to deploy nuclear weapons and the US kept the combat zone to Korea.

  • Spheres of influence: nuclear weapons made each side more respectful of each other's spheres of influence. The US withdrew its missiles from Turkey, the Soviets did the same in Cuba and the US made no intervention in the Hungarian crisis.

  • Cooperation: the presence of nuclear weapons made the superpowers cooperate more often. A hotline was established between the White House and Kremlin in 1962 and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1963.

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How did the Arms Race destabilize relations?

  • Development of nuclear technologies created a spiralling arms race. The Sovier acquistion of a nuclear bomb in 1949 lead to the Americans developing the Hydrogen Bomb, in turn leading to the Soviets developing the Lithium bomb.

  • The culture of secrecy led to fears that each side had superior capabilities. The Gaither Report (1957) created fears in the US about a non-existent bomber gap.

  • Nuclear Weapons encouraged nuclear brinkmanship, a policy which could have ended in total nuclear war, as shown in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • The cost of nuclear weapons put massive strains on both countries' economies. This had a destabilising effect for two reasons: Khrushchev made up for this weakness with an increasingly aggressive foreign policy towards the West, and his decision to place weapons Cuba can be seen as an economic choice. Short range missiles were cheaper than long range missiles.

  • Nuclear weapons did not stop the Soviets and US competing for influence in other regions. The Soviets provided support for Nasser in Egypt, the US provided support for anti-communists in South Vietnam, South Korea and Taiwan.

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Sino-Soviet Relations Timeline #1

  • 1949: Communist revolution in China. Nationalists, under Chiang Kai-shek, flee to Taiwan.

  • 1950: The Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance is signed. It agrees military and economic support from the USSR to the nascent Chinese communist regime.

  • 19th October 1950: Chinese intervention in the North Korean War begins. Stalin had persuaded Mao to get involved.

  • 1950 - 1953: China and the USSR cooperate in the Korean War. The Soviet Union commits no troops, but Mao is inferior to Stalin in terms of decision-making.

  • 1954: Taiwan Straits Crisis begins. Khrushchev gives China military support in shelling Taiwan.

  • February 1956: Khrushchev criticises Stalinist policies in his secret speech. He does not consult Mao on this beforehand, and Mao persists in pursuing Stalinist policies. In 1958 he begins the Great Leap Forward, starting rapid industrialisation, the collectivisation of agriculture into massive communes and the promotion of backyard production.

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Sino-Soviet Relations Timeline #2

  • 1958: The second shelling of Taiwan begins. The USSR supports China, the United States supports Taiwan.

  • 1958: Khrushchev criticises the Great Leap Forwards, especially the backyard production of steel.

  • 1959: Khrushchev visits the United States, promoting peaceful coexistence. This is heavily criticised in China, which has promoted itself as an anti-imperialist force hostile to the United States.

  • The Early 1960s: A split between the USSR and China begins to emerge.

  • 1964: Mao claims Damansky Island as the first of many territorial claims Damansky Island as the first of many territorial claims from the USSR. Khrushchev refuses to hand over the Island.

  • 1966 - 1969: The Cultural Revolution begins. Mao becomes increasingly radical.

  • 1967: Red Guards attack the Soviet embassy in Beijing.

  • 1969: The dispute over the Sino-Soviet border leads to two clashes at Damansky Island in the Ussuri River.

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Sino-Soviet Relations Timeline #3

  • September 1969: Zhou Enlai, China's Foreign Minister, and Kosygin, the USSR's Prime Minister, have a difficult meeting in Beijing.

  • February 1972: Nixon visits China. A communiqué produced afterwards implies a rapprochement between China and the USA, against the USSR.

  • 1978: The USA withdraws diplomatic support from Taiwan, and gives it to China.

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Sino-Soviet Relations in 1949:

Mao had a great deal of respect for the USSR, the world's first Marxist-Lenninist state. He was especially reverent to Stalin, whom he saw as the leader of the revolutionary movement. He was quoted as saying “the Socialist camp must have one head, and that can only be the USSR.”

An alliance with the USSR was a key component of Mao's foreign policy. Mao believed that such an alliance was key to preventing American aggression, and to stopping the development of anti-communist forces within China. Mao also wanted the help of Soviet experts in developing Socialism in China.

Stalin was more cautious about Sino-Soviet relations. He had only supported the Chinese Communists in the Civil War once their victory was assured, and only came out in public support for Mao once the War had finally been won in 1949.

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Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assist

Negotiations began in the summer of 1949 in Moscow, before the civil war had even been fully won. The Chinese communists were willing to put themselves in a position of deference from the start. They agreed to accept the rulings of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as final. Mao and Stalin met face to face in late 1949, and the treaty was signed in 1950.

It agreed that the Soviet Union would provide China with economic support worth $300 million. With this, China would pay for heavy machinery and defence equipment. Soviet experts were also sent to China to provide technical assistance. The Soviets helped the Chinese build new aluminium plants, a cable factory and modernise industry.

The treaty also made territorial agreements with the Chinese. The Soviets returned Chinese sovereignty to the Manchuria region, and gave the Chinese control of the area's railways (which had been owned by the Japanese before the war). However, the only non-natives allowed into the area were Soviet citizens. Mongolia, however, remained under Soviet influence. Despite the Soviets providing military support to China and helping the Chinese develop an air force, Stalin refused to allow China to attempt an annexation of Taiwan, as it was supported by the US. Stalin also forced Mao to drop his support for Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese communists.

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The Hundred Flowers Campaign.

In the early years of Communist China, a process of rapid industrialisation took place, overseen by Soviet specialists. Hundreds of thousands moved to the cities; by 1956, the number of people living in Cities had more than doubled. Conditions were generally very poor, and there was widespread dissent over people's living conditions. Zhou Enlai, the Chinese foreign minister, proposed a programme of liberalisation, allowing Chinese citizens - even anti-communist intellectuals - to voice their opinions and views about the policies pursued by the Chinese Government. It was designed to create a more accountable, open Government with greater popular support. Mao, who was worried about the lack of peasant involvement in new developments, encouraged the idea. The campaign was named after a famous phrase from classical Chinese philosophy “let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred thoughts of school contend.” Mao became the figurehead for the campaign, making regular speeches about the campaign. Criticism was slow coming at first, but by 1957 criticism of the Government became increasingly widespread and increasingly heated. Soon, millions of people were writing in to Government officials, criticising many aspects of Government policy. Some historians suggest this lead to a change in policy. The Hundred Flowers Campaign became the “anti-rightist campaign” - hundreds of thousands of people who had criticised Mao during the period were purged. Many lost their jobs, some were arrested and “re-educated”. However, an alternative position has suggested that from its very inception, the campaign was designed to flush out dissidents and that it was never intended to liberalise Chinese society.

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The Great Leap Forwards.

The Great Leap Forwards was a campaign instituted by Mao that aimed to rapidly transform China from an agrarian, peasant society to an industrialised, socialist state. It was not at all dissimilar to the programme of Five Year Plans instituted by Stalin in the 1930s. Perhaps the most fundamental change to the nature of Chinese society was the collectivisation of agriculture. China was developed into a series of communes. This was done with incredible speed. “Backyard production” was also encouraged; people were persuaded to begin smelting steel in backyard furnaces. This increased production, but the materials were of very poor quality. Furthermore, there were significant agricultural problems. The production of these materials took people away from agricultural production. New experimental agricultural methods were pursued, which further destabilised the agricultural process. Successive years of poor weather made agricultural problems even worse. A famine ensued: around 18 million to 32 million people died. The Great Leap Forwards massively undermined Mao. He had to resign from being Head of State, though he remained as Party Chairman.

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The Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution was initiated in 1966 as a way to re-impose Maoist values following the Great Leap Forward, which had significantly undermined Mao. Mao encouraged the purging of all bourgeois and 'backwards' traditional Chinese elements from society. Young people were encouraged to form Red Guard to hunt down “revisionists” - a wide range of people from liberals to communists sympathetic with Khrushchev’s reforms. The zeal with which the Red Guards took to the persecutions was beyond what even Mao predicted. Millions of people were persecuted; people were publicly humiliated, “re-educated”, imprisoned and tortured. The upper echelons of the Communist party were also affected; many were purged from positions of seniority. Mao hoped to further reinforce his cult of personality, and eliminate anyone who was not totally loyal to his personal rule. As with Stalin's purges in the 1930s, the purges destabilised China's economy and society.

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Korean War (Sino-Soviet Relations).

Soviet-Chinese cooperation in the Korean War perhaps marks the high point of Sino-Soviet relations.

Mao supported Kim Il-Sung's belief in Korean reunification, but thought that the North Korean Invasion in 1950 was premature. He feared that it would lead to the USA expanding its influence in south-east Asia. Stalin was key to Mao's decision to commit Chinese troops to the North Korean War. He convinced Mao that a South Korean victory would create a domino effect, leading to the collapse of other communist powers - including China. Indeed, by the time that Mao ordered 500,000 Chinese troops into North Korea, the UN forces were only miles away from the Chinese border. A full scale invasion of China seemed likely. Mao also hoped that Chinese support for the North Koreans would show China's commitment to the international revolutionary struggle.

The Soviets were clearly the senior partners in terms of planning the war effort; for the most part, Stalin left Mao alone, but he would occasionally intervene and overrule Mao. Chinese and Soviet commanders frequently clashed, but it was the Soviets who always prevailed. This created a sense of dissatisfaction amongst the Chinese camp.

The war had a dual impact on the Sino-Soviet relationship: on the one hand, it united the USSR and China in a sense of comradeship, but it also sowed the seeds of Chinese dissatisfaction with Soviet hegemony. China emerged as a world player as a result of the war; despite being a junior partner in the Sino-Soviet alliance, Mao began to believe that China had a duty to assist other Communists if the USSR would not.

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Taiwan Straits Crisis.

Taiwan had been a source of contention since 1949. It was home to the Nationalists, who still claimed to be the legitimate Government of China. Mao had wanted to invade Taiwan for a long time, but Stalin's reticent attitude prevented him from taking any action.

In 1953 Eisenhower lifted the American Naval Blockade of Taiwan. The blockade had been established to prevent conflict between China and Taiwan. The lifting of the blockade meant that Chiang Kai Sek could intensify Taiwanese pressure on China. He sent troops to occupy the Islands of Quemoy and Matsu.

Mao saw this as an opportunity to “liberate Taiwan”, and galvanise the Chinese people. He also hoped to register his displeasure at the formation of the pro-western South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO). In 1954, Mao ordered the shelling of Nationalist-held Quemoy. Although the Soviets had not been informed, Khrushchev was willing to support Mao's venture. The Nationalists, however, were unwilling to back down. The support of the US greatly helped their resolve. The crisis therefore had the danger of escalating into a full-blown China-USA war. The Nationalists abandoned the Taschen Islands to the Communists, but kept control of Quemoy and Matsu.

The crisis ended only when the Soviet began to take a more moderate stance, and engaged in peace talks with the Taiwanese.

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The Second Taiwanese Straits Crisis.

Tensions re-emerged in 1958, when Mao ordered a new wave of shelling of Quemoy. He wanted to stir up revolutionary sentiments on the mainland, tie the USSR into military support for China and test the US' commitment to Taiwan.

The second Taiwanese Straits crisis helped further the split between China and the USSR. The USSR seriously disagreed with China's tactics, but felt they had to present a united communist front. China was therefore brought under the USSR's nuclear umbrella.

The second crisis came to an end when Mao and Khrushchev decided that leaving Quemoy and Matsu in the hands of the nationalists gave them a tactical advantage. It gave Mao a valuable tool through which pressure could be applied to the USA and Taiwan.

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Causes of the Sino-Soviet Split: Ideology.

Khrushchev denounced Stalinist policies in his Secret Speech in 1956. He also began a policy of destalinisation. This angered Mao; he had not been consulted on the speech, and was pursuing Stalinist policies in China. Mao was deeply angered by the speech, and began to see Khrushchev as a revisionist. Khrushchev also began a process of reconciliation with Tito. Tito had been unwilling to pursue Stalinist policies in 1948, and had therefore split with the USSR. Mao considered this process of reconciliation as ideological revisionism. Mao was also highly critical of Khrushchev’s policy of peaceful coexistence with the USA. This criticism was especially heightened during Khrushchev’s visits to the USA in 1959. Mao believed that Khrushchev was showing weakness against a capitalist power, and that he was abandoning millions of comrades resisting imperialism. Mao considered himself to leader of the anti-imperialist movement, and wanted to take a much aggressive, anti-American stance. Khrushchev, in turn, was highly critical of the Great Leap Forwards, especially of the development of backyard steel furnaces.

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Causes of the Sino-Soviet Split: Personality.

Contrasting personal ambitions also contributed to the split. Mao had willingly accepted Stalin as his superior, but he was highly critical of Khrushchev. He saw Khrushchev as his inferior, and wanted to position himself as leader of the worldwide revolutionary movement. Khrushchev had similar ambitions. He felt that as leader of the USSR, he should be leader of the world revolutionary movement. These ambitions soured their personal relations. Neither trusted each other, and both try outdo each other when they met. One famous anecdote relates that at one meeting, Mao invited Khrushchev to go swimming. Mao was famous for being a skilled swimmer, and he deliberately humiliated Khrushchev, who could hardly swim. These poor relations significantly undermined the official relations between the Soviet Union and China.

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Causes of the Sino-Soviet Split: National Interest

National interests were a key factor in the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations. Spheres of influence were a particular matter of contention; the USSR prevented China from expanding its influence into North Korea. Khrushchev also refused to reduce its ties to Mongolia, which Mao saw as a natural part of China's sphere of influence. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 also deteriorated relations. It increased fear in China that Moscow might try to invade China. However, perhaps the most important national issue in the Sino-Soviet split was the border between China and Russia. China demanded territorial concessions from Russia, and this increased tensions over the border. Between 1967 and 1970, the number of Russian troops stationed on the border had more than doubled.

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Causes of the Sino-Soviet Split: Nuclear Weapons.

Mao wanted China to acquire nuclear weaponry. He believed that this would help affirm China’s position as a World Power. The USSR was hesitant about assisting China; they tried to persuade the Chinese that Chinese nuclear weapons were redundant, as China was under the Soviet Union’s nuclear umbrella. Soviet reluctance to help China develop a nuclear bomb developed, and in 1960, they withdrew all support for China’s nuclear programme. This increased fear and paranoia in China over the USSR’s intentions towards them. In turn, China refused to sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and developed its own nuclear bomb in 1964. The possession of a nuclear weapon by the Chinese increased fear and tension with the Soviet Union, and further helped to deteriorate Sino-Soviet relations.

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Damansky Island Dispute #1.

The Damansky Island dispute is a prime example of how tensions over the border lead to the Sino-Soviet split. The Ussuri River region in the Sino-Soviet border was particularly contentious, as it flooded often and so it was hard to establish a definitive border. The Damansky Island was in the Ussuri River and Khrushchev offered to cede it to China. However, when Mao declared that it would be the first of many territorial concessions, Khrushchev withdrew his offer. Tensions were heightened by the appointment of the USSR's former deputy of Strategic Rocket Forces as a commander in the region. These tensions were further escalated in 1968, when the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia. China feared that the USSR might attempt an invasion of China, and that the Ussuri river would be a weak spot in such an eventuality. The Chinese therefore adopted a tactic of “active defence”, whereby China would pre-emptively strike the Soviet Union and prevent it from launching its own attack. By this point, both countries possessed nuclear weapons, so there was a real threat of nuclear war.

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Damansky Island Dispute #2.

In early March 1969, Chinese troops moved onto Damansky Island. The next day, they began to shout pro-Mao slogans. They appeared to the Soviet troops to be unarmed, but soon charged on the Soviet troops, engaging in hand-to-hand combat. A retreat was eventually forced, but both sides claimed victory. A further, more deadly, conflict occurred on the 15th March 1969. Eventually, the Soviets withdrew their troops from the Island completely. The Chinese then began to mass their troops on their side of the border. The Soviets then attacked the Chinese troops, claiming a high number of casualties.

The dispute was left unresolved. On the 13th August 1969, a violent clash lead to the destruction of a whole Chinese Brigade. Kosygin, the Soviet Prime Minister, met Zhou Enlai in Beijing Airport, returning from the funeral of Ho Chi Minh. The meeting was very difficult. The border dispute was a main talking point. The meeting lead Mao to reassess foreign relations. The communist alliance was dead; Mao now perceived the USSR to be a greater threat to Chinese security than the USA. Accordingly, he sought a rapprochement with the USA.

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Reasons for Pro-American rapprochement.

Mao felt that he was surrounded by enemies. To the east lay India, who had gone to war with China over a border dispute in 1962. To the west lay Taiwan, which claimed to be the legitimate Government of mainland China, and South Korea, a strong capitalist nation. Japan was also growing in terms of economic strength and Mao instinctively feared its resurgence; it had invaded China only thirty years before. The conflict in Vietnam to the south was escalating. Mao feared that it would lead to an increased American presence in the south-east. And, of course, to the North was Russia, where border disputes and ideological conflict threatened war.

Nixon was also anxious to improve relations with China. He hoped to curtail Soviet influence by exploiting Sino-Soviet tensions. He also hoped that China's influence would help bring the Vietnam War to an end.

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Obstacles to rapprochement:

There were many obstacles to overcome for rapprochement to occur. The first was that years of conflict and tension had to be overcome. Japan's economic power, fuelled by US support and investment, also created tensions between China and the US. Mao feared a resurgent Japan - it had invaded China only three decades before, and there was years of mutual hostility and tension between the two countries. The military situation in Vietnam was also an issue; America was deeply entangled in the conflict, and China was providing vast amounts of support for the Vietcong. The US' diplomatic and military support for Taiwan was also a major source of tension in China.

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Ping-pong diplomacy.

In 1971, the US Ping Pong team were invited to play the Chinese team. They were the first Americans in China since the revolution. The Chinese let the American team win out of respect. Further contacts followed: trade and travel restrictions were relaxed, and Kissinger and Zhou Enlai met many times. Then, in 1972, Nixon visited Beijing. This was a monumental event; he was the first American President to visit Communist China. It was seen as a success by both parties; a communiqué was produced once the visit was over stressing the ideological differences of Maoism and American capitalism, but also stressing the similarities between the two countries.

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Impact of rapprochement.

America gained a lot from rapprochement. Tactically, it alienated China from its Asian communist allies. Closer links with China also let the US put pressure on the USSR. Trade between the US and China increased by $495 million.

China arguably gained even more from rapprochement. Trade increased not just with America, but with other western countries as well. Britain began selling China Rolls Royce jet engines. America also toned down its support for China's allies. It began to criticise human rights abuses in South Korea and withdrew diplomatic support for Taiwan, expelling it from the UN security council. Rapprochement also personally benefited Mao; it improved his and Enlai's reputation and contributed to the downfall of his rival, Lin Bao.

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Rapprochement & US-Soviet relations:

Soviet leaders had not expected rapprochement; they were forced to see the world in multi-polar terms. It now had to deal with both China and the US as adversaries, and this meant it had to make concessions which would help lead to the détente of the 1970s.

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Causes of Detente: the US' Economic Position.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria, supported by surrounding states, invaded Israel. OPEC (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided to raise the price of oil to all countries supporting Israel, such as the United States and United Kingdom. They also cut oil supplies to those countries. This created the possibility of a recession and lost economic growth across much of the west. The US Government feared this would divide their western allies, and weaken their strategic position.

In response, the US organised the Washington Energy Conference, which harmonised Western Energy policies. The US also lifted controls on the banks, letting them exploit the surplus of dollars. This actually strengthened the power of such financial institutions.

The threat of an economic crisis pushed the US towards détente. It made people reconsider whether exorbitant defence spending was actually good for the economy. Many felt it was unsustainable and that better relations with the USSR would allow the Government to cut defence spending and encourage economic growth.

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Causes of Detente: the Soviet Economy.

The USSR was actually strengthened by the oil crisis; its own oil exports became more valuable and its strategic position was strengthened by the US' weakness.

However, there were other large problems with the USSR's economy. The USSR was spending a vast amount of money on arms spending and armament production constituted a large part of the economy; 30% of Soviet workers were involved in armament production.

Furthermore, much of the Soviet economy was focused on heavy industry, and consumer goods were largely neglected. Were the Soviets able to divest funds away from armaments, they would be able to invest in consumer goods more.

Soviet collectivised agriculture was also highly inefficient. The country struggled to feed itself. It relied on massive grain exports worth $15 billion a year. Some of this grain even came from the United States.

Another major drain on the Soviet economy was the amount of economic support the USSR was providing to communist allies. 75% of the hard currency earned by the Soviet Union was being given to Communist allies abroad. $1 billion a year was given to Vietnam and $4 billion a year was given to Angola and Ethiopia.

As the Soviet economy began to slow to a halt under these pressures, many began to argue it was essential to reduce defense spending so that other funds could be diverted towards other areas of the economy; only friendlier relations with the United States and NATO would allow the easing of tensions in this way.

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Causes of Detente: Brandt's Ostpolitik.

Willy Brandt, Social Democratic Chancellor of Germany, was keen to develop links between East and West. Tensions were still high following the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. He saw the stabilization of relations as essential to maintaining European well-being, and to economic growth. Ostpolitik, meaning “East Politics”, was the policy designed by Brandt to open up channels between East and West. He encouraged Western European countries to open up relations with the Eastern Bloc. For example, France and Romania began to improve relations.

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Causes of Detente: the needs of the USSR.

The Sino-Soviet split weakened the USSR's strategic position. There was a real threat of war with China, and China's rapprochement with the USA forced the Soviet Union to improve relations with America.

The USSR also wanted the west to recognize the legitimacy of the Eastern Bloc to secure Soviet hegemony in the region.

Rapprochement, it was felt, would also help the Soviet Union limit the US' power. In the early 1970s, the two superpowers had nuclear parity, but the Soviets were aware they couldn't keep up in the arms race indefinitely. The USSR sought to maintain this parity through arms limitation treaties. It was felt that now was a good time to organise such treaties, as the USSR was in a position of strength.

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Causes of Detente: Fears of War.

The Cuban Missile Crisis had highlighted the possibility of nuclear war. Kennedy's threats to create a nuclear war also caused considerable anxiety. Mutually Assured Destruction was also a considerable cause of detente. By 1969, the USSR had nuclear parity and both superpowers could launch a counterstrike in the case of a nuclear attack.

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Detente achievements: Treaties of Warsaw & Moscow.

The Treaty of Warsaw and Treaty of Moscow, 1970 lead to West Germany accepting the Oder-Neisse line as Poland's border. This had been established after the war, but had never been formally recognised by West Germany.

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Detente achievements: Four Powers Agreement.

The Four Powers Agreement, 1971 confirmed France's, the US', the UK's and the USSR's administrative zones in Germany. These had originally only been temporary divisions, but they were made formal by this agreement. The agreement also enshrined the West's right to access routes to West Berlin in law.

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Detente achievements: Basic Treaty.

The Basic Treaty, 1972 was an agreement between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany. In the treaty, the FRG accepted the existence of the GDR and formally recognised it as a legitimate state. This stabilised relations, but it came at a cost for Brandt: he had to accept Soviet hegemony in East Europe.

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SALT I was signed in 1972. The main cause of the move towards limiting nuclear arms was the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis showed the dangers of nuclear war, and had already led to the Test Ban Treaty (1963) and the hotline. There was significant obstacles for the superpowers to overcome in signing the treaty, most specifically the Czechoslovakian invasion, which stopped negotiations in 1968. Furthermore, it was hard to compare the USA's and USSR's arsenals, which were incredibly different. The USSR was finally pushed towards signing the treaty by Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972.

SALT I was a package of agreements: the Basic Principles Agreement, the Interim Agreement, the ABM Treaty, the Seabed Agreement.  

SALT I is a strong illustration of the improved relations between the US and USSR. It showed increased cooperation, and both superpowers were clearly committed to preventing nuclear war. This was a significant change from the period when Massive Retaliation dominated foreign policies. There were also signs of greater trust between the superpowers. For example, the USSR became increasingly reliant on grain imports from the USA. However, there were still continuing problems: both countries still possessed enough nuclear missiles to destroy life on earth many times over and the Interim Treaty only considered ICBMs and SUBMs.

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SALT I: Interim Treaty, 1972.

The Interim Treaty (1972) limited the number of ICBMs and SUBMS possessed by the Soviet Union and the USA. However, the treaty was only an interim treaty and did not legislate for new and developing technologies - this benefited the USA, who developed new weaponry at a much faster rate than the USSR. The USA was developing MIRVs, which were not legislated for, and which were capable of holding multiple warheads. The treaty also favoured the USSR, as it allowed them to retain more ICBMs to make up for the fact that the USA were superior in many other areas, like the number of strategic bombers they possessed.

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SALT I: Basic Principles & Seabed.

The Basic Principles Agreement (1972) established the terms of conduct in the event of nuclear war. The Seabed Agreement (1971) also banned the placing of nuclear arms on the seabed

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SALT II: Negotiations for SALT II was planned at the Vladivostock Summit, 1974. SALT II set equal limits for the number of missile bombers and strategic bombers, but not cruise missiles. However, President Ford opposed the treaty, as right-wing Republicans saw it as giving too many concessions to the USSR. It was only signed in 1979, after Ford had attempted to limit the number of Soviet Missiles. However, it was rejected by the Senate, as America felt increasingly vulnerable and conflict in Angola, Afghanistan and Iran made it seem like the USSR was expanding its sphere of influence.

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Helsinki Accords, 1975.

Helsinki Accords: The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe comprised of countries from NATO and the Warsaw Pact. They met in Helsinki. The East wanted acknowledgement of their borders. The Accords obliged; it proclaimed European borders to be inviolable. It was an act of tacit acceptance of the East's borders. The Accords encouraged improved and encouraged trade across the Iron Curtain. The Accords was also supposed to protect human rights. The Warsaw Pact promised to protect human rights and submitted to being observed by objective institutions. The West hoped this would undermine the communist regimes by encouraging dissent.

The Accords were criticised by the American right-wing as it was seen as an act of complicity with Soviet tyranny. However, many believed that it was a positive first-step towards improving relations.

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How Successful was detente?


  • Reduced tension and sources of tension.
  • Stabilised the relationship between superpowers.
  • Minimised the risks of nuclear war.
  • Europe became much more stable.


  • Armaments actually increased in number.
  • Many agreements were just ignored (especially the human rights clause in the HeUSSlsinki accords).
  • Some agreements were never enacted (SALT II).
  • Sino-Soviet relations were still tense.
  • The USSR was still expanding its sphere of influence into the third world such as Angola, Afghanistan and Mozambique.
  • Soviet action led to mistrust.
  • Some interpret it as having prolonged the war, and having given the USSR time to recover.
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Carter became President in 1977, and didn't really have a clear line on foreign policy. Previously to this point, his experience had been largely in domestic policy. He was keen to focus on human rights in Eastern Europe, but was also influenced by other factors. Neo-conservatism was rising in popularity and particularly pressured Carter into resuming the arms race. Carter's advisers were also divided: his secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, supported a continuation of negotiations and détente. His national security adviser, Brezinski, wanted to take an increasingly hard line.

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Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan #1.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan can be seen as beginning the end of détente. Afghanistan was considered a place of strategic importance for the Soviets; it divided Pakistan and Iran, two major regional powers. It was close to the Arabian sea and the strait of Hormutz, a key passageway in the transport of oil to the West. A friendly Afghanistan would give the Soviets influence over this area of tactical importance.

In April 1978, the Communist Party of Afghanistan - independent of the USSR - launched a coup and took power. They immediately alienated themselves from the religious elite, who were immensely influential in Afghan society. Their reforms were considered anti-Islamic. Land was redistributed from wealthy landlords to the landless poor, women's rights and education was heavily promoted, the wearing of headscarves was discouraged and women were enrolled in literacy classes. Islamists burned down schools and universities. Protests spread to other Islamic countries, especially Iran, where it lead to the revolution of 1979. 

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Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan #2.

The crisis particularly concerned the US. They felt the Soviets might exploit the crisis to gain influence in the area and seize oil supplies. The US started giving aid to the Mujahadeen in 1979, when they were provided with communication equipment.

Hafizullah Amin was Afghan President and widely despised. He sought to expunge political dissidents through drastic and draconian reforms. The Afghan Prime Minister Mohammed Taraki wanted to oust Amin, and end the repression and radical reforms. His plans were leaked and Amin arrested and executed Taraki. The attempted coup made Taraki realise he had little support in the USSR, and he began to increase relations with the West. Andropov, KGB chief, argued that if the USSR did not commit troops to help save the Communist regime, Amin would claim the USSR was abandoning its responsibilities and would look to the US for support instead. Members of the Politburo suggested that the USSR should invade and topple Amin, as had worked in Hungary in 1956. When NATO deployed even more nuclear weapons, it was felt that the Soviets had nothing to lose from invading Afghanistan. On the 25th of December, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

The US widely condemned the actions of the Soviet army. They cut grain supplies to the USSR and boycotted the Moscow Olympics.

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Why did Detente End #1?

Why did détente end?

  • Soviet expansionism into the third world, particularly Mozambique, Angola etc, was used by neo-conservatives as evidence of a need to take a more aggressive foreign policy. Carter expanded aid given to anti-communists in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
  • Soviet violations of human rights, in contravention of the Helsinki accords, troubled many Americans.
  • Negotiations deteriorated along with Brezhnev's health. He could only function whilst heavily medicated having had a heart attack in the late 1970s and this led to Soviet diplomacy becoming more confused. 
  • SALT II had been agreed by Carter, but rejected by Congress in 1979.
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Why did Detente End #2?

  • In November 1979, American hostages were taken captive by Islamists in the US embassy in Tehran. They weren't released until 1981, leading neo-conservatives to claim it showed American impotence in world affairs.

  • In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. It was seen by neo-conservatives as an act of Soviet expansionism that American impotence had been unable to stop.

  • There was growing criticism of detente in the Politburo, who were angered by American criticism of their human rights record. The military also pushed for a resurgence in the arms race, believing it would increase their influence and support Soviet hegemony in the Global South.

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Reagan's Foreign Policy.

Reagan's Foreign Policy:

Regan argued that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the deployment of **-20 nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe were signs of increased Soviet expansionism and that it necessitated a change in foreign policy. The Militarised Counter-Revolution saw defense spending increase 13% in 1982 and by eight percent in each of the following two years. New ways to deploy nuclear weapons became prevalent; strategic planes and trident were developed. Reagan knew that the U**R would never be able to match the USA in a new cold war, but that they would be forced to. He hoped that this would bankrupt the already strained economy of the U**R. The most important development under the Reagan Administration was the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “star wars”, an incredibly complicated and technologically advanced anti-ballistic missile system in space. The Star Wars system clearly contravened the Anti-ballistic Missile System Treaty. 

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The Reagan Doctrine.

The Reagan Doctrine was a policy that armed and supported anti-communist Governments or rebels fighting left-wing Governments. Military support was sent to right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua fighting the Sandinista Government. An unpopular, right-wing Government in El Salvador facing a left-wing insurrection was also supported. American troops were rarely directly committed. A notable exception was Grenada when the New Jewel Movement, lead by Bernard Coard, was overthrown by military troops. Stinger anti-aircraft were also provided to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Furthermore, economic sanctions were often used; when Solidarity was banned in Poland in 1981, the US cut loans and bank credit to Poland and instituted tariffs on Polish exports. This policy was criticsed by western socialists and liberals. It was seen as neo-imperialist and intervening in the affairs of small western countries. Furthermore, many of the regimes in the Phillipines and El Salvador were anti-democratic and violated numerous human rights.

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Thatcher and Reagan.

Thatcher was a key ally for Reagan. She was fervently anti-communist and committed to the US-UK special relationship. She let Reagan place nuclear missiles on British soil. The fact that the US had missiles on European soil significantly increased the pressure on the USSR.

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In the early 1980s, the USSR was a gerontocracy, governed by old, ill and often incapable leaders. Reform, especially of the economy, was badly needed, but the leaders in this period (Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko) were unable to provide such change.

  • Brezhnev: 1964 – 1982. Brezhnev had been a capable leader during much of his premiership. He made the SALT II agreement with Ford in 1979, but by this time, it's doubtful as to whether he fully understood what was happening. By this time he was ill, confused and an ineffective diplomat etc. It has often been argued that Brezhnev's final years were the start of economic stagnation in the USSR.

  • Andropov: November 1982 – 1984. Andropov took office aged 69, but he was very ill. He began some reforms, starting domestic reforms and beginning half-hearted attempts to withdraw from Afghanistan.

  • Chernenko: February 1984 – 1985. A conservative representing the anti-reformist wing of the Politburo. Did little to prevent tensions developing. Died of emphysema.

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KAL 007.

The effects of Gerontocracy were highlighted by the KAL 007 incident. KAL 007 was a flight from Alaska to Seoul that accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace and was shot down; all the passengers were killed. The Foreign Minister refused to comment on the incident, only warning that if any other aircraft entered Soviet airspace without permission, it too would be shot down. Andropov was too old and weak to make a face-to-face meeting with Western leaders about it. It marked a new low point in the Cold War. 

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When Chernenko died, Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union. He was considerably younger than his predecessors; only just in his fifties and the only Soviet leader to not have been born in Imperial Russia. Gorbachev argued of the need to reform communism, making Soviet Government more accountable and ending conflict with the USA, which he saw as destructive and destabilizing. This approach was called New Political Thinking. Gorbachev argued that it was necessary to re-open arms negotiations with the US. He felt this would let him reduce arms spending without making the USSR vulnerable to American aggression, thus appeasing the fears of the Soviet military. Shevardnandze, Gorbachev's foreign minister, launched a charm offensive with the west, seeking to improve relations with Western leaders. This worked; Thatcher related after a meeting with Gorbachev that “this is a man I can do business with.” The War in Afghanistan significantly changed the foreign relations of the USSR. It dragged on indeterminably, highlighting the inefficiencies of supporting foreign communist Governments. By the 1980s, the USSR was spending $40 billion a year on supporting foreign socialist Governments. 

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Summits between the USA and the USSR.

Summits with the USA:

  • Geneva, November 1985: Little actual change was effected by the Geneva summit, but it established amicable relations between Reagan and Gorbachev.

  • Reykjavik, October 1986: Gorbachev offered to phase out all of the USSR's nuclear missiles in exchange for the US abolishing the Star Wars programme. Reagan declined, but the offer shocked Washington and showed that Gorbachev was a radical alternative to his predecessors.

  • Washington, December 1987: The Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement lead to the immediate withdrawal of Nuclear Missiles.

  • Moscow, May to June 1988: Elaborated on the INF agreement. It lead to a further Soviet arms cuts. It was also the first time Gorbachev met George Bush in a formal capacity, who would later succeed Reagan as President.

  • Malta, December 1989: The first full summit between Gorbachev and George Bush. It established good relations between the two and they declared that they had “buried the cold war at the bottom of the Mediterranean.” 

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Gorbachev's domestic policy.

  • Perestroika: restructuring the economy to involve a measure of private enterprise to promote production, efficiency and higher quality of domestic goods.

  • Glasnost: a policy of greater openness, allowing Soviets to voice new opinions and criticism of Soviet policy.

  • Democratisation: an attempt to get more people involved in Soviet politics.

These policies encouraged more criticism of the USSR, and demands for greater liberalization. Demands ranged from greater liberalization to a full rejection of Communism. This encouraged similar reformers within Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe. The first non-communist Government was elected in Poland, when Solidarity won all but one seat in the legislature. Soviet attitudes to Eastern Europe had by this point changed; Gorbachev made it clear that he had abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine, which threatened any country rejecting communism with invasion.

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Eastern Europe:

Throughout the 1980s, there were pressures produced by ineffective rule, economic problems and greater calls for freedom. There was a lack of prosperity in these countries; they were unable to match the wealth and prosperity of the west. In the East, there was a continued focus on heavy industry which was inefficient, unprofitable and that often took the focus away from consumer goods and light industry, unlike in the West where financial industries, in particular, were booming. Pollution was becoming very severe as a result of such a focus on heavy industry; people's health suffered. Technology was increasingly outdated – there were few computers, videos or robotics in the East. People were also becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of a materialist, consumerist society. 

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Fall of Communism in Poland #1.

Poland was a deeply Catholic country. Resistance to communism became increasingly prevalent following Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland in 1979. His message: “do not be afraid” strengthened the resolve of many Polish people. Throughout 1980 – 1981, an illegal Trade Union called Solidarity became increasingly important in Polish society. Lead by Lech Walesa, Solidarity wielded significant influence over industrial workers, especially the shipyards in Gdansk. Recognising the influence of Solidarity, Edward Gierek, leader of the ruling Polish United Workers' Party, gave Solidarity legal status as an independent union. He hoped that by making concessions with Solidarity, he would be able to make them cooperate with the Communist Government. This concerned the USSR. Soviet troop movements along the Polish border convinced Polish General Jaruzelski that, in accordance with the Brezhnev Doctrine, a Soviet invasion was imminent. Hoping to appease Soviet fears about Solidarity, he declared Marshall Law, outlawing Solidarity and using the army to quell dissent. Solidarity continued to operate illegally and was well supported due to popular discontent at continuing economic stagnation. 740,000 Poles emigrated from Poland in the years 1980 – 86. The Government was still unable to reform the economy and a price hike in July 1985 created deeper resentment. In 1987, the Government held a referendum on instituting economic reform but it failed. In 1988, a 110% price increase was instituted, creating widespread anger. By 1989, Poland had nearly reached the point of hyperinflation. Following the repression of demonstrations in March 1988, steel-workers went on strike in April. The troops intimidated many workers into returning to work.


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Fall of Communism in Poland #2.

In August, mineworkers from mines across Upper Silesia went on strike, surprising the secret intelligence service. They were succeeded by 10,000 workers going on strike and occupying Stalowa Wola Steelworks, demanding the legalisation of Solidarity. This particularly concerned the authorities, and Lech Walesa – fearing violent repression – called the action off. In 1988 the Government finally agreed to talks with Walesa. Jaruzelski also legalised Solidarity – although this was largely opposed by other members of Government. In February 1989, Round-table negotiations began with Solidarity. In the agreement signed in April 1989, it was agreed that semi-free elections should be held in June. Solidarity won all but one seat in the senate and all the seats they were allowed to contest in the Sejm. Despite Solidarity winning the elections, the Communists maintained control over the military. Solidarity compromised with the Communists, agreeing that Jaruzelski be allowed to continue as head of state. The Communist Prime Minister resigned and a Solidarity MP was elected PM - the Eastern Bloc's first non-communist head of Government. The election of a non-communist Government in an Eastern Bloc country had massive ramifications; it inspired people in other Soviet satellite states to begin to call for an end to communist rule, beginning the process that would end communist rule in Eastern Europe. 

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Gorbachev and Poland.

Gorbachev's lack of involvement in Poland was particularly important. He made no effort to prevent the end of communist Government. Indeed, his repudiation of the Brezhnev Doctrine was seen as one of the causes of the fall of Communism in Poland; it undermined claims that the Polish communists had to stay in power, or else Poland would be invaded by the USSR. In July 1989, Gorbachev said that the USSR would no longer involve itself in the affairs of Eastern Europe. This reinforced calls for an end to communism elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

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Fall of Communism in Hungary.

Throughout the 1980s, as in many Eastern European states, there were widespread economic problems throughout Hungary. National debts were incredibly high and poverty was endemic. Reformists within the Hungarian Communist Party pushed for change; in 1988, Kadar, the hard-line Hungarian leader since 1956, was ousted by reformists. The reformists who replaced Kadar instituted wide reaching political reforms. For the first time since the rise of communism, multiparty elections were allowed to be held. In September 1989, the borders with the East were opened, fatally undermining the German Democratic Republic. Thousands of East Germans could now escape to the Federal Republic of Germany via Hungary. On September the eleventh 1989, 125,000 East Germans fled to the FRG via Hungary. 

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Fall of Communism in the GDR.

There was deep discontent in East Germany. It was a surveillance state; the Stasi kept records on hundreds of thousands of East Germans. 100,000 employers were employed along with 300,000 employees. There were significant economic problems in Eastern Europe, and people were increasingly aware of the benefits of a materialist lifestyle as a result of receiving Western television. East Germany was an artificially constructed country – it was a product of Cold War tensions, and attempts to create a sense of national identity lead to prominent athletes becoming rich and pampered. People were largely apathetic, however. It was only Gorbachev's reforms that energized protests. In 1989, when Gorbachev visited the GDR, massive protests erupted. Honecker resisted any attempts at reform. Police brutality against protestors was only ended when Krenz, of the East German Politburo, claimed that such repression would lead to a bloodbath. Honecker refused to deal with the mass emigrations from the GDR and was replaced by Krenz in October, 1989. Krenz's talk of democracy encouraged further demonstrations and protests. Krenz encouraged the opening of the Berlin Wall; it fell in November 1989. The West Germans drew up plans for reunification in October 1990. They were initially resisted by Gorbachev, but he finally agreed on the condition the USSR be given economic aid. 

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Fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia.

Protests against Communist rule began in 1988. Protesters were angry at declining living standards and called for economic reforms. Discontent at the state of economic affairs was heightened by the increasing prosperity of the west; many people in Czechoslovakia could receive Western TV. Protests quickly dispersed and the organisers were purged by the ŠtB, State Security. Public expressions of anger and discontent were further encouraged by the occupation of the West German Embassy in Prague by East Germans keen to escape the GDR, the fall of the Berlin Wall in November, and Czechoslovakia's neighbours overthrowing Communist Governments. On November seventeenth, 1989, students took the streets to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Jan Opletal, a Czech martyr murdered by the Nazis. The march evolved into an anti-Government demonstration. Though the march was completely peaceful, 167 were hospitalised by the State Police. The attack lead to trade unions, civic groups, actors and playwrights joining together to form the Civic Forum. The aims of the Civic Forum were simple: to achieve the resignation of the Communist Government, the release of political prisoners and an investigation into the attacks on the students. The leader of the Forum was Vaclav Havel, an activist in the 1968 Prague Spring, and a playwright. The Forum employed non-violent tactics; plays and art were used to convey their message, public assemblies were held, protesters waved Czechoslovakian flags. Many of these non-violent protests were met with police violence; protesters handing policemen flowers were attacked. Protests continued. On the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth, 750,000 people attended a demonstration in Prague. Strikes were also used; on the twenty-seventh of November, 75% of Czech workers took part in a General Strike. On the 28th of November, the Communist Government resigned. On the tenth of December the Communist President, Gustav Husak, handed power to a non-communist administration and resigned. In June 1990, the Civic Forum won nearly 50% of the vote in Czechoslovakia's first democratic elections since 1946.

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Fall of Communism in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria had not experienced the same economic problems as other countries, as it had been a popular tourist destination for people in the Eastern Bloc. The leader of Bulgaria, Zhikov had never been as Stalinist as many other leaders, but his regime was quite autocratic – especially after the death of his liberalizing daughter under controversial circumstances. In 1989, Zhikov forcibly expelled Bulgarian Turks, causing a massive downturn in agricultural output in Southern Bulgaria. Similarly, Gorbachev's reforms created outcry for change in Bulgaria. Outcry over the break up of an environmental protest lead to wider protests for change. Zhikov was replaced by Foreign Minister Maldenov, but this only stopped demonstrations for a while. Maldenov promised reforms, perhaps even free elections, but this did little to stop rising discontent. On December 11th 1989, the Communist Party abandoned power and the first democratic elections since 1939 were held in June 1990. 

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Fall of Communism in Romania.

The Romanian Revolution is distinct in that it is the only one of the 1989 where violence was organized and widespread. In Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu was firmly entrenched as leader. Of all Communist states, his was perhaps the most Stalinist and dictatorial. The state police, the Securitate, ruthlessly eradicated opposition; censorship was so complete that all typewriters in the country had to be registered. He alienated Romanians even further by destroying whole villages to make way for agro-industrial complexes. Ceausescu intended to ride the revolutions out; he was re-elected for another term in 1989 and felt secure enough to leave the country for Iran. The fall of Communism was triggered by the arrest of a Priest called Tokes, who had broken the law by allowing poetry to be read during his service. People assembled in his support. Ceausescu sent in troops and 71 people were killed. Rumors surrounding the event and at a rally in Bucharest the next week Ceausescu was drowned out by the booing crowds. Now, the army was unwilling to repress the protestors. Ceausescu and his wife fled Bucharest in a helicopter but were arrested and shot by the army. Loyal to the end, the Securitate continued in street battles until Ceausescu’s death on Christmas Day 1989.

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The Collapse of the USSR #1.

  • By the summer of 1991, the superpowers signed the START (strategic arms reduction talks). Nuclear arsenals were to be rapidly reduced. The hostility between East and West was gone.
  • Gorbachev – lauded on the international stage, Gorbachev became increasingly unpopular in the USSR. His economic reforms had failed to improve the Soviet economy, and living standards remained low. Food queues, strikes in strategic industries, inflation and rocketing crime had become commonplace by 1988. This was coupled with increasing freedom of expression as a result of Glasnost, meaning vocal criticism of the CPSU was becoming more and more common. The policy of Glasnost lead to greater transparency in the Soviet media, and the abuses of the Soviet Government became more apparent. Discoveries of mass graves in Belarussia and Ukraine showed the scale of Stalin's atrocities, further discrediting the USSR. Gorbachev's reforms had meant to encourage reform of communism. Now they created movements demanding an end to the system.
  • The reforms instituted by Gorbachev ran out of control in 1991, when the monopoly of the CPSU ended and reformists were legally able to establish the Democratic Reform Movement.
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The Collapse of the USSR #2.

  • Gorbachev became caught between competing factions: Conservatives who feared the break up of the Soviet Union, and Liberals demanding greater change. In August 1991, the Conservatives launched a coup against Gorbachev and held him under house arrest. The coup failed in the face of mass protests led by Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President.

  • Gorbachev returned to power, but had lost control of events. Rising nationalist sentiments in the Baltic states had led to their declaration of independence by the end of 1990. Other Soviet Republics followed suit in 1991, after the coup. In December 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved as a state. 

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