In “The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation'”, Kanet illustrates that the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States in the Cold War had deep, lasting effects in the developing world, as each superpower attempted to assert its dominance over Third World countries to either lead them on the communist path or away from it. Unlike my previous perceptions of the Cold War, Kanet characterizes much of the Soviet Union’s initiative as resulting from a lack of US response. After the Vietnam War, the United States stepped back and displayed a general inability to respond effectively to Soviet initiative. Such inability to act and deal with political instability was mirrored in other modern, pro-Western governments, resulting in the rise to power of a strong group of anti-western governments in the 1960s and ’70s. The United States, of course, reacted negatively to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but, even here, the US reaction was not strong enough to illicit change – at least in the eyes of the next US President, Ronald Reagan. I had not before put such blame on the United States lacking initiative, but usually approach the Cold War as a somewhat balanced game between the two superpowers of stepping forward, then being pushed backward again, resulting in a somewhat continuous cycle between the two.
The Cold War is often painted as differences in ideology between the United States and the Soviet Union, but with an emphasis on the lack of actual, direct military action taken against either Superpower. In the focus on the direct conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States, the countries that are affected in the wake of the conflict are often underrepresented. How did the Cold War affect the economic and political development of these countries? What would have happened if they had been left alone? How did the United States and the Soviet Union change these governments’ (Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia, Cuba, etc) priorities?