The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation’

The thesis for this article is how the superpowers proxy wars and conflicts fought in Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America continue to flourish and shape the world in these countries 30 years later1).

Kanet sources are primarily from academia, with institutions in the United States. One very prominent reference source is himself. It seems reasonable if you are an expert on a subject then it is appropriate to use yourself as a key source in your article2)..

This article is in line with my previous understanding of the cold war. As someone that came of age during the 1980s and saw the fall of communism this subject was a source of discussion while going to school. From reading and having teachers that often spoke about the cold war the idea of the US and the USSR in a proxy war was a common theme. The view of the US as always being king of the hill is a modern phenomenon. The author brought out nicely the effects of the Vietnam War and the whole Nixon affair and the toll this had on the psyche of the US population3). During the 1980s, the news constantly dealt with the US involvement in these struggles in aiding various factions. They at times backfired such as the Ollie North mess. The cold war was real to me growing up. One was constantly aware of the doomsday clock. This article only highlighted or reminded me of how different the world is today.

A personal observation deals with the point the author makes of the continuing effects from this involvement in these third world countries. It reminds me of the years I lived in Zimbabwe, a communist country. As a nation, they are extremely poor. Most people do not have indoor plumbing or electric, let alone televisions or cellphones. They did however have a large army with modern weaponry. The effects to these third-world countries may have a bearing on them for many more years to come.

Finally, I would disagree with the author in stating the nuclear superiority of the USSR. Both sides possessed enough missiles to destroy the world over many times. Therefore, any seeming nuclear superiority is an irrelevant topic.

  1. Roger Kanet, The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation’) Cold War History 6 no. 3, (2006), p. 331 []
  2. Roger Kanet, The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation’) Cold War History 6 no. 3, (2006), pp. 349-352 []
  3. Roger Kanet, The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation’) Cold War History 6 no. 3, (2006), p. 338 []

4 thoughts on “The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation’

  1. I agree with your last point there. That point can be considered irrelevant when two countries reach a certain amount of Nuclear weapons. I think a better point would be which country had the distinct advantage in mobility, strategy, and first strike capabilities.

    I think one certain point that people tend to forget about these conflicts in third world countries is the lasting effect the colonial period had on these countries. Most of these countries who were exploited by capitalist European countries before and after World War I tended to have a negative attitude toward Western countries because of their negative experiences.

    • My experience in Zimbabwe was actually contrary to your views of how people felt about colonial power. Most average citizens despised communist rule. Many people told me that they longed for the days of British rule. At least then their kids received an education for free, they had money in their pockets and as one man told me a pack of smokes. I guess it is all perspective. We may think we understand how people felt but life has taught me otherwise.

  2. I agree with you on the fact that this article successfully challenged the modern American narrative as a superior power throughout the 20th century. Kanet’s argument that the US backed down from its imperialist foreign policy and focus on challenging Soviet influence in the Third World points to this challenge to the Superior USA narrative.

    However, I do think that Kanet’s distinction about nuclear superiority is important to make, since this mindset contributed to the USSR’s understanding of itself and its place in global politics. Kanet argues that by the mid 1970s “the Soviets had closed the nuclear gap and now claimed an overall superiority in nuclear weaponry and the means to deliver it, thereby eliminating the possibility of the US using a form of nuclear blackmail to prevent the USSR…from providing support to national liberation and other progressive movements throughout the former colonial world” (337). This thinking shaped Soviet foreign policy (making them more aggressive in the Third World) and causing the West (especially the US) to back down in their imperialistic attitudes. Of course, this Soviet mentality wasn’t the only thing that contributed to the backing down of the US since the US was already crippled by the defeat in Vietnam.

  3. I found this piece to be more of a ‘balanced’ approach to the Cold War, rather than the self-righteous narrative that is usually paraded around by the U.S. who defeated the great Soviet menace”. Looking at the flaws the United States had is vitally important for studying the past of any nation. To comment on your last point, I agree that at a certain point, the amount of nuclear weapons is irrelevant. The author seems to simply imply that the USSR had more of them.

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