A New Cold War Narrative: The Superpower Quest for Empire

Spies. The Space Race. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Iron Curtain. These are all aspects that the general public closely associate with the era of the Cold War. Save for the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, people do not immediately associate the conflict between capitalist United States and communist Soviet Union with hostilities in the Middle East, Latin America, or South Asia. However, in his article, “The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation,’” Roger Kanet focuses strictly on the affect the Cold War had on the developing countries in these regions. Kanet argues that the superpowers, America and the Soviet Union, drew their attentions away from Europe and towards the developing world after the mid-late 1950s in an effort to establish their economic and political dominance.

He supports his main argument through an analysis of the increase in Soviet involvement in support of “progressive forces” across developing nations in their campaigns against Israeli and American imperialism. He also explores the United States’ response to these efforts by providing its own support to countries in the Third World against Soviet expansion. All of which led to military conflicts spread out throughout West Asia, Africa, and Central America. Kanet cites various treaties made during the Cold War to illustrate the new alliances that formed during this period between Third World countries and either the United States or Soviet Union. However, he relies heavily on secondary sources with few primary texts mostly in the form of memoirs of American political leaders such as Henry Kissinger. The lack of primary documents detailing either superpower’s decisions to enter into conflicts in the Third World as a way of attacking the other’s authority and power is surprising. Even with their biases, one would expect to see newspaper articles mentioned throughout the essay or even in the bibliography. Certainly, government documents should be included in a discussion regarding a nation’s military campaigns.

Regardless, the narrative Kanet presents in his article is one that few Americans know or understand. Americans generally associate the conflicts in Korea, Egypt, or the Middle East during this period as individual isolated occurrences not as the larger Cold War. Therefore, Kanet’s article is important to furthering the United States’ understanding of the Cold War.

6 thoughts on “A New Cold War Narrative: The Superpower Quest for Empire

  1. I agree with your conclusion. Not only did you alude to the fact that the Cold War has more to it than most would think, but your conclusion also points to the glaring issue of history in general. There are plenty of people in the United States who watch the History channel and accept the things it says as fact. However, watching the history channel or watching historical films can be considered either too broad or historical fictional. Within films, the original narrative comes across as too boring for a normal audience to watch. As a result, they change the narrative a little bit to make the film more interesting so that they can sell their film.

    Then again, there are people like us who love the long and arduous process of Studying history with a fine tooth comb.

    I am intrigued by the fact that you noticed his lack of primary documents in his article. His article could have been improved by using primary sources to his discussion in someway.

  2. I also agree with the fact that Kanet really helps redefine the Cold War and provides his reader with a new understanding of the Cold War. He really delves deep into the small details that surrounded the Cold War, before and after the war. He does a really good job in discussing the thought and mindset between both the Soviet Union and the U.S., discussing the situations the two countries were having behind the scenes, including the Watergate scandal and the diminishment of the Soviet Union economy. It really helped me understand the meaning behind the Cold war and all the factors that were involved with it as well as the conflicts that resulted from it.

  3. As you mentioned in your blog, I find it interesting that the only primary sources included by Kanet are by Americans. Without primary sources from both sides of the war, it is difficult to fully comprehend the motives and rationales of the actors of the Cold War. Although the article was interesting and included a well-developed article, it was not well-balanced in its citations.

  4. The thing that interests me most about the Cold War has always been covert actions taken by intelligence agencies on both sides. With a parent working in the CIA through the end of the Cold War I received a modified view of the “American Narrative” of the Cold War. That said, I feel that it may be almost impossible to write a proper academic analysis on the subject for many more years, given the difficulty in finding primary sources on the matter.

  5. You raise a very interesting point in your second paragraph about types of sources Kanet uses and how he uses them. There are some parts of the articles where he states claims but, does not always have direct evidence to follow the claim. On the bottom of p. 333, the point that you raise is very relevant. Kanet writes that Nixon’s acceptance that United States nuclear power was equivalent to the Soviet Union in the 1970’s gave the Soviet Union “the sense of over confidence” and he follows with no examples or primary sources to strengthen his claim (Kanet, 333). Here, a government document from the United States or the Soviet Union, it they are available, would strengthen the claim. Also, over confidence is a general statement and it leaves the reader feeling unclear where the overconfidence resonates in the government ranks or the media of the Soviet Union

  6. Cuba is an interesting case, though. Cuba declared that it would start a socio-economic political system, and turned to Moscow for assistance. In exchange for this aid, Cuba let the USSR place nuclear missiles on one location, targeted at major US cities. One thing that Kanet notes, though, is that the reason why the USSR was forced to back down during the Cuban Missile Crisis was because it lacked conventional military capabilities. One would think that the Soviets would have realized sooner that even though they had a major nuclear arsenal, they had a major weakness is that they lacked conventional forces, which are crucial in any conflict.

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