Developing Countries and the Cold War

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?

6 thoughts on “Developing Countries and the Cold War

  1. I respectfully disagree with your point that the United States was not strong enough to challenge Soviet Aggression, particularly in the 1980s. I believe that the US government had a lot going against them that made it extremely difficult to intervene. First, we must consider the fact that the Soviet Union attained Nuclear Weapons at the end of the 1940s, which greatly reduced the United States ability to respond without provoking a mutual suicide. Secondly, After the failures of the Korean war and the Vietnam War, public support for conflicts overseas dwindled, making it extremely hard for the US government to justify going overseas and preventing the spread of communism. Finally, we must consider the last 100 years of western influence, particularly European(Capitalist systems) on third world countries. We might find that third world countries would be particularly hostile to Pro Western Capitalist systems, making it hard to stop pro-marxist from gaining support within those third world countries. According to Franz Fanon, a Marxist in his own right, he believed that the only way a third world country could rid itself of foreign influence, particularly capitalist exploitation, was to use violence and terror. As a result of the colonial period, any intervention to stop the spread of Communism in third world Countries would have been extremely difficult for the United States.

  2. The question you pose, are definitely not addressed in the Kanet’s article, but I do think there would’ve been a great difference if the Soviet Union had not intervened with these certain countries. I do think it would’ve resulted in much less conflict, if the Soviet Union wouldn’t have intervened with Afghanistan in 1978, the collapse of the Soviet system would not have happened, and the country would’ve focused more on itself and improving its economic status and development.

  3. I believe that the United States involvement in Afghanistan during this time of trying to aid refugees and military groups that where on the outlining border of the country shows the fear that the U.S. felt. The Soviet Union was involving themselves in third world countries to end capitalism. It was a direct assault upon the US, or at the very least a direct challenge. The threat of an all out nuclear war was very real and clearly felt. Look at a majority of 1970s movies and you will see an outstanding number of dooms day themes. Hindsight is always clearer, but there is no way to know if the US had counterattacked that the Soviet Union would not proved that they were willing to act on their threats.

  4. The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan was an effort to reach the country of India to exploit them for their resources and access their waters. However, facing a combination of an angered militaristic faction(s) armed by foreign powers seeing to guard their interests in the country, the Red Army invasion would indeed be met with fierce resistance. The reasons of why the Afghan population in turn bred enemies of the United States are because the US did not make an effort to reconstruct the country after the Soviet withdrawal. Therefore this, like many other countries, resulted in a country that bred political corruption under the Taliban and civil disorder with Al-Qaede operatives. This country development concept did not succeed in Afghanistan for either side.

  5. I agree with aspects of both your points and Henry’s points. While I think that, at times, the US failed to initiate ‘appropriate’ action, it’s also important to investigate and analyze the reasons why America responded/acted in the way it did. The unpopularity of both the Korean and Vietnam wars made international conflict increasingly unpopular in the public eye.

    As for the questions you posed–they appear both compelling and difficult to answer. The Ethio-Somali War caused a great deal of turbulence in the area and resulted in the deaths of many civilians. Though the Soviet Union played a part in the war, it would be difficult to determine where the Soviet Union was to blame, and where colonialism and the carving up of Africa played a part in the conflict.

  6. Adding to what was already written above, I want to say that your questions, although look rather similar to each other, have a noticeable difference. It’s absolutely alright to ask how the US and USSR influenced on these countries and how the Cold War affected them, as it’s something we can learn about looking at cause and effect chains and events happened as a result of different actions of two superpowers. However, your second question has basically no answer. In Russia we say “History doesn’t know the subjunctive mood”, meaning that, similarly to butterfly effect, we never know all the consequences of the certain even very little change, while changing the effects of the Cold War on other countries is hardly a little one.

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