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?

The Cold War and the Third World

The Cold War was the result of growing political and military tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. Many are taught the Cold War was a nuclear stalemate between the two super powers, and that it caused the alliance that fought against Nazi Germany in World War II to end. And while all this is correct a major part of the Cold War that is often overlooked it the involvement of The United States and Soviet Union in the Third World. Roger Kanet’s essay “The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation,’” focus on the Third World conflicts between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. “In this essay we examine the ways in which the superpowers expand their initially European based conflict thought the developing world.”[1]

Kent’s essay focuses on why the two countries become involved in a war over developing countries. Both countries wanted to spread their beliefs on what the correct on political and economic practices were, and neither country wanted the others ideas to spread. Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan were three of the countries affected by this conflict. Many people do not realize that the United States involvement in these countries is a result of the Cold War.

Another aspect of the cold war that has been overlooked, according to Kent, is the lasting impact it had on the world. Kanet points out that the conflict has “faded into the historical background” and the lasting effects it had on the Third World are ignored. Kanet explains that the Third World is still suffering form the Cold War today and we should not overlook this.

Thought his essay Kanet uses treaties made during the conflict and plans by political leaders such as The Regan Doctrine and Gorbachev’s New Thinking to give a reliable take on the conflict. Kanet’s essay gives important insight to aspects of the Cold War many people do not know about and his ideas should be shared to give people more knowledge on their history and its impact on the world they live in today.

[1] Kanet, Roger E. “The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation’”. Cold War History. Routledge August 2006. 331-352.

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.

Remarks on East-West Relations at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin

Substantive Points

  1. United States President Ronald Reagan gave this speech on June 12, 1987 in West Berlin. The speech was televised globally (including East Berlin) with the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin wall as a key backdrop. President Reagan announced to the German people that he joined them as their fellow countrymen and firmly believed that there is only one Berlin. He stated, “as long as this gate is closed, as long as this scare of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind.” The President saw the Berlin wall essential to the future of not only Berlin, but also Europe as a whole.
  2. President Reagan denounced the communist world for its failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, and starvation. He then compared the failures of communism to the successes of the Western world. Reagan concluded, “freedom leads to prosperity,” and that the West welcomes change and openness of the East to progress toward world peace.
  3. Reagan acknowledged the rapid economic growth and progress happening in Europe. He saw the Soviet Union needed to decide whether to join in on the prosperity or remain isolated and become obsolete. President Reagan ultimately demanded General Secretary Gorbachev of the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin wall and join the West in their hopes of advancement of world freedom and peace.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is President Reagan approaching Gorbachev and the Soviet Union in this speech?
  2. What do you think would have happened if the wall did not come down? How would this have affected the outcomes of the Cold War?


  1. It is interesting to note that while Reagan proposed trust between the Soviet Union and the United States, we seem to be at a crossroads on this issue today.

CIA Intelligence Assessment: Rising Political Instability Under Gorbachev

3 Points:
  1. December 1988, Gorbachev delivered a “watershed” speech at the United Nations that demonstrated his growing liberalization efforts. All of these efforts would create a less intrusive force in the eastern bloc, as shown be attempts to decrease the military forces prevalent there and the amounts of armaments used.
  2. President Bush saw these as empty promises; pointing out how despite the perception that Gorbachev was creating opportunity for the people in the Soviet Union, their standards of living remain very low- similar to as they were under Stalin. He says that economic issues (he frequently describes it with the word “stagnate”) and political differences from what the people enjoyed under Brezhnev, has caused unrest within the people.
  3. Bush predicts that this unrest from the populous will cause a threat to Gorbachev’s control, and that “the next several years promise to be turbulent” because of the idea that there will be a split in leadership under Gorbachev between those that want to continue these reforms and those that do not.
2 Questions:
  1. Why did the Bush administration think that accepting Soviet reforms would “divide the US from its NATO allies” if they should also want a less aggressive military presence from the USSR?
  2. What was the Soviet response to this criticism of their leader and his liberalization efforts?
1 Observation:
  1. Even when presented with liberalization from the USSR, the United States and its NATO allies still appear to distrust the sincerity of it. The description notes that the Bush administration was divided on whether to accept these as genuine efforts or to question if this was simply a ploy to make the US more accepting of Soviet actions. After creating a “strategic review” of the foreign policy on this issue, it is evident that the US determined a cautious stance towards these actions, overall questioning the efforts of the USSR to alter its stances from the past.
Link to the specific section:

Joseph Stalin: Reply to Churchill, 1946

Main Points:

1. The Soviet Union suffered casualties from the German invasion several times greater than the US and UK put together. These caualties included men lost during the invasion, in battle, and then in the slave labor camps. Stalin feels this expense of the Soviet people that was essential to the eradication of Hitler’s regime, and the subsequent freedom thereby returned to Europe, has been overlooked.

2. Communism is growing as a natural result of the negative effects of fascism and the dependability that communism offered. Communists proved themselves as “fighters against fascist regimes” and concerned with the freedom of the people.

3. Accuses Churchill of believing the “common people” are easily manipulated and therefore takes a condescending stance towards them. Stalin states that the opposite is true and that the common people have opinions and views on politics of their own, that they are able to “stand up for themselves”. He points out that this ability was demonstrated when they (the “common people”) voted Churchill and his party out and voted for the Labor party instead. They preferred “Left democratic parties” to conforming with fascism and the extremists who cooperated with it.


1. How does this document expose the enduring strain between the wartime Allies and cultivate tensions leading to the Cold War?

2. How come the Allies did not see it imperative to maintain good relations with the Soviet Union after the severe costs of WW2?


I found Stalin’s tone in this document significant. He talks in a condescending, reticent, and provoking manner. It seems as if he is attempting to incite the other European nations to initiate war against Russia. He compares Churchill’s words to Hitler’s in terms of “racial theory”, saying that Churchill only speaks to English-speaking nations. This accusation separates the English speaking nations from the non-English speaking nations, but holds Churchill responsible.

Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech and Stalin’s Response

Main Points:
1. Churchill acknowledged that the Soviet Union did not want war, they wanted “the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines.” It is important to note that neither the west nor the Soviet Union wanted another war. It would preposterous to think that any state involved so heavily in World War II would actively seek war with a superpower less than a year after the conclusion of the war in Europe. It is very easy to see how a state would want to assert its power and influence in Europe so soon after the end of the war however, which is exactly what started the Cold War.
2. Churchill also mentioned the balance of power in his speech. He recalled how no one wanted to match or check Germany’s military buildup and fascism in the early 1930’s, and how World War II might have easily been avoided if Germany had been kept in check instead of being allowed to gain strength and momentum. Churchill said that the balance of power could easily be maintained in such a way that it would keep the Soviet Union in check if “the population of the English-speaking Commonwealth be added to that of the United States, with all that such cooperation implies in the air, on the sea, all over the globe, and in science and in industry, and in moral force, there will be no quivering, precarious balance of power to offer its temptation to ambition or adventure.”
3. In his response to Churchill, Stalin compared the west to Hitler and his racial theory, possibly confusing Churchill’s mention of the English-speaking Commonwealth with a declaration of English speakers as a dominant race. Churchill also compared the Soviet Union to Hitler’s Germany in his speech when he mentioned the balance of power. Stalin also conflated Churchill’s emphasis on freedom and democracy with a desire to take over Europe as Hitler did. Churchill clearly emphasized these principles in his speech as the ultimate goal in Europe, not domination by English speakers.

1. How could Stalin accuse Churchill of being a collaborator with fascism, when Stalin backed the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939? Did that not make Stalin a collaborator with fascism?
2. How true are Churchill’s claims that he rose the alarm about Hitler’s Germany gaining power and why did no one listen to him?

It is interesting that Stalin would point the finger at the west and compare their ideology to Hitler’s racial theory when he was guilty of killing millions of his own people and facilitating Hitler’s early success with the Nazi-Soviet Pact.