Essay on Latin America and the Cold War

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'The main cause of instability in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America between 1945 and 1990 were the domestic politics of those regions.” Do you agree? Discuss with detailed empirical examples of countries in at least two of the three regions mentioned.

Introduction

During the 19th century, a global transformation rearranged the basic structure of the international order.[footnoteRef:1] The emerging state system and the international order it produced became blurry once again after the Second World War, where state strategies became grander and involved a softer form of force rather than large-scale military violence, namely the Cold War. Prior to World War Two, the terms ‘Cold War’ and ‘Third World’ did not exist. They were symbolic of the silent conflict that existed between 1945 around the 1990s.[footnoteRef:2] The term “Cold War” symbolized the United States' aggressive containment of the Soviet Union (USSR) without an all-out war. During this time, US and USSR interventionism shaped much of the domestic and international basis of Third World countries, which were post-colonial countries in regions like Latin America and the Middle East.[footnoteRef:3] Without the Cold War, Latin America and the Middle East would look different from what we see today. It can be argued that the main cause of instability in Latin America and the Middle East was not domestic politics, but the Global Cold War, where the US and USSR fought for their spheres of influence in other regions of the world. [1: Barry Buzan and George Lawson, The global transformation: history, modernity, and the making of international relations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 1.] [2: Odd Arne Westad, “Introduction” in The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 2.] [3: Odd Arne Westad, ”Introduction,” 3.]

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Latin America and the Cold War

Between the US and the USSR, the Cold War seemed like a stalemate, while in the Third World, it was an era of volatility and mixed development. The term Third World originated in 1955, referring to the majority of countries exploited by colonialization, but were developing to become key players in international politics.[footnoteRef:4] Latin America became a target by both superpowers, but the US became a dictating voice domestically in Latin America by meddling in the politics and economics of Latin America to retain a hegemonic presence. [4: Odd Arne Westad, “Introduction,” 2.]

The ‘Alliance of Progress’ and the fault in its ideals

As the Cold War escalated and the threat of the Soviets became more imminent, the US steered response in Latin America was democracy and socioeconomic progress that ended up rocking the region. The ‘Alliance for Progress’ was an attempt to transfer US wealth to Latin America, by making poor and inefficient governments less vulnerable to Soviet and communist ideology.[footnoteRef:5] As one example, Kennedy delivered almost $600 million in emergency economic aid to Latin America in early 1961. And in the 1960s Venezuela received over 200 million in loans and grants from the US to finance public housing and works projects. [footnoteRef:6] A cultural bridging of the Alliance for Progress with local Latin Cultures was lacking, leading to the failed modernization of Latin America. Ultimately Venezuela never met the success criteria and struggled with issues like the fact that 75% of Venezuelans had not completed the sixth school grade and oil prices stagnated the economy by 1969.[footnoteRef:7] It was difficult for Latin America to copy America’s policies, and because of this ‘one size fits all’ model, Latin America could never realistically approach the set targets of the Alliance for Progress. The failure of the Alliance for Progress wasn’t only based on a lack of faulty social science; it was rather the result of the president's Cold War initiatives, which undermined the program. The Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations manipulated regional politics by installing US loyalists over democratically elected rulers and thereby creating short-term stability in fear of a communist ideological takeover in Latin America. [5: Stephen G. Rabe, “The Alliance for Progress,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia: Latin American History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019): 1.] [6: Stephen G. Rabe, “The Alliance for Progress,” 1. ] [7: Stephen G. Rabe, “The Alliance for Progress,” 9.]

The switching of “Camps”

The ability to meddle economically but also militarily in Latin America was a pre-arranged foreign policy tool of US presidents in Latin America. President Monroe’s Monroe Doctrine (1823) and following President Theodore Roosevelt’s Roosevelt Corollary (1904) made US intervention possible in Latin America. It kept foreign powers out of Latin America, and gave the US the political authority, to perform intervention in cases ‘to the exercise of an international police power’.[footnoteRef:8] And the US was “driven” to intervene, through force, in Latin America by the ideologies inherent in their politics that threatened US national security. The US intervened in Cuba to oust Fidel Castro, who took power in 1959. This however failed and actually led to Fidel Castro casting his support to the USSR and thus changing sides in the Cold War.[footnoteRef:9] In Chile, the US spent millions of dollars attempting to prevent Salvador Allende, who was a socialist, from winning the presidency. This intervention also failed and Allende became a prominent opponent. He decided to challenge the Organizations of American States’ isolation of Cuba by reestablishing relations in 1970.[footnoteRef:10] This challenge to the US led to the downfall of Allende and the establishment of a brutal dictator. The US sided with a dictator, taking stability over the risk of a potential enemy in America’s backyard. This shadow war orchestrated by the US still has had profound impacts on the regional order, and changed the face of Latin America, as we know it today. As Mexican poet Octavio Paz put it “It is as though the Cold War had been a mask that blinded us to the reality of the world”.[footnoteRef:11] [8: President Theodore Roosevelt, „Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine,“ Fourth annual message to Congress, Washington D.C., December 6, 1904.] [9: Odd Arne Westad, “5 – The Cuban and Vietnamese Challenges” in The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 171.] [10: Tanya Harmer, Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 2.] [11: Tim Golden, “After the Cold War: Views From Latin America; Sweeping Political Changes Leave Latin Poor Still Poor,“ New York Times, May 30, 1992, https://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/30/world/after-cold-war-views-latin-america-sweeping-political-changes-leave-latin-poor.html.]

Holding Power in the Middle East

Conflict in the Middle East was never a fair game. In the Middle East between the 1950 and 1970’s, a deepening USSR and US rivalry brought Cold War competition to the region. The US needed to keep the Middle East open for its wealth in oil & gas and use the region as a base close to soviet borders; the Soviets of course completely opposed this.[footnoteRef:12] [12: Salim Yaqub, „The Cold War and the Middle East“ in The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War, ed. Richard H. Immerman and Petra Goedde (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 3.]

The Turnaround in Iran

To a considerable degree, the influence of Arab nationalism grew out of the Middle East’s experience with US domination. Iran is a case where increased US nosing led to a complete polarization of relations between the countries. Preoccupied with oil and geopolitics in the region, the US lost the control of a firm ally it put in place in Iran. After a military coup that cooperated with the communist Iranian party, the next leader of Iran, the ‘Shah’, became a key regional ally in the 1970s to the US. However, continued support and relations with the US alienated the Shah from Iran’s people. The ‘White Revolution’ was an attempt to reform Iran’s social progress and economy. It stressed heavy-scale industry development, agricultural reform, and social development like education and land reform.[footnoteRef:13] And as things heated up, the surprise Christmas visit of US President Carter in 1978 did nothing to quell the idea that the Shah was not deep in the pockets of the US. Consequently, the clergy and conservatives lost all trust in their leader.[footnoteRef:14] This led to his political alienation and downfall.[footnoteRef:15] Circumstances like these caused a feeling of victimization by the US, which was also exacerbated by the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, which most Arabs saw as an outpost of the West.[footnoteRef:16] [13: Odd Arne Westad, “8 – The Islamist defiance: Iran and Afghanistan” in The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 293.] [14: Odd Arne Westad, “8 – The Islamist defiance: Iran and Afghanistan,” 290.] [15: Odd Arne Westad, “8 – The Islamist defiance: Iran and Afghanistan,” 171.] [16: Salim Yaqub, „The Cold War and the Middle East,“ 4.]

The Suez Canal Crisis

Pan-Arabism, a Middle East ideology asserting the unification of all Arabs was Hamal Abdel Nasser’s greatest challenge to pursue as president of Egypt.[footnoteRef:17] His focus on neutrality mattered not during the Cold War, and as a result, the US pulled support for aid in constructing the Aswan Dam after Nasser completed an arms deal with the USSR in 1955.[footnoteRef:18] As a response, Nasser expropriated the Suez Canal and vowed to use the profits to fund the Aswan Dam. Nasser’s careful but consequential moves led him to stand head-to-head with France, Israel, and Britain after a planned intervention backfired and led to a serious Western oil crisis.[footnoteRef:19] Additionally this created a lasting ripple effect, where European powers lost their influence and the US and USSR filled the power vacuum. [footnoteRef:20] Nasser was now a prominent figure, especially to the Pan-Arab states, which began to conflict more with Israel. The Suez Canal Crisis is one of many examples caused by US and USSR interventionism that spilled over into all regions of the world. It manipulated and exacerbated the instability to the benefit of either ideological party. The Middle East may not have been as dramatically influenced as Latin America, but the region could have looked entirely different without the funding, interference, and foreign policy objectives of the US and USSR. [17: Fouad Ajami, “The End of Pan-Arabism,” Foreign Affairs 57, no. 2 (winter, 1978): 355, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20040119.] [18: Salim Yaqub, “The Cold War and the Middle East,“ 5.] [19: Douglas Little, “15 – The Cold War in the Middle East: Suez crisis to Camp David Accords” in The Cambridge History of the Cold War, ed. Melvyn P. Leffler (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 309.] [20: Salim Yaqub, “The Cold War and the Middle East,“ 5-6.]

Conclusion

The Cold War was a process of continued shadow conflicts, centered on control and domination, primarily in ideological terms. It destabilized and transformed politics and economics at every level. In Latin America, persistent intrusion by the US in regional affairs led to the ousting of potentially dangerous regimes, economic meddling, and short-term gains against the perceived USSR menace. In the Middle East, this continued intrusion led to multiple backlashes that led to a shift in Arab politics and extensive regional disputes whose effects trickled from state to state. In the regions of Latin America and the Middle East, domestic politics were not the cause of instability between 1945 and 1990, but rather the looming Cold War between the US and USSR. Once the Cold War ended Tomas Borge, the former Sandinista guerrilla leader and Nicaraguan Interior Minister, explained that 'The United States? With their rear guard safe,' he said, 'they don't worry about our countries much anymore'.[footnoteRef:21] [21: Tim Golden, “After the Cold War: Views From Latin America; Sweeping Political Changes Leave Latin Poor Still Poor.“

Bibliography

    1. Ajami, Fouad. “The End of Pan-Arabism.” Foreign Affairs 57, no. 2 (Winter, 1978): 355-373. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20040119.
    2. Buzan, Barry, and George Lawson. The global transformation: history, modernity, and the making of international relations. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
    3. Golden, Tim. “After the Cold War: Views From Latin America; Sweeping Political Changes Leave Latin Poor Still Poor.“ New York Times, May 30, 1992. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/30/world/after-cold-war-views-latin-america-sweeping-political-changes-leave-latin-poor.html.
    4. Harmer, Tanya. Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War. Chapel Hill: University of Carolina Press, 2011.
    5. Little, Douglas. “15 – The Cold War in the Middle East: Suez Crisis to Camp David Accords.” In The Cambridge History of the Cold War, ed. Melvyn P. Leffler. 305-326. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521837200.016.
    6. President Roosevelt, Theodore. „Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine“. Fourth annual message to Congress, Washington D.C., December 6, 1904.
    7. Rabe, Stephen G. “Alliance for Progress.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Latin American History, 1-18. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.
    8. Westad, Odd Arne. “Introduction.“ In The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, 1-7. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
    9. Westad, Odd Arne. “5 – The Cuban and Vietnamese Challenges.“ In The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, 158-206. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
    10. Westad, Odd Arne. “8 – The Islamist Defense: Iran and Afghanistan.“ In The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, 288-330. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
    11. Yaqub, Salim. “The Cold War and the Middle East.“ In The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War, ed. Richard H. Immerman and Petra Goedde, 1-20. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
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