Reasons Why Cold War was Not a War

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18 years ago, in 1991, it was the year that the Cold war had ended. More than four decades of the geopolitical tension between two superpower nations – the Unites States and the Soviet Union, however, there are still a lot of debates going on whether was it really ended as now there is a new economically form of Cold War between China and America emerged or whether was it really a war or not. This essay will be discussed why I disagree on the statement that The Cold War was not a war. Starting from looking at the definition of the war, origins of the incident, the proxy wars in Asia and then the conclusion.

In order to see whether the Cold War was a war or not, it has come to the definition of the word ‘war’ As Merriam-Webster (2019) defined ‘war’ as “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations.” However, van der Dennen (1981) added that the nature of war is found not on the battleground, but in the hostile behaviour and perspective that characterised a state’s foreign policy. According to Gray (2018), war is a violent confrontation of the same interests between or among the groups characterised by the use of army force, it can be nations or non-nation state groups by the ability to cause the violence on the significant scale to have remarkable political consequences. Similar to Clausewitz (1992/1993), he asserted:

“War is nothing but a duel [Zweikampf, literally ‘two-struggle’] on a larger scale. Countless duels go to make up war, but a picture of it as a whole can be formed by imagining a pair of wrestlers. Each tries through physical force to compel the other to do his will; his immediate aim is to throw his opponent in order to make him incapable of further resistance.” (Clausewitz, 1992/1993, p.75)

It can be seen that the word ‘war’ has many different definitions depends on one’s perspective but most of them contain a sense of force and army or related to one’s interest on political attentiveness over other countries.

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Even so, there are many hot wars which is the result of the Cold War. As stated by Lang and Blight (2013), Hot War is the war that people fighting and died. After World War 2 ended, people understand their destructiveness and then the foundation of the superpowers – USA and Soviet Union – emerged and they have very different view, therefore, they are enemies. Lang and Blight (2013), added more that even though they are clashing but they do not fight each other direct but via picking up the proxy to fight in somewhere far away from their homeland that were communist side and capitalist side. It turns the Cold War by superpowers to the Hot War in many countries such as Vietnam, Korea, China, and etc. Furthermore, Atwood (2010) pointed out that Hot War is the war in many proxy countries, for example, Korea, Vietnam, China, Laos, Cambodia, and so on. without any damage in Soviet Union or in America. Despite that Byman (2018), claimed that proxy war is a war that major powers support and lead a group of people or nations to the quarrel but themselves play a minuscule role in the actual battle. It can be contrasted to traditional war and also to the alliances. Furthermore, Fox (2019) indicated that proxy warfare is an action by dominant player, or the principle, through a non-dominant actor, the agent, against one’s conflict to obtain the principle’s military intentions. It can be concluded that hot war during this Cold War time was a war in the proxy nations that all the damages would fallen on those proxy countries not only on the human lives or military but also on their society, cultures and economies.

Whereas, for the Cold War itself, at war’s end, Europe was put down in ruins. Even in Asia, Japan, also left in debris by relentless US bombing or in India, people died from famine result from the war in 1943. After Second World War terminated, there is absolute opposite ideologies on world’s politics silent confrontation through geopolitics, economy and the army forces between two supranational nations which are the capitalist - United States and the communist - Soviet Union. However, this postwar brought on the fall of the old international order, needless to say, Eurocentric international system that had influenced the world over 500 years had wiped out. Leffler and Painter (1994) stated that after WW2, the new international systems were shaped by five developments: great power rivalries, improvement in warfare technological, ideological conflicts between transnational, ameliorate and reconstruction of the world capitalist systems, and independence movements as well as decolonisation in many countries. These 5 developments linked to each other and it can be seen that those areas are the causes of the increasing in tension between 2 superpowers. Furthermore, including polarising in domestic and international politics and separate the world into military and political alliance became known as the Cold War. Many historians claimed that the cold war conflict emerged from different ideologies, politics and strategy. However, Leffler and Painter (1994) argued that Second World War was not necessary bring the vast changes in the international state system. In spite of that, instead, bringing mass redistribution of power, ending centuries of Eurocentric systems, these factors became the evolution of the Cold War.

For USA, after the war ended, the US sees that military dimensions such as maintaining navy and air forces, a strong military presence in the Pacific, etc. and economic dimensions such as liberalized trade, formation of International Monetary Fund and World Bank would help stabilize world economy. Moreover, McMahon (2003) holds the view that these two dimensions are indivisible. It can be believed that the US became the most powerful capitalist state. Lundestad (1999) supported McMahon ideas that America had tried to restrict the influence of Soviet Union and the leftist around the globe by trying to stabilized those countries’ economy and the free trade system benefits the countries with strong economy. However, for the Soviet Union, after the war brought to the end, they became obsess with the protection of their roots from future intrusion. Moreover, McMahon (2003) added that the Soviets – the socialist - were looking to be treated with respected but controversy enough that they want it from the most capitalist states – America. Nonetheless, America was not so happy with the Soviet Union, according to Life magazine (1945), the Soviet Union “is the number one problem for America because it is the only country in the world with the dynamic power to challenge our own conceptions of truth, justice, and the good life.” (Life Magazine, 1945, p.20)

With the fear and worried of the Soviet Union power and communist ideology spread to other countries and maybe in USA itself, America entered the global stage as a new emerging superpower country with the rejection of pre-war debt and promise to support the working class around the world. Leffler and Painter (1994) noted that USA entered the post WW2 period with a powerful presence, unharmed and undamaged by the fight, and their economic was growing drastically by increasing almost two times of their gross national product [GNP] during the Cold War time.

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Reasons Why Cold War was Not a War. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
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