World Wars and Cold War

Cold War mapBy Brig Asif Haroon Raja

The First World War (1914-18) was fought in Europe by the Allies comprising Britain, France, Russia against Central Powers Germany and Austrian-Hungary in which over 17 million people including 9 million combatants died. The US joined the war in 1916 and the Allies won the war, reducing the four great powers – Germany, Russia, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires into non-entity. The latter two ceased to exist and map of Europe was redrawn and League of Nations formed to prevent war. Germany recouped under Adolph Hitler who vowed to avenge the humiliation. Italy allied with Germany. Fascism grew strong during the intervening period of the two world wars.

The 2nd World War triggered by Germany was also mainly fought in Europe. It was the deadliest military conflict in human history in which well over 60 million people including 22-25 million soldiers died. After the defeat and devastation of Germany and economic exhaustion of Great Britain, USA and USSR emerged as the two super powers giving birth to a bi-polar world as against group of 5-6 great powers. League of Nations which had failed to maintain peace was replaced by the UN. Germany split into two zones, western zone controlled jointly by US, Britain and France and East Germany by USSR. Likewise, Berlin which was situated within Soviet controlled East Germany was divided but blockaded by USSR forcing the other side to supply the marooned western Berlin with supplies by air. This offensive act impelled the western allies to form NATO in 1949. In response Warsaw Pact was formed in 1955 comprising seven Eastern European States.

Posturing by the two great powers gave rise to super power rivalry, which was essentially a fight between two ideologies. Washington declared Western Hemisphere as ‘no-go’ area. Moscow did the same by consolidating its Eastern Hemisphere. Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia fell to communism. These were named as Satellite States by the US since they were totally controlled by Moscow. Winston Churchill stated that an iron curtain had divided Europe.

Despite professed policy of non-alignment, India veered towards Soviet camp mainly to retain its illegal hold over two-thirds Kashmir with the help of Soviet veto power. Pakistan, also a member of NAM, aligned itself with the western camp and joined SEATO and CENTO because of its security fears. For the containment of communism in Asia, a defensive arc was established which stretched from Turkey (part of NATO) and Iran to Pakistan.

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For the sake of deterrence, the two antagonists strove to create bigger stock of nukes along with ICBMs. Nuclear parity and fear of mutual assured destruction kept the two rivals in check and helped in preventing war. The only time the two giants came close to a clash was over deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962.

Within the ambit of Cold War the two super powers used propaganda, espionage, politico-economic pressure and nuclear arms race as tools to increase power and influence. CIA and KGB competed with each other to subvert the loyalties of leadership of developing countries and bringing them into respective camps. Truman doctrine in 1947 followed by Marshall Plan was aimed at containment of communism. Apart from making strenuous efforts to bring in line as many States in Latin America, CIA backed by NATO also fished in troubled waters of Eastern Europe and exploited their relatively poorer socio-economic conditions as compared to prosperous Western Europe.

People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong emerged on the world map in 1949 while Gen Chiang Kai-shek established a government in Taiwan, which was recognized and supported by US. The US refused to recognize Mainland China under Mao and kept it out of UNSC till as late as 1971 after which it became a major stakeholder in global politics. China has seen Taiwan as its integral part and patiently waits for its voluntary reunification.

Sino-Soviet treaty of mutual friendship was signed in 1950 but relations started to cool after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev denounced his predecessor. Cultural difference also contributed towards friction between two communist neighbors. In 1958, China broke with Soviet model and embarked upon a new economic program. The communist bloc split between China led socialists and Moscow led revisionists. Sino-US détente in February 1972 following Nixon’s visit to Beijing further strained Sino-Russo relationship. Pakistan was punished by the Soviets for acting as a conduit between the two.

Wars/conflicts from 1951-1991

Korean War. Korea under Japan had been split into two after the 2nd World War. When North Korean troops supported by USSR and China attacked South Korea in June 1950 and captured Seoul, the UN Force made up of 32 countries and led by US military under Gen Mac Arthur responded by coming to the aid of South Korea. The war continued till July 1953 war after which western allies withdrew without achieving any results.

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Regime Change in Iran. When Iranian PM Mosadegh nationalized Iran’s oil industry in 1953, CIA hastened to foment a coup to protect western oil interests and brought down his regime and replaced it with pro-western kingship under Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Regime change in Guatemala. CIA overthrew socialist government in Guatemala in 1954 to protect Latin America from communist influence.

Suez Crisis. In reaction to nationalization of Suez Canal by Jamal Abdul Nasser in 1956, Israel backed by Britain and France invaded Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. The US stayed out because of fear of the Soviets. UN intervention forced the invaders to withdraw.

Vietnam War

French forces fought the Vietminh communist guerrillas from 1946 to 1954 and withdrew in disarray. In 1954, Vietnam was divided into two, north under Ho Chi Minh and south allied with USA. When the US troops barged in Vietnam in 1964, USSR and China materially supported the North Vietnamese but didn’t send their troops. By 1969, the US troop strength swelled to 543000. When casualties mounted and no headway was made, thousands of Americans refused to get drafted and protest marches commenced in USA to end the war. In the last four years of the war, the US military reduced its ground combat strength and relied heavily upon air power to bomb the Vietnamese into submission but failed. During this phase, the US air-force dropped a greater tonnage of bombs than the total of all bombs used by all warring nations during the 2nd World War. Ceasefire took place in 1973 and by 1976 all foreign troops left for home in utter humiliation.

Cambodia Wrecked. Not only the US military caused immense human and material destruction in Vietnam, it also destroyed Cambodia on the plea that it had become a safe sanctuary for North Vietnam guerrillas. From October 1965 and August 1975, the US dropped 2,756, 941 tons worth ordnance in Cambodia in 230,516 sorties whereas the allies had dropped about two million tons of bombs during the 2nd World War.

Cyprus War. After gaining independence from Britain in 1960, civil war broke out in 1964 between the majority Greek Cypriots assisted by Canadian troops and the Turkish minority. After a military coup against Cyprus President Makarios in 1974, Turkish forces invaded Cyprus to protect Turkish Cypriots and occupied one-third of northern territory. Being a member of NATO, Turkey was disappointed with the US and NATO countries for siding with Greeks. Since then, Cyprus remains divided with northern Cyprus inhabited by Turkish Cypriots and southern two-third Cyprus by Greek Cypriots. Former was declared as Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983 where 35000 Turkish troops are stationed. Greek Cypriots rejected the UN reunification plan in April 2014. Pakistan supports Turkey’s cause.

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Wars in Middle East. Israel propped up by the US led west trounced the Arab armies in the 1956 War and in 1967 War; it captured Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Egyptian forces managed to breach the so-called impregnable Barlev Line in Sinai across the Suez Canal. Some say this victory was purposely acceded to rope in Egypt. Syria-Iran alliance has remained intact for the last three decades and has stood the test of time. It has been aimed largely at checkmating Iraq and Israel aggressions and preventing the US encroachment in Middle East. Hamas in Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both supported by Iran, have become a real threat to Israel. Palestinians are still struggling for their rights and freedom since 1948, but are demonized by the west and projected as terrorists while Israel which is in illegal occupation of Arab territories and is persecuting the Palestinians is encouraged and protected by the US.    

Iran-Iraq War. Soon after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, when things were in a flux, Saddam Hussain elbowed by the US invaded Iran in 1980 to annex disputed Shat-al Arab waterway. The war was fought fiercely by both sides and ultimately Iraq ceased firing and withdrew in 1988 but in the process millions died.

Afghan Jihad. The US supported proxy war fought by the Mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1981 till 1989. Pakistan’s ISI coordinated the war from the beginning till the end. After accomplishing its objectives, USA abandoned Afghanistan in haste. As a result, the region has remained in turbulence.

End of Cold War. Demise of USSR and Communism in 1991 paved the way for uni-polar world under USA. Berlin wall was demolished and iron curtain lifted which induced economically impoverished East European States to fall into the lap of prosperous Western Europe.

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