Activity 3: Essential Knowledge
- In the 1970s, the Cold War-for several reasons-moved into a more peaceful
era, that of détente.
- China wanted more peaceful relations with the U.S. because of its poor
relationship with the Soviet Union, fear of isolation in the world, and
recognition that she was militarily and economically much weaker than the
- The United States determined that there were better ways to contain Communism
than the very expensive military approach she had been taking, especially
in Vietnam, that the nuclear arms race was dangerous and irrational, and
that it would be possible to have a more peaceful relationship with the
Soviet Union, given the changes in leadership of that nation. The United
States also came to understand that the communist world was not fully united
behind the Soviet Union, as in the cases of China, Yugoslavia, and Albania.
- The Soviet Union recognized that the arms race was costing very much and
was causing that nation to be very poor from the perspective of people's
standards of living. It was concerned about how the United States was establishing
a closer relationship with China, at the same time as the Soviet relationship
with China was getting worse.
- U.S.-Soviet Cold War competition was replaced by other major concerns; yet
competition between the U.S. and Soviet Union did not end in the 1980s.
- Major new concerns:
- New economic powers, especially of Germany and Japan, rose up in the
1980s, which gave both the U.S. and Soviet Union reason to question how
well their systems were really the wave of the future.
- There was a resurgence of ethnic nationalism and religious revivalism.
- 1980s competition:
- Soviets supported Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
- The Reagan administration initiated the Strategic Defense Initiative
and resumed a build up of U.S. military forces.
- The United States supported Muslim religious groups with weaponry and
training to help defeat Soviet efforts to take over Afghanistan. (The
Russians were defeated, but civil war continued until the radically conservative
religious Taliban took control of the nation.)
- Mikhail Gorbachev's new leadership of the Soviet Union in 1985 led that
country on a very different path.
- He tried reforming the economy.
- He also favored a more open foreign policy with the West.
- He established looser control of the satellite nations, which allowed
those nations to overthrow their communist regimes.
In the Soviet Union itself, the fifteen republics separated from the Soviet
Union, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The largest republic, the Russian
Federated Socialist Republic, separated itself from communism and became
Russia, with intents to become a democracy.
China moved toward closer ties to the West, economic liberalization, and
more freedom, which was interrupted by the crackdown against students pushing
for more complete democratic reform at Tiananmen Square and followed later
by a resumption of diplomatic relations with the West.
Given the developments in Russia and China and the improved relationship
between those countries and the United States, one could say that the Cold
War ended in the early 1990s; yet the Cold War legacy lives on:
- Germans tore down the Berlin Wall, for example, and the former communist
German Democratic Republic chose to join the German Federal Republic.
- In several of the former Soviet republics, former communist rulers remained
in power as dictators. Few of the republics became democracies. Russia itself
has traces of its former authoritarian system and is certainly not fully
- In the Muslim world, where the U.S. supported authoritarian rulers and
where religious fundamentalism is strong among the people, some people have
become anti-U.S. In some instances forces the U.S. supported with weapons
and training against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan have become hostile
toward the U.S. and have used those weapons against the U.S.
- Russia, the United States, and China continue to have nuclear weapons
and missiles to deliver them, although they are not targeted toward each
other, as in the past.
- Nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union have not all been accounted
for. Some of them might have come into the hands of terrorists, who might
use them against the United States.
- Chemical and biological weapons developed during the Cold War might have
fallen or might fall into the hands of terrorists.
- The U.S. relationship with China could deteriorate if the United States
would support a fully independent Taiwan.
- The U.S. relationship with two nations who remain communist-North Korea
and Cuba-remains a difficult challenge. (North Korea may have nuclear weapons.)
- Now that the Soviet Union has fallen and the Russian government is not
so strong a competitor as the Soviet Union was, the United States is now
the only remaining superpower in the world. Hence, U.S. foreign policy could
move in different directions. It has to determine what will be its role
in the world, and the nations of the world are concerned about what that
role will be.