The Second Cold War: A Little History (1978-1991)

Since yesterday, Russian President Putin has declared that, having taken over Crimea, shutting down its airports, roads, train stations, and official buildings, using force in Ukraine.  Shouldn’t that be Ukrainia?  It’s like in the novel, The Lord of the Rings, when Radagast the Brown refers to “an uncouth place called ‘Shire,’” Gandalf corrects him and tells him the place is called “The Shire.”  If someone is said to be Ukrainian, shouldn’t their origin be from Ukrainia?

From Putin’s standpoint, the West is the enemy, determined to spread its evil brand of Capitalism, and he, Putin, is the leader to protect the Collective from its influence.  “Ukraine” means “borderland.”  He reportedly has said something to the effect that the West is just as guilty of mass murder as the former Soviet Union and that we shouldn’t be wagging our fingers at anyone.

However, our people aren’t starving, our economy isn’t in tatters, and we aren’t in debt to a former territory for all the oil and natural gas we’ve used.  No – we’re in debt to another Communist country, China.

If you looked at the First Cold War (roughly from 1947 to 1973), there was a lot of bloodshed for a supposedly “Cold” War.  Among the countries Wikipedia didn’t mention was Kenya, of which Barack Obama’s father was a native.  The colonial history of Kenya dates from the establishment of a German (not English) protectorate over the Sultan of Zanzibar’s coastal possessions in 1885, followed by the arrival of the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1888.  Incipient imperial rivalry was forestalled when Germany handed its coastal holdings to Britain in 1890. This was followed by the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway passing through the country.

During the railway construction era, there was a significant inflow of Indian peoples, who provided the bulk of the skilled manpower required for construction.  They and most of their descendants later remained in Kenya and formed the core of several distinct Indian communities such as the Ismaili Muslim and Sikh communities.

The interior central highlands were settled by British and other European farmers during the early part of the 20th Century, who became wealthy farming coffee and tea. (One depiction of this period of change from one colonist’s perspective is found in the memoir, Out of Africa by Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, published in 1937.)  By the 1930s, approximately 30,000 white settlers lived in the area and gained a political voice because of their contribution to the market economy.

The central highlands were already home to over a million members of the Kikuyu people, most of whom had no land claims in European terms, and lived as itinerant farmers. To protect their interests, the settlers banned the growing of coffee, introduced a hut tax, and the landless were granted less and less land in exchange for their labor. A massive exodus to the cities ensued as their ability to provide a living from the land dwindled.  By the 1950s, the white population numbered 80,000.  It was while visiting Kenya that Princess Elizabeth learned that her father, King George VI passed away, thus becoming Queen Elizabeth II.

From October 1952 to December 1959, Kenya was under a state of emergency arising from the Mau Mau Rebellion against British rule.  It involved Kikuyu-dominated criminal groups summarily called Mau Mau and elements of the British Army, the local Kenya Regiment mostly consisting of the British, auxiliaries and anti-Mau Mau Kikuyu. The capture of rebel leader Dedan Kimathi on Oct. 21, 1956 signaled the ultimate defeat of Mau Mau, and essentially ended the British military campaign.

Mau Mau failed to capture widespread public support, partly due to the British policy of divide and rule, and the movement remained internally divided, despite attempts to unify its various strands. The British, meanwhile, could draw upon their ongoing efforts to put down another rebellion in Malaya.

The uprising created a rift between the European colonial community in Kenya and the metropole but also resulted in violent divisions within the Kikuyu community. The financial cost of the uprising to the former colony amounted to £55 million.  The Mau-Mau were sworn to an oath to keep their identities secret.  Most histories dwell upon the racial abuses of the British living in Kenya, but not upon the inspiration of the Mau Mau to fight for independence.  One of the leaders of the rebellion, Waruhiu Itote, known as “General China” had fought with the British Army in 1942 in Ceylon and in the Burma Campaign, probably exposing him to the ideas of the Chinese communist revolutionaries.

The first direct elections for native Kenyans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Despite British hopes of handing power to “moderate” local rivals, it was the Kenya African National Union (KANU) of Jomo Kenyatta that formed a government shortly before Kenya became independent on 12 Dec. 12, 1963, on the same day forming the first Constitution of Kenya.  A year later, the Republic of Kenya was proclaimed, and Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president.

Upon its inception in 1960, KANU included politicians of various ideologies. However, with the adoption of Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 in Kenya’s parliament and the resignation of left leaning politicians allied to Oginga Odinga, it pursued a mixed market economic policy, with state intervention in the form of parastatals. It steered Kenya to side with the West during the Cold War, with both Kenyatta and Daniel Moi using “apparent” links to the Soviet Union as pretexts to crush political dissent.  Today the party is on the conservative spectrum.

Thus, the West won an “apparent” Cold War Victory in Kenya.

The term Second Cold War refers to the period of intensive reawakening of Cold War tensions and conflicts in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tensions greatly increased between the major powers with both sides becoming more militaristic. One historian notes, “[Ronald] Reagan went all out to fight the second cold war, by supporting counterinsurgencies in the Third World.”  Another says, “The intensity of this ‘Second’ Cold War was as great as its duration was short.”

In April 1978, the Communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in the Saur Revolution. Within months, opponents of the communist government launched an uprising in eastern Afghanistan that quickly expanded into a civil war waged by guerrilla mujahideen against government forces countrywide. The Pakistani government provided these rebels with covert training centers, while the Soviet Union sent thousands of military advisers to support the PDPA government.

Meanwhile, increasing friction between the competing factions of the PDPA – the dominant Khalq and the more moderate Parcham – resulted in the dismissal of Parchami cabinet members and the arrest of Parchami military officers under the pretext of a Parchami coup. By mid-1979, the United States had started a covert program to assist the mujahideen.

In September 1979, Khalqist President Nur Muhammad Taraki was assassinated in a coup within the PDPA orchestrated by fellow Khalq member Hafizulla Amin, who assumed the presidency. Distrusted by the Soviets, Amin was assassinated by Soviet special forces in December 1979. A Soviet-organized government, led by Parcham’s Babrak Karmal but inclusive of both factions, filled the vacuum. Soviet troops were deployed to stabilize Afghanistan under Karmal in more substantial numbers, although the Soviet government did not expect to do most of the fighting in Afghanistan.  As a result, however, the Soviets were now directly involved in what had been a domestic war in Afghanistan.

Carter responded to the Soviet intervention by withdrawing the SALT II treaty from the Senate, imposing embargoes on grain and technology shipments to the USSR, and demanding a significant increase in military spending, and further announced that the United States would boycott the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. He described the Soviet incursion as “the most serious threat to the peace since the Second World War.”

In January 1977, four years prior to becoming president, Ronald Reagan bluntly stated his basic expectation in relation to the Cold War.

“My idea of American policy,” he said, “toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think of that?”   In 1980, Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election, vowing to increase military spending and confront the Soviets everywhere. Both Reagan and new British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher denounced the Soviet Union and its ideology.  Reagan labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and predicted that Communism would be left on the “ash heap of history.”

By early 1985, Reagan’s anti-communist position had developed into a stance known as the new Reagan Doctrine, which, in addition to containment, formulated an additional right to subvert existing communist governments.  Besides continuing Carter’s policy of supporting the Islamic opponents of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-backed PDPA government in Afghanistan, the CIA also sought to weaken the Soviet Union itself by promoting political Islam in the majority-Muslim Central Asian Soviet Union.  Additionally, the CIA supposedly encouraged anti-communist Pakistan’s ISI to train Muslims from around the world to participate in the jihad against the Soviet Union.  Others hold that the Afghanis’ religion was incidental to the CIA’s teaching them to fight for independence.

Pope John Paul II provided a moral focus for anti-communism. A visit to his native Poland in 1979 stimulated a religious and nationalist resurgence centered on the Solidarity Movement that galvanized opposition and may have led to his attempted assassination two years later.

In December 1981, Poland’s Wojciech Jaruzelski reacted to the crisis by imposing a period of martial law. Reagan imposed economic sanctions on Poland in response.  Mikhail Suslov, the Kremlin’s top ideologist, advised Soviet leaders not to intervene if Poland fell under the control of Solidarity, for fear it might lead to heavy economic sanctions, representing a catastrophe for the Soviet economy.

Moscow had built up a military that consumed as much as 25 percent of the Soviet Union’s gross national product at the expense of consumer goods and investment in civilian sectors.  Soviet spending on the Arms Race and other Cold War commitments both caused and exacerbated deep-seated structural problems in the Soviet system, which saw at least a decade of economic stagnation during the late Brezhnev years.

Soviet investment in the defense sector was not driven by military necessity, but in large part by the interests of massive party and state bureaucracies dependent on the sector for their own power and privileges. The Soviet Armed Forces became the largest in the world in terms of the numbers and types of weapons they possessed, in the number of troops in their ranks, and in the sheer size of their military-industrial.  However, the quantitative advantages held by the Soviet military often concealed areas] where the Eastern Bloc dramatically lagged behind the West.

By the early 1980s, the USSR had built up a military arsenal and army surpassing that of the United States.  Soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,  Pres. Carter began massively building up the United States military.  This buildup was accelerated by the Reagan Administration, which increased the military spending from 5.3 percent of GNP in 1981 to 6.5 percent in 1986, the largest peacetime defense buildup in United States history.

Tensions continued intensifying in the early 1980s when Reagan revived the B-1 Lancer program that was canceled by the Carter administration, produced LGM-118 Peacekeepers, installed U.S. cruise missiles in Europe, and announced his experimental Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed “Star Wars” by the media, a defense program to shoot down missiles in mid-flight.

With the background of a buildup in tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, and the deployment of Soviet RSD-10 Pioneer ballistic missiles targeting Western Europe, NATO decided to deploy MGM-31 Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe, primarily based in West Germany.  This deployment would have placed missiles just 10 minutes’ striking distance from Moscow.

After Reagan’s military buildup, the Soviet Union did not respond by further building its military because the enormous military expenses, along with inefficient planned manufacturing and collectivized agriculture, were already a heavy burden for the Soviet economy.  At the same time, Saudi Arabia increased oil production, even as other non-OPEC nations were increasing production.  These developments contributed to the 1980s oil glut, which affected the Soviet Union, as oil was the main source of Soviet export revenues. Issues with command economics, oil price decreases, and large military expenditures gradually brought the Soviet economy to stagnation.

On Sept. 1, 1983, the Soviet Union shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, a Boeing 747 with 269 people aboard, including sitting Congressman Larry McDonald, when it violated Soviet airspace just past the west coast of Sakhalin Island, an act which Reagan characterized as a “massacre.”  This act increased support for military deployment, overseen by Reagan, which stood in place until the later accords between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The Able Archer 83 exercise in November 1983, a realistic simulation of a coordinated NATO nuclear release, has been called most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis, as the Soviet leadership keeping a close watch on it considered a nuclear attack to be imminent.

U.S. domestic public concerns about intervening in foreign conflicts persisted from the end of the Vietnam War.  The Reagan administration emphasized the use of quick, low-cost counter-insurgency tactics to intervene in foreign conflicts.  In 1983, the Reagan administration intervened in the multi-sided Lebanese Civil War, invaded Grenada in the Caribbean (which was under attack by communist insurgents), bombed Libya and backed the Central American Contras, anti-communist paramilitaries seeking to overthrow the Soviet-aligned Sandinista government in Nicaragua, whom now Secretary of State John Kerry supported.  While Reagan’s interventions in Grenada and Libya were popular in the United States, his backing of the Contra rebels was met with hostility by Democrat Party members.

Meanwhile, the Soviets incurred high costs for their own foreign interventions. Although Brezhnev was convinced in 1979 that the Soviet war in Afghanistan would be brief, Muslim guerrillas, aided by the U.S. and other countries, waged a fierce resistance against the invasion. The Kremlin sent nearly 100,000 troops to support its puppet regime in Afghanistan, leading many outside observers to dub the war “the Soviets’ Vietnam.”  Moscow’s quagmire in Afghanistan was just as disastrous for the Soviets as Vietnam had been for the Americans because the conflict coincided with a period of internal decay and domestic crisis in the Soviet system (sometimes Wikipedia posts need a little editing).

A senior U.S. State Department official predicted such an outcome as early as 1980, positing that the invasion resulted in part from a “domestic crisis within the Soviet system. … It may be that the thermodynamic law of entropy (the degree of disorder in a system) has … caught up with the Soviet system, which now seems to expend more energy on simply maintaining its equilibrium than on improving itself. We could be seeing a period of foreign movement at a time of internal decay.”

The beginning of the 1990s brought a thaw in relations between the superpowers.  By the time the comparatively youthful Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet General Secretary in 1985, the Soviet economy was stagnant and faced a sharp fall in foreign currency earnings as a result of the downward slide in oil prices in the 1980s. These issues prompted Gorbachev to investigate measures to revive the ailing state.

An ineffectual start led to the conclusion that deeper structural changes were necessary and in June 1987 Gorbachev announced an agenda of economic reform called perestroika, or restructuring. Perestroika relaxed the production quota system, allowed private ownership of businesses, and paved the way for foreign investment. These measures were intended to redirect the country’s resources from costly Cold War military commitments to more productive areas in the civilian sector.

Despite initial skepticism in the West, the new Soviet leader proved to be committed to reversing the Soviet Union’s deteriorating economic condition instead of continuing the arms race with the West.  Partly as a way to fight off internal opposition from party cliques to his reforms, Gorbachev simultaneously introduced glasnost, or openness, which increased freedom of the press and the transparency of state institutions.  Glasnost was intended to reduce the corruption at the top of the Communist Party and moderate the abuse of power in the Central Committee. Glasnost also enabled increased contact between Soviet citizens and the western world, particularly with the United States, contributing to the accelerating detente between the two nations.

In response to the Kremlin’s military and political concessions, Reagan agreed to renew talks on economic issues and the scaling-back of the arms race. The first was held in November 1985 in Geneva.   At one stage the two men, accompanied only by an interpreter, agreed in principle to reduce each country’s nuclear arsenal by 50 percent. A second Reykjavik Summit was held in Iceland.  Talks went well until the focus shifted to Reagan’s proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, which Gorbachev wanted eliminated. Reagan refused.  The negotiations failed, but the third summit in 1987 led to a breakthrough with the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The INF Treaty eliminated all nuclear-armed, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles) and their infrastructure.

East–West tensions rapidly subsided through the mid-to-late 1980s, culminating with the final summit in Moscow in 1989, when Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush signed the START I arms control treaty.  During the following year it became apparent to the Soviets that oil and gas subsidies, along with the cost of maintaining massive troops levels, represented a substantial economic drain. In addition, the security advantage of a buffer zone was recognized as irrelevant and the Soviets officially declared that they would no longer intervene in the affairs of allied states in Central and Eastern Europe.

In 1989, Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan and by 1990 Gorbachev consented to German reunification, the only alternative being a Tiananmen Square scenario.  Pres. Reagan gave a speech in Berlin, daring Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!”  When the Berlin Wall came down, Gorbachev’s “Common European Home” concept began to take shape.

On December 3, 1989, Gorbachev and Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, declared the Cold War over at the Malta Summit; a year later, the two former rivals were partners in the Gulf War against Iraq.

But the Soviet Union’s problems weren’t over – and neither was the Second Cold War.

By 1989, the Soviet alliance system was on the brink of collapse, and, deprived of Soviet military support, the Communist leaders of the Warsaw Pact states were losing power. Grassroots organizations, such as Poland’s Solidarity Movement, rapidly gained ground with strong popular bases. In 1989, the Communist governments in Poland and Hungary became the first to negotiate the organizing of competitive elections. In Czechoslovakia and East Germany, mass protests unseated entrenched Communist leaders. The Communist regimes in Bulgaria and Romania also crumbled, in the latter case as the result of a violent uprising.

Attitudes had changed enough that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker suggested that the American government would not be opposed to Soviet intervention in Romania, on behalf of the opposition, to prevent bloodshed. The tidal wave of change culminated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, which symbolized the collapse of European Communist governments and graphically ended the Iron Curtain divide of Europe. The 1989 revolutionary wave swept across Central and Eastern Europe peacefully overthrew all the Soviet-style communist states: East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Romania was the only Eastern-bloc country to topple its communist regime violently and execute its head of state.

In the USSR itself, glasnost weakened the bonds that held the Soviet Union together and by February 1990, with the dissolution of the USSR looming, the Communist Party was forced to surrender its 73-year-old monopoly on state power.  At the same time freedom of press and dissent allowed by glasnost and the festering “nationalities question” increasingly led the Union’s component republics to declare their autonomy from Moscow, with the Baltic states withdrawing from the Union entirely.

Gorbachev’s permissive attitude toward Central and Eastern Europe did not initially extend to Soviet territory; even Bush, who strove to maintain friendly relations, condemned the January 1991 killings in Latvia and Lithuania, privately warning that economic ties would be frozen if the violence continued.  The USSR was fatally weakened by a failed coup and a growing number of Soviet republics, particularly Russia, which threatened to secede from the USSR. The Commonwealth of Independent States, created on Dec. 21, 1991, is viewed as a successor entity to the Soviet Union.  But, according to Russia’s leaders, its purpose was to “allow a civilized divorce” between the Soviet Republics and is comparable to a loose confederation.

Following the Cold War, Russia cut military spending dramatically. Restructuring of the economy left millions throughout the former Soviet Union unemployed. The capitalist reforms culminated in a recession more severe than the U.S. and Germany had experienced during the Great Depression.

The aftermath of the Cold War continues to influence world affairs.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the post–Second Cold War world was widely considered as unipolar, with the United States the sole remaining superpower. The Cold War defined the political role of the United States in the post–World War II world: by 1989 the U.S. held military alliances with 50 countries, and had 526,000 troops stationed abroad in dozens of countries, with 326,000 in Europe (two-thirds of which were stationed in West Germany) and about 130,000 in Asia (mainly Japan and South Korea).  The Cold War also marked the zenith of peacetime military-industrial complexes, especially in the US, and large-scale military funding of science. These complexes, though their origins may be found as early as the 19th century, grew considerably during the Cold War. The military-industrial complexes continue to have great impact on their countries and help shape their society, policy and foreign relations.

The aftermath of Cold War conflict, however, is not always easily erased, as many of the economic and social tensions that were exploited to fuel Cold War competition in parts of the Third World remain acute.  The breakdown of state control in a number of areas formerly ruled by Communist governments has produced new civil and ethnic conflicts, particularly in the former Yugoslavia. In Central and Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War has ushered in an era of economic growth and an increase in the number of liberal democracies, while in other parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, independence was accompanied by state failure.

The former Soviet Socialist Republic that concerns us most today is Ukraine.  On July 16, 1990, the new parliament adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine.  The declaration established the principles of the self-determination of the Ukrainian nation, its democracy, political and economic independence, and the priority of Ukrainian law on the Ukrainian territory over Soviet law. A month earlier, a similar declaration was adopted by the parliament of the Russian SFSR. This started a period of confrontation between the central Soviet, and new republican authorities. In August 1991, a conservative faction among the Communist leaders of the Soviet Union attempted a coup to remove Mikhail Gorbachev and to restore the Communist party’s power. After the attempt failed, on Aug. 24, 1991 the Ukrainian parliament adopted the Act of Independence in which the parliament declared Ukraine as an independent democratic state.

A referendum and the first presidential elections took place on Dec. 1, 1991. That day, more than 90 percent of the electorate expressed their support for the Act of Independence, and they elected the chairman of the parliament, Leonid Kravchuk to serve as the first president of the country. At a meeting Brest, Belarus on Dec. 8, 1991, followed by the Alma Ata meeting on Dec. 21, the leaders of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, formally dissolved the Soviet Union and formed the Commonwealth Independent States (CIS).

The Soviet Communist Party found itself a party without a country.

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Published in: on March 4, 2014 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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