The aftermath of the Second World War saw the formation of a bi-polar world, with the United States and the Soviet Union dominating their respective hemispheres. Both the powers were equipped with nuclear arsenal and any direct confrontation could have led to the destruction of the species. In this atmosphere where the stakes are very high, most of the strategic advantage is won through diplomacy and applying political pressure. This variety of wielding power has come to be known as the Cold War, where advantages were won or lost through tactful diplomacy as against the use of force.
The implications of the Cold War were not confined to the partners and allies of the two superpowers. Given the scale of their economies, the superpowers sought to dominate other nations wherever they can, either through ideological coercion on military intervention. Hence, Europe and Asia were also polarized to balance the two sides. Many independent nation states were forced to choose sides between the capitalist democracy of the Western world and the communist soviets of the Eastern world. So, although they were not the central players in the tussle for world domination, many countries in the European and Asian continents aligned themselves with one of the existing dominant powers. The rest of the essay will explore the nature of these affiliations and the essential differences between the situation in Europe and Asia.
History will show that the European nations after Second World War were divided geographically as well as ideologically as belonging to the western democratic bloc or the eastern communist bloc. Long-time partner and a trusted lieutenant of the United States, namely Great Britain, is the leading representative of this western coalition. Other nations that aligned with the United States were Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, etc. The countries of Eastern Europe were imposed with communist governments and hence came under the influence of the Soviet Union. Some of them were Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belarus, etc. Germany was deemed a key prize in the spoils of the Second Great War and so its reigns were bitterly contested. In the end both superpowers had to strike a compromise and divide Germany into their respective halves. This event was a key flashpoint in the years immediately following the end of the War.
In the western hemisphere, the peak cold war confrontation manifested in the form of the Cuban Missile crisis. It was the year 1961, under the leadership of President John F. Kennedy; the world came perilously close to a deadly confrontation between the two major powers. The Soviet Union was under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. Lying only 145 km from the coast of the USA, Cuba had always been of concern to the United States (America still maintains a naval base there to the present day at Guantanamo). The relations between the two nations took a U-turn with the onset of the communist revolution in 1959. Fidel Castro’s consequent rise to power made Cuba a real and present danger. The pressing concern for the United States was the potential symbolic threat that a communist neighbor would prove to be. The fiasco that was the Bay of Pigs invasion, intended to dispel and if possible eliminate Castro, was an affair of big embarrassment for the Kennedy Administration. This further strained the diplomatic relations between the two countries.
At this juncture Castro was left with little option but to strengthen relations with the Soviet Union. It benefited the Soviet Union to respond to Cuba’s call for protection, as setting up a base so near the American coast was of strategic importance. The events of these fortuitous days for mankind unraveled in the backdrop of the cold war. The 50’s were a period of economic and technological advancement for both superpowers. Paralleling this prosperity was the escalating ideological conflict between democracy and communism. The tense couple of weeks that would later be called the Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest this planet came to complete annihilation. Soviet missiles with capabilities to wipe out all major cities in eastern United States were positioned just 90 miles off the coast of Florida. A last minute command from Khrushchev to soviet ships heading to Cuba saved the planet from a potential Armageddon.