I. Introduction Throughout the 20thcentury, the world has seen a number of major revolutions worldwide as well asunbearable wars filled with bloodshed such as the two world wars, the Chineseand Spanish civil wars as well as the Russian Revolution.
However, a war thatextended throughout the majority of the 20th century would be theCold War that lasted for 46 years from 1945 up until 1991 (The GeorgeWashington University). Many would not consider the Cold War to be war in thetraditional sense due to the fact that direct confrontation between the twonations that were majorly involved; the USA and the USSR, was absent; hence itsname. The word “cold” symbolizes its inability to officially “blow-up” as somewould say; thus, remaining an era of intense tension between the two worldpowers (citation). The USSR, also known as theUnion of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a socialist state established in 1922following the Russian Revolution (citation). Itconsisted of a total of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics including Azerbaijan,Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia (citation). TheUSSR was amongst the two major world powers in the post-World War 2 eraalongside the United States.
During the mid-1940’s the relationship betweenMoscow and Washington DC began to deteriorate as both states viewed each other’spolitical systems as ineffective and poisonous to society due to the sharpideological differences that existed between them. The USA saw communism as athreat to communities and capitalism and feared its expansion in the West.While, an aspiration of spreading Communism in different parts of the world wasto eventually be seen in Asia, as was the case of China, North Korea andVietnam; which led the USA to fear a domino effect for this dangerous ideology (citation). A major aspect of the ColdWar was the nuclear arms race which was “a rapid increase in the quantity or quality of instruments ofmilitary power” most notablynuclear weapons (History.com).
Both nations viewedthe production of nuclear arms as a deterrent that would stop the ideologicallyopposing world power from attacking. In addition, and at many instances, thepiling of nuclear arsenal aimed to provide superiority, resulting in increasedspending and many would argue that it was the main reason the Soviet Unioncollapsed in 1991 while others claim that its role was minor as it was theflawed communist system or Mikhail Gorbachev’s sudden attempt to introducechange and reform the Communist system that were to be blamed (citation). This has caused a worldwide debate regardingthe effects and significance of the nuclear arms race, leading to the coiningof this investigation’s research question; towhat extent did the nuclear arms race of the Cold War lead to the collapse ofthe Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991? The research methodology thathas been undertaken for this essay has included the collection of books,academic journals, historical essays, documentaries, as well as a wide varietyof websites with reliable historic sources.
Bookswritten by expert historians such as Mark Sandle, who provides valuableknowledge regarding the last Communist ruler of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev,has been a primary source of information. Noting the importance of taking intoconsideration long and short term causes of this race, which could also beargued to have been prompted by the USA as well due to its first use of thisweapon against Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII (citation). This topic is worthy of research because thecollapse of the Soviet Union has changed the international power balance thatexisted post WWII. The collapse of the USSR was to give US foreign policyunprecedented position in world politics; it is thus of great significance tounderstand the causes of Soviet collapse, which in due course would facilitatean understanding of the dynamics of politics amongst world powers. II.
HistoricalContext Following the overthrowing of Nicholas IIin 1917, the final Tsar of Russia, the Russian revolution broke out when rebelsled by the communist Vladimir Lenin (the Bolsheviks) overthrew the ProvisionalGovernment. Lenin’s revolution was to attract the support of the working class.The majority of the Russians did not harbor strong support to Nicholas II’sregime due to its blind dedication to autocracy and thus his refusal toinstitute in Russia a constitutional democracy that would facilitate thesharing of power (citation). The establishment of the first Communist regime, the Union of SovietSocialist Republic, was to signal the emergence of ideological schism betweenthe East and the West. This was due to the fact that the latter viewedCommunism as an impending danger for the whole free, democratic world. In thisrespect, one can argue that the Cold War’s long term causes go back as far as1917 when Western powers attempted to topple this regime by supporting theWhites in the Russian Civil War (citation). When this attempt failed, the Soviet Unionwas completely marginalized in international affairs and was not permitted toenter the League of Nations until 1934 (citation).
Historians, such as, look at Western support of the Whites duringthe Russian Civil War, as a long term cause of the downfall of the Communistrule in Russia. This is due to the fact that since its inception, advocating anantagonistic ideology towards capitalism seemed to have sealed the fate ofCommunism because it was to be continuously targeted and undermined by the Capitalistworld powers. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to claim that a Cold War, inthe sense of refusal by the Western powers to accept such a political entity,was present as early as 1917.III. Endof WWII – The Start of a New Age East-Westrelations were to witness a paradigm shift with Hitler’s emergence to power inGermany in 1933 and the outbreak of WWII in 1939 (citation).Hitler’s dismissal of theSoviet-Nazi Pact and his eventual attack on the USSR was to transform theSoviet Union into a de facto ally that the West needed in order to bolstertheir war efforts against the Nazis (citation). Nevertheless, this temporary honeymoon in Soviet-Western relations was to end with the defeat of Hitler.
Anotherevent that could be argued to have started the Cold War was the dropping of thetwo atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, to force the Japanese intosurrendering and end the War in the Pacific (citation).Historical analysis ofthe real causes behind the use of such a potent weapon makes one question thereal intention of dropping such a weapon on Japan at a time when Japanesesurrender was around the corner. One interesting theory proposed by T. E.Vadney indicates that the USA’s intention was to intimidate the USSR by showingthem the power of the new weapon the USA possessed and thus control anyimpending ambitions the Soviets might have harbored in expanding their Europeansphere of influence westward (46).
Being a professorof history himself, Vadney’s analysis of the objective behind the dropping ofthe nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities is of significance and worthconsidering because it is a viable assertion as later evidence will show in duecourse. It is thus not a very far-fetched assertion to claim that nuclearenergy and weapons were to become an important aspect of the Cold War era,whereby the compiling of nuclear arsenal by the Americans and the Soviets wasto become a major medium of pressure to be levied against each other. In thiscontext the nuclear arms race could be said to have begun. It was to continueuntil the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The nuclear arms race could also be said to have begun before the end ofWWII when Stalin’s spies informed him of American development of this dangerousweapon under the Manhattan Project (citation). The USSR and the USA’s determination toout-compete each other led to espionage as well as spies and agents being sentover to each other’s countries in order to send valuable information and keepthe tabs on each other in issues pertinent to security and military strength(citation).
The production of this potent weapon couldbe said to have occupied an important place in each sphere of influence plansto bolster its military strength. Quote is needed –further support Contrary to Americananticipations which thought that the Soviets would take from eight to fifteenyears to develop an atomic bomb as they lacked the financial and scientificknowledge regarding such a development, the Soviets were to surprise the worldwhen in 1949 they announced that they had tested their first atomic bomb (John Swift, History Today). By 1953, the Soviet Unionwas on par with the USA in terms of nuclear warheads (ibid.). This trend was tocontinue throughout the latter part of the 20th century forcing bothnations to spend large sums of their GDPs (ibid.). writea little bit on how much fiscal resources the Soviets allocated to nuclear armsproduction.
The implications of such spending will be discussed in theshort-term effects section. Thisincreased military spending caused infernal financial and political challengeswithin the Soviet sphere of influence as was reflected in the HungarianUprising of 1956 and the Prague Spring of 1968, which could be argued to beearly reflections of an internal crisis the Communist bloc was facing, whichwas to gain increased momentum with the passage of time (citation). The populations of the Sovietbloc, as indicated by…., AM1 is an important perspective tobe considered because it enables the research to understand how internalfactors of opposition eroded the Soviet bloc from within; which eventually ledto its collapse. IV. ShortTerm Effects The Second World War negatively affected theSoviet Union and its people; however, security remained a priority for Sovietleadership especially after they witnessed the implications and the potency ofnuclear power in Japan (citation). This was toreadily affect the Soviet’s decision to invest in the production of nuclear weaponry.
However, such a decision wasto increase pressure on Soviet budget as it had the humongous challenge ofrebuilding itself after the end of the war. The military confrontations withthe Nazis on Soviet soil led to physical and human devastationAM2 . The economic challenges, post WWII, inthe USSR, did not curtail Stalin’s production of atomic weapons as he perceivedthem essential to safeguarding his state against future Western attacks,notably from the USA (citation). ThisAM3 fear lead to paranoia and worker’srefusal to work which caused many strikes in different republics especially on themainland of Russia (citation). These strikes would decrease theoverall efficiency of the Soviet Union which forced governments to take severemeasures in order to ensure everything was in place. Worker’s were threatenedand were ultimately given lower wages which had the effect of forcing laborersto work longer hours in order to receive a sufficient salary that would allowthem to acquire simple necessities such as bread and water (citation).
The standard and quality of living the Soviet Union had experienced priorto the aforementioned events declined dramatically; undermining the purpose offollowing a communist regime. This was the least of the Communist party’sworries as their focus had shifted to other matters; the nuclear arms race. The Soviet Union had chosen to prioritize the manufacturingof nuclear arms over anything else which lead to the exhaustion of itsfinancial resources. It was stated that the USSR had spent up to 35% of its GDPin manufacturing these weapons as opposed to the USA that spent a maximum of18% (citation). This led to a decrease in their financial power which wasused to support communist governments within the 15 republics of the USSR.Acquiring and producing goods became a challenge as a much a lower budget wasdedicated to the process of producing crops and supporting farmers andlaborers.
The USSR’s spending exponentially increased between the 1960’s andthe 1980’s to reach a maximum of around $275 billions as shown by Middle-East-Online’sgraph below: Thisgraph exemplifies the USSR’s ambitions to out-spend the USA and while they mayhave had the upper hand for a large portion of the Cold War, this continuousrise in spending would eventually lead to the utter financial destruction ofthe Soviet Union that would force the emergence of demand for economic reforms.The Soviet Union had spent the majority of the Cold War eagerly trying to catchup with the USA in terms of possession of nuclear warheads, and despiteeventually surpassing them in the 1970’s (Zachary Keck, Thediplomat.com), they proved to be ineffective due toMutually Assured Destruction (MAD); a military theory of nuclear limitationswhich states that “neither side will attack theother with their nuclear weapons because both sides are guaranteed to betotally destroyed in the conflict” (Thoughtco.
com). Thisundermined the entire purpose of possessing nuclear arms as both nations werefully aware of their inability to avail themselves of such highly-destructiveweapons. The USSR’s dramatic increase in nuclear warhead production isexhibited below: Due to this ineffective spending, the USSR was unable to pay workers andresearchers that had proven to be the core of this nuclear build-up. Such lowwages lead to further strikes and the emergence of rebels against the communistsystem causing disunity within the state. Political and economic reforms werecalled for over a series of years that were ferociously turned down by thelikes of Joseph Stalin and Georgy Malenkov (citation).
Stalin had taken an aggressive approachtowards these calls for reform by prosecuting a “reign of terror, purges,executions and exiles to labor camps” (citation). Thedictatorship of Joseph Stalin alongside the fear of a potential war with theUnited States created an unbearable atmosphere filled with terror which limitedand disallowed the Soviet Union’s ability to move forward as a nation from asocial perspective. Unity was merely a formality in the state, falselyportrayed by the nation in order to avoid execution by their cold-heartedleader, Stalin, who had spear-headed the USSR into the nuclear war in the firstplace and had allowed for the slow and painful political and financial deteriorationof one of the strongest nations in the world. The government’s decision to financially prioritize the nuclear armsrace lead to limited budgets for other governmental organizations andassociations including Stalin’s secret police; the People’s Commissariat forInternal Affairs, otherwise known as NKVD (citation). This institution was responsible forpolitical repression under the orders of Joseph Stalin, giving them theauthority to abolish the presence of anyone who opposed Stalin’s views or theCommunist regime as a whole (citation).
The lack of funding to the NKVD following thepost-Stalin era, mainly due to insufficient finances and the new leader of theUSSR; Nikita Khrushchev’s “de-Stalinization policy”, limited their power andability to repress any insurgents or people with opposing political views tothe party in power. Keeping in mind that the NKVD was the leading organizationduring the peak of Stalin’s reign and was debatably the reason behind thesuccess of the Communist regime despite its chaotic extrajudicial executions,its newly limited power opened the doors to many revolutionaries who looked tooverturn communist dictatorship (citation). The number of rebels accumulated and thiseventually lead to revolutions such as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and theRomanian Anti-Communist Resistance Movement (citation). Despite the failure of these uprisings, theymanaged to send across a clear message; the government had failed to ensure ahigh standard of living for its people and had neglected them for theirobsession with out-competing the United States. The nuclear arms race had many instant and short-term effects on theSoviet Union that would gradually accumulate to undermine the Communist system.
However, the long-term consequences that were faced as a result of this nuclearbuild-up delivered the final blows to the USSR that would allow for itscollapse. V. Long Term Effects In order to understand the extent towhich the nuclear arms race lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union, one mustlook into other factors and events that took place prior to the USSR’sdissolution in 1991. The nuclear arms race represented far more than a meredesire to acquire a larger nuclear arsenal, but a fight for superiority as anation.
As a result, both the USA and the Soviet Union looked to expand theirsphere of influence through various methods as the ability of the build up ofnuclear arms to prove one’s superiority was limited due to treaties such as theAnti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty as well as theMutually Assured Destruction theory. This theory alongside the treaties woulddisallow for either nation to declare nuclear war on its opposition due to theinevitable fact that mass destruction would be the result and eventually theelimination of humanity as a whole. One of the USSR’s most notable attempts toincrease their sphere of influence would be the intervention in Afghanistan onthe 25th of December, 1979 (citation). The Soviet Union’s intervention in themiddle-eastern country was an act of support for the Afghan communist governmentwhere the country was growing increasingly weak.
The USSR feared theintervention of the USA in Afghanistan where the Americans would support theanti-Communist regime as they had previously done in Asia during the ChineseCivil War despite the absence of physical intervention by the latter. In orderto avoid the reoccurrence of such an event, the Russians capitalized on theirfears by intervening first. Just as T.E. Vadney had suggested the conspiracythat the USA had dropped both atomic bombs in order to amplify theirsuperiority to the communists, Jimmy Carter suggest that “the Russianinvasion was a major strategic challenge to the West” which was laterreiterated by historian David N.
Gibbs. DavidN. Gibbs is an American History Professor in the University of Arizona where hehas researched the Russo-Afghan War in his academic Journal; “Afghanistan: TheSoviet Invasion in Retrospect” (citation). Ofcourse being a professor of history himself, his credentials qualify him tomake various suggestions regarding the political intentions of the USSR duringtheir 10-year invasion of Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter’s reiteration of such asuggestion further validates Gibbs’ claims as the USA’s president is a primarysource in such matters involving political tension with the USSR.
According to the declassified CIAreport “The Costs of Soviet Involvement in Afghanistan”, it is said that thetotal cost of the conduction of the war set back the USSR by a staggering 15million rubles or approximately 260 million dollars (citation). This financial setback proved to be fatal later on towards the late1980’s where it became increasingly difficult to maintain complete censorshipand control of the 15 communist republics. The neglect experienced by itspeople, especially during the initial phases of the cold war, led to the riseof rebels throughout the 46-year period of the Cold War. One such occasionwould be the Guerilla War in the Baltic States which was prominent during thepost-World War II era (citation) . TheGuerilla War in the Baltic States, also known as the Forest Brothers ResistanceMovement, lasted between 1944 up until the mid-1950’s and was a politicalstruggle against the Soviet rule in an attempt to gain autonomy in Estonia,Latvia and Lithuania (citation).
Such movements are a prime example of thestruggles face by various republics that formed the Soviet Union. The Communistregime had become a contradiction of itself where the promised high quality oflife was nowhere to be found. This would further set back the USSR on afinancial scale as well as disrupt the unity that Communist leaders hadinitially aimed to achieve. This was one of many movements that resisted Sovietrule as calls for independence from the Baltic States as well as violence inthe Caucasus would slowly re-emerge towards the late 1980’s following MikhailGorbachev’s election in 1985. Due to the constant financial weakening of theSoviet Union throughout the nuclear arms race, the central government waseconomically incapable of dealing with rebels and the newly emerginganti-Communist parties that became ever present. Typically, the Soviet Unionhad been infamous for its lack of tolerance of any party, movement or protestthat opposed Communist rule or the Soviet leaders. However, as mentionedearlier, this was no longer the case as Mikhail Gorbachev took on a lessrepressive approach in terms of dealing with domestic issues, which was alsoevident in his policies; Glasnost and Perestroika.
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