The Cold War: Military Trends


Figure 1.--The primary comcern of NATO during the Cold War was a massive Soviet land assault spearheaded by the large Soviet tank force on the northern European plain. This was not the only Soviet military challenge. The Soviets also built up a major air force and navy. Here a decorated Red Navy officer meets with some Soviet children. They are very well uniformed and may be cadets. They may be associated with the naval dividion of the Young Pioneers.

The Cold war was notable in that it was a rare conflict between two major world powers in which there was no direct military confrontations. between the two principal powers--the United States and the Soviet Union. There were several military engagements. The United States fought the Korean War which became a direct conflict between the United States and China and subsequently the Vietnam War. The Soviet Union had to use its military forces to maintain order in its Eastern European empire. And it fought a war in Afghanistan. While a Cold war, military power was important and in many ways set the parameters wihin which the Cold War evolved. Thus to understand the Cold War it is necessary to assess the military balance, a balance which shifted over time. The military balance at the beginning of the Cold War was largely determined by two developments. First was the success of D-Day which meant that the NAZIs were defeated by both the Soviets and Western Allies, creating a military balance. Second was the American development of an atomic bomb. The Soviet Union had at the end of the War a massive army. The exclusive American possession of the atomic bomb mean that the Soviets were not able their massive superority in land forces to chllenge the West, even over Berlin deep in the Soviet occupation zone.

Militarism

A Cold War issue was militarism. This is acomplicated issue to discuss becuse there are varied definitions of militarism. And there are noy just different ways of describing milittarism, but real substantive diiferences. We have noted three basic definitions: 1) Glorification of the ideals of a professional military class, 2) Predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state, and 3) A policy in which military preparedness is of primary importance to a state. The third definition is the most limited version of type of militarism. And it avoids a very key element--justification. At times making military preparadness a primary state objectibe is justified. France and Britain failed to do so in the 1930s and as a result almost lost their national existence as well as the destruction of Western civilzation. Militarism was an issue throughout the 20th century. In World War I it was German militarism. In World War II it was Fascism that glorified the military, but the Fascists (Italian Fascists and NAZIs kept their militaries under control. It was the Japanese military that seized control of the country. Militarism became a factor in the Cold War. Stalin tightly controlled the military, even conducting deadly purges (1930s). Nothing like this occured during the Cold War. But a dangerous dynamic developed. The military bought into Soviet propaganda and viewed the Americans like the NAZI and became cocerned about a possible Ameican first strike. This affected their reporting to the state authorities. The Soviet miltary's VRYAN computer program could have given eroneous warnings (1979). This led to one of the most dangerous points of the Cold War. The NATO exercise Able Archer was preceived as cover for a first strike (1983). The weak Soviet economy also forced the Soviets to militarize society. A huge portion of the economy was devoted to the economy, a much larger portion than the American economy as it was so mmuch larger and more productive. We notice what looks like a cadet programs here (figure 1). We also see Pioneer military programs in the schools. Soviet Propaganda heavily pursued the charge of America militarism. And the left-wing groups in America also pursued this narrative. Picking up on Pesident Eisenhower's concern about a military-indutrial complex. Huge anounts were devoted to mmikitary spending which became the largest item in the national budget. Those unconcerned about the Soviet threat saw it as wasteful. Those who saw the Soviets to be athreat saw dense spending as absolutely essential. NATO Allies, especilally West Germany were also, accused of miiitarism. This reached a fever pitch when America and Britain responded to the Soviet SS-20 Saber escalatiom with the Pershing II. This was a stretch, but the Ban the Bomb movermnt generated enormous support. Charges of NATO ally militaism was a tretch. America's NATO allies severely limited military spending. Only the British maintained a majpr military establishment. The United States basically financed Europe's defense.

Military Engagements

The Cold war was notable in that it was a rare conflict between two major world powers in which there was no direct military confrontations. between the two principal powers--the United States and the Soviet Union. There were several military engagements. The United States fought the Korean War which became a direct conflict between the United States and China and subsequently the Vietnam War. The Soviet Union had to use its military forces to maintain order in its Eastern European empire. And it fought a war in Afghanistan.

Military Balance

The Cold War was basically a confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union at its heart the effort to save the countries of Western Europe from Soviet domination. It developed into a world-wide conflict, but the central campaign was in Europe. There was never a direct military action between the United States and the Soviets, but the military played a vital role. And here the Soviets had a major advantage in land fiorces. Air and naval forces were a different matter. Where the Sioviets did not have an advatage was an ecionomy thst could affird a decades long. hugely exoensive aems race--especially when the President Reagan began taling about military anti-balistic missle defenses (ABMs). The Soviet Union at the end of World War II had the largest and most powerful army in the world. The inballance in power was even greater after the War. The West after most of the World War II U.S. Army returned to the states and demobilized and the Soviets began to recover from the devestation of the war never had the ground forces in Europe capable of stopping a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. What stopped the Soviets was the U.S. Airforce and the American nuclear capability, at first bombers and eventually than missles. The Soviet Union like Russia before it was a formidable landpower. And totalitarian powers, what ever their limitations, were capable of generating awesome military power. The Red Army had a land capability that the West never even tried to match. The Americans decided early iown that a nucklear deterent was much less expensice and socially acceptable than building a huge land army. The Soviets of course set about building a huge nuclear arsenal. The most dangerous point of the Cold War is when the Sovie leadership convinced themselves that the Americans were planning a first nuclear strike. The cruitical change in the Cold War canme when President Reagan and West German Chancellor Kohl convinced the Soviets in the the IRBM confrontation that the Soviets were not capsble of outspendung the Western Allies Naval forces at first played a minor role in the Cold War. Given that Western Europe's ability to remain free was based on American support, the security of the North Atlantic sea lanes were a vital part of the Western alliance. The Soviets decided to build a poweful naval force. At first their primary focus was on submarines to threaten the North Atlantic sea lanes, but gradually like the American Navy, the focus shifted to missles, to create a strategic force that was immune to a first strike effort. There were other militaries that played important roles in the Cold War, including American NATO allies (Britain, West Germany, and France) which uped the military force in Europe the Soviets had to contend with. The Soviets had Warsaw Pact milkitary forces. The Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War added China to the military mix. As did the Cold War developments in the Third World.

Military Services

While a Cold war, military power was important and in many ways set the parameters wihin which the Cold War evolved. Here there was a substantial difference in the various military services. The Soviert Union was primarily a land power which maintained a huge army and massive tank force. It was the Red Army that had defeated the Wehrmacht and after the demobilization of the American Army following World war II, the Red Army was the primary military force on the continent of Europe. The Revolution in China brought into being what was at first seen as an ally on the Eurasian land mass, but eventuallially evolved as a competitive force. World War II bought about a massive shift in world nabal power. The British Royl Navy which had been the world's preminent naval power since Trafalgur (1805) gave way to the United States Navy. The destruction of the Imperial Japanese Navy left the United States as the unchallenged world naval power. The Soviet Union began toi build a substatial naval force, especially a submarine force designed to interedict American forces in event of awar in Europe. The Soviets gave increased attention to the Red Navy after the Cunan Missle Crisis (1962). The American Air Force was the preminent world air power throughout the Cold War. The Soviet aviation industry produced some excellent air frames, but for various reasons was unable to compete with American counterparts in Korea, Vietnam, or the proxy wars fought in the Middle East. The overwealming military competition of the Cold War was in atmomic weapons. merican begn with exclusive possession, but the Soviets through espionage and their their oen and German technology developed their own weapons as wel as delvery systems. Their weakness in computer technology and fear of an American developent of an effective anti-missle defense led to an accomodation with the United States on the reduction in nuclear weapons.

Weaponry

Throughout history war has pushed technology more than any other mechanism. Weapons productiin has always been at the forefront of technical advances even thousands of years before science was invented. And on science di develop, states marshalled its scientists to support the war effort. Usually little could be accomplished during a war, espcially short wars, but longer wars involving powerful nation states were a different matter. This occiurred during World War I, but World War II more than any other war was a war in which scientific establishments played a major role. The War involved all of the great world industrial powers and their scientiic establishments. The Germans began the War wth perhaps the world's most impressive scientific establishment closely followed by the British and with the funds poured into weapons development had an important lead. Fortunately for the world, Germany lacked the industrial capacity to take full advntage of its scientific capabilities. The War set the parameters for the Cold War arms race. Hitler essentially diarmed Germany from the nuclear arms race by attacking Jews including important nuclear scientists. These and other European scientists coiming to America helped turn America from an industrial powerhouse to a technological giant as well. Here Britain's desperate War-time decsion to share its tecchnology with America also played an important role in this process. The Soviet Union emerged from World War II badly damaged, but a super power capable of sweeping over a devestated Europe. The country had a large industrial infrastructure and was training a huge numbers of scientists and engineers, many of whom were assigned to a vast weapons development effot. As in America, German technology and scientists played an important role. This set the stage for an explosive growth in weapons development with two super powers rushing to develop new and destructive weaponry. Many thought after Wold War II that the Soviets would win the Cold War. The growing Soviet scientific establishment impressed many. But in the end, Soviet science failed their Cold war effort. The Soviets proved adroit and stealing Western military secrets from the West, but less successful at developing new technologies. This is not to say that the Soviet weapons industry did not produce excellent weapons, they did. But they did not produce the innovative high-tech weaponry capable of gaining a military advantage in the Cold War. The Soviet weakness in electronics meant that when Soviet and military weaponry met in Cold war battlefield, especially the Middle East, their weapons proved disappointing. And their failure to allow industry to capitalize on scientific advances meant that the Soviet economy did not benefit from the advances their scientists were making. As a result the Soviet weaons industry was never able to gain a lead in weapons development. And in the end the failure of socialist state planning to compete with the dynamic capitalist economies meant tht the Soviet Union could not sustain the enormous costs neded to compere with the United States. At the same time the United States work in communications, radar, aircraft, nuclear submarines and carriers, space, and nuclear energy gradually found their way into industry and built the dynamic modern economy, including computers and the internet.

Financing the Military

The Cold War was a 40-year struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. While the military balance was central to the struggle, there was never a direct military engagement between the two countries. Financing the military was an important part of that struggle. The costs were enormous. Vast sums were spent by both America and the Soviet Union. For much of the Cold war, the U.S. Defence Department consumed a major part of the Federal budget, even when not engaged in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Researching and building modern weapons was enormously expensive. And most of America's European allies who benefitted most from America's huge commitment, did not make comparable cotributions. The Soviet Union also spent vast sums. Part of the expenses were recouped by advantageous trade deals from the Soviet Eastern European empire. The Communist Party approved the enormous appropriations in the Soviet Union without public input. The costs were enormous and most of America's European allies who benefitted most from America's huge commitment, did not make comparable cotributions. The United States needed public support to approve the needed appropriations in Congress. Two factors worked against the Soviet Union. First the American capuitalist economy was both larger and more efficent. And financing the vast Soviet military put an enormous strain on the inefficent Soviet socialist command economy. Second, thecSovietv culture of secrecy prevented the scientific work onthe military and space from breing used by industry for consumer goods. The opposdite approach occurred in the United States. Whole new industries emerged from Cold War and space research which helped grow the American economy. The comouter industry and the ihnternet was the most prominant new industry. And of course the expahding economy only increased America's ability to finance the military

Country Trends


Chronological Trends

Thus to understand the Cold War it is necessary to assess the military balance, a balance which shifted over time. The military balance at the beginning of the Cold War was largely determined by two developments. First was the success of D-Day which meant that the NAZIs were defeated by both the Soviets and Western Allies, creating a military balance. Second was the American development of an atomic bomb. The Soviet Union had at the end of the War a massive army. The exclusive American possession of the atomic bomb mean that the Soviets were not able their massive superority in land forces to chllenge the West, even over Berlin deep in the Soviet occupation zone.








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Created: 5:12 AM 2/18/2008
Last updated: 8:21 AM 4/10/2019