Cold War: Latin America, Middle East and Eastern Europe

Confrontations over Developing Nations

Following World War II, the world’s nations were grouped politically into three “worlds.” The First World was the United States and its allies. The Second World included the Soviet Union and its allies. The Third World consisted of developing nations, often newly independent, who were not aligned with either superpower.

These Third World countries were poor, politically instable, suffered from ethnic conflicts and lacked in technology and education. United States, the Soviet Union, and, China, used a variety of techniques to gain influence in the Third World through sponsored or backed wars of revolution, liberation, or counterrevolution.

They employed spy agencies—the CIA and the KGB. US provided military aid, built schools, set up programs to combat poverty, and sent volunteer workers to developing nations in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Soviets offered military and technical assistance, mainly to India and Egypt.

Not all Third World countries wished to play such a role, however. India, for example, vowed to remain neutral in the Cold War. Indonesia, a populous island nation in Southeast Asia, also struggled to stay uninvolved. In 1955, Indonesia hosted the leaders of Asian and African countries in the Bandung Conference. They met to form what they called a “third force” of such independent countries, or nonaligned nations.

Situation in Latin America

Even before World War II, American businesses backed leaders who often oppressed their people, but who protected U.S. interests. After the war, communism and nationalistic feelings inspired a wave of revolutionary movements. In response, the US provided military support and economic assistance to anti-Communist dictators.

Cuban Revolution: Throughout the 1950s, U.S. support-maintained Cuba’s unpopular dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Popular revolution, overthrew Batista in January 1959. A young lawyer named Fidel Castro led that revolution.

At first, many people praised Castro for bringing reforms to Cuba and improving the economy, literacy, health care, and conditions for women. He nationalized the Cuban economy and took over U.S.- owned sugar mills and refineries. Yet Castro was a harsh dictator. He suspended elections, jailed or executed his opponents, and strangled the press with tight government controls.

In response, US ordered an embargo on all trade with Cuba. Castro turned to the Soviets for the economic and military aid he needed. In 1960, the CIA planned an invasion of Cuba and began to train anti-Castro Cuban exiles to carry it out. In April 1961 these exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Castro’s forces defeated the invaders, humiliating the United States.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

The failed Bay of Pigs invasion convinced the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, that the United States would not resist Soviet expansion in Latin America. Consequently, in July 1962, Khrushchev secretly began to build 42 missile sites in Cuba. The U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, declared that missiles so close to the U.S. mainland were a threat.

He demanded that the Soviets remove the missiles. Kennedy also announced a quarantine, or blockade, of Cuba to prevent the Soviets installing more missiles. U.S. troops assembled in Florida, ready to invade Cuba. People around the world began to fear that this standoff would lead to World War III and a nuclear disaster.

Fortunately, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles in return for a U.S. promise not to invade Cuba.

Victory of US made Castro completely dependent on Soviet support. In exchange for this support, Castro backed Communist revolutions in Latin America and Africa. Approximately 36,000 Cubans fought in Angola’s war against colonialism in the 1970s. Soviet aid to Cuba, however, ended abruptly with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. This loss dealt a crippling blow to the Cuban economy. The country still suffers a scarcity of vital supplies. But the aging Castro refuses to adopt economic reforms or to give up power. An equally stubborn United States refuses to lift its trade embargo.

Middle East

Religious and Secular Values Clash in Iran Throughout the Middle East, wealth from the oil industry fueled a growing conflict between traditional Islamic values and modern Western materialism. In no country did the clash between cultures erupt more dramatically than in the former Persia, or Iran. After World War II, Iran’s leader, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, embraced Western governments and wealthy Western oil companies. Angry Iranian nationalists resented these foreign alliances. They united under the leadership of Prime Minister Muhammad Mossaddeq. They seized and nationalized a British-owned oil company and, in 1953, forced the shah to flee. Fearing that Mossaddeq might turn to the Soviets for support, the United States had him arrested.

Shah gradually westernized his country. By the end of the 1950s, Iran’s capital, Tehran, featured gleaming skyscrapers, foreign banks, and modern factories. Millions of Iranians, however, still lived in extreme poverty. Shah punished anyone who dared to oppose him and limited the role of Islamic legal and academic experts.

Iran’s conservative Muslim leaders, known as ayatollahs, bitterly opposed this move. They wanted Iran to become a republic ruled strictly by Islamic law. The leader of this religious opposition, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini was living in exile. On his call Iranian workers went on strike.

In late 1978, riots erupted in every major city in Iran. Faced with overwhelming opposition, the shah fled Iran in January 1979. A triumphant Khomeini returned from exile to establish an Islamic state. He banned the Western influences that the shah had brought to Iran and reinstated traditional Muslim values. Islamic law became the legal code for the country.

In 1979 a group of young Islamic revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and kept U.S. hostages for 444 days. Khomeini also encouraged Muslim fundamentalists, or strict believers, in other countries to overthrow their secular governments. This phase is the Iranian Revolution.

The Iran-Iraq war:

While the Iranians were Shia, the Iraqis belonged to the rival Sunni Muslim sect. In addition, a military leader, Saddam Hussein governed Iraq as a secular state. War broke out between the two countries in 1980. For eight years, Muslim killed Muslim in a territorial struggle. Caught in the middle, the United States secretly sold weapons to Iran in an effort to get their hostages released. A million Iranians and Iraqis died before a UN ceasefire ended the hostilities in 1988.

The Superpowers Face Off in Afghanistan

In the 1950s, Soviet influence in the country began to increase. In the late 1970s, a Muslim revolt threatened to topple Afghanistan’s Communist regime. Soviet invaded in December 1979. The Soviets expected to prop up the Afghan Communists quickly and withdraw. Instead, the Soviets found themselves stuck in Afghanistan. Determined Afghan rebel (called mujahideen) forces outmaneuvered and overpowered a military superpower.   American supplied weapons to the mujahideens to fight for long. US wanted to secure the Eastern oil supplies. After a ten year occupation, President Mikhail Gorbachev ordered his forces to withdraw.

The last Soviet troops left Afghanistan in February 1989. By then, internal unrest and economic problems were tearing the Soviet Union itself apart.

In the postwar years, the Soviet Union did not allow Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, and East Germany to develop their own economies. Instead, it insisted that they develop industries to meet Soviet needs. These policies greatly hampered Eastern Europe’s economic recovery.

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Eastern Europe

After Stalin’s death, USSR allowed their satellite countries a taste of independence, as long as they remained firmly Communist and allied with the Soviet Union. During the 1950s and 1960s, protests began.

Nikita Khrushchev became the dominant Soviet leader and began a policy called destalinization, or purging the country of Stalin’s memory. He also called for “peaceful competition” with the capitalist states.

In October 1956, the Hungarian army joined with protesters to over throw Hungary’s Soviet-controlled government. Imre Nagy formed a new government. Nagy promised free elections and demanded that Soviet troops leave Hungary. In response, in early November, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. Infantry units backed them. Thousands of Hungarian freedom fighters armed themselves with pistols and bottles. The Soviets overpowered freedom fighters, and Hungarian government was replaced with pro-Soviet leaders and eventually executed Nagy.

Split with China: China was committed to communism. Mao and Stalin had signed a 30-year treaty of friendship in 1950. But later Soviets assumed that the Chinese would follow Soviet leadership in world affairs. However, they began to spread their own brand of communism in Africa and other parts of Asia.

In 1959, Khrushchev refused to share nuclear secrets with China and later ended technical economic aid to China. This split eventually grew so wide that fighting broke out along the long Chinese-Soviet border.

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