Despite of some serious crises, the Cold War never resulted into a Third World War. Although cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union was the main reason, there were other reasons to why it never resulted into another world war. The end of the Second World War resulted in the separation of Europe. Western Europe was under strong influence by the United States and capitalism, while Eastern Europe was under strong influence by the Soviet Union and communism. This separation of influence in Europe would eventually result globally as the two superpowers race to spread their influence on every livable continent on earth.
The race resulted in many conflicts and devastating proxy wars that could have easily triggered a third world war. Among others, these conflicts included the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Korean War, and the Yom Kippur War. Despite of all these wars and crises, the two superpowers managed to prevent another world war through negotiations, treaties, and constant cooperation.
The United Nations should also be given some credit over keeping the United States and the Soviet Union at peace, because since its creation, the organization had been a mediator in helping the two superpowers negotiate.
Diplomacy played a very important role in preventing an ultimate showdown between the two superpowers during the Cold War. There were many instances, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, where negotiation was vital in order to keep peace. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union placed missiles on the socialist nation of Cuba1.
This event alerted the United States government and forced American President John F. Kennedy to order the US navy to blockade Cuba, which was considered illegal under international law2. This daring move led to intense negotiation via phone between Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, which ended in an agreement. The agreement was that the Soviets would remove their missiles in Cuba if the Americans would remove their missiles in Turkey and promise to never invade Cuba3. This negotiation between the two leaders calmed the bilateral relations of the United States and the Soviet Union, and thus weakened the chances of a war between the two powers. The Cuban Missile Crisis was regarded by many as the closest thing in the Cold War that could have triggered a third world war4. Yet, it was ended peacefully through diplomacy. An earlier war that was caused halted by diplomacy was the Korean War, although there had never been any peace treaties signed5. It was a three year war, fought between communist and capitalist forces, which ended at the negotiation table in the Korean town of Panmunjeom, where both sides agreed on an armistice6. The armistice prevented a bigger war between United Nation forces and Chinese forces, which may have likely involved the Soviet Union because of their strong alliance with China, and thus preventing a more disastrous showdown in East Asia.
The Détente era, which took place between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, was regarded to be a period in which Soviet-American relations relaxed and cooled down7. During this period, a few treaties, such as the Helsinki Accord and SALT, were signed. These treaties were aimed to improve relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Helsinki Accord improved West-Soviet relations by fulfilling the hopes of both sides8. In the agreement, the West recognized the Soviet Union’s extended borders, which were the borders they captured after World War II, received international recognition; while the Soviet Union agreed to respect human rights, a hope the West had wanted9. This agreement was seen as a significant step, taken by the two superpowers, into reducing Cold War tensions and as a major step into improving relations between the West and the Soviet Union and her allies10. The success of this accord proved that cooperation between the Soviets and the Americans is possible. The signing of the Helsinki Accord led to the creation of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This organization aimed to help and develop the countries of Eastern Europe11 and thus strengthening relations between the West and the East in Europe. During the Détente era, a few arms control treaties were signed. Some of the most prominent of these treaties were the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, also known as SALT I and SALT II. Both of these treaties were mainly aimed to reduce the chances of an apocalyptic nuclear war and cool down relations between the Soviet Union and the United States12. The success of these treaties and arms control treaties has proven that the United States and the Soviet Union were willing to cooperate to prevent hostilities that may lead to a world war.
Since its creation, the United Nations had helped both sides of conflict in the Cold War agree on a peace settlement. During the Suez Crisis, the countries of the United Nations ordered an immediate cease-fire13. This prevented conflicts that could have erupted between France, UK, and Israel and the Soviet Union, because of the USSR’s close military ties with Egypt14. Had a war erupted between these four nations, the United States would have likely intervened and created a bigger war. About 17 years later in 1973, the war erupted again between Israel and Egypt. It was the Yom Kippur War and this war had the United States discreetly backing Israel and the Soviet Union discreetly backing Egypt15. When the Egyptians and Syrians first launched the invasion, the United States planned to send their troops to help the Israelis. However, the Soviets threatened to send their troops to help the Egyptians and Syrians if the Americans deployed their troops to help the Israelis16. It was the second time (since the Cuban Missile Crisis) during the Cold War that the United States “Defense Readiness Condition” (DEFCON) meter was raised to DEFCON 217, which meant that the United States army was at very high alert. The Yom Kippur War was ended through negotiations, between the USA and the USSR in the United Nations Security Council, and a cease-fire resolution enacted by the United Nations18. Had the United Nations not convinced the two superpowers to negotiate a peace settlement for Israel and Egypt, the United States might have been forced to send their own troops to the Middle East, which would have likely forced the Soviet Union to send their troops as well.
The Cold War was an era of power competition between the Soviet Union and the United States. The era involved many devastating proxy wars that resulted in millions of deaths. Despite of the serious conflicts, the two superpowers managed to end the Cold War peacefully. This was due to constant negotiation and cooperation between the superpowers. These negotiations and cooperation resulted in many treaties being signed and brought the two countries closer. Throughout the Cold War, the United Nations existed as a medium and a mediator as it tried to bring the two powers closer to each other. However, consultation between the Soviet Union and the United States was the most important thing that kept the world safe from World War III.
Terry Burrows, The Visual History of the Modern World, Hinkler Books, Heatherton, 2007 This is a very useful book when learning about world history. It has information on major world events and I found its article about the Cuban Missile Crisis to be very detailed and useful.
John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War, Penguin Books, Camberwell, 2005 This book, written by world renowned historian John Lewis Gaddis, gives good and detailed information about the major events of the Cold War. I found it to be very useful in writing this essay.
Norman Lowe, Mastering Modern World History, Palgrave Macmillan, England, 2005 This book provided useful background about the Cold War era. It had concise but easy-to-understand information about the Suez Crisis and other important Cold War events.
John Hider, Vahur Made, David J. Smith; The Baltic Question during the Cold War, Routledge, England, 2008 This book provided useful information about the condition of the Baltic states and neighboring communist countries during the Cold War. It has good information on the Helsinki Accords and its affects on Eastern European states. Internet Sites:
Wikipedia, [Online] at
– http:///www.wikipedia.org/cuban_missile_crisis [accessed 5/10/09] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suez_Crisis#End_of_hostilities [accessed 15/10/09] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DEFCON [accessed 19/10/09]
Although most of the information pages on this website are editable, it does give good information about the nature of the Cold War and very detailed information about the events of it.
Infoplease, [Online] at
http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0814197.html [accessed 5/10/09] Infoplease has good information about the Cold War. I found their article on the Cuban Missile Crisis to be quite useful.
MSN Encarta, [Online] at
http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/refpages/refarticle.aspx?refid=761579929 [accessed 5/10/09] This website, owned by Microsoft, gives good information about the Cold War and the many conflicts in it. I found their article about the Cuban Missile Crisis to be very useful.
Australian War Memorial Website, [Online] at
http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/korea.asp [accessed 6/10/09]
This website gives good and reliable information about the wars and battles Australia has fought in. It gives good information on the Korean War.
History Learning Site, [Online] at
– http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/detente.htm [accessed 6/10/09] – http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/yom_kippur_war_of_1973.htm [accessed 19/10/09] This is an educational website that has clear and reliable information on the United Nations and its involvement in the Cold War.
History Central, [Online] at
http://www.historycentral.com/Today/HelsinkiAccords.html [accessed 6/10/09] This is a reliable and educational website that has reliable information on the Helsinki Accords and its affects.
Britannica, [Online] at
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/260615/Helsinki-Accords [accessed 6/10/09] This website gives good information on the Cold War. I found their article on the Helsinki Accords.
Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe website, [Online] at http://www.osce.org/publications/sg/2007/10/22286_952_en.pdf [accessed
6/10/09] This website is very detailed, clear, and reliable in giving information about the OSCE and its history.
Jewish Virtual Library, [Online] at
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/73_War.html [accessed 15/10/09] This website gives good information about Israel’s war involvements. It gives good and clear information on the Suez Crisis and the Yom Kippur War.