The Cold War | Robert J. McMahon

Summary of: The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction
By: Robert J. McMahon


Dive into the complex world of the Cold War with this summary of ‘The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction’ by Robert J. McMahon. As we explore the seemingly insurmountable divides between capitalist and communist powers, we’ll touch on key themes such as the aftermath of World War II, the establishment of new postwar international orders, and the dramatic power struggles that ensued as nations vied for superiority. This engaging look at a fascinating historical period is perfect for those seeking to understand the intricate factors and strategies at play in one of the most critical conflicts of the 20th century.

The Cold War: A Product of World War II

World War II left much of Europe and Asia in ruins, with millions dead and cities destroyed. The war also changed the international order, replacing Western European nations with the United States and the Soviet Union. Tensions and hostilities between the US and the Soviet Union existed before and during the war, with the US and its allies wanting to contain the spread of Soviet communism. Though the two nations were allies against Nazi Germany, their relationship was tense, and they couldn’t agree on how to fight the war. This led to a power vacuum after the war, which created an environment for the Cold War to begin.

The US Post-War Agenda

After the Second World War, what kind of international order would emerge? The Soviet Union and the United States agreed on the need for international stability, but they disagreed on how to achieve it. The US sought a Eurasian balance of power, a global sphere of influence, and superior military strength. To maintain a favorable balance of power in Eurasia, the United States had to prevent any other nation or alliance of nations from dominating it. With its combination of abundant natural resources, industrial infrastructure, skilled labor, and military facilities, this region was the most strategically important in the world. To counter long-distance attacks, the American strategists aimed to create a global network of US-controlled air and naval bases. To achieve this, the US needed to maintain superior military strength.

The Interdependence of US Military and Economic Power

In order to maintain global military dominance after World War II, American strategists believed that the US needed to achieve multiple objectives simultaneously. These objectives included maintaining a strong navy and air force, an intimidating military presence in the Pacific, and outright supremacy in the Western hemisphere. Additionally, the US wanted to play a leading role in the postwar occupation and reconstruction of Axis countries, prevent them from becoming adversaries again, and preserve its monopoly on nuclear weapons. However, to complement its global military power, the US sought to establish multilateral economic relationships based on free trade with the goal of creating a more prosperous, peaceful, and stable world. Striving for common prosperity under capitalism was also seen as a means of keeping communist ideology at bay and discouraging any resistance or threats to the US-led order. The combination of unrivaled military power and common capitalistic prosperity were viewed as intertwined objectives to maintain global dominance after World War II.

The US and Soviet Union’s Visions for Post-War Europe

In the aftermath of World War Two, the US and the Soviet Union had conflicting visions for the future of Europe. The US aimed to establish a global order with economic agreements, military bases, and allies, while the Soviet Union sought to protect itself by creating a buffer zone and weakening Germany. The Soviet Union, having suffered huge losses during the war, wanted to prevent any future invasions by promoting communism in Eastern European countries, creating a conflict with the US. This led to the Cold War, marking a pivotal point in world history.

The Birth of the Cold War

Disagreements over Germany during post World War II set the stage for the Cold War in Europe. American strategists viewed Germany as a key player in their vision for the postwar international order, leading to the implementation of the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO. However, the Soviet Union feared Germany’s resurgence and aimed for political control over Eastern Europe. As a result, the US and Soviet Union became increasingly hostile towards each other, with a so-called “Iron Curtain” dividing the continent and defining the start of the Cold War.

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