New Cold War

The new Cold War’s origin is generally traced back to December 1979 when the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan. However, Brzezinski, the National Security Adviser of President Carter of the USA, in his book holds that it was in 1978 that things began to go wrong in the Soviet American relationship.1

In the first half of 1975, there was apparently some reduction in international tensions. SALT-I greatly contributed to the dawn of what was then acclaimed as detente. A few things occurred in the second half of 1975, which signified the USSR’s victory over the US.

In 1975 South Vietnam fell to communists, and the next year, the pro-Soviet forces captured power in Angola while the pro-USA and pro-China elements suffered a defeat there in the power struggle. This phase reached its climax when the Soviet Union militarily intervened in Afghanistan in December 1979, and a pro-Soviet regime in Kabul captured the power. Subsequently, when the Soviets became more emboldened that America reacted more sharply. Thus Brzezinski blamed the Soviet Union for the new cold war.

On the other hand, the Soviet Union held the USA responsible for initiating the new cold war. It has been maintained that with coming into power in the USA by Democrat President Carter and assumption of office by hawkish Brzezinski as National Security Advisor, the USA attitude towards the Soviet Union changed.

Kissinger’s view that the only alternative to detente was a war did not favor Brzezinski, who disapproved of overselling detente by Nixon and Kissinger. He reminded that detente required responsible behavior on the part of the Soviet Union.

But its actions in Angola, the Middle East, Ethiopia, the United Nations, and finally in Afghanistan certainly indicated that it was playing smart. He advocated a calculated policy of simultaneous competition and cooperation,n which could promote reciprocal detente.

This naturally evoked a strong Soviet reaction,n, and the fragile detente was broken. Thus Soviets accused Carter of beginning the new cold war by unnecessarily combining the soviet behavior with the SALT process.

Many observers characterized the deteriorating Soviet American relations as merely a reaffirmation of their belief that the cold war had never ended, even during detente. The conflict persisted even during detente, though on y a new basis and in a new style, the differences that invariably divide great powers did not disappear. From this viewpoint, the ddnte’sdetente’sdetente’sdetente’snte’s name tended to conceal the continuing, fundamental rivalry between the superpowers. Hence, Goodman observed detente (was) a part of the cold war, not an alternative.2

Gelb further developed this thesis as viewed from the American perspective, saying that the Nixon, Kissinger strategy Sought to evolve detente into a new form of containment of the Soviet Union or better still, self-containment on the part of the Russians.3

According to Kissinger’s conception, detente represented an attempt to devise new means to the old ends of containment.4

According to this agreement, when the United States enjoyed superiority in strategic and military aspects, containment and cold war politics were possible by coercion and confrontation. But from a balanced position, confrontation is not viable and containment only feasible through reduction and collaborative linkages, which Would tie the Soviets in a web of cooperative arrangements, thereby checking expansionism on their part.

From the Soviet perspective, this thesis suggests the possibility that the Soviets might have seen, in trade, technological, and diplomatic exchanges, a way of reducing the threat of the United States, thereby enabling them to pay more attention to crucial internal problems.

It may also have been considered a means of minimizing the threat to the Soviet Union that impending hobnobbing between the United States and China could pose.

Arms control talks were the central theme of the whole process of detente. With the signing of SALT agreements in 1972 and 1979, each of the superpowers appeared to have gained a principal objective it had sought through the process of detente.

By this, the Soviet Union attained a coequal status with the United States. In the bargain, the United States gained a commitment of moderation on the Soviet Union’s part to achieve per eminent power in the world.

In sum, the United States and the Soviet Union’s ideological incompatibilities, hovering of war clouds due to their military preparedness and their conflicting interests and objectives throughout the world keep the struggle between East and West much alive.

Until the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in late 1979, the two powers’ relationships was perhaps best explained by Brzezinski as consternation. The term seems appropriate as it stresses the enduring contest that remains fundamental to Soviet American relations.

A contest entails elements of both conflict and cooperation. Consternation thus describes the superpowers, dual compulsion to oppose one another throughout the globe but to cooperate out of necessity because of their common need to avoid nuclear war.

The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan challenged the Correctness of the term consternation that symbolized the Soviet American relationship in early 1979. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance warned in early 198. Obviously, the bilateral relationship has received a severe blow as a result of what happened in Afghanistan.5

Immediately after this,s President Carter announced a new “doctrine” when he warned in his State of the Union address that an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary including military force.6

Evidently, the Soviet Union was the intended target of the message, Afghanistan its reason. Then in May 1980, Carter explained the perceived Soviet threat in dramatic terms, Soviet aggression in Afghanistan unless checked,d confronts all the world with the most serious strategic challenge since the cold war began.7

By that time,e the US had already planned retaliatory actions such as the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, a momentary suspension of American grain exports to the Soviet Union, and curtailment of trade links with the Soviet Union had developed during detente.

All these developments and resourcing of Soviet American relations were referred to as the new cold war or second cold war that lasted from 1979 to 1986-87.

Causes And Evolution Of New Cold War:

The major causes of the evolution of the new cold war are as follows:

1. Reverses suffered in Vietnam:

After the reverses, it suffered in Vietnam, America, under the Reagan Administrationtriedg, its best to refurbish its image. In a mood of despair, the American people appeared to feel that they had become completely enfeebled, paralyzed, and impotent.

The success stories of the Soviet Union in Angola, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan greatly worsened this psychosis of Americans. In this atmosphere of defeatism and despair, Ronald Reagan emerged as the triumphant hero of the vast majority of  Neoconservatives in his country’s 1980 election.

He undertook to pull his country out of the morass of dismay and disappointment and usher in an era of “New Resurgence.”

2. One-Sided Detente:

America’s Nee conservatives alleged that the detente was one-sided,d and the Soviet Union had fully exploited it for its own end. The Republican Party took full advantage of this new spurt of conservative mood in the US, and the result was the victory of Reagan as the President in November 1980.

The Republicans also increased their strength in Congress and were able to gain a vital majority in the Senate. This had a significant impact on American foreign policy and detente.

3. Acts of Carter Administration:

The previous Carter Administration had already built the main framework of Reagan’s strident and militant foreign policy. It was the Carter Administration that had initiated the policy of helping through CIA, the Afghan Mujaheddians fighting against the pro-Soviet Karmal regime. It had also offered help to Pakistan,n including the supply of sophisticated F-16s. The Carter Administration had also implemented the US decision made in early 1975 to convert Diego Garcia into a full-fledged naval base. Carter also pleaded the cause of human rights throughout the world d, including the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union disliked his support for human rights.

All policies of the Carter Administration were retained by the Reagan Administration and implemented with more zeal and with more militant rhetoric.

4. Developments in the Indian Ocean:

In Ethiopia, an important pro-USA country in North Africa for a long, a pro-Soviet regime captured power. In Saudi Arabia, there was a mini-revolt. The rebels were allegedly trained by South Yemen and Libya, which are close to the Soviet Union.

There was a military encounter between South Yemen aided by Moscow, and North Yemen helped by Saudi Arabia and the USA. The fall of the Shah of Iran in early 1979 was a terrible blow to the US. For long Shah of Iran was the main pillar of US foreign policy in this area. All these events revived the hostility between the two powers.

5. Soviet Union’s Successes, America’s Annoyance:

Soviet Union’s actions and interventions succeeded in the second half of 1973 in Vietnam (1975), Angola (1976), Ethiopia (1977), and Afghanistan (1979). The US President Reagan accused the Soviet Union of a major share of the polish situation’s blamed as the latter got imposed material law in Poland in 1981. According to the US, the Soviet Union never misses an opportunity to take undue advantage of the situation and always intervenes to create its sphere of influence.

Then we did not like these Soviet actions. Under these circumstances, America stood a gap,e. In former President Nixon’s words, the US looked like the pitiful,l helpless giant cannot endure being in a pitiful situation for long.

Features Of New Cold War:

An Indian scholar Prof. Baral has well explained the features of the new cold war.8

His views are summed up below.

1. Mainly Out of Atlantic and Pacific:

in the past, the main theater of the cold war was the Atlantic and the Pacific area.s The battlefield of the new cold war was the states of the Indian ocean. Both the superpowers were sending more and more warships to the Oceanando, trying to hire more bases and other military facilities in its littoral states. The region’s strategic importance was revealed during the oil blockade e, and both sides vied with each other in respect of military presence in the region.

2. Reagan’s Rhetoric:

Reagan’s strident rhetoric added a new dimension to the cold war. He vehemently declared that the US would enter into a negotiation with the Soviet Union on arms control only from a position of strength. He hoped that the Soviet Union would be frightened by his rhetoric and rush to the negotiation table with folded hands and bent knees. But his hopes were belied as no meaningful agreement with the Soviet Union could be concluded during a large part of his tenure. In the last year of his tenure, he became soft and signed the INF treaty with Gorbachev. He also talked of Star War.

3. Nuclear Race:

A new turn in the nuclear race and nuclear proliferation was witnessed during the new cold war. Many third-world countries and other nations also joined the race, e.g., Israel, South Africa, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, and Australia. There are two opinions in respect of the impact of this nuclear proliferation on disarmament and peace.

Western scholars opined that nuclear nations are not mature in handling nuclear weapons and are likely to be irresponsible in their nuclear conduct. But several third world countries,s including Indi, do not agree with the above view.

According to the,m the new members of the nuclear club are as responsible or irresponsible as its old members, and limiting the membership of the nuclear club only to five big powers is discriminatory and indicates big-power chauvinism and overlordship.

On the other hand, they would expect that nuclear proliferation, enhancing danger for all,l would compel the ”nuclear haves” to control and gradually eliminate the vertical proliferation.n

4. Delinking or De-coupling:

Except for Britain, other West European countries, which continued to be close to the USA, favor delinking the detente in Europe from peripheral conflicts. They no longer blindly ditto the US policies in different regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Most of the European allies refused to get themselves involved in American Operations in Afghanistan.

They reacted against the prospect of inviting troubles for European peace whenever  America feels that its interests in some areas are threatened by ”Soviet aggression.” In this way, West European nations did not allow the new cold war to invade their region for American interests and thus delinked detente from his new phenomenon.

Difference Between New And Old Cold War:

In many respects, the new cold war was different from the old cold war. Major differences are as follows :

  1. The old cold war was mainly in areas around the Atlantic and Pacific, but a new cold war was outside those areas and occurred largely in the Indian Ocean.
  2. In the new cold war, Allies or Alliances were not actively involved. China, Japan, and even West European countries were disinterested in this, and the hostilities continued mainly between the two superpowers.
  3. The new cold war resulted in a rigorous nuclear arms race between the two major superpowers. Nuclear proliferation was witnessed outside the nuclear club of the big five. During the old war, stress was on the qualitative buildup of conventional weapons.
  4. The new cold war was more threatening than the cold war of 1955 and 1965 because of the nuclear arsenals size.
  5. The first cold war was for the world leadership, whereas the second cold war was based on parity or its erosion in the relations between two superpowers.

Impact of a new cold war:

The new cold war has affected international relations in many ways.

1 . Setback to Detente:

The first and foremost casualty of the new cold war was detente and arms control talks. SALT-II, which was signed after crossing so many hurdles, received set back when the US Senate refused to ratify it in retaliation for Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. After that, arms control talks ceased to progress. Between 1979 and 1985, no summit meeting was held between the top leaders of the two countries.

2. Interference in Developing World:

Unlike the first cold war in which European colonial powers were actively involved and dealt with former colonies, the USA dealt with developing countries ( or former colonies) directly in the new Cold War. Generally, the United States had been siding with the reactionary regimes in the developing world to maintain the status quo. This compelled Marxist leaders in these countries to side with the Soviet Union.

3. Encouragement to Non-alignment:

The new cold war gave a fresh lease of life to the non-aligned movement, and more and more countries preferred to join it to have greater maneuverability in their foreign policy between the two superpowers. No doubt some of the third world countries have given facilities to the two superpowers regarding the stationing of military personnel to maintain and service the sophisticated weapons and equipment. Still, these states have also shown a greater inclination to maintain their autonomy.

4. Fear of Proxy War:

The new cold war was marked by the high technology arms race and increasing intervention and pressure on the developing world. All this increased the possibility of two superpowers engaging in proxy wars in the developing world rather than confrontation.

5. Economic Difficulties:

This cold war also greatly contributed to the superpowers’ economic difficulties and adversely affected the international economy. The high defense spending had resulted in high-interest rates, which had brought in numerous economic hardships. Though both superpowers were faced with economic problems, the Soviet Union ultimately succumbed to economic ills in the late eighties.

The new cold war could not survive for long as the situation again improved after 1985. Summit meetings between the two superpowers were re-started. After the Geneva accord in 1987, the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.  The same year the INF Treaty was signed between the two powers.

In  1989 communism collapsed in East Europe and Gorbachev withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The Soviet Union came in the grip of several domestic, economic, political, and ethnic problems and had little time and strength for external conflicts.

By November 1990, the Cold War was formally ended, and on July 31, 1991, the Moscow summit confirms the end of the cold war and the devastating conflict between the world’s two superpowers. In the Moscow summit, the historic Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed by Bush and Gorbachev to cut their nuclear arsenals by 30 percent.

In December 1991, the Soviet Union and its Communist ideology collapsed. Many of its Republics declared themselves independent and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). President Yeltsin of the Russian Federation’s successor state of the former Soviet Union declared his visit to the US in February 1992 regarding the formal end of the cold war.

In June 1992, Presidents Bush and Yeltsin again met at Washington, where the latter announced that Russia’s reform program is irreversible. Both the leaders also argued to further cuts in strategic nuclear arsenals. With these developments, even the new cold war has also become a thing of the past.


1. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power, and Principle (New York, 1983).

2. Allen E. Goodman, “The Causes and Consequences of Detente, 1949-1973″. Papers presented to the National Security Education  Seminar, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado (July 1975).

3. Leslie H. Gelb, What Exactly is Kissinger’s. Legacy. New York Times Magazine, October 31, 1976, p. 13-15 et. passim.

4. Quoted in ibid.

5. Quoted in Charles W. Kegley, Jr. and Eugene R. Wittkopf, World Politics-Trend and Transformation (New York, 1981), p.

6.  Quoted in ibid.

7.Quoted in ibid.

8. JK. Baral, International Politics -Dynamics and Dimensions (New Delhi, 1987), pp. 277-281.

7 thoughts on “New Cold War”

  1. The starting point of the new cool war is by and large followed back to . December 1979 when Soviet Union interceded in Afghanistan. In any case, Brezezinski, the National Security Adviser of President Carter of USA in his book holds that it was in 1978 that things started to turn out badly in the Soviet-American relationship.1 In the main portion of 19705, there was obviously some decrease in global strains. SALT-I significantly added to the beginning of what was then acclaimed as armistice. A couple of things happened in the second 50% of 19705 which implied the triumph for the USSR over the US.

  2. The origin of the new cold war is generally traced back to . December 1979 when Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan. However, Brezezinski, the National Security Adviser of President Carter of USA in his book holds that it was in 1978 that things began to go wrong in the Soviet-American relationship.1 In the first half of 19705, there was apparently some reduction in international tensions. SALT-I greatly contributed to the dawn of what was then acclaimed as detente. A few things occurred in the second half of 19705 which signified the victory for the USSR over the US.

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