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When was World War 3?

A look at the Cold War, its end and why the US and the Soviet Union never ended up fighting. Ranan Tannenbaum ID:000094702

Ranan Tannenbaum ID: 000094702

International Politics 2 Prof. Korina Kagan May 4, 2011 Although the Cold War has already been over for more than twenty years at this

point, many questions and motives about the ignominious end of the Soviet Union still remain. While new evidence and explanations have been presented, based on basic realist beliefs it is impossible to know what the Soviet Unions true intentions really were. This is best exemplified by their behavior during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and continued until their eventual collapse. The misinformation and lack of transparency from the Soviet Union proved to be a constant difficulty to United States foreign policy, and thus is the foundation for the ongoing debate today (Kennedy, 1968 & English, 2002). The purpose of this paper is to address the question of why between the years of 1945-1990 the conflict remained a cold one, not culminating in a war. Furthermore, the collapse of the Soviet Union and consequent end of the Cold War must be examined in order to understand the Cold War itself. In addition to discussing the popular explanations for the Long Peace as Gaddis calls it (Saperstein, 1991), this paper will present a response to the empirical explanation that Dale Copeland posits in his argument as to why the world remained peaceful. Much of the discourse regarding the Cold War can be attributed to a number of changes in that occurred post World War 2. For one, the world found itself in a bipolar state, with just two great superpowers, contrary to the twentieth century until that point, when there had been multiple powers. Additionally, a new form of destruction was introduced into the world: nuclear weapons. The post-World War 2 changes are also the two prevailing explanations pertaining to the lack of a war between the US and the Soviet Union. The ideas of bipolar stability and nuclear peace theory are both presented by Kenneth Waltz (Waltz, 1979 in

Ranan Tannenbaum ID: 000094702

International Politics 2 Prof. Korina Kagan May 4, 2011 Saperstein, 1991). According to the explanation of nuclear deterrence theory, there is a concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Essentially, if one country were to use nuclear weapons on another, the attacked country will respond in kind and both will ultimately be destroyed. In the war of nuclear weapons, no country wins, and everyone loses. This sentiment is expressed by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, knowing full well that any sort of attack on Cuba can, and will, be interpreted as an attack on the Soviet Union and in turn cause massive destruction for all parties involved (Kennedy, 1968). The second explanation for the Long Peace lies in Waltzs opinion that a bipolar world system is more stabile than one of a multipolar system. Two main multipolar systems resulted in the World Wars of the 20th century, and specifically the first one simply came about due to uncertainty and misjudgment about the other superpowers that contribute to the ultimate end- war. In a bipolar system though, there is a better understanding and knowledge of your opponent. Alvin Saperstein uses mathematical models to depict that in an armament race a bipolar system would in fact be more stabile and less prone to war than a multipolar system (Saperstein, 1991). Dale Copeland disagrees with the assertion that bipolar worlds are more stable, stating that its wide acceptance is only due to one case study: the Cold War. He criticizes Waltzs article by stating that Waltzs explanation of the nuclear deterrence theory hinders this second explanation of bipolar stability, because it is not possible to disentangle one from the other, and as we had this bipolarity, they had nuclear weapons as well. Copeland, rather, argues that multipolar systems are more stabile because in a bipolar world wars can occur, when states are either unequal or equal in terms of

Ranan Tannenbaum ID: 000094702

International Politics 2 Prof. Korina Kagan May 4, 2011 power; in multipolarity wars can only occur when states are unequal in power. He then attempts to debunk the major realist strands of thought in regards to the origins of war (Copeland, 1995). However, I do not understand his argument that in a bipolar world there is no other option outside of arms racing for deterrence. It seems that if one of the states in a bipolar world is declining, they can form an alliance with a second-tier state, and get themselves back up to equal footing with the other superpower. Copeland then tries to present his own theory that is a combination of the different realist strands. He takes into account different types of power (military, economic and potential) and the expected trends of the disparities between the states in those three types of power. He says that a bid for world hegemony is easier when coming out of a bipolar state, leading to war. Further, the chance of a declining power to start a war is greater in a bipolar state, than in a multipolar state where there are other states deterring it as well. The evidence that Copeland brings is by taking a look at the other three instances of bipolar world before the Cold War. In all three of them (Athens- Sparta, Rome-Carthage, France-Hapsburgs) the end result is war, which Copeland claims would have been prevented had there been other powers in the world with them. Essentially his argument is an affront to Waltz, as Copeland believes there was no war between the US and the Soviet Union thanks to nuclear weapons; not due to bipolarity, and in fact in spite of it (Copeland, 1995). Before presenting my explanation of the reasons why the world remained peaceful, it must first be acknowledged that there are different opinions in regards to the extent of the peace between the two countries. Most scholars agree that the closest that the two superpowers came to a (nuclear) war was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Ranan Tannenbaum ID: 000094702

International Politics 2 Prof. Korina Kagan May 4, 2011 Additionally, the states engaged in a major arms race, stockpiling and inventing weapons in order to compete with one another (English, 2002). For the purpose of this paper, I will abide by the opinion that the Cold War was primarily peaceful, save for the brief threat that was the Cuban Missile Crisis. I would like to suggest an alternative explanation to the empirical evidence presented by Copeland. He brings in the three previous times in history that there was a bipolar system, and says that the Cold War was an exception not the rule, and in actuality bipolar systems are not stable and lead to major war (in the absence of nuclear weapons). Regarding Sapersteins look at bipolarity from a mathematical perspective, I do not believe to be an accurate representation of the world system, considering within a formula, there are far too many variables that are not able to be accounted for. While I agree with Copeland that war is easier to begin and more readily available when in a bipolar state, the Cold War has an inherent difference comparable to the other three bipolar case studies, outside of the technological advancements. This major difference between the Cold War and the three previous cases is the inlying motivations of the states. Copeland presents the entire pretext for war in the three original cases as being matters of the states attempting to expand their empires. The Athenians wanted to absorb and expand as much periphery territories as possible, and while they didnt want to, they would resort to war to achieve this expansion. A dispute in 264 the Punic Wars began over a minor dispute regarding a city that was between Roma and Carthage. In the final case of the France-Hapsburgs disagreements, it was the unification of Spain and Austria together with the Hapsburgs that undermined the security of France, and caused them to launch a war (Copeland, 1995).

Ranan Tannenbaum ID: 000094702

International Politics 2 Prof. Korina Kagan May 4, 2011 However, during the Cold War, there was an innate ideological difference

between the two states that merely manifested itself into a war for world hegemony. Neither state was fighting for land; it was never a war about trying to expand their respective states. The countries did not agree with the underlying ideologies of the other, but even throughout the proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, the all-encompassing goal of the United States was never one of acquiring territory. Its goal was the prevention of the spread of Communism, seeing as it posed a great threat. It is not surprising then that there was no direct war between the two states, because once communism essentially lost out to capitalism, there was not anything left to fight over. This may sound like a more constructivist idea initially, but at heart, communism is an economic doctrine. While Gorbachevs changes in economic and fiscal policy precipitated the eventual downfall, by the early 1980s even the members of the elite in the USSR did not base their legitimacy or identity on beating the United States (English, 2002). Additionally, while there may have been inside opposition to the cuts that Gorbachev was making, for whatever the reason, nothing stopped the cuts from occurring, and still inside the Russian Politburo there was a schism (English, 2002). This difficulty in trying to comprehend the actions and information coming out of the Kremlin substantiates the realist claim of not knowing what the opponents true intentions are, making any sort of explanation for the Russians side during the Cold War difficult to achieve. This accounts for the last part of the Cold War, but there is one large event that remains difficult to understand. Why did the Cuban Missile Crisis not explode into a world war? Outside of this one transformative event, while there may have been the arms

Ranan Tannenbaum ID: 000094702

International Politics 2 Prof. Korina Kagan May 4, 2011 and space races, the two countries did not come so close into direct conflict with one another. While nuclear weapons may have played a role in the reasons for not starting a war, definitely from the Americans perspective, their standing as a democratic nation in the worlds eyes greatly influenced the hesitancy to launch a full attack, as well (Kennedy, 1968). Furthermore, and possibly even more telling is what Khrushchev wrote in his infamous and highly contested first letter to the White House, We want something quite differentnot to destroy your countrybut despite out ideological differences, to compete peacefully, not by military means (Kennedy, p. 67, 1968). All of the actual documentation and attempted explanations from the side of the former Soviet Union are contested even today. It is difficult to try and determine one overriding explanation for the lack of a direct war between the US and the USSR. Still theories permeate the discourse. From bipolar stability like Saperstein attempts to concretely prove, to Copelands hypothesis to disprove the faulty notion of bipolar stability, to nuclear deterrence theory, scholars are still trying to ascertain the correct reason. However, there is still one part of the discussion which all agree about: the world is extremely lucky that no war ever took place. As President Kennedy said regarding those who suggested the US attack Cuba and begin a war, If wedo what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong (Kennedy, 1968).

Ranan Tannenbaum ID: 000094702 Bibliography

International Politics 2 Prof. Korina Kagan May 4, 2011

Copeland, Dale. (1996). Neorealism and the myth of bipolar stability: toward a new dynamic realist theory of major war. Security Studies, 5(3), 29-89. English, Robert. (2002). Power, ideas, and new evidence on the cold wars end: a reply to Brooks and Wohlforth, International Security,26(4), 70-92. Kennedy, Robert.(1969).Thirteen days: a memoir of the Cuban missile crisis. New York: W.W. Norton. Saperstein, Alvin. (1991). The long peace- result of a bipolar competitive world? Journal of Conflict Resolution,35 (1), 80-90.