Expanding the Cold War

December 4, 2009 | | Comments Off on Expanding the Cold War

In the rising Cold War conflict, the Western European democracies played a huge role. France and Britain relied on America for economic assistance and weapons while simultaneously were building up their own military budget. America’s nuclear “umbrella” seemed to be the only reassurance against Soviet attack. Countries such as Switzerland, Ireland, Sweden and Finland managed to stay neutral and after gaining independence in 1956, Austria was also neutral. The US formed NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1949. NATO was the defensive alliance formed in which an attack against one member state would be seen as an attack against the whole group. In response to NATO, the Warsaw Pact was created by the Soviet Union.

NATO vs. Warsaw Pact

NATO vs. Warsaw Pact

The main focus at this time was to resist communist expansion. After Japan was defeated in August 1945, a power vacuum was opened in many prime areas. American forces inhabited Japan’s main islands while the Soviets occupied Manchuria. East Asia was dragged into the Washington-Moscow rivalry. China served as the location for most of the conflict between the US and the Soviet Union. At that time, it had a population of over 300 million people. Chiang Kai-shek was the leader of the anticommunist Nationalists, supported by the United States. Despite their support, however, the Nationalists had yet to win against the Japanese. Mao Zedong was the leader of an alternative movement in the more rural areas. He had won the support of many resistance fighters and was in charge of a communist army of over 1 million men by 1945. Mao gained political advantage by calling for land reform. The People’s Liberation Army owned large areas of land throughout China.

Chiang Kai-shek

By 1947 it had become apparent that the Nationalists’ control and influence could not be undone. US forces withdrew from China and American-backed efforts of mediation, led by General George C. Marshall, were given up on. October 1, 1949 saw the formation of the Communist People’s Republic of China.

Peoples Republic of China

People's Republic of China flag

The Soviets and Americans could not reach agreement on plans to reunify Korea. In 1948 Soviet and American forces withdrew after each side established separate governments in the north and south of Korea. Syngman Ree (leader of the US side) promised to unify Korea with force if it became necessary. Over the next 2 years, military and financial assistance was brought into both parts of Korea. On June 25, 1950 a North Korea army of about 100,000 men, backed by the Soviet Union, crossed the 38th parallel to “free” the people in the South from their Nationalist government. The US responded immediately and those who advocated containment said military intervention on behalf of the South was necessary. American forces were dispatched by Truman from Japan under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur. The Security Council of the United Nations voted to allow US intervention. A defensive action in Korea soon turned into a war and a stalemate occurred along the 38th parallel. Fighting continued for three years. The US had 100,000 casualties and soldiers dead and wounded from China and North Korea reached around 1 million.

The Philippines got its independence from the US in 1946 and the Philippine government extended long-term leases on military bases to the US. In 1951 the United States signed a defense pact with Australia and New Zealand. The British, Dutch and French went back to their holdings in Southeast Asia. The French returned to Indochina in 1946 and were faced with a guerrilla movement under communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh

Even though the French were receiving assistance from the US, they suffered a defeat by the communists at Dien Bien Phu. Peace negotiations were opened between communist and noncommunist representatives from Vietnam. Delegates from the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and China were sent to the conference. The terms were accepted by Ho Chi Minh, believing the communists would win the majority in the nationwide election. Those elections never took place; the US established a Nationalist leadership for the South and spent about $1 billion on military training and funds. The US was encouraged to stay in Vietnam by the communist revolution in Cuba in 1959. Fidel Castro’s victory was seen as a breach of the containment policy. At the time Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, over 15,000 American troops were stationed in South Vietnam.


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