The Cold War: An International History

By David S. Painter | Go to book overview

its allies exhausted, and its rivals defeated. Around 410,000 US citizens lost their lives in the war, but US farms, factories, mines, and transportation networks escaped unscathed. Wartime mobilization and production lifted the United States out of the depression, and during the war the US economy almost doubled in size. In 1945, the United States controlled around half the world’s manufacturing capacity, most of its food surpluses, and a large portion of its financial reserves. The United States also held the lead in a wide range of technologies essential to modern warfare. Possession of extensive domestic energy supplies and control over access to the vast oil reserves of Latin America and the Middle East further contributed to the US position of global dominance.

Despite a rapid demobilization that reduced the level of its armed forces from 12.1 million in 1945 to 1.7 million by mid-1947, the United States still possessed the world’s mightiest military machine. The US Navy controlled the seas, US air power dominated the skies, and the United States alone possessed atomic weapons and the means to deliver them. In addition, the US role in the defeat of fascism and US espousal of such principles as the four freedoms (freedom of speech and worship, freedom from want and fear) had earned tremendous international prestige for the United States.

Although analysts began to speak of a bipolar world, divided between roughly equal superpowers, the Soviet Union was a distant second, its power largely concentrated along its borders in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and northeast Asia. World War II devastated the Soviet Union. Late twentieth-century estimates of Soviet war-related deaths range from 20 to 27 million. Six of the Soviet Union’s fifteen republics had been occupied, in whole or in part, by the Germans, and extensive destruction of crop land, farm animals, factories, mines, transportation networks, and housing stock disrupted the Soviet economy and left it barely one-quarter the size of the US’s. Though impressive, Soviet military capacity lagged behind that of the United States. The Red Army had emerged as a formidable fighting force, but the Soviets lacked a long-range strategic air force, possessed meager air defenses, and, aside from a large submarine force, had an ineffective navy. Soviet military forces demobilized rapidly following the war, from around 11.3 million troops in mid-1945 to some 2.9 million by early 1948. Finally, until August 1949, the Soviets also lacked atomic weapons.

The positioning of a large part of Soviet military power in Eastern Europe posed a potential threat to Western European security. The devastation and defeat of Germany and Japan, powers that historically checked Russian power in Central Europe and northeast Asia respectively, improved the Soviets’ relative position, at least in the short run.

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The Cold War: An International History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Abbreviations vi
  • Maps vii
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The Cold War Begins, 1945-50 4
  • 3 - Competition and Coexistence, 1950-62 31
  • 4 - From Cold War to Détente, 1963-73 56
  • 5 - From Détente to Confrontation, 1973-80 77
  • 6 - The Rise and Fall of the Second Cold War, 1981-91 95
  • 7 - Understanding the Cold War 112
  • Notes 119
  • Suggested Further Reading 124
  • Index 126
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