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Updated on September 2, 2012
Chaos and destruct ions of war
Chaos and destruct ions of war
First hydrogen bomb detonated at Bikini islands
First hydrogen bomb detonated at Bikini islands
USS Washington US's first nuclear powered missile launching submarine
USS Washington US's first nuclear powered missile launching submarine
USSR launches its first artificial satellilte
USSR launches its first artificial satellilte
Berlin divided
Berlin divided
NATO HQ conference
NATO HQ conference
Comparison of Air power
Comparison of Air power
Bandung conference
Bandung conference

After the conclusion of the Second World War the picture that emerged was that of confusion and chaos compounded by simmering conflict. Just as the first world war transformed the globe witnessing the demise of old empires and emergence of new countries, similarly Second World War not only redrew the map of the world but brought about unforeseen changes, politically, economically and scientifically. Economically the effect of war was devastating. Rich and powerful countries were a pale shadow of their original self. For example Great Britain which once lorded over an empire ‘where the sun never sets’ was drained of its wealth and vitality. The economies of most European countries were in shambles and the damages of war were immense. Reconstructing Europe from the ashes of destruction was not an easy task. The power centre of the globe shifted from that of ‘the old world to the new’. Amongst the allied countries which fought the axis powers only the US continued to retain its economic might. For the first time the global super power was no longer a European country. But a new rival had emerged in the East too and that was the USSR.

During the last days of Second World War the allied forces had encircled Germany and vast tracts of land to the west came under the sway of west European powers like France and UK and those in the east like Poland, Czechoslovakia etc came under the orbit of USSR. Berlin which was the capital of Germany was divided into four sectors each under the control of USA, UK, France and USSR. Though this division was done by the victors of the war, the alliance itself was a very shaky one. There was deep distrust between USSR and its western allies. This contained the seed of the new cold war which was to grip the world for the next five decades.

The cold war, as the very term denotes was a standoff between two great powers and implied competition at three levels. They were:

· Arms race

· Alliance systems and

· Aid programs


Though cold war apparently seen to be the conflict of two rival ideologies like capitalism and communism, this was only a facade. The real reasons were guided by non ideological considerations such as national interests. Both countries were in search of military bases, strategic materials and reliable allies. It was in fact a world divided into two rival camps. The course of the arms race was in phases. In the initial phase the race was triggered by the detonation of the first atom bomb. This sent shockwaves all around the world and the USSR was particularly worried. In 1950, President Truman announced the intention of making the hydrogen bomb, which was prompted by the fear that the USSR may be already having one. In November 1952, America exploded her first hydrogen bomb. In its true sense this was more of a ‘device’ than an actual bomb. In 1953, the Soviets retaliated by detonating their first hydrogen bomb which was similar to that of the US. The first full scale hydrogen bomb was however exploded by the US in Bikini Island in 1956.The second phase of the arms race began with the presidency of Eisenhower. He announced the US rocket development program. This idea was bolstered by the presence of a number of eminent German scientists like Werner Von Braun who was associated with the German V2 rocket project. This dream was however shattered by the USSR by two subsequent developments in rapid succession. In August 1957, Krushchev announced the successful launch of an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile). The other was the successful launching of Russia’s sputnik into space in October 1957.Not to be outdone, US launched its first earth satellite in 1958.This was just the beginning of a great rivalry between two powers in their control of space. Kennedy in his presidential speech promised the American people that US would soon put an American on the moon and with that began an ambitious space programs which changed the very face of the world.

These measures were basically intended for strategic advantages. The Russians had the advantages of rockets which were superior in size and power, and in 1954 US began producing atomic powered missile launching submarines. The Americans had also the advantage of having a ring of bases near soviet borders as a result of which each country viewed the other with deep suspicion.

This was bound to have adverse consequences and it did take place in 1961 when USA discovered that the soviets were setting up offensive missiles sites in cuba.Kennedy revealed this on 22 October 1962 and announced that ships carrying such weapons would be blockaded. Khrushchev had embarked upon this as a response to US missile base in Turkey. This standoff between the two countries brought the world on the verge of a nuclear war.Though the crisis lasted just 11 days; it revealed how precarious the balance of power is.


Strategic advantage was built up not just by arms race but by also forging alliances. The western countries had formed an alliance which was called North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)on the basis of a treaty which was signed on 4th April 1949.The main objective was that in the event of one member country being attacked, all the others would come to its rescue and NATO was intended to implement this. The soviets too had their own set of alliance and this was called the Warsaw pact. Officially known as Eastern European Mutual Assistance Treaty, this was signed in May 1955 to counter the western alliance.


The rival powers were also engaged in assisting their allies by providing suitable financial aids. The US for example initiated the Marshall plan which was intended to help Europe in reconstructing its infrastructure and economy. The beneficiaries of this were sixteen European countries who were all victims of Hitler’s aggression. East European countries however remained outside its ambit as they had tied up with USSR according to the Warsaw pact. The soviets therefore had their own financial aid program which was called Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) .The beneficiaries were member states like Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Mongolian People’s Republic, Poland, Romania and Cuba.


The aftermath of this was that the world was plunged in a simmering crisis which could go out of hand any time. There were also a number of countries which did not ally with any of these two rival blocs. Newly independent countries like India, newly formed states like Yugoslavia and communist countries like China did not ally themselves either with the western or eastern bloc. They on the other hand formed a third grouping which was called the NON ALIGNED MOVEMENT in their deliberations at Bandung. Prominent leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sukarno, Nasser, Tito and Chou-en-lai gave their guidance to this fledgling movement. Though viewed with suspicion, NAM continued to be a third grouping which contained newly independent countries of Asia and Africa which wanted to steer clear of these rival camps.


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