The Cold War was not a unique phenomenon on the global stage. Over the course of the history of Europe and even the world, there had been entire periods referred to as “armed peace”. This meant a state of tension between hostile states or coalitions, during which the outbreak of direct armed conflict was avoided, but at the same time damage to the enemy was maximised in every possible way: diplomatic, economic, political. This included diversion and espionage, with the population of the enemy state being incited by e.g. disinformation. However, no direct clash took place, although it was planned more or less covertly. War, if it did occur, would break out under circumstances most inconvenient to the enemy and most favourable to the state preparing the aggression. Such an “armed peace” occurred as early as ancient Greece. Simply go back to the description of the Trojan War in Homer’s Iliad or Tukidides’ Peloponnesian War. The ancient Roman era also abounds with examples of “armed peace”, such as the Punic Wars.
Links to the past: In medieval Europe, the Hundred Years’ War between England and France was also not uninterrupted. The period leading up to the outbreak of the First World War was also a period of an “armed peace”. The future adversaries prepared for war, harmed each other, armed armies of millions, but also maintained diplomatic relations and paid each other official visits. War, however, hung in the air and finally broke out in 1914.
Unlike a “hot war”, which invariably begins with an outbreak and ends with an armistice or truce, a “cold war” generally has no clear dates. This is also true of the Cold War. But the fundamental difference between the Cold War in the 20th century and earlier periods of “armed peace” lies elsewhere.
Never before in the history of mankind had there been a state so monstrous and yet so powerful as the Soviet Union. Never before had there been a war machine so vast and so inhuman as the Soviet Army. Never before had there been a state with the means not only to conquer the entire world, but also to destroy it. Since its inception in 1917, the Soviet Empire of Evil made no secret of its desire to conquer the world and spread communist ideology.
The Soviet Union existed from 1917 to 1991. In its initial period, it sought a “world revolution”, while in practice undertook destabilisation and sabotage activities in key Western countries, as well as Poland. In 1920, the million-strong Red Army moved west “…through the corpse of Poland to the heart of Europe”. This was not just a Bolshevik slogan written on banners, it was the official policy of the Soviet state and the Communist Party, and a viable threat to Europe, or at least a significant part of it.
What failed in 1920, succeeded in 1939 and then in 1940 in alliance with another murderous totalitarianism. Hitler’s Third Reich and the Soviet Union seized vast swathes of Europe, including more than half of Poland. In May 1945, after the end of World War II, the Soviet Army was no longer standing just on the banks of the Vistula and the Niemen, but also on the Elbe and the Danube. The Atlantic coast and the conquest of all Western Europe, or at least its full submission, was its further objective. The Cold War was already underway.
The Cold War, before it was proclaimed, had actually started earlier – at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. It did not end until 1991, the day the Soviet Union collapsed. These 45 years mark the most perilous period in the history of the world and mankind.
Few people are aware of the historical fact that the Cold War originated at Yalta and began with Poland. The conflict between East and West, between the US and the USSR, began in 1945 with a dispute over control of Poland and effectively all of Central and Eastern Europe. The victory of democratic forces over the communist totalitarianism of the Polish People’s Republic, followed by the so-called Fall of Nations in 1989, marked the end, conventionally speaking, of the Cold War, which in its essence was a great global conflict both politically and militarily. Between 1944 and 1990, it was not Poland, being part of the Eastern Bloc, that stood at the political forefront, but Germany, divided literally and figuratively in half by the seemingly symbolic yet very real Berlin Wall. With the Iron Curtain being dropped outside the Polish People’s Republic, the outermost divisions of the West (NATO) and the East (Warsaw Pact, i.e. the USSR) faced each other in Germany, Czechoslovakia, even Hungary, only to be followed by the so-called Northern Group of Soviet Forces on Polish territory.
The Poles shattered the communist system in Eastern Europe from within. The fact that we found ourselves situated right inside the Empire of Evil, and not at the interface with the West, undoubtedly saved us a number of times from an attack by the Soviet Army of the sort that fell on East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
The magnitude of the impact of the Cold War
The firm US policy towards the Soviet Union began with Truman’s speech to Congress on 12 March 1947. The President announced financial and military aid to Greece (plunged into civil war) and to Turkey. He also declared that the United States would support “all free nations struggling to resist attempts at subjugation by armed minorities or by external pressure”. Clearly, he was referring to the Communists and the activities of Moscow. The logical consequence of the Truman Doctrine came with the Marshall Plan. It emerged out of the belief that deterring the Communists with US military power was not enough. It was of utmost importance to provide conditions for the rapid development of European countries if Moscow’s influence was to be curtailed. On 5 June 1947, at Harvard University, George Marshall, US Secretary of State, gave a speech in which he set out the concept of American aid to Europe. Marshall’s idea behind the Plan was that loans to European countries would stimulate their economies. The offer was addressed to all nations, including the USSR. However, this was a purely tactical move, as it was clear that Moscow would reject the offer. Poland and Czechoslovakia, which were initially eager for American support, also withdrew from benefiting under pressure from the USSR.
The formation of two German states was one of the consequences of the division of the world into two political blocs. As the interests of the Western powers were at odds with Soviet plans, the creation of a single German state was out of the question. Washington, however, was eager to put pressure on Moscow and, in agreement with Britain, the British and American occupation zones were merged on 1 January 1947 to form the Bizone. A year later, with the addition of the French sector, the so-called Trizone was formed. In response, Moscow blamed the West for perpetuating the division of Germany. As a direct result of the Soviet blockade of Berlin, twelve countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington on 4 April 1949. The most important provision of the Washington Treaty was Article 5, stating that “an armed attack on one or more of them shall be regarded as an attack on them all”.
The response to the creation of NATO came with the Warsaw Pact, signed on 14 May 1955 by Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary, and the USSR in Warsaw. The inclusion of Warsaw in its name was merely symbolic – in reality it was the Moscow Pact. It justified the subordination of member armies to the USSR and sanctioned the presence of Soviet troops on the territory of East Germany, Poland, Romania, and Hungary. Asia was also a constant site of conflict. The division of Korea along the 38th parallel was becoming increasingly entrenched, and the Communists ruling in the north did not entertain the thought of an independent south. At the same time, the USSR supported the communist guerrillas in China and the West supported the Kuomintang forces. This period also saw the loss of the US monopoly on nuclear weapons and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China. These events strengthened the position of the Soviet Union.
On 25 June 1950, regular North Korean units crossed the 38th parallel and launched their aggression against South Korea. The UN Security Council recognised Kim Il-sung’s regime as the aggressor and called on member states to intervene. The Americans were the first to respond (later joined by 19 other countries). By the mid-1950s, relations between East and West had thawed. The most violent phase of the Cold War was over, and it became apparent that there were practically no problems that could not be solved at the negotiating table. This meant leaving satellite states in the Soviet orbit where resistance groups to Soviet power still existed. On 15 May 1955, representatives of France, England, the USA, and the USSR signed the State Treaty of Austria in Vienna. The peace treaty was not signed as Austria had been forcibly incorporated into the Reich in 1938. The four powers confirmed Austria’s neutrality.
Also in 1955, the USSR established diplomatic relations with West Germany. However, the process of détente did not advance. In the following years, the Cold War progressed in stages:
1955-1962 – This was a period of great fluctuation in relations between the two camps. The main problem was the situation in Berlin. The East German authorities closed the borders with West Germany (12/13 July 1961) and subsequently built a wall separating West Berlin from East Germany.
1962-1979 – Despite the Cuban Missile Crisis and the American blockade of the island (22 October 1962), this was a period of détente in Soviet-American relations, mainly because agreements were reached on the reduction of strategic weapons. In August 1963, a treaty was signed in Moscow to limit nuclear tests in the atmosphere and underwater (GB, USA, USSR). Tensions increased when in February of 1964 the communist South Vietnam Liberation Front announced a programme to overthrow the pro-Western dictatorship.
1979-1985 – Cold War escalated; propaganda intensified; relations curtailed in many areas. This was prompted by USSR policies that threatened US security interests.
1985-1991 – A phase of decline and the end of the Cold War. This was brought about by the rise to power in the USSR of Mikhail Gorbachev. His policy towards the West was open, showing a tendency to compromise and reach agreements. Relations between East and West improved considerably. The end of the conflict came after major changes in Europe, such as the overthrow of communism in Poland (1989), the reunification of Germany (1990), the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact (1991), and the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991).
Most of us are unaware of the breadth of events during the Cold War, encompassing both events of peace and disaster, as well as alliances and partnerships over such a vast period of history, such as:
• Civil War in Greece and Turkey,
• The Truman Doctrine,
• The Berlin Blockade,
• The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,
• The formation of NATO,
• Warsaw Pact (NATO countries, Finland, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland),
• Chinese Civil War,
• Korean War,
• Military rivalry and the space race,
• Cuban Revolution and Crisis,
• Operation Gladio,
• Foundation of Radio Free Europe,
• War in Afghanistan,
• The imposition of martial law in Poland.
Without question, the USSR proved to be the greatest aggressor during the Cold War, contributing to numerous conflicts and divisions in the world. This is something we need to speak out about and be aware of the tension that will exist until the Soviet system radically transforms and eventually collapses.
The Cold War spanned more than 45 years and included multiple events that changed the course of history. The geopolitical, economic, and diplomatic situation changed in many countries of the world, taking many lives, but also giving rise to partnerships and alliances that continue to this day!