Collins Dictionary’s definition of Cold War (CW) is a “state of political hostility and military tension between two countries or power blocs, involving propaganda, subversion, threats, economic sanctions and other measures short of open warfare.”
This was the state of affairs between the USA (and by extension her Nato allies) and the USSR for four decades. Yet during WW2 (1939-45), the two main protagonists had fought side by side to defeat Nazism. But come the end of the war, suspicious of each other because representing two diametrically opposed philosophies (i.e. Capitalism and Communism), they entered into an era of CW that lasted from 1947 to 1991. At times suspicions were so high that they took the world to the edge of the precipice. The Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 was probably the nearest the world got to a nuclear holocaust.
For the USA, the cost of the CW was very heavy indeed. The financial cost alone was USD 8 trillion. The human cost amounted to a massive 100k American lives lost during the Korean War in the 1950s and Vietnam War in the 1960s. Unfortunately there is no corresponding figure available for the USSR.
The CW years also witnessed an exponential growth in military spending and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). According to Stockholm International Peace Research institute (SIPRI), in 1960 global military expenditure was around USD 500bn. By 2015 this had increased more than threefold to USD 1.7 trillion.
This is better known as the Truman Doctrine and it resulted from the famous “Long Telegram” that USA diplomat George F. Kennan sent from Moscow in 1946. In it, the diplomat wrote that the USSR very strongly believed that there could be no lasting modus vivendi with the USA. Consequently the USA had no choice but to go for a “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendency.”
Articulating his doctrine on foreign policy in 1947, Truman declared to Congress that “it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation.” This philosophy was to dictate US foreign policy for the next 40 years and beyond.
In order to get over and done with WW2, the USA had deployed atomic bombs (a world first and thankfully only such act) in Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945. After the end of the war, it decided to build many such bombs. The reaction of the USSR was to work on its own atomic bomb which it tested successfully in 1949. Almost immediately Truman announced that the USA would build an even more powerful WMD — the hydrogen bomb! Not to be outdone, Stalin’s USSR followed suit.
Thus went the arms race for four decades, even spiralling into space. At least so far, the rivalry in space programs has had positive outcomes, culminating in the USA moon landing in 1969. “A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind!” Neil Armstrong, the first human being to set foot on the moon, said as he stepped onto lunar soil.
End of the Cold War
In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became President of the USSR. By then the Eastern Bloc had begun to crumble. So he introduced two policies that would redefine USSR’s relationship with the rest of the world in general, and the USA in particular. These were Glasnost, meaning political openness, and Perestroika meaning economic reform. However by 1989 all communist states in the USSR had replaced their government with a non-communist one. The same year also saw the fall of the Berlin Wall that had separated the East from the West. By 1991, in the face of these defiant acts the USSR bloc had collapsed, heralding the end of the CW.
Farewell to Arms?
Unfortunately the arms trade not only continues unabated, but it has also been increasing since the end of the CW. According to SIPRI, the biggest exporters in 2015 were the OECD countries with the largest share valued at USD 20.5bn (the USA accounted for 50 percent of this) with Russia a distant second with USD 5.5bn and China trailing in third place with USD1.9bn. The 10 largest armaments companies in the OECD (again the USA has the lion’s share) employ a total of 1.1m people.
With figures of this magnitude, it would be a naïve to believe that the world would be bidding farewell to arms any time soon. The armament industry, particularly in the OECD, is a powerful lobby. As well as income/profit generation for the manufacturers, there is the livelihood of millions of citizens at stake.
Enter The Donald
Last year all the polls had predicted that Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton (HDRC) would win the US presidential election in November. Yet a bit of common sense would have told them that, even if (and it is a big IF) she were the better candidate, the scales were tipped against her. Mostly because a Democrat had occupied the White House for the previous two terms. But also because she had a mitigated record as Secretary of State. Although she said she needed the rest, that could be the real reason why she resigned in 2013 leaving the job to John Kerry.
Be that as it may, cocking a proverbial snook at the Establishment, the American people decided to make Donald John Trump (DJT) — a maverick — their President for the next four years.
Throughout the election campaign, DJT had promised to work towards better relations with Russia and, until proven to the contrary, we must believe his words. Anyway whilst the Establishment mocked, many peace-loving, thinking people applauded and hoped the maverick outsider would win. They reasoned that a better USA/Russia entente would not only be beneficial to the USA and Russia, but also to the rest of the world. The lessening of tensions between the two superpowers should be reflected globally and may very well result in a reduction in military expenditure.
So, very much indeed! There is a term that economists call the opportunity cost. The Oxford Dictionary definition of opportunity cost is: “The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.” So if the world stopped spending money on military tomorrow, what are the possible alternatives that would serve humanity better? I have chosen just two examples at random.
1. According to the FAO, a total of 795m people do not have enough to eat to lead a healthy life. Distributing USD 1.7 trillion among them would add USD 2,138 per annum to their income, that is USD 5.85 per day. This would definitely lift them well above the international bread-line; and render them fitter and more productive.
2. On the other hand, according to the WHO, the current global expenditure on health provision is USD 6.5 trillion. An additional USD 1.7 trillion would increase the health budget by an impressive 26 percent, which should result in a healthier and more productive world population.
It is thus evident that much better use can be made of the USD 1.7 trillion that is presently spent in maiming and killing massive numbers of people with the ostensible aim of assuring an elusive world peace. As a result of his rapprochement with the Russian Supremo Putin, President Trump may well succeed in achieving that permanent modus vivendi with Russia that George Kennan thought impossible 70 years ago.
And even if that were to be his only major achievement in the four years to come, then his Presidency would have succeeded like no other. For what better legacy to leave than a world without tension and at peace with itself!