Competition between East and West



The Atomic Race

Eisenhower’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, initiated a “New Look” for the Cold War containment strategy, calling for a greater reliance on nuclear weapons against U.S. enemies in wartime, and promoted the doctrine of “massive retaliation,” threatening a severe response to any Soviet aggression.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the risks and rewards of the competition for atomic weapons

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In 1953, changes in political leadership on both sides shifted the dynamic of the Cold War, with the death of Joseph Stalin and the ascendancy of Nikita Khrushchev in the USSR and the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Presidency of the United States.
  • The New Look was the name given to the national security policy of the United States during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which reflected Eisenhower’s concern for balancing the Cold War military commitments of the United States with the nation’s financial resources, thereby reducing emphasis on ground troops and increasing focus on nuclear proliferation.
  • The most prominent of the doctrines to emerge from this policy was ” massive retaliation,” which Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced early in 1954. This policy stated that in the event of an attack from an aggressor, a state would massively retaliate with force disproportionate to the size of the attack, thus deterring an enemy state from initially attacking.
  • Krushchev developed a similar policy in the USSR, aimed at cutting military spending while creating a nuclear program to match the U.S., but while the Soviets acquired atomic weapons in 1949, it took years for them to reach parity with the United States.
  • An important part of the Cold War nuclear competition was the concept of mutual assured destruction (MAD), in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender.
  • MAD is based on the theory of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons.

Key Terms

  • massive retaliation: A military doctrine and nuclear strategy in which a state commits itself to retaliate in much greater force in the event of an attack.
  • “New Look”: The name given to the national security policy of the United States during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It reflected Eisenhower’s concern for balancing the Cold War military commitments of the United States with the nation’s financial resources. The policy emphasized reliance on strategic nuclear weapons to deter potential threats, both conventional and nuclear, from the Eastern Bloc of nations headed by the Soviet Union.
  • mutually assured destruction: A doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender.

Background: Political Changes in the U.S. and USSR

When Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as U.S. President in 1953, the Democrats lost their two-decades-long control of the U.S. presidency. Under Eisenhower, however, the nation’s Cold War policy remained essentially unchanged. Whilst a thorough rethinking of foreign policy was launched (known as “Operation Solarium”), the majority of emerging ideas (such as a “rollback of Communism” and the liberation of Eastern Europe) were quickly regarded as unworkable. An underlying focus on the containment of Soviet communism remained to inform the broad approach of U.S. foreign policy.

While the transition from the Truman to the Eisenhower presidencies was a conservative-moderate in character, the change in the Soviet Union was immense. With the death of Joseph Stalin (who led the Soviet Union from 1928 and through the Great Patriotic War) in 1953, his former right-hand man Nikita Khrushchev was named First Secretary of the Communist Party.

During a subsequent period of collective leadership, Khrushchev gradually consolidated his power. At a speech to the closed session of the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, February 25, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev shocked his listeners by denouncing Stalin’s personality cult and the many crimes that occurred under Stalin’s leadership. Although the contents of the speech were secret, it was leaked to outsiders, shocking both Soviet allies and Western observers. Khrushchev was later named premier of the Soviet Union in 1958.

The impact on Soviet politics was immense. The speech stripped Khrushchev’s remaining Stalinist rivals of their legitimacy in a single stroke, dramatically boosting the First Party Secretary’s power domestically. Khrushchev was then able to ease restrictions, freeing some dissidents and initiating economic policies that emphasized commercial goods rather than just coal and steel production.

American Nuclear Strategy

Along with these major political changes in the U.S. and USSR, the central strategic components of competition between East and West shifted as well. When Eisenhower entered office in 1953, he was committed to two possibly contradictory goals: maintaining — or even heightening — the national commitment to counter the spread of Soviet influence and satisfying demands to balance the budget, lower taxes, and curb inflation. The most prominent of the doctrines to emerge from this goal was “massive retaliation,” which Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced early in 1954. Eschewing the costly, conventional ground forces of the Truman administration and wielding the vast superiority of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and covert intelligence, Dulles defined this approach as “brinksmanship” in a January 16, 1956, interview with Life: pushing the Soviet Union to the brink of war in order to exact concessions. The aim of massive retaliation is to deter another state from initially attacking. In the event of an attack from an aggressor, a state would massively retaliate with force disproportionate to the size of the attack, which would likely involve the use of nuclear weapons on a massive scale.

This new national security policy approach, reflecting Eisenhower’s concern for balancing the Cold War military commitments of the United States with the nation’s financial resources, was called the “New Look.” The policy emphasized reliance on strategic nuclear weapons to deter potential threats, both conventional and nuclear, from the Eastern Bloc of nations headed by the Soviet Union.

Thus, the administration increased the number of nuclear warheads from 1,000 in 1953 to 18,000 by early 1961. Despite overwhelming U.S. superiority, one additional nuclear weapon was produced each day. The administration also exploited new technology. In 1955 the eight-engine B-52 Stratofortress bomber, the first true jet bomber designed to carry nuclear weapons, was developed.

A photo of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, right, shown here with President Eisenhower in 1956, sitting at a desk looking over papers.

President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles: Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, right, shown here with President Eisenhower in 1956, became identified with the doctrine of “massive retaliation.”

Soviet Nuclear Strategy

In 1960 and 1961, Khrushchev tried to impose the concept of nuclear deterrence on the military. Nuclear deterrence holds that the reason for having nuclear weapons is to discourage their use by a potential enemy. With each side deterred from war because of the threat of its escalation into a nuclear conflict, Khrushchev believed, “peaceful coexistence” with capitalism would become permanent and allow the inherent superiority of socialism to emerge in economic and cultural competition with the West.

Khrushchev hoped that exclusive reliance on the nuclear firepower of the newly created Strategic Rocket Forces would remove the need for increased defense expenditures. He also sought to use nuclear deterrence to justify his massive troop cuts; his downgrading of the Ground Forces, traditionally the “fighting arm” of the Soviet armed forces; and his plans to replace bombers with missiles and the surface fleet with nuclear missile submarines. However, during the Cuban missile crisis the USSR had only four R-7 Semyorkas and a few R-16s intercontinental missiles deployed in vulnerable surface launchers. In 1962 the Soviet submarine fleet had only eight submarines with short-range missiles which could be launched only from submarines that surfaced and lost their hidden submerged status.

Khrushchev’s attempt to introduce a nuclear “doctrine of deterrence: into Soviet military thought failed. Discussion of nuclear war in the first authoritative Soviet monograph on strategy since the 1920s, Marshal Vasilii Sokolovskii’s “Military Strategy,” focused upon the use of nuclear weapons for fighting rather than for deterring a war. Should such a war break out, both sides would pursue the most decisive aims with the most forceful means and methods. Intercontinental ballistic missiles and aircraft would deliver massed nuclear strikes on the enemy’s military and civilian objectives. The war would assume an unprecedented geographical scope, but Soviet military writers argued that the use of nuclear weapons in the initial period of the war would decide the course and outcome of the war as a whole. Both in doctrine and in strategy, the nuclear weapon reigned supreme.

Mutual Assured Destruction

An important part of the Cold War nuclear competition was the concept of mutual assured destruction (MAD). Mutual assured destruction or mutually assured destruction is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. It is based on the theory of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons.

While the Soviets acquired atomic weapons in 1949, it took years for them to reach parity with the United States. In the meantime, the Americans developed the hydrogen bomb, which the Soviets matched during the era of Khrushchev. New methods of delivery such as Submarine-launched ballistic missiles and Intercontinental ballistic missiles with MIRV warheads meant that each superpower could easily devastate the other, even after attack by an enemy.

The strategy of MAD was fully declared in the early 1960s by United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. In McNamara’s formulation there was the very real danger that a nation with nuclear weapons could attempt to eliminate another nation’s retaliatory forces with a surprise, devastating first strike and theoretically “win” a nuclear war relatively unharmed. True second-strike capability could only be achieved when a nation had a guaranteed ability to fully retaliate after a first-strike attack.

The United States had achieved an early form of second-strike capability by fielding continual patrols of strategic nuclear bombers with a large number of planes always in the air on their way to or from fail-safe points close to the borders of the Soviet Union. This meant the United States could still retaliate even after a devastating first-strike attack. The tactic was expensive and problematic because of the high cost of keeping enough planes in the air at all times and the possibility they would be shot down by Soviet anti-aircraft missiles before reaching their targets. In addition, as the idea of a missile gap existing between the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed, there was increasing priority given to ICBMs over bombers.

The Space Race

One of the most important forms of non-violent competition between the U.S. and the USSR during the Cold War was the Space Race, with the Soviets taking an early lead in 1957 with the launching of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, followed by the first manned flight.

Learning Objectives

Characterize the Space Race

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Space Race, the competition between the U.S. and USSR for supremacy in space flight capability, had its origins in the missile-based nuclear arms race between the two nations following World War II.
  • The technological superiority required for such supremacy was seen as necessary for national security and symbolic of ideological superiority.
  • The Space Race spawned pioneering efforts to launch artificial satellites, unmanned space probes of the Moon, Venus, and Mars, and human space flight in low Earth orbit and to the Moon.
  • The Soviets earned an early lead in the Space Race in 1957 with the launching of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, followed by the first manned flight.
  • The success of the Soviet space program was a great shock to the United States, which believed it was ahead technologically; the ability to launch objects into orbit was especially ominous because it showed Soviet missiles could target anywhere on the planet.
  • American President John F. Kennedy launched an unprecedented effort, promising that by the end of the 1960s Americans would land a man on the moon. They did so with Apollo 11, beating the Soviets to one of the more important objectives in the space race.

Key Terms

  • Apollo 11: The first space flight that landed humans on the Moon
  • Yuri Gagarin: A Russian Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961.
  • Sputnik 1: The first artificial Earth satellite; the Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on October 4, 1957.

Overview

The Space Race was a 20th-century competition between two Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (U.S.), for supremacy in space flight capability. It had its origins in the missile-based nuclear arms race between the two nations following World War II, aided by captured German missile technology and personnel from their missile program. The technological superiority required for such supremacy was seen as necessary for national security and symbolic of ideological superiority. The Space Race spawned pioneering efforts to launch artificial satellites, unmanned space probes of the Moon, Venus, and Mars, and human space flight in low Earth orbit and to the Moon.

The competition began on August 2, 1955, when the Soviet Union responded to the US announcement four days earlier of intent to launch artificial satellites for the International Geophysical Year by declaring they would also launch a satellite “in the near future.” The Soviet Union beat the U.S. to this with the October 4, 1957 orbiting of Sputnik 1, and later beat the U.S. to the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961. The race peaked with the July 20, 1969, U.S. landing of the first humans on the Moon with Apollo 11. The USSR tried but failed manned lunar missions, and eventually cancelled them and concentrated on Earth orbital space stations.

A period of détente followed with the April 1972 agreement on a cooperative Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, resulting in the July 1975 rendezvous in Earth orbit of a U.S. astronaut crew with a Soviet cosmonaut crew. The end of the Space Race is harder to pinpoint than its beginning, but it was over by the December, 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, after which true space flight cooperation between the U.S. and Russia began.

First Satellite: Sputnik

In 1955, with both the United States and the Soviet Union building ballistic missiles that could be used to launch objects into space, the “starting line” was drawn for the Space Race. In separate public announcements four days apart, both nations declared they would launch artificial Earth satellites by 1957 or 1958.

In February 1957, chief Soviet rocket scientist Sergei Korolev sought and received permission from the Council of Ministers to create a prosteishy sputnik (PS-1), or “simple satellite.”

Korolev was buoyed by the first successful launches of his R-7 rocket in August and September, which paved the way for him to launch his sputnik. On Friday, October 4, 1957, at exactly 10:28:34 pm Moscow time, the R-7 with the now named Sputnik 1 satellite lifted off the launch pad, placing the artificial “moon” into orbit a few minutes later. This “fellow traveler,” as the name is translated in English, was a small, beeping ball less than two feet in diameter and weighing less than 200 pounds. But the celebrations were muted at the launch control center until the down-range far east tracking station at Kamchatka received the first distinctive beep… beep… beep sounds from Sputnik 1’s radio transmitters, indicating that it was en route to completing its first orbit.

The Soviet success raised a great deal of concern and fear in the United States. The USSR used ICBM technology to launch Sputnik into space. This essentially gave the Soviets two propaganda victories at once (sending the satellite into space and proving the distance capabilities of their missiles). This proved that the Soviets had rockets capable of sending nuclear weapons from Russia to Europe and even North America. This was the most immediate threat posed by the launch of Sputnik 1. Not only did the Soviet Union have this ability, the United States did not. America, a land with a history of geographical security, suddenly seemed vulnerable. Overall, what caused the fear for the American people was not the satellite itself but more so the rocket that put Sputnik into orbit.

On January 31, 1958, nearly four months after the launch of Sputnik 1, von Braun and the United States successfully launched its first satellite on a four-stage Juno I rocket derived from the US Army’s Redstone missile, at Cape Canaveral.

A photo of a replica of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, a silver orb which was the first satellite launched into space.

Sputnik 1: The Soviet Union achieved an early lead in the space race by launching the first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 (replica) in 1957.

First Human in Space: Yuri Gagarin

By 1959, American observers believed the Soviet Union would be the first to get a human into space because of the time needed to prepare for Mercury’s first launch. On April 12, 1961, the USSR surprised the world again by launching Yuri Gagarin into a single orbit around the Earth in a craft they called Vostok 1. They dubbed Gagarin the first cosmonaut, roughly translated from Russian and Greek as “sailor of the universe.” Although he had the ability to take over manual control of his capsule in an emergency by opening an envelope he had in the cabin that contained a code that could be typed into the computer, it was flown in automatic mode as a precaution; medical science at that time did not know what would happen to a human in the weightlessness of space. Vostok 1 orbited the Earth for 108 minutes and made its reentry over the Soviet Union, with Gagarin ejected from the spacecraft at 23,000 feet and landing by parachute.

Gagarin became a national hero of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, and a worldwide celebrity. Moscow and other cities in the USSR held mass demonstrations, second in scale only to the World War II Victory Parade of 1945.

Race to the Moon

Before Gagarin’s flight, U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s support for America’s manned space program was lukewarm. Jerome Wiesner of MIT, who served as a science advisor to presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and opposed manned space exploration, remarked, “If Kennedy could have opted out of a big space program without hurting the country in his judgement, he would have.” Gagarin’s flight changed this; now Kennedy sensed the humiliation and fear of the American public over the Soviet lead. Kennedy ultimately decided to pursue what became the Apollo program, and on May 25 took the opportunity to ask for Congressional support in a Cold War speech titled “Special Message on Urgent National Needs.” Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s implicit challenge with silence, refusing to publicly confirm or deny if the Soviets were pursuing a “Moon race.” As later disclosed, they did so in secret over the next nine years.

After Kennedy’s death, President Johnson steadfastly pursued the Gemini and Apollo programs, promoting them as Kennedy’s legacy to the American public.

In 1967, both nations faced serious challenges that brought their programs to temporary halts. Both had been rushing at full-speed toward the first piloted flights of Apollo and Soyuz without paying due diligence to growing design and manufacturing problems. The results proved fatal to both pioneering crews.

The United States recovered from the Apollo 1 fire, fixing the fatal flaws in an improved version of the Block II command module. The US proceeded with unpiloted test launches of the Saturn V launch vehicle (Apollo 4 and Apollo 6) and the Lunar Module (Apollo 5) during the latter half of 1967 and early 1968.

Unknown to the Americans, the Soviet Moon program was in deep trouble. After two successive launch failures of the N1 rocket in 1969, Soviet plans for a piloted landing suffered delay. The launch pad explosion of the N-1 on July 3, 1969 was a significant setback.

Apollo 11 was prepared with the goal of a July landing in the Sea of Tranquility. The crew, selected in January 1969, consisted of commander (CDR) Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. They trained for the mission until just before the launch day. On July 16, 1969, at exactly 9:32 am EDT, the Saturn V rocket, AS-506, lifted off from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 in Florida.

The trip to the Moon took just over three days. After achieving orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin transferred into the Lunar Module named Eagle, and after a landing gear inspection by Collins remaining in the Command/Service Module Columbia began their descent. After overcoming several computer overload alarms caused by an antenna switch left in the wrong position and a slight downrange error, Armstrong took over manual flight control at about 590 feet and guided the Lunar Module to a safe landing spot at 20:18:04 UTC, July 20, 1969. The first humans on the Moon waited six hours before leaving their craft. At 02:56 UTC, July 21, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon. The first step was witnessed by at least one-fifth of the population of Earth, or about 723 million people. His first words when he stepped off the LM’s landing footpad were, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Photo of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon during the Apollo 11 landing. The photo shows him on the surface of the moon, with an American flag in front of him.

Buzz Salutes the US Flag: American Buzz Aldrin during the first Moon walk in 1969. After Neil Armstrong was the first person to walk on the Moon, Aldrin joined him on the surface almost 20 minutes later. Altogether, they spent just under two and one-quarter hours outside their craft. Armstrong took this photo.

Influence Abroad

The United States and the Soviet Union increasingly competed for influence by proxy in the Third World as decolonization gained momentum in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Learning Objectives

Describe some of the ways in which the U.S. and the USSR competed for influence outside of Europe

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Korean War marked a shift in the focal point of the Cold War, from postwar Europe to East Asia and other Third World nations, as proxy battles for ideological supremacy.
  • By the early 1950s, the NATO alliance had already integrated Western Europe into the system of mutual defense pacts, providing safeguards against subversion or neutrality in the bloc. The Marshall Plan had bolstered economic recovery, so the U.S. was less concerned with losing Western Europe to Soviet influence.
  • Following a series of waves of African and Asian decolonization following the Second World War and the emergence of left-leaning leaders in Latin America, the U.S. focused on the Third World.
  • In such an international setting, the Soviet Union propagated a role as the leader of the “anti-imperialist” camp, currying favor in the Third World as a staunch opponent of colonialism.
  • The Eisenhower administration attempted to formalize its alliance system through a series of pacts, with East Asian allies joining the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) while friends in Latin America were placed in the Organization of American States.
  • Many Third World nations, however, did not want to align themselves with either of the superpowers, and the Non-Aligned Movement, led by India, Egypt, and Austria, attempted to unite the third world against what was seen as imperialism by both the East and the West.
  • Throughout much of Latin America, reactionary oligarchies ruled through their alliances with the military elite and United States, but by the 1960s, Marxists gained increasing influence throughout the regions, prompting fears in the United States that Latin American instability posed a threat to U.S. national security.
  • This era also saw battles for ideological alignment in the Congo, Indonesia, and Iran.

Key Terms

  • Non-Aligned Movement: A group of states that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc, especially during the Cold War.
  • decolonization: The undoing of colonialism, the withdrawal from its colonies of a colonial power; the acquisition of political or economic independence by such colonies. The term refers particularly to the dismantlement, in the years after World War II of the colonial empires established prior to World War I throughout the world. This means not only the complete “removal of the domination of non-indigenous forces” within the geographical space and institutions of the colonized, but also to the “decolonizing of the mind” from the colonizer’s ideas of the colonized as inferior.
  • John Foster Dulles: Served as U.S. Secretary of State under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959 and was a significant figure in the early Cold War era, advocating an aggressive stance against Communism throughout the world.

Overview

The Korean War marked a shift in the focal point of the Cold War from postwar Europe to East Asia. After this point, proxy battles in the Third World became an important arena of superpower competition.

The Eisenhower administration adjusted U.S. policy to the impact of decolonization, shifting the focus away from war-torn Europe. By the early 1950s, the NATO alliance had integrated Western Europe into the system of mutual defense pacts, providing safeguards against subversion or neutrality in the bloc. The Marshall Plan had rebuilt a functioning Western economic system, thwarting the electoral appeal of the radical left. When economic aid ended the dollar shortage and stimulated private investment for postwar reconstruction, sparing the U.S. from a crisis of over-production and maintaining demand for U.S. exports, the Eisenhower administration began to focus on other regions.

The combined effects of two great European wars weakened the political and economic domination of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East by European powers. This led to a series of waves of African and Asian decolonization following the Second World War; a world dominated for more than a century by Western imperialist colonial powers was transformed into a world of emerging African, Middle Eastern, and Asian nations. The sheer number of nation states increased drastically.

The Cold War placed immense pressure on developing nations to align with one of the superpower factions. Both promised substantial financial, military, and diplomatic aid in exchange for an alliance, in which issues like corruption and human rights abuses were overlooked or ignored. When an allied government was threatened, the superpowers were often prepared and willing to intervene.

In such an international setting, the Soviet Union propagated a role as the leader of the “anti-imperialist” camp, currying favor in the Third World as being a more staunch opponent of colonialism than many independent nations in Africa and Asia. Khrushchev broadened Moscow’s policy by establishing new relations with India and other key non-aligned, non-communist states throughout the Third World. Many countries in the emerging non-aligned movement developed a close relation with Moscow.

In an exercise of the new “rollback” polices, acting on the doctrines of Dulles, Eisenhower thwarted Soviet intervention, using the CIA to overthrow unfriendly governments. In the Arab world, the focus was pan-Arab nationalism. U.S. companies had already invested heavily in the region, which contained the world’s largest oil reserves. The U.S. was concerned about the stability and friendliness of governments in the region, upon which the health of the U.S. economy increasingly grew to depend.

Defense Pacts

The Eisenhower administration attempted to formalize its alliance system through a series of pacts. Its East Asian allies were joined into the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) while friends in Latin America were placed in the Organization of American States. The ANZUS alliance was signed between the Australia, New Zealand, and the US. None of these groupings was as successful as NATO had been in Europe.

John Foster Dulles, a rigid anti-communist, focused aggressively on Third World politics. He intensified efforts to integrate the entire noncommunist Third World into a system of mutual defense pacts, traveling almost 500,000 miles to cement new alliances. Dulles initiated the Manila Conference in 1954, resulting in the SEATO pact that united eight nations (either located in Southeast Asia or with interests there) in a neutral defense pact. This treaty was followed in 1955 by the Baghdad Pact, later renamed the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), uniting the “northern tier” countries of the Middle East—Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan—in a defense organization.

Many Third World nations did not want to align themselves with either of the superpowers. The non-aligned movement, led by India, Egypt, and Austria, attempted to unite the third world against what was seen as imperialism by both the East and the West.

Dulles, along with most U.S. foreign policy-makers of the era, considered many Third World nationalists and “revolutionaries” as essentially under the influence, if not control, of the Warsaw Pact.

Latin America

The Eisenhower-Dulles approach to foreign policy sought to overthrow unfriendly governments in a covert way.

Throughout much of Latin America, reactionary oligarchies ruled through their alliances with the military elite and United States. Although the nature of the U.S. role in the region was established many years before the Cold War, the Cold War gave U.S. interventionism a new ideological tinge. By the mid-20th century, much of the region passed through a higher state of economic development, which bolstered the power and ranks of the lower classes. This made calls for social change and political inclusion more pronounced, posing a challenge to the strong U.S. influence over the region’s economies. By the 1960s, Marxists gained increasing influence throughout the regions, prompting fears in the United States that Latin American instability posed a threat to U.S. national security.

Throughout the Cold War years, the U.S. acted as a barrier to socialist revolutions and targeted populist and nationalist governments aided by the communists. The CIA overthrew other governments suspected of turning pro-communist, such as Guatemala in 1954 under Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. The CIA Operation PBSUCCESS eventually led to the 1954 coup that removed Arbenz from power. The operation drew on a plan first considered in 1951 to oust Arbenz, named Operation PBFORTUNE. Arbenz, who was supported by some local communists, was ousted shortly after he had redistributed 178,000 acres of United Fruit Company land in Guatemala. United Fruit had long monopolized the transportation and communications region there along with the main export commodities, and played a major role in Guatemalan politics. Arbenz was out shortly afterwards, and Guatemala came under control of a repressive military regime.

Future Latin American revolutionaries shifted to guerrilla tactics, particularly following the Cuban Revolution. Arbenz fell when his military had deserted him. Since then, some future Latin American social revolutionaries and Marxists, most notably Fidel Castro and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, made the army and governments parts of a single unit and eventually set up single-party states. Overthrowing such regimes would require a war rather than a simple CIA operation, the landing of Marines, or a crude invasion scheme like the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Africa

One of the first decolonized nations to request Eastern aid was the Democratic Republic of the Congo under Patrice Lumumba. A large number of United Nations peacekeepers from NATO nations and other NATO allies had been in the Congo since independence was established from Belgium in 1960. The U.S. used them to shut down air traffic and prevent Eastern arms and troops from getting into the country. However, some Eastern weapons managed to get in from other countries. The peacekeepers decided to remove Lumumba and backed Colonel Joseph Mobutu in a coup in which Lumumba was killed. The Congolese crisis had the effect of alienating from both the West and the East some in the third world who saw the East as weak and impotent and the West unethical and unscrupulous.

Image of a stamp from the Soviet Union showing the face of Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Republic of the Congo.

Patrice Lumumba: 1961 Soviet stamp commemorating Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, who was killed during a U.S. backed coup d’état.

Middle East

In 1953, President Eisenhower’s CIA implemented Operation Ajax, a covert operation aimed at the overthrow of the Iranian prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. The popularly elected and non-aligned Mosaddegh had been a Middle Eastern nemesis of Britain since nationalizing the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951. Winston Churchill told the United States that Mosaddegh was “increasingly turning towards communism.” The pro-Western shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, assumed control as an autocratic monarch. The shah’s policies included banning the communist Tudeh Party and general suppression of political dissent by SAVAK, the shah’s domestic security and intelligence agency.

The Propaganda War

Soviet propaganda was disseminated through tightly controlled media outlets in the Eastern Bloc. The U.S. tried to counter this with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, dedicated to bringing about the peaceful demise of the communist system in the Eastern Bloc by providing an alternative to the controlled and party-dominated domestic press.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of propaganda used by both parties to the Cold War

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Media in the Eastern Bloc was an organ of the state, completely reliant on and subservient to the communist party. Radio and television organizations were typically state-owned while print media was usually owned by political organizations, mostly the local communist parties, and was largely used for disseminating propaganda against capitalism and the West.
  • State and party ownership of print, television, and radio media was used to control information and society in light of Eastern Bloc leaderships viewing even marginal groups of opposition intellectuals as a potential threat to the bases underlying Communist power therein.
  • Circumvention of dissemination controls occurred to some degree through samizdat (underground publications produced and disseminated by hand) and limited reception of western radio and television broadcasts.
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is a United States government-funded broadcasting organization that provides news, information, and analysis to countries “where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed,” and was used especially during the Cold War as a counter to communist propaganda and controlled media in the Eastern Bloc.
  • RFE played a critical role in Cold War-era Eastern Europe; unlike government-censored programs, RFE publicized anti- Soviet protests and nationalist movements, influencing major events such as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

Key Terms

  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: A United States government-funded broadcasting organization that provides news, information, and analysis to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East “where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed.”
  • samizdat: A key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored and underground publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader. This grassroots practice to evade official Soviet censorship was fraught with danger, as harsh punishments were meted out to people caught possessing or copying censored materials.
  • propaganda: Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view; the psychological mechanisms of influencing and altering the attitude of a population toward a specific cause, position or political agenda in an effort to form a consensus to a standard set of beliefs.

Overview

Media in the Eastern Bloc was an organ of the state, completely reliant on and subservient to the communist party. Radio and television organizations were typically state-owned, while print media was usually owned by political organizations, mostly by local communist parties. Soviet propaganda used Marxist philosophy to attack capitalism, claiming labor exploitation and war-mongering imperialism were inherent in the system.

Along with the broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America to Central and Eastern Europe, a major propaganda effort begun in 1949 was Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, dedicated to bringing about the peaceful demise of the communist system in the Eastern Bloc. Radio Free Europe attempted to achieve these goals by serving as a surrogate home radio station, an alternative to the controlled and party-dominated domestic press. Radio Free Europe was a product of some of the most prominent architects of America’s early Cold War strategy, especially those who believed that the Cold War would eventually be fought by political rather than military means, such as George F. Kennan.

Propaganda in the Eastern Bloc

Eastern Bloc media and propaganda was controlled directly by each country’s Communist party, which controlled the state media, censorship, and propaganda organs. State and party ownership of print, television, and radio media was used to control information and society in light of Eastern Bloc leaderships viewing even marginal groups of opposition intellectuals as a potential threat to the bases underlying Communist power therein.

The ruling authorities viewed media as a propaganda tool and widely practiced censorship to exercise almost full control over information dissemination. The press in Communist countries was an organ of and completely reliant on the state. Until the late 1980s, all Eastern Bloc radio and television organizations were state-owned and tightly controlled.

In each country, leading bodies of the ruling Communist Part exercised hierarchical control of the censorship system. Each Communist Party maintained a department of its Central Committee apparatus to supervise media. Censors employed auxiliary tools such as: the power to launch or close down any newspaper, radio or television station, licensing of journalists through unions, and the power of appointment. Party bureaucrats held all leading editorial positions.

Circumvention of censorship occurred to some degree through samizdat (underground publications produced and disseminated by hand) and limited reception of western radio and television broadcasts. In addition, some regimes heavily restricted the flow of information from their countries to outside of the Eastern Bloc by regulating the travel of foreigners and segregating approved travelers from the domestic population.

Two photos of Joseph Stalin and other men, in the second photo one man was edited out by censors.

Soviet Censorship: Nikolai Yezhov, the young man strolling with Joseph Stalin to his right, was shot in 1940. He was edited out from a photo by Soviet censors. Such retouching was a common occurrence during Stalin’s reign.

Radio Free Europe

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is a United States government-funded broadcasting organization that provides news, information, and analysis to countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East “where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed.”

During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe (RFE) was broadcast to Soviet satellite countries and Radio Liberty (RL) targeted the Soviet Union. RFE was founded as an anti-communist propaganda source in 1949 by the National Committee for a Free Europe. RL was founded two years later and the two organizations merged in 1976. Communist governments frequently sent agents to infiltrate RFE’s headquarters. Radio transmissions into the Soviet Union were regularly jammed by the KGB. RFE/RL received funds from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 1972. During RFE’s earliest years of existence, the CIA and U.S. Department of State issued broad policy directives, and a system evolved where broadcast policy was determined through negotiation between them and RFE staff.

Radio Free Europe was created and grew in its early years through the efforts of the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), an anti-communist CIA front organization formed by Allen Dulles in New York City in 1949. The United States funded a long list of projects to counter the Communist appeal among intellectuals in Europe and the developing world. RFE was developed out of a belief that the Cold War would eventually be fought by political rather than military means. American policymakers such as George Kennan and John Foster Dulles acknowledged that the Cold War was essentially a war of ideas. The implementation of surrogate radio stations was a key part of the greater psychological war effort.

RFE played a critical role in Cold War-era Eastern Europe. Unlike government-censored programs, RFE publicized anti-Soviet protests and nationalist movements. Its audience increased substantially following the failed Berlin riots of 1953 and the highly publicized defection of Józef Światło. Its Hungarian service’s coverage of Poland’s Poznań riots in 1956 arguably served as an inspiration for the Hungarian revolution.

During the Revolution of 1956 RFE broadcasts encouraged rebels to fight and suggested that Western support was imminent. These RFE broadcasts violated Eisenhower’s policy which determined that the United States would not provide military support for the Revolution. In the wake of this scandal a number of changes were implemented at RFE, including the establishment of the Broadcast Analysis Division to ensure that broadcasts were accurate and professional while maintaining the journalists’ autonomy.