The Curtain Falls


The Cold War II: The Sinatra Doctrine Wins

The main essentials of a successful prime minister are sleep and a sense of history.

- Harold Wilson

No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War.
It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.

- Richard M Nixon

Once you get into this great stream of history, you can't get out.

- Richard M Nixon

Cold War Europe

Leonid Brezhnev (1964 - 1982) replaced Khrushchev as the leader of the USSR.   Khrushchev had been on vacation in the Crimea at the time.  Russia experienced total stagnation.  Brezhnev was a “Neo-Stalinist”.  The Soviet economy tanked and corruption increased but the military was strengthened.  The Soviets were ahead in the Cold War militarily, at a peak internationally, but they were failing badly in all other areas though they were able to mask their internal deficiencies.

In the early 1960's, Czechoslovakia underwent an economic downturn and in 1968 the Communist party was taken over by reformers led by Alexander Dubcek.  He started a period of liberalisation known as the Prague Spring in which he attempted to implement "socialism with a human face."  This liberalization alarmed the Soviet Union and on 21 August 1968, the Soviets invoked the Brezhnev Doctrine and invaded.  The country was for decades afterward characterised by the absence of democracy and relative economic backwardness compared to Western Europe (a characteristic of all of Soviet-occupied Europe, actually).  The Brezhnev Doctrine was formulated in response to Prague Spring (it did not exist before), and was only formally stated a couple months after the invasion.  It goes as follows:

"When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries."

The doctrine was also used to justify the invasion of Afghanistan 11 years later.  (However, in 1989, the Brezhnev Doctrine was replaced by the Sinatra Doctrine - a joke by the Soviets as Sinatra had a popular song called “I Did It My Way” – similarly, the Sinatra Doctrine was that Eastern Europe could choose its own path without fear of Soviet tanks.  As so often, the doctrine merely formalised what had been Soviet policy for some time – the first non-Communist government of Poland had assumed power the previous month, and despite desperate pleas from the totalitarian East German government, the USSR was doing nothing to reign in Hungary, which had opened its borders with Austria, providing a way for desperate East Germans to flee to the West.)

The Soviet Union was in an expansionist period.  In the late 60s, the Cold War went “hot” in the Viet Nam War.  The US was losing, which made her look weak and also drained resources.  Communism looked to be strong and growing – many feared that Eisenhower’s “domino theory” would be true and more and more countries would fall.  By the time Lyndon Johnson (1962 – 1969) became president, Vietnam looked like a potential failure of containment, and so Johnson started a large troop buildup, taking the number from 16,000 to more than half a million.  This in turn led to domestic unrest in the US.  The USSR had internal issues too, but had no qualms about repressing them - with tanks, if necessary (and sometimes even when it wasn’t).

An odd paradox – the US looked weak and losing, the USSR looked strong and winning.  In reality, the US was far stronger and more resilient – under the surface the USSR was already crumbling and falling ever further behind.  Observers assumed the USSR’s successful space program was a sign of Soviet strength – that she must have a massive industrial complex of a similar size and quality as the US had.  This was false – Soviets were hand-crafting spacecraft in an extraordinarily expensive effort to make it appear they had an industrial economy.

The 1970s brought Richard Nixon (1969 – 1974), a staunch anti-communist. Nixon moved away from containment, because it didn’t seem to be working and wasn’t popular.  His new strategy was détente (increasing cooperation) to foster goodwill and more interaction.  As part of this, arms control and disarmament began to be negotiated – for example, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) froze nuclear levels where they were.  Nixon also changed policy regarding to China – prior to this, the US did not recognise China as legitimate.  Nixon decided to try and play the Chinese off versus the Soviets (rivals and sometimes combatants).  As Nixon was a staunch anti-communist, this allowed him to make concessions others might have been unable to. “Only Nixon could go to China.”

The Cultural Revolution had begun in China during this time under Chairman Mao, smashing traditions.  But finally in the 1970s, China began to inch towards reform.  When this went too far in the late 1980s, China cracked down on reform-minded forces in the Tiananmen Square Massacre.  Even so, China is now no longer really doctrinaire communist (although it was still a totalitarian state).  The Chinese Communists lasted because they fixed the economy before they fixed their politics.  The USSR collapsed because she did the reverse.

Aerial View of Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

One of the world's largest public spaces, Tiananmen Square was originally built in the mid-1600s.  The square is named after the red "Gate of Heavenly Peace" on its northern edge - the main gate into the Forbidden City, the palace of China's emperors.  A decade after the founding of the People's Republic of China, Tiananmen was drastically enlarged and paved over.  It now covers an area of 100 acres.

It was from the balcony of Tiananmen that Mao Tse-tung declared the People's Republic of China in 1949, following the communist victory over their Nationalist rivals.  A large portrait of Mao now hangs over the main Tiananmen entrance.  Tiananmen is considered to be China's political heart.  It has been the site of numerous demonstrations and rallies - from a 1952 celebration of increased steel production, to memorial ceremonies marking the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1953.  Stalin's successor as Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, was also honoured by Chinese leaders with a rally in Tiananmen , but it was during that visit to Beijing that the Soviet-Chinese split became apparent.

In the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Red Guards crowded into the square, to proclaim their devotion to Chairman Mao - and wave the "little red book" of Mao's sayings during the chaotic Cultural Revolution.  Demonstrations were also held in the Square in support of North Vietnam's war against the US.  But within years of those events, Mao would be hosting US President Richard Nixon in his private quarters not far away.  Nixon also attended a banquet at the Great Hall of the People, on the western side of the square.

Following his death in 1976, Mao was entombed in an elaborate building at the southern end of the square.  It is visited by thousands of people each week, as well as national leaders such as Fidel Castro, who visited in 1995.  Tiananmen became the centre of international attention in 1989, when student-led pro-democracy demonstrators took over the square for several weeks.  The students made the Monument to the People's Heroes, an obelisk in the center of the square, their makeshift headquarters.  It was during these protests that students also constructed the "goddess of democracy" statue, just across from the portrait of Mao.  Those demonstrations were violently suppressed in June of 1989.  Hundreds of demonstrators were killed.

In more recent years, Tiananmen has been used to help celebrate the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, following more than 150 years of British rule and when the Portuguese colony of Macau returned to Chinese sovereignty at the end of 1999.


By the end of the 1970s, détente was a failure.  The total triangulation strategy seemed to yield no benefits.  In 1972, the US pulled out of South Viet Nam, which was subsequently overrun by North Vietnamese forces in 1975.  Only the Soviets seemed to be benefiting from détente.  Despite this, the new president, Jimmy Carter (1977 - 1981) seemed to feel détente was preferable to the alternatives (perhaps a somewhat negative reflection of Carter’s foreign policy skills).

Communists kept expanding – into Angola, other African countries, into Nicaragua.  In 1979, the USSR undertook the Afghanistan Invasion.  It was feared by the US that the Soviets would sweep through and take over the oil-rich Middle-Eastern countries.  Iran had a revolution and seized hostages – including Americans – which she held for over a year.  The US seemed to be losing badly.  Carter shifted gradually towards containment and formulated the Carter Doctrine – he said if the USSR threatened the Middle East, the US would use force.  He also tried (and failed) to use economic sanctions against the USSR (he embargoed grain), but it seemed to hurt the US more than the USSR as other countries didn’t go along.  The US continued to treat the USSR as if she were a “normal” country with a functioning economy.  But she wasn't and this didn’t work.

In 1980 the US boycotted the Olympics held that year in Moscow.  In the Winter Olympics, the US beat the Russian hockey team, which brought the Americans great pride.  Carter increased defense spending – then was defeated by Ronald Reagan (1981 – 1989).

Ronald Reagan

[A]t the Geneva summit, Reagan told the following joke which made Gorbachev laugh heartily:

An old Russian woman goes into Kremlin, gets an audience with Gorbachev and says, "In America anyone can go to the White House, walk up to Reagan's desk and say, 'I don't like the way you are running the country.'"  Gorbachev replied, "You can do the same thing in the Soviet Union.  You can go into the Kremlin, walk up to my desk and say 'I don't like the way Reagan is running his country.'"

Source: Speaking Out, The Reagan Presidency From Inside the White House by Larry Speakes with Robert Pack pages 167 - 168

Reagan moved much further towards traditional containment and did it with alacrity, back to the moral language of the Cold War.  It was clear that Reagan wanted to go beyond containment – the Reagan Doctrine actually pressed for rollback.  Reagan funded revolutionary groups trying to overthrow the Communists.  He supported rebels in Afghanistan – this succeeded in throwing the USSR out, but had nasty aftereffects.  Afghanistan had been devastated by the brutal USSR invasion and occupation, and the resulting vacuum was filled by warlords and criminal gangs – including groups which would eventually make trouble in Chechnya, all through the Middle East, and eventually, in the 9/11 attacks.

Reagan also gave covert support to the Solidarity Movement in Poland which was headed by Lech Walesa.  This was a great success, and is a major reason why Reagan is given as much credit as he is for the downfall of the USSR.  The Polish government tried to crack down on Solidarity (declaring martial law), but it moved underground.  Brezhnev (oddly) did not intervene.  Reagan and Pope John Paul II gave intense moral support to Poland’s rivals.  This eventually worked, and Poland was the first Warsaw Pact country to fall.

Reagan had inherited a poor economy from Carter – Reagan’s economic reforms changed this – cuts in tax rates caused an economic boom.  Reagan then spent all the gains (and much more besides) on a massive military buildup.  The US economy was able to support the cost (although it was expensive).  The USSR felt she had to match it – her strength was built on military might, and she didn’t feel she could afford to be weaker than the US.  She tried to match the US buildup, but the crippled Soviet economy couldn’t begin to cope.  A real chill developed in the US-Soviet relations.

The largest conflict between the US and USSR during Reagan’s presidency was when a Korean airliner KAL007 strayed into Soviet airspace and was shot down.  250 people died.  By itself, this wouldn’t have been too bad, but the USSR tried to cover it up, failed, and then claimed it was a disguised spy plane.  The USSR appeared incompetent – far worse than appearing merely violent and touchy (which would have been the case had she admitted to shooting the plane down and then apologised).

By 1983, nuclear war seemed a real possibility again.  By 1985, the dynamic began to change with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev (1985 – 1991) – the first Russian leader born after the Bolshevik Revolution.  He was seen as young, vigourous, and charismatic.  He met with Margaret Thatcher before he came to power and the two of them hit it off.  She said, “We can do business with him.”  Since Thatcher was a very close ally of Reagan, this helped to shape US policy.  Gorbachev had been influenced by Khrushchev’s ideas of reform and thought that was a better path.  The country’s economy was in terrible shape due to the Afghan war and the arms race.  He instituted “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring).  Further, the USSR had no computer/electronics industry, and her education system had no hope of developing the needed expertise.  Gorbachev implemented social/political reforms.  He loosened restrictions, granted more freedoms, wanted people to be more creative and to make suggestions for improvements.  Glasnost was political, perestroika was economic.  The USSR decided she needed US aid and technological help, so she backed away from annoying the Americans.  She pulled out of Afghanistan, cut aid for revolutionary movements in Eastern Europe and other actions.

Reagan also scaled back.  The US and USSR held three summits and the first nuclear arms reduction treaty was signed.  Gorbachev’s plans seemed to be working, but in 1989 the internal problems with the Soviet system finally caught up with her and everything collapsed.

Events started in Poland – Poland held elections in June 1989, and a non-communist (Walesa) was elected president.  The last time something like that had happened, the USSR had crushed the democrats with tanks, causing high casualties.  This time she did nothing - she had instituted the Sinatra Doctrine but no one in the West knew that yet.  Hungary opened her border with West Germany – East Germans flowed out, finally able to bypass the Berlin Wall - but still the USSR did nothing, even when East Germany collapsed.  The Berlin Wall became irrelevant.  Was this for real?  Czechoslovakia had its “velvet revolution”.  Only Romania held out for a while but then Ceausescu fell and was promptly executed.  USSR pulled her troops out of Berlin – World War II was finally over.

Gorbachev allowed Eastern Europe to go free, but refused to turn the USSR’s countries (her “states”) loose – but he had allowed some reforms – now everyone wanted a share.  Gorbachev was president of the USSR, Boris Yeltsin was elected president of Russia.  Yeltsin wanted to go much further – the USSR had already let go of her empire – why not more?  But in 1991, the hardliners acted.  While Gorbachev was vacationing in the Crimea, they staged an attempted coup to depose him like they had Khrushchev – they told the world that Gorbachev was “sick” – but it blew up in their faces.  Yeltsin climbed upon a tank and called upon people to resist.  The coup failed on live TV viewed around the world.  This was the last gasp of communism – at least for a while.  Gorbachev was brought back long enough to dissolve the USSR’s Communist Party.  Gorbachev was president of a country that soon didn’t exist as it was shortly announced that the USSR was dissolved and all countries of the old USSR were free.  Communism was over, as was the Russian Empire – not, perhaps, the world’s smoothest entry into democracy.

The communists, however, still existed – they reformed as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation immediately.  They are usually the most popular party in the Duma.  The “Russian Federation” is a weak replacement for the old Russian Empire, but some efforts are being made to strengthen it.  Many of the Soviet countries became repressive dictatorships, and many rely heavily on Russian aid to maintain control.  Yeltsin sank into alcoholism and decline – he tried to “appoint” a “nobody” to follow him – a faceless bureaucrat.  That bureaucrat – Putin – has turned out to be strong and authoritarian.  Russia doesn’t seem to be moving towards communism, but may be moving back to being a totalitarian empire.  Putin’s attempts to expand Russian influence back into Europe have been mostly failures - at least up to now - but see the last page in this section, Who Makes History Next for a perspective on this.

When does a new period begin?  And what will it be called?  What happens next?

Decolonisation 1947 - 1960s

New Nations 1946 - 1975

bullet1947 - India and Pakistan gain independence from Britain.
bullet1947 The Asian Relations Conference is held in New Delhi, pledges support for all national movements against colonial rule.
bullet1948 - Burma and Ceylon granted independence by Britain.
bullet1951 - Libya gains independence from France.
bullet1954 - 1962 - Algerian War of Independence against France.
bullet1955 - The Bandung Conference of African and Asian nations is convened to discuss anti-imperialism, economic development, and cultural cooperation, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961.  The conference was attended by 29 countries representing more than half the population of the world.
bullet1956 - Morocco gains independence.
bullet1960 - France's colonies in North and West Africa - Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Zaire (Belgian Congo) - gain independence.
bullet1962 - Burundi, Jamaica, Western Samoa, Uganda, and Trinidad and Tobago become independent
bullet1963 - Kenya achieves independence
bullet1963 - The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was created because African leaders believed that disunity played into the hands of the superpowers.  While the OAU witnessed some gains in African cooperation, its members were generally primarily interested in pursuing their own nation interests rather than those of continental dimensions.

With decolonization in the 1960s, the Superpowers gave foreign aid to the Third World to create allies, and tolerated undemocratic regimes (for example Iran, Philippines) and economic protectionism (Japan).  The "Domino Theory" guided US foreign policy: the loss of one country in a region to communism (for example Latin America or Vietnam) was said to allow its spread to other countries in the region.  Emerging states in Africa and Asia were sensitive to neocolonialism, made possible by the importation of business managers and technicians, dependence upon imported military supplies, and reliance upon set patterns of trade and outside sources of investment.  To support developmental projects, governments sought loans and technical assistance from the West and USSR, but simultaneously sought to loosen dominance by the industrialised nations.  Some underdeveloped states devised a strategy that turned the Cold War into what they called "creative confrontation" - playing off the superpowers to their own advantage while maintaining nonalignment, including India’s Nehru, Egypt’s Nasser, and even France’s deGaulle.

NATO was a product of the containment policy developed by George Kennan and implemented by Harry Truman and his Secretary of States George Marshall and Dean Acheson.  The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were also aspects of this policy that attempted to stop the spread of Soviet Communism.

Up until 2005, the US maintained 1,400 foreign bases in 31 countries.

"Mutually assured destruction" was the guiding deterrent preventing nuclear war - that a nuclear war would result in total annihilation of both countries.

Military expenditures consumed a large proportion of both countries’ budgets, which the Soviet Union was eventually unable to sustain, leading to its breakup.  The Cold War also spurred a race for space exploration and technical innovation.

Coups Arranged or Backed by the US

Year Country Reason Given Actual Reason
1949 Syria Communism Elected government against USA political interests and pro-Palestinian
1949 Greece Communism Elected government against USA political and economic interests
1952 Cuba None Elected government against USA business interests
1953 Iran None Elected government against USA oil interests
1953 British Guyana None Access to sugar and bauxite
1954 Guatemala Communism Elected government against USA business interests
1955 South Vietnam Communism French backed leader replaced by USA backed leader
1957 Haiti Haiti is near the USA Previous government against USA business interests
1958 Laos None Pro-USA government wanted
1959 Laos None Pro-USA government wanted
1960 South Korea Communism Previous leader not strong enough for USA
1960 Laos None Pro-USA government wanted
1960 Congo None  
1960 Ecuador Communism Previous government too independent in foreign policy
1961 Dominican Republic None  
1963 Dominican Republic Business Interests Elected government against USA business interests
1963 South Vietnam None Previous leader's policies led to televised suicides
1963 Honduras Communism Pro-USA government and access to resources 1963 Guatemala Communism Military government was about to allow elections 1964 Brazil Communism Access to resources and cheap labour 1964 Bolivia Communism Previous government too independent in foreign policy 1965 Zaire None Access to cobalt, copper and diamonds 1966 Ghana None Previous government too independent in foreign policy 1967 Greece None Military bases 1970 Cambodia None Previous king against USA political interests 1970 Bolivia None Country took ownership of its oil and tin 1972 El Salvador Communism Elected leader against USA business interests 1973 Chile Communism Elected government against USA business interests 1979 South Korea None Pro-USA government wanted 1980 Liberia Democracy Pro-USA government wanted 1982 Chad None Pro-USA government wanted 1983 Grenada Democracy Pro-USA government wanted 1987 Fiji Democracy Previous elected government supported nuclear-free Pacific

US Invasions, Bombings, Military Aid, Political Interventions, and Sanctions

Year Country Action Reason Given
1947-1955 Europe Election Finance Communism
1947-1953 Philippines Election Finance None
1948 Peru Military Backing None
1948-1981 Nicaragua Military Backing None
1948-2004 Israel Military and Economic Aid; Political Support None
1949 Nationalist China Arms Sales; Bombing Communism
1950 Puerto Rico Military Action None
1953-1979 Iran Economic Aid None
1954-1975 Vietnam Military Training, Action (1964-1974) Communism
1956 Egypt Sanctions Communism
1957 Jordan Military Training None
1958 Lebanon Military Action None
1958 Indonesia Election Finance None
1958 - 1980 Japan Election Finance None
1959 Haiti Military Action None
1959 Nepal Covert Action None
1960 - 2004 Cuba Trade Embargo, Invasion (1961), Economic Sabotage Communism
1960-1963 Iraq Destabilisation None
1960-1977 Congo (Zaire) Military Aid None
1962 Brazil Election Finance None
1962-1965 Dominican Republic Intervention Communism
1963 - 1998 El Salvador Advisors Communism
1965-1966 Laos Destabilisation; Bombing Communism
1965 Thailand Military Aid None
1965 Peru Military Aid None
1965-1977 Indonesia Military Aid None
1966- 1979 Central Africa Finance None
1966 Bolivia Election Finance None
1969-1973 Cambodia Bombing None
1970 Uruguay Torture Training None
1970 Oman Military Assistance for Iran None
1971 Laos Invasion None
1972- 1975 Australia Election Finance None
1972- 1975 Iraq Aid to Kurds Humanitarian
1974 Portugal Election Finance None
1975 East Timor Support of Invasion by Indonesia None
1975 Morocco Support of Invasion None
1978-1998 Guatemala Military Aid None
1979-1989 Cambodia Military Aid to Khmer Rouge None
1980-1990 El Salvador Military Aid Communism
1980 Honduras Troops Communism
1980-1988 Iraq Military Aid Against Iran Islamic Iran
1981-1989 Libya Provocation Terrorism
1982-1985 Lebanon Troops Humanitarian
1982-1989 Afghanistan Military Aid Against Soviets Communism
1983-1990 Nicaragua Blockade; Arming Contras Communism
1989 Panama Invasion; Deposition of Noriega Drugs
1990s Eastern Europe; Mongolia Election Finance Communism
1991-2004 Iraq Military Action, Sanctions Free Kuwait
1994 Haiti Troops Democracy
1995-2000 Iran Sanctions Terrorism
1998 Afghanistan, Sudan Bombing (Terrorist camps) Terrorism
1999 Yugoslavia (Kosovo) Bombing Humanitarian
2000 Kyrgyzstan Financial Aid Humanitarian
2001 Colombia Military Aid Drug Trafficking
2001 China Provocation Communism
2001 Afghanistan Bombing; Invasion Terrorism

(The list keeps growing...)


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