So, as many of you know, my favourite history topic is the Cold War. I love both the complex nature of the political situation and the sheer disbelief many have when they hear the role that Pandas,table tennis and Disneyworld play in the conflict.
I’m currently marking some Year 13 answers that consider the origins of the Cold War in the 1940s and the role that nuclear weapons played in making the world a more dangerous place. They’re an interesting read, as some of them argue how the arms race actually made the world a safer place- sounds crazy, but there’s a logic to it!
Iran have been making headlines this week as they begin to lift the lid, if only momentarily, on their uranium enrichment programme. Sounds boring? Not when the rest of the world believes that the reason behind this ‘uranium enrichment’ is the development of nuclear weapons!
Now some of the year 13s have rightly argued that the arms race of the 1950s can be seen to make the world a safer place. The sheer pace of their development led to “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), and the knowledge that a touch of a button could lead to simultaneous missiles flying across the globe and the destruction of the majority of the planet weighed heavy on the minds of the leaders of the US and USSR. Their reluctance to see the world descend into a nuclear conflict caused restraint on both sides. This is ultimately why it is called the ‘Cold War’- the presence of such destructive firepower prevented direct conflict.
Now William Hague, the British foreign secretary, has warned of a second Cold War following Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear programme. Politicians can use strong terms such as this to get across the serious nature of what they are saying- are we really in danger of a second Cold War?
If a tyrranical dictatorial system like the Soviet Union had the common sense to avoid pressing the button, surely we can believe that country’s like North Korea and Iran will too? You would hope so. Even after numerous treaties that have reduced their nuclear capabilities, the US are still the nuclear world power. Britain and France’s nuclear agreement, signed this week, ensures that we are secure even in these times of austerity.
But the issue isn’t the use of a nuclear weapon towards a major western power. No one is that stupid (I think!). The real concern is the potential use of a nuclear weapon by a developing country- on a developing country. The Middle-East has been torn apart, and is in a state of radical change and near crisis. One of the many reasons for the US invading Iraq back in 2003 was due to a concern (unfounded) regarding ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Countries which were once fought over by the US and Soviet Union are now threats in their own right.
The rapidly changing attention of the world has now switched to Iran. Tensions continue to rise between Iran and Israel (another Islamic country unhappy with the sole Jewish nation), and the assassination of an Iranian scientist, followed by the suicide attack in Bangkok have served to highlight just how much these tensions are escalating. Issues across the Middle East have caused domestic turmoil, which history tells us can quickly transfer into foreign conflict.
Would a developing nation consider using a nuclear device on a rival, in the belief/hope that a major power wouldn’t interfere? Possibly. And would the increase in country’s possessing nuclear weapons cause a return to Cold War politics, where an arms race dictates global influence, and nuclear supremacy is of paramount importance? More than possibly!
But will it ever be called Cold War 2? Will we study it in the same way we have the struggle between the US and USSR as in the post waro world? In a word- no! It’ll be known as a middle east crisis, and as in almost every modern conflict, it will inevitably involve the 21st century weapons of war. And that makes it just as worrying.