Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy December 2017–January 2018
20 November 2017
The Cold War, to use Raymond Aron’s famous definition, was a contest for supremacy in which war – all-out war – was improbable, but peace was impossible.
All-out war was improbable because of the fear that it would become a nuclear war that no one could win. Instead, the United States and the Soviet Union used means other than military force to undermine the other: economic war, propaganda and psychological war, subversion conducted by intelligence services, the arming of allies and proxies around the world, and so on.
Both sides were haunted by the fear of an attack like the one that had brought the United States into the Second World War in 1941, but this time with nuclear weapons. They were also haunted by the fear that the other side would translate military power into political leverage. The fear not only of direct attack, but of political blackmail directed at their allies and themselves, drove the effort to stay on top of the military competition in specific areas such as Europe, and to maintain a survivable retaliatory nuclear capability against the other side.