The Cold War

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What effect did the Cold War have on the Soviet Union?

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The Cold War made the Soviet Union quite powerful politically. It secured buffer states in Eastern Europe after World War II mainly because its armies would not leave the occupied areas. The Soviet Union also sponsored regimes in Cuba, North Vietnam, and North Korea and did a brisk business exporting assault rifles and fighter planes. The Soviet Union was also able to develop its nuclear capability in order to threaten both Western Europe and the United States.

For the average person living in the Soviet Union, the Cold War made life very difficult. The Soviet Union suffered the most of any nation from World War II but would not join the World Bank or accept any funds from the Marshall Plan. The Soviet regime was quite repressive under Stalin, and after the war, he imprisoned those who had been German prisoners of war and others he feared were contaminated with Western ideas. It became a crime to listen to Radio Free Europe, an anti-Soviet propaganda machine begun in the early days of the Cold War. Stalin also forced religious groups to either give up practicing or go underground. The Soviet Union increased its military spending at the expense of spending on other things for its people.

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The Cold War enabled the Soviet Union to achieve great power status. In turn, this allowed the USSR to further its most important geopolitical goal: securing its vast borders. To this end, the Soviets were particularly active in the anti-colonial struggle, assisting armed guerrillas and resistance movements in their conflicts with colonial powers and their proxies. Through the anti-colonial movement, the Soviet Union was able to extend its worldwide influence while at the same time making its own borders more secure. The more allies could be secured internationally, the safer the USSR would be.

Yet in the long run, the Cold War destroyed the Soviet Union. As its sphere of influence grew, the Soviet Union found itself vulnerable to overreach, and this severely hampered its ideological struggle with the West. Quite simply, the USSR lacked the requisite economic strength to keep up with the West, and the United States in particular. As military spending escalated in the US, the Soviets had no choice but to follow suit. But with a much weaker economy than the Americans, the Soviets couldn't devote as many resources to the arms race as the United States. And whatever could be spent placed a crippling burden on an already creaking economy that was chronically inefficient and riddled with corruption.

Domestic living standards plummeted as the Soviet Union forlornly tried to compete with the United States, adding to the chronic shortages that were a major feature of the centralized command economy. What had proved quite an effective system during World War II was unable to deliver success in the Cold War. Once the nuclear arms race began in earnest, the writing was on the wall for the Soviet Union.

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The Cold War was one of the major factors that impacted the Soviet Union from 1945 until the Soviet Union stopped existing.  It had many important influences on that country.  Let us look at two of these influences.

First, the Cold War impacted life inside the Soviet Union, making it much more politically oppressive.  During the Cold War, the Soviet leaders constantly felt the need to ensure that their populace was united in support of the regime.  That led a situation in which the government felt the need to be extremely repressive.  The Cold War, then, led to less freedom within the Soviet Union.

Second, the Cold War also helped to make economic life harder.  Because of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had to spend a great deal on its military.  It had to do this so that it would not fall behind in the struggle for power with the US.  When it spent on the military, it was unable to spend on things that would have helped average Soviet citizens. 

When combined, these effects helped to cause the end of the Soviet Union.  The repression and the poor economy made people very unhappy in the Soviet system.  This helped cause the Soviet Union to collapse when Gorbachev attempted his reforms.

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