The Cold War defined the last half of the 20th century. As a result, the remnants of the Cold War have come to define the 21st century. Even though the Cold War ended in 1991, twenty-three years ago, the effects are still felt today, leaving behind the feeling that the Cold War ended recently. This is evident in the environmental issues that cannot be ignored anymore, the increase in the number of nuclear arsenals, and nuclear programs and the escalating number of nation-vs-nation conflicts. As nations look for alternatives for oil and gas, they are looking towards nuclear energy as the answer. However, can the world deal with this increase in nuclear programs when it is still suffering from the effects of the forty-five year long Cold War? How are nations going to respond to neighboring nations and nations with unstable regimes gaining the ability to produce nuclear weapons? How will this increase in nuclear programs affect international relations and foreign policy? With the increasing interest in nuclear energy, the Cold War placed the world on the path that it might be on for centuries to come.
First, the remnants of the Cold War are still felt today mostly through the environmental issues facing the world. These issues were ignored at first but they have made their impact known and they cannot be ignored anymore. The main environmental issue being felt today is global warming. Scientists built nuclear weapons at the end of World War II and during the Cold War. Throughout the process, these weapons were tested in areas that are still not safe for civilization due to the high levels of radiation that not only affect the environment but also affect humanity. Nuclear powers are dangerous for the environment, whether an explosion is an accident or not. For example, in 1986 a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl Power Complex in Ukraine exploded due to a flaw in its design. The explosion is believed to have caused “the largest uncontrolled radioactive release into the environment ever recorded for any civilian operation and large quantities of radioactive substances were released into the air for about ten days” (Chernobyl Accident). Furthermore, “the lighter material was carried by wind over the Ukraine Belarus, Russia and to some extent over Scandinavia and Europe” (Chernobyl Accident). These were the immediate environmental effects yet they also the contributors to global warming today. The radiation that was released into the atmosphere overtime causes the temperature to increase, leading to global warming. The radiation for the Chernobyl explosion spread out towards Western Europe and possibly as far as Canada. Scientists believe that this radiation is still in the atmosphere and they fear that it will continue to be there for thousands of years to come (Chernobyl Accident). In addition, due to the water cycle, this radiation has ended up in water bodies all over the world in the form of rainfall. “For example, poor radioactive waste disposal practices throughout the Cold War threaten some of the most important water resources in the United States” (Makhijani). These water bodies are a part of an ecosystem that is essential to the functioning of the environment. However, with radiation contamination, they are destroyed as they become acidic. We cannot undo the damage that has resulted from decades of radiation build-up in the atmosphere.
Second, the introduction of nuclear weapons during the Cold War has led to the increase of nuclear energy research. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States viewed the number of nuclear weapons they possessed as their power over the other. “There can never be enough weapons, ever more destructive as they are, to satisfy either side as they both strive for complete confidence in their nuclear deterrent” (Prins, 5). The Soviet Union and the United States signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which would help prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and technology, and help facilitate the process of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states. Despite the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two nations “worked together as de facto partners to encourage nuclear-capable states in several regions to forgo the development and deployment of the weapons of mass destruction within their reach” (Jones, 3). This is very hypocritical of the two superpowers because while they continued to build their arsenal of nuclear weapons, they restricted other countries from building their own nuclear weapons. However, countries were able to comply with the treaty because in turn, they were guaranteed protection by the United States if they were NATO members and protection by Russia if they were part of the Warsaw Pact. The beginning of nuclear programs in other countries can be attributed to the decline of the Soviet Union and the rise of the United States as a unipolar power. The shift in the balance of power from bipolar to unipolar created insecurity among countries (Kessler, 31). Some countries were eager to start their own nuclear programs before and after the power shift and, ironically, the United States, and the Soviet Union aided their ventures. The United States helped Israel and India while the Soviet Union helped Iran and North Korea. As a unipolar superpower, the United States cannot prevent all countries from building nuclear weapons because it is viewed as the enemy: it has too much say and power in international policy and sometimes it is a big bully. The other countries believe that the only way to stand up to the United States is by matching its nuclear arsenal. Hence, every country is creating piles of nuclear weapons; even countries that should not because not “all nuclear forces will be controlled by rational leaders who comprehend that nothing can be gained by the use of nuclear weapons;”(Prins, 5). Countries like North Korea, Iran and Pakistan should not be allowed to start nuclear programs. Dictators who are trying to make something out of North Korea rule North Korea. Terrorist groups who are “not concerned about how many causalities they created and instead wanted to kill as many people as possible, especially Americans” reside and divide Pakistan (Kessler, 31). This leads into the third effect of the Cold War.
Finally yet importantly, the increase of nuclear weapon arsenal led to the rise of tensions and conflicts between countries. This is mostly evident in the Middle East, whereby each country wants to build nuclear weapons because they fear an attack from a neighbor. There has been speculation about which countries in the Middle East own nuclear weapons. For some of these countries, they get their start with nuclear weapons during the Cold War, from the Soviet Union or the United States. For example, United States and Soviet Union involvement in the Middle East escalated the tense situation between Israel and its Muslim anti-West neighbors. Even though the world knows that Israel has nuclear weapons, Israel has never admitted to the fact. “By developing a policy of opacity, Israel has been able to avoid both making an overt nuclear threat to its Muslim neighbors…” (Jones, 7). However, Israel’s neighbors have threatened to build their own nuclear weapons if Israel ever confirms the fact that they have nuclear weapons. Another example of a nation-vs-nation conflict is the India- Pakistan conflict. After the independence of India in 1947, it was divided into two states, India and Pakistan. This has caused a bitter territorial conflict over the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. Due to their mutual mistrust, the two nations are engaged in a U.S.-Soviet Union style arms race (Jauhari, 42). India and Pakistan began as early as the 1950s to plan the construction of nuclear programs in the future. India has received aid for its nuclear program from the United States because the United States is afraid of the terrorist organizations in Pakistan and the last thing it wants is for Pakistan to have a nuclear program. “Managing one of today’s most alarming threats, the danger posed by terrorist with nuclear or radiological weapons, remains an illusive target (Kessler, 31). Pakistan is supported by Iran and Libya, which further contributes to the United States’ fear of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons since both countries tend to be home grounds for terrorists. Furthermore, the United States fears that the founder of the Pakistan nuclear program, A.Q. Khan, may “have passed on nuclear secrets to Al Qaeda during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan” (Jauhari, 46). This is evidence that the introduction of a nuclear program in the Middle East, a region that packed with terrorist organizations, can only spell trouble for the world. However, it goes back to the Cold War because the Cold War enabled the United States and the Soviet Union to spread their influence (in the form of aid) to the Middle East.
In conclusion, the Cold War has defined the world for the last sixty-seven years. Even though it ended in 1991, the Cold War continued to define the world through its residing effects. The discovery, introduction and construction of nuclear weapons during this time period has produced environmental issues, led to the increased production of nuclear weapons despite numerous studies that label “nuclear” as dangerous to earth and the escalation of nation-vs-nation conflicts. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States controlled the nuclear weapon. The Cold War created a balance of power that made nations feel secure. However, with the decline of the Soviet Union and the rise of the United States as the sole superpower, nations rushed to build nuclear weapons in order to create a security of their own. The result is a world composed of countries that have piles of nuclear weapons in their facilities because they represent power and security. However, there is no security on this path set by the Cold War, especially if those nuclear weapons end up in the hands of the wrong people.
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