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Thread: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

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    Default Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    The nuclear peace theory is one of the recent explanations for the lack of major power war since WWII(conviently ignoring of course the Korean War and the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict). According to proponents of this theory, the reason the cold war did not go hot is because of the presence of nuclear weapons made war too risky. Now if you only had a simple view of the world that may seem like an easy explanation, but its not true.

    First two quick facts:

    1) The presence of more powerful weapons has never deterred war in history. See the invention of the machine gun and strategic bombing.

    2) If MAD was the deterrant for the use of nuclear weapons, why has no nation used nuclear weapons on a nation that doesn't have it? A sense of fairness?

    Now having put those hear are the real reasons the Cold War didn't go hot:

    1) Neither side wanted it. The idea of world communism died with Trostky, from Stalin through Gorbachev the Soviets had no desire to fight for a world communist movement. Yes, they would support communist parties in order to increase their own power (all the communist groups they supported were Lennist and aligned with the USSR, they weren't too keen on supporting Maoists), but they had no desire to risk their power by starting a major war. And the US had rhetoric about supporting the cause of Capitalism and wnt to war to stop the spread of communism, but since Truman had a policy of containment not removal. In the end no war happened, because neither side really wanted to go to war with the other.

    2) Americans believed the Soviets would win, the Soviets knew they would lose. What is interesting about the Cold War is that neither side believed it would win a hot war. NATO intelligence about the Soviets was lacking and because of various reasons NATO vastly overestimated the power of the Soviet Union. After the Cold War, NATO was suprised at how poor of a state the Soviet forces were and how many were paper divisions. The Soviets themselves knew they would lose a long hot war. They had an initial advantage, but they had fewer total forces than NATO, a smaller population, and a much weaker economy. The Soviets spent around 25% of their GDP on defense during the Cold War, while the US spent around 4-5% of its GDP and still had around the same amount of dollars spent. The Soviets knew in a long war NATO's advantages of economy and population would win. So the second reason the war didn't happen is that both sides thought they would lose and no one begins a war they think would lose.

    3) Warsaw Pact unrest and American democracy. No president in the US wanted to be the one who started a shooting war, as they high casaulties would likely cause him to lose re-election and his part would lose seats in Congress. There is a reason it took so long to enter the World Wars. And in most of the Warsaw Pact the Communist governments were very unpopular. Much of the Warsaw Pact was kept in line through threat of the use of force. A war would move many of those forces out of the disloyal regions, and any loss would remove the veneer of Soviet Invincibility.
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    2) If MAD was the deterrant for the use of nuclear weapons, why has no nation used nuclear weapons on a nation that doesn't have it? A sense of fairness?
    MAD only worked when the other country to wanted to go to war with had nuclear weapons. Though I believe one day MAD will not work, you have to admit there hasn't been a major war between two nations who both own nuclear weapons since nuclear weapons were around.
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    1) The presence of more powerful weapons has never deterred war in history. See the invention of the machine gun and strategic bombing.
    The shear destructive power of Nuclear Weapons makes them different from any major weapon advancement previously.

    2) If MAD was the deterrant for the use of nuclear weapons, why has no nation used nuclear weapons on a nation that doesn't have it? A sense of fairness?
    Why destroy the land you wish to take or occupy? a Radiated country is no good to the attacker.
    Pluss there are very few Countries Nuclear powers want to attack that dont also have a Buddy with Nuclear capabilities, attack one and bring in a more powerful enemy.
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Azoth View Post
    MAD only worked when the other country to wanted to go to war with had nuclear weapons. Though I believe one day MAD will not work, you have to admit there hasn't been a major war between two nations who both own nuclear weapons since nuclear weapons were around.
    Kargil War, and Sino-Soviet Border Conflict. There is also the Korean War, though Soviet Involvement wasn't official.

    India and Pakistan also almost went to war in 2001, only stopped when the US stepped in and "mediated" an agreement (aka told both sides to settle down).

    SLN: The same thing with Strategic Bombing was said, and then WWII happened.

    And that doesn't explain why the US didn't use nuclear weapons on Iraq during the Gulf War, or Iran post revolution (Soviets weren't really their friends at the time). Or the US didn't use nuclear weapons on Afghanistan.
    Last edited by Farnan; March 10, 2012 at 09:55 PM.
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    1) The presence of more powerful weapons has never deterred war in history. See the invention of the machine gun and strategic bombing.
    But obviously a machine gun or whatever just increases the tactical strength of your forces. Nuclear weapons fundamentally chance the nature of your strategy and relationship with other states, something no other weapon in the history of war has ever done.
    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    2) If MAD was the deterrant for the use of nuclear weapons, why has no nation used nuclear weapons on a nation that doesn't have it? A sense of fairness?
    Just because a country does not have nuclear weapons doesn't mean it isn't backed by them. Neither side could have conquered the other in the Yom Kippur War because that would bring down nuclear attack on the heads of the "winners". Isreal had its own nuclear arsenal and the USSR would have backed Egypt and Syria.
    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    Now having put those hear are the real reasons the Cold War didn't go hot:
    You have to realise that you're questioning the opinions of 60 years of strategic policymakers from several different countries who all had similar opinions.

    Have a read of this brilliant essay. My favorite quote: "One anayst was asked what Saddam Hussein would have done if Iraq had possessed nuclear weapons in 1990. He replied that he didn't know what he would have done but he did know what he would not have done - he would not have invaded Kuwait."
    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    1) Neither side wanted it. The idea of world communism died with Trostky, from Stalin through Gorbachev the Soviets had no desire to fight for a world communist movement. Yes, they would support communist parties in order to increase their own power (all the communist groups they supported were Lennist and aligned with the USSR, they weren't too keen on supporting Maoists), but they had no desire to risk their power by starting a major war. And the US had rhetoric about supporting the cause of Capitalism and wnt to war to stop the spread of communism, but since Truman had a policy of containment not removal. In the end no war happened, because neither side really wanted to go to war with the other.
    You're just stating a fact. You have to ask why this was so. Why didn't they want to spread their influence? They had so much to gain. It was because the cost would be too high, because of nuclear weapons. Like Winston Churchill said, the USSR "did not want war, but the spoils of war". They did not want war because they could not afford the cost.

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    2) Americans believed the Soviets would win, the Soviets knew they would lose. What is interesting about the Cold War is that neither side believed it would win a hot war. NATO intelligence about the Soviets was lacking and because of various reasons NATO vastly overestimated the power of the Soviet Union. After the Cold War, NATO was suprised at how poor of a state the Soviet forces were and how many were paper divisions. The Soviets themselves knew they would lose a long hot war. They had an initial advantage, but they had fewer total forces than NATO, a smaller population, and a much weaker economy. The Soviets spent around 25% of their GDP on defense during the Cold War, while the US spent around 4-5% of its GDP and still had around the same amount of dollars spent. The Soviets knew in a long war NATO's advantages of economy and population would win. So the second reason the war didn't happen is that both sides thought they would lose and no one begins a war they think would lose.
    I'd like to see your sources for this. All I've read on the subject has said differently. The Warsaw Pact could invade Western Europe with 10 times more troops than NATO had stationed there. Of course, NATO was vastly superior qualitively and would be fighting a defence, but even a T-55 is still a threat if it's covered in Kontakt-5 and firing gun-launched ATGMs. Czeckoslovakia's 1964 plan predicted a victory in conventional combat in Germany and France, but with 95% casualties. By the 1980s NATO was predicting it could hold a Pact invasion within the borders of Germany.

    And in a Cold War there could be no "long war". There could possibly be a conventional war in Germany, but is it got hotter than that, nuclear weapons would ensure both sides were completely destroyed strategically within a few days. Certainly France would start launching if it felt at all threatened.

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    3) Warsaw Pact unrest and American democracy. No president in the US wanted to be the one who started a shooting war, as they high casaulties would likely cause him to lose re-election and his part would lose seats in Congress. There is a reason it took so long to enter the World Wars. And in most of the Warsaw Pact the Communist governments were very unpopular. Much of the Warsaw Pact was kept in line through threat of the use of force. A war would move many of those forces out of the disloyal regions, and any loss would remove the veneer of Soviet Invincibility.
    I think you're vastly underestimating the power of nuclear weapons. Not getting re-elected is a non-issue in comparision to the devastation a strategic nuclear attack on the United States would cause. No President would dare provoke that. Claim all you like that nuclear weapons effects are exaggerated, but bear in mind an average city would be hit by 20+ of them.
    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    And that doesn't explain why the US didn't use nuclear weapons on Iraq during the Gulf War, or Iran post revolution (Soviets weren't really their friends at the time). Or the US didn't use nuclear weapons on Afghanistan.
    The USA didn't want to destroy them. NATO didn't want to destroy the Warsaw Pact either, they just wanted them to give up their communist nonsense, and the same vice versa. Countries only ever really want to use nuclear weapons when their own existence is in danger.
    Last edited by romande; March 10, 2012 at 09:57 PM.

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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    Kargil War,
    This war last a month and only 35,000 troops were involved in the entire war. I wouldn't call this a major war.

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    and Sino-Soviet Border Conflict.
    These were border clashes, not a major war.

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    There is also the Korean War, though Soviet Involvement wasn't official.
    though the Korean War did involve Soviet pilots, i wouldn't consider this a major war between the Soviets and the US.

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    India and Pakistan also almost went to war in 2003, only stopped when the US stepped in and "mediated" an agreement (aka told both sides to settle down).
    This would have most likely ended by just like the Kargil War. Not lasting very long, and not involving many troops.


    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    And that doesn't explain why the US didn't use nuclear weapons on Iraq during the Gulf War, or Iran post revolution (Soviets weren't really their friends at the time). Or the US didn't use nuclear weapons on Afghanistan.
    They didn't use them because there was no need to use them. Just because you have them doesn't mean you have to use them.
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    And that doesn't explain why the US didn't use nuclear weapons on Iraq during the Gulf War, or Iran post revolution (Soviets weren't really their friends at the time). Or the US didn't use nuclear weapons on Afghanistan.
    The U.S wasnt trying to obliterate these countries, pluss it would be devistatingly unpopular.. everywere.
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by irelandeb View Post
    You have to realise that you're questioning the opinions of 60 years of strategic policymakers from several different countries who all had similar opinions.

    Have a read of this brilliant essay. My favorite quote: "One anayst was asked what Saddam Hussein would have done if Iraq had possessed nuclear weapons in 1990. He replied that he didn't know what he would have done but he did know what he would not have done - he would not have invaded Kuwait."
    I'm also stating the opinion of other anaylists of the area, including Dr. Douglas Lemke:

    http://www.saramitchell.org/Lemke.pdf

    About sources for the balance of power, I'm going to use the Congressional Budge Office report from 1977:

    http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/c...6/77doc579.pdf

    Azoth: The reason the war was short was due to overwhelming Indian military superiority and isolation of Pakistan. Neither side even seriously considered the use of nuclear weapons.
    “The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.”

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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    Azoth: The reason the war was short was due to overwhelming Indian military superiority and isolation of Pakistan. Neither side even seriously considered the use of nuclear weapons.
    Because it wasn't going to be a serious war to begin with. Again only 35,000 troops combined on both sides were committed to the war. If India and Pakistan were serious, don't you think they would have committed much more?
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Azoth View Post
    Because it wasn't going to be a serious war to begin with. Again only 35,000 troops combined on both sides were committed to the war. If India and Pakistan were serious, don't you think they would have committed much more?
    They were serious. Do you know what the border is like in that region? Extremely mountainous.

    200,000 Indian troops were mobilized, but only so many could go to the area were fighting was happening.
    “The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.”

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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    About sources for the balance of power, I'm going to use the Congressional Budge Office report from 1977:

    http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/c...6/77doc579.pdf
    That doesn't seem accurate. I'm guessing that has something to do with the nature of the cold war. I only read the summary and although I saw a section titled "what forces should be counted?" I didn't read it.

    In 1991 the USSR had 9 active fronts along the iron curtain facing 9 active NATO corps. Each of these fronts had an attached air army, while NATO had only 2 air armies in Germany. Now count each Eastern block army including its reserves, the Soviet forces stationed there, and the countless reserves of Soviet forces in the USSR itself. Certainly NATO could have held it, especially when the French and Italians were committed, but it's a very large force, much larger than what NATO had in the area.

    And why do you think the USA didn't invade North Vietnam?
    Last edited by romande; March 10, 2012 at 10:17 PM.

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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by irelandeb View Post
    That doesn't seem accurate. I'm guessing that has something to do with the nature of the cold war. I only read the summary and although I saw a section titled "what forces should be counted?" I didn't read it.

    In 1991 the USSR had 9 active fronts along the iron curtain facing 9 active NATO corps. Each of these fronts had an attached air army, while NATO had only 2 air armies in Germany. Now count each Eastern block army including its reserves, the Soviet forces stationed there, and the countless reserves of Soviet forces in the USSR itself. Certainly NATO could have held it, especially when the French and Italians were committed, but it's a very large force, much larger than what NATO had in the area.

    And why do you think the USA didn't invade North Vietnam?
    If you actually read it you would realize it states that the Warsaw Pact had more troops in the Central Front, but NATO had more globaly (I should have specified ground forces, but that was the case. NATO also had a stronger Air Force and Navy but that is not in numbers of personnel). And this was written during a time known for overestimating the Soviet threat.

    It seems inaccurate because the myth of Soviet Invincibility never died, mostly because Cold War era movies showed it that way.

    And the US didn't invade North Vietnam because they didn't want another instance of Chinese Intervention (at the time policy makers were unaware of the Sino-Soviet split) which made Korea unpopular. There never was a fear of nuclear war.
    Last edited by Farnan; March 10, 2012 at 10:20 PM.
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    If you actually read it you would realize it states that the Warsaw Pact had more troops in the Central Front, but NATO had more globaly. And this was written during a time known for overestimating the Soviet threat.
    As if numbers alone would decide the issue at this point in history anyway.

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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kitsunegari View Post
    As if numbers alone would decide the issue at this point in history anyway.
    They did to a point, especially with the technology levels being close, and the fact the Soviets would be on the offense. But it wasn't just numbers, but also the much stronger NATO economies.
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Technology is one factor, command structure, logistics, morale, etc. War never works out the way it's supposed to on paper.

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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kitsunegari View Post
    Technology is one factor, command structure, logistics, morale, etc. War never works out the way it's supposed to on paper.
    All that favored NATO in the terrain that would be fought (if it went to the plains of Russia it would favor the Soviets).
    “The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.”

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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    All that favored NATO in the terrain that would be fought (if it went to the plains of Russia it would favor the Soviets).
    Agreed, their advantage in armor and sheer numbers probably wouldn't have compensated for other factors.

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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    As of 1990, we have the following Countries with Nuclear weapons:
    - USA
    - France
    - Great Britain
    - Soviet Union
    - China
    - possibly Israel
    i.e. all the nuclear powers were members of one of the ideological blocks, even after the sino-soviet split. Any nuclear exchange between those to will set the clockwork of retaliation into motion that can hardly be stopped.

    In the post Cold War aera the following countries joined the club:
    - India
    - Pakistan
    and those two countries have people really worried because they might just having it out one day.
    1) The presence of more powerful weapons has never deterred war in history. See the invention of the machine gun and strategic bombing.
    But in those wars, the military did not realize just how much these inventions would change the face of war. Before WWI, wars were not total in character (or only in small slices). Furthermore, as soon as war was decided, the military took over (like in WWI, where the politicians in Russia and Germany were basically told "shut up and step aside, we call you as soon as the war is won").
    When we look at the interplay between generals and politicians, more than once the politicians put their foot down when the generals called for the use of nuclear weapons. MacArthur wanted a "cordon sanitaire" of nukes between China and North Korea, and the White House had to replace him with Ridgeway. IN the cuban missile crisis, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff continuously pressured Kennedy to "blast those gooks back to the stone age". LeMay was especially ardent in his desire to wipe those commies of the map. Again, it was the political establishement that thought further than the next operational target and saw what it would lead to, and therefore looked for a diplomatic solution.
    It was a mexican standoff were luckily cooler head prevailed.

    2) If MAD was the deterrant for the use of nuclear weapons, why has no nation used nuclear weapons on a nation that doesn't have it? A sense of fairness?
    Because the countries that had nuclear weapons were conventionally so superior to anybody else they engaged that the benefit of using a nuclear weapon were far outweighted by the possible risks, namely:
    - public relations disaster: how to loose friends and alienate allies. After the broad public realised how dangerous nuclear weapons are, it's use was gonna to be problematic both in the interior as well as making oneself the international pariah.
    - whatever you bomb, you won't be using it/taking it afterwards.
    - Police actions (and officially, wars like Vietnam and Afghanistan were just that to support and allied regime in those countries) are not effective when you iradiate the people you try to win over.
    - The risk of starting a real nuclear war. When a bomb goes off somewhere, you can bet that all the command centers go to red alert and prepare their own. In the case of ICBM's they might even think that those missiles are aimed at them.
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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    Quote Originally Posted by Farnan View Post
    1) The presence of more powerful weapons has never deterred war in history. See the invention of the machine gun and strategic bombing.

    2) If MAD was the deterrant for the use of nuclear weapons, why has no nation used nuclear weapons on a nation that doesn't have it? A sense of fairness?

    1. true, but those weapons did not have the capability of destroying the human race.

    2. because if you launch a nuke on a country that doesn't have any every country in the world automatically declares war on you. and nobody can fight a war against the entire world.

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    Default Re: Why the Cold War did not go hot (and it had nothing to do with nukes)

    There are numerous answers to this question, and in probability all are correct. It's also possible that we lucked out.

    Strategic bombing was based on the belief that the bomber always gets through, without taking the fact seriously that interceptors' performance could also improve to the point that they could destroy the bombers before they reached their targets, and that technology would provide a reliable early warning device that could pinpoint their location. It had it's chance to be proven in combat.

    ICBMs are rather hard to shoot down, but a massive strike would overwhelm even ABM defenses, assuming they were built with the then current technology, so it pretty much guarantees that a country's infrastructure, industrial and population centres would be destroyed, making the fruits of victory somewhat questionable. Hardened silos and boomers would ensure that the favour was returned.

    I rather like the novel Red Storm Rising, where an energy crisis triggers off a conflict in Europe. The Russians are aware of their shortcomings, and work to overcome them, carefully trying to not give the West an excuse to escalate to a nuclear exchange, by keeping objectives to the occupation of Germany and destruction of NATO's military capability to fight and reinforce the European theatre, and then surprising them by occupying the Middle East.

    An existential crisis might have escalated to nuclear war, but the policy of containment may have set the Russians' mind at ease, considering that no interventions were done in Hungary nor Czechoslovakia, allowing the Soviets to picture NATO as a rational actor in their planning and expectations.

    As regards to estimates by NATO of Soviet military strength, it was a common policy to exaggerate both it's extent and capability in order to ensure funding for an increased defense budget and various pet projects.

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