The post-world war era has been a part of the Political Science curriculum for years now as the era involved the leaders of the two biggest nations- United States of America and Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). The saga of rivalry commonly known as the Cold War was marked with a warfare of ideologies. The USSR was the hub of communism while the USA promoted the ideology of capitalism. Each of them created their own camps and their relations with other nations were determined by their ideological affliations.
History of the Hegemons
The story of the United States of America is on a different parallel. The country lived in was isolationist till its Independence in 1776. It eventually got involved in World war 1 and proved to be a superior force. After World War 2, the then president Harry S Truman went ahead with the Marshall Plan. In 1948, it was executed by the USA as a part of expansion of their ideology of capitalism and keeping communism at bay The Marshall plan was intended for reconstruction of the economies of western European countries:but many political theorists believe that this was the cornerstone of anti-communist propaganda by the United States. Then came the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 that made its way to international politics in the most uncanny manner- after the infamous Korean War (1950) when the US ultimately realized the need for a full fledged bloc that ensures greater cooperation.
USSR, on the other hand, had its own story running parallel to the USA's. The Soviet Union had socialist ideals as their core tenet of establishment. The system in the country since its inception was run in a manner where transportation was connected with every town and there was no unemployment. On the top of it, sometimes the labour markets faced shortages although a significant proportion was a part of the labour force. Moreover, the country was ruled by the Communist Party which actively propagated the superiority of communist ideals over capitalism in socio-economic and cultural terms.The USSR's answer to the NATO of the Western bloc was the signing of the Warsaw Pact in 1955. The camp run by the USSR under this pact firmly believed in communism and even registered high growth rates in productivity. If everything was working fine, what exactly went wrong later on in the 80s and 90s?
Who Won The Cold War?
To answer this question, the assessment of the development of USSR's domestic affairs becomes an important area to deliberate on. USSR's leaders often faced the scrutiny for running an authoritarian regime where there was no transparency. The regime made sure that there existed even a single iota of accountability and dissent. The increased corruption and a complacent governance structure, coupled with already diminishing political clout, made a recipe of destruction that no leader was
able to salvage. Mikhail Gorbachev became the president of USSR in 1985 promising reforms notably known as "Glasnost" (Openness) and "Perestroika" (Restructuring). Both the liberals and conservatives questioned the functioning of reforms vis-a-vis their optics; ultimately leading to prominent figureheads from various republics becoming reluctant towards implementing any authoritative orders from Moscow. This accelerated the process of dissolution of the USSR as several republics announced independence from the Union. Political theorists have constantly put emphasis on how the USSR intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 also paved the way for Soviet's downfall as numerous international sanctions were imposed on USSR for supporting the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The USA and its allies backed the insurgent groups fighting against the USSR. Ultimately , Soviet Union under Gorbachev had to withdraw the troops from the landlocked country in 1989. On 26 December 1991, the USSR was officially laid to rest.
As the US emerged as the only superpower and the World became unipolar, questions arose about the future of global politics. But the major question is- Did the USA really win the cold war?
There are many answers to this question. USSR and USA both contended for being the best in their fields be it military, stockpiling of nuclear weapons or Space Race. While the USSR sent the first man to space in 1961 (Yuri Gagarin), the USA sent Neil Armstrong to the moon in 1969. So ultimately who won the race then?
The United States of America emerged victorious as a structural and soft power. We do not know or have any idea that we are living in a scenario of hegemony. The biggest evidence for the USA's victory in the Cold War is the rise of influence of American culture. It refers to the dominance of American tastes and preferences throughout the world- from clothing to food (Americans brought the term McDonaldisation into mainstream culture) . The worldwide adoption of American culture during the Cold War era highlights the hegemony of the US.
Moreover, the United States played a major role in decision making for global institutions and structures. Examples of the US structural power include the authorization of the Internet, the humongous contribution of the US in international trade and global economy etc. In 2018, the USA registered a 15.2 % share in global GDP, the highest of any country. Such was the economic structural power of the USA that in 1986 the Economist coined the term "Big Mac Index" , an unconventional way of measuring the purchasing power parity between two currencies. Generally a basket of goods is considered for the measurement. In Big Mac Index, the good is the Big Mac Burger from McDonald's. The fact that this term is still prevalent shows the degree of its power. Both the USSR and USA were head-to-head in their competition in hard power politics ( military and nuclear arsenal), but the US clearly won in terms of influence of cultural, economic and foreign relations.
The Cold War has had an indelible impact on modern ideologies and political theories. The ideas of social democracy and economic liberalization became increasingly popular in the 20th century and for global politics, development was prioritized over warfare which has led to a drastic political makeover.
Soft power: Relates to the level of cultural influence
Structural power: Refers to dominance in spheres such as international trade, decisions in global politics etc.