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US Proxy Wars

Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 5 years, 7 months ago



Coups and proxy wars




Though the United States and Soviet Union never went to war with each other, they found alternative ways of furthering their Cold War agendas. Both superpowers, along with their partners, sought to influence the political and economic development of smaller nations – particularly in second- and third-world countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America. They did this in a variety of ways, ranging from providing moral and financial support to ‘friendly’ political groups or leaders, through to the supply of arms, equipment or military training. Both the US and USSR also participated in so-called ‘proxy wars’, where other smaller countries fought on their behalf. A considerable amount of this manoeuvring and manipulation of other countries was carried out secretly, away from the public eye. Cold War intervention of this kind often contributed to massive disruption and human suffering in other countries. Democratically elected leaders were overthrown; incoming regimes used violence and repression to consolidate their power; civil wars were often prolonged or intensified by foreign involvement. But foreign manipulation and involvement in proxy wars also alleviated US-Soviet tensions and diluted the likelihood of a full-scale nuclear war.

Foreign interference was a significant aspect of the Cold War from the outset. Europe in the late 1940s was shaped by Soviet manipulation of domestic politics in eastern Europe and America’s Marshall Plan funds, which was supplied with political and economic conditions. Washington intervened in the Greek Civil War (1946-49) in support of the nationalists, while the Greek communist revolutionaries were backed by Moscow and its satellite states. Both the Korean and Vietnam Wars were proxy wars of a kind. Both South Korea and South Vietnam benefited from large amounts of American aid, followed by direct US military intervention; North Korea and North Vietnam, in contrast, received large amounts of Soviet and Chinese aid – and in the case of North Korea, Chinese military support. Soviet political and financial support for Castro underpinned the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The superpowers were also involved in civil wars in Cambodia (1967-75) Ethiopia (1974-91) and El Salvador (1980-92), as well as several Middle Eastern conflicts from 1973 onwards.


Military coup in Chile

The two superpowers sometimes went beyond passive support and pushed for what is today known as ‘regime change’. The CIA in particular was directly involved in several Cold War-era coups that displaced leftist regimes, replacing them with right-wing parties or military juntas. The best-known of these occurred in Chile in 1973, where Salvador Allende had been in power for three years. Allende’s left-wing policies had triggered alarm bells in Washington. During his short time in power, Allende had embarked on massive land reform projects, authorised the lifting of wages and increased public spending on healthcare and education. Most concerning to Washington was Allende’s nationalisation (government take-over) of various industries, including several American-owned copper mines. On September 11th 1973, the CIA backed a coup d’etat in Chile that overthrew and murdered Allende, replacing him with a military dictator, Augusto Pinochet. More than 40,000 Chileans were arrested and as many as 5,000 either vanished or were murdered in the first months of Pinochet’s rule. The US or its allies were also involved in coups or attempted coups in a number of other countries, including Bolivia (1970), Uganda (1971), Argentina (1976), Pakistan (1977), Iran (1979), the Central African Republic (1979) and Turkey (1980).

Africa was another staging ground for Cold War manoeuvring. The most powerful nation on the continent was South Africa, a former British colony which from 1948 was ruled by a white minority government. In 1950 South Africa passed the Suppression of Communism Act – on the surface a move to eradicate a communist threat, but in reality a means to crush opposition to the government’s own policies of racial segregation (apartheid). Although many in the US objected to apartheid on moral grounds, South Africa remained an important Cold War ally. In the west African country of Angola, Cold War powers supported rival factions in a bloody civil war that erupted in 1975. The Soviet- and Cuban-backed People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) controlled most of the country by 1980, forcing the withdrawal of American and South African troops. Mozambique too was gripped by a civil war (1977-92) where opposing forces were backed by Cold War protagonists. Communist China was also heavily involved in Africa, forging trade links, building large infrastructure projects like railways, and supplying arms and equipment to liberation movements across the continent.


The Grenada invasion

Some proxy wars were fought on the doorstep of the United States. The central American country of Nicaragua was ruled by military dictatorships until a left-wing rebel group, the Sandinistas, seized power in 1979. Two years later, incoming US president Ronald Reagan condemned the Sandinistas for their ties with Cuba and the USSR. Reagan authorised the CIA to organise, train and arm a counter-revolutionary force that could seize back power in Nicaragua. Between 1982 and 1984, the CIA handed more than $US50 million to this force, by now known as the Contras. When the US Congress refused further payments to the Contras, Reagan’s administration raised funds by selling arms to Iran, by now in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. The Iran-Contra affair, as it became known, scandalised the government, though the blame was largely shouldered by Reagan’s subordinates. The Contras conducted a guerrilla war against the Sandinista government for almost a decade, committing hundreds of murders and other human rights abuses.

Probably the most controversial US intervention of the Cold War occurred in the Caribbean nation of Grenada. Since 1979, Grenada had been governed by a Marxist group, the New Jewel Movement (NJM) and a moderate prime minister, Maurice Bishop. In October 1983, hardline elements of the NJM, dissatisfied with the lack of socialist progress in Grenada, arrested and executed Bishop then declared martial law. Fearing the island nation would become a pawn of Moscow and Havana, and a possible refuelling stop for Cuban planes carrying mercenaries to central America, Reagan decided to act. In October 1983, Reagan ordered more than 7,000 US troops into Grenada, under the pretext of protecting US citizens and other civilians. He gave this order without obtaining the consent of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, or even informing Thatcher of his intentions (Grenada was a former British dominion and a member of the Commonwealth). The US landings in Grenada prompted outrage around the world. In the United Nations, 108 member-states condemned the invasion, calling it “a flagrant violation of international law”. By December 1983, the Americans had removed the NJM from power and installed a new government.

- See more at: http://alphahistory.com/coldwar/coups-and-proxy-wars/#sthash.LObSmSTE.dpuf


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