By the late 1960s, Britain, France, and China had developed their own nuclear weapons. By then, many world leaders were eager to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. In 1968, dozens of nations signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). They agreed not to develop nuclear weapons and cooperate in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
What factors discouraged the use of nuclear weapons in the Cold War?
The superpowers waged the Cold War not only in Europe, but also around the world. By the end of World War II, the Soviets were helping communist forces in China, Korea, and elsewhere. The United States took action to respond to the global threat of communism.
To stop the spread of communism, the United States sought regional alliances with friendly powers. In Europe, it backed NATO. In Asia, the United States promoted another regional alliance, the Southeast-Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). It included the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Pakistan, Thailand, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
The United States also formed military alliances with individual nations, such as Japan and South Korea. Often, these agreements included the right to set up American military bases. As a result, American bases circled the globe from North America to Europe, Asia, and the islands of the Pacific.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union formed its own alliances. In addition to the Warsaw Pact in Europe, the Soviet Union formed alliances with newly independent nations in Africa and Asia. However, the Soviet Union had few bases overseas.
Because both superpowers had a global reach, local conflicts in many places played into the Cold War. Often, the United States and its allies supported one side, and the Soviet bloc supported the other. Through such struggles, the superpowers could confront each other indirectly, rather than head to head.
Political shifts around the world added to Cold War tensions. When communist forces won control of mainland China in 1949, the United States feared that a tide of communism would sweep around the world. During this period, European colonies in Africa and Asia battled for independence. Liberation leaders and guerrillas frequently sought help from one or the other Cold War power.
The United States had many military bases overseas, and its navy played a vital role in maintaining the U.S. presence around the world.
On occasion, the Cold War erupted into “shooting wars,” especially in Asia. Both Korea and Vietnam were torn by brutal conflicts in which the United States, the Soviet Union, and China played crucial roles. More commonly, however, the superpowers provided weapons, training, or other aid to opposing forces in Asia, Africa, or Latin America.
The United States was especially concerned about the threat of communism in the Western Hemisphere. Seeing reform movements in Latin American countries as communist threats, it backed right-wing, anti-communist dictators and helped topple elected socialist leaders. In 1962, Cuba, a small island nation just 90 miles from Florida, became the chief focus of United States concern.
In the 1950s, a young lawyer, Fidel Castro, organized an armed rebellion against the corrupt dictator who then ruled Cuba. By 1959, Castro had led his tiny guerrilla army to victory and set about transforming the country into a communist state.