In 1981, the Cold War, like a lot of other things, is in a transitional phase. The conception of détente has changed in the West, and East-West tensions have begun to strain. From it's heydays in 1972 with the signing of SALT, it has gone into a period of what many have called the "rebirth of the Cold War" in the latter half of the previous decade. In the United States, Jimmy Carter has begun the process of military re-armament in response to Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan. President Ronald Reagan has promised the American people that he will more vigorously pursue rearmament to close the window of vulnerability, a conceptual weakness in American defences in the face of apparent Soviet rearmament and aggression.
The rhetoric of President Reagan has shown a absolute conception of the inherent evil of the Soviet Union, and a renewed determination on the part of the United States to contain Soviet expansionism through increased defence spending and an active anti-Soviet foreign policy.
”So far as an arms race is concerned, there’s one going on right now, but there’s only one side racing.” - Ronald Reagan, 1980.
Meanwhile in the USSR Leonid Brezhnev, along with his Government is becoming increasingly reactive on the world stage. In the face of a new freeze in East-West relations the Soviet Government seems capable of only re-affirming it’s belief in détente--a conception of which rests on the idea that détente represents a recognition on the part of the West of the inherent equality of the Soviet Union in terms of legitimacy, power and interests--or else denouncing US ”lies about Afghanistan. Moscow it seems, isn’t looking for further confrontation with the West; Afghanistan is proving a major drain on Soviet resources and economic aid to Cuba and Vietnam is costing the USSR dearly.
”[The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan] is the most serious threat to peace since the Second World War.” - Jimmy Carter, 1979.
The Soviet war in Afghanistan has now been raging for just over a year. What begun as a small-level insurgency against the Soviet-backed Afghan Government and the Red Army is quickly becoming a full-scale guerrilla war (aided and abetted by numerous foreign powers including the US, UK, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia).
The United States has taken the view that the Soviet invasion is part of a wider ressurgence of Soviet expansionism, ultimately intent on dominating the Persian Gulf. The Soviet Government in turn has denied this and instead insisted that Soviet troops entered Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan Government and that there is no intention of withdrawing them.
In response to the invasion President Carter cut off grain shipments to the USSR and called for trade sanctions. He also sanctioned through the CIA the funding and training of Afghan rebels (or Mujahedeen) who are resisting the Soviets. The US has also begun to supply economic aid to prop up Mohammed Zia ul-Haq’s regime in Pakistan, and there are increasingly vocal calls in the United States to use General Zia as a conduit to funnel aid to anti-Communist rebels in Afghanistan if such transfers are not already taking place.
As a testament to the strength of opposition to the invasion within Afghanistan it has been noted that by the end of 1980 the Soviet Government found itself having to deploy an estimated 125,000 troops in Afghanistan. That number is only expected to grow with time.
”Strategic Arms limitation talks confined to the US and USSR inevitably impair the Western European members of NATO.” - Helmut Schmidt, 1978.
In 1977 the USSR began to install the new SS-20 missile in Eastern Europe to replace the ageing SS-4 and SS-5 that had been in place for some two decades. The SS-20 represented a new generation of Soviet missile technology and because the missiles could be moved around on giant transporters, they could avoid detection. The Soviets have maintained that the replacement of the SS-4 and SS-5 with the SS-20s is merely replacing obsolete missiles with new effective ones.
To the West however the SS-20 has signalled a new threat. The Governments of Western Europe in particular are deeply alarmed by the presence of these new missiles. Here it appears, the USSR, whilst attempting to pursue détente with the US is developing the means to wage a limited nuclear war in Europe. By limiting its targets to Western Europe, perhaps Moscow could decouple the security of Europe from that of the United States? To NATO it seems that a response is needed to bolster the nuclear deterrence and to reassure Europe of America’s strategic backing.
That response has come in the form of a formal US offer to station Pershing II ballistic missiles. In 1978 at a summit James Callaghan and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany both agreed to the stationing of these missiles in their countries. After intense lobbying, so has the Netherlands and Belgium. They’ve yet to be deployed however due a number of problems; including intense domestic opposition in the countries involved.
This opposition has taken the form of massive street protests in West Germany and the establishment of a women’s peace camp outside Greenham Common Air base in West London. Both the Labour Party in the UK and the Social Democrats in West Germany are deeply divided by the proposed deployment.
The Soviet Government fears that the Pershing could be used as a first-strike weapon to hit strategic targets deep within the Soviet Union. They refuse to accept that the deployment of the Pershing is in direct response to their own deployment of the SS-20, which the Kremlin continues to insist merely represents a modernizing of existing weapons.
”Let your spirit descend, and renew the face of this land. Amen.” - Pope John Paul II, 1979.
The renewal of the Cold War has had a particularly bad impact on Poland, which had become dependent on the West for trade and technology. In July 1980 the Polish Government announced increases in meat prices by as much as 100 per cent. Strikes and factory stoppages spread across the country in protest. In the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk more than seventeen thousand workers put down their tools and walked out. Within a week 250 factories were out. Although the Polish Government agreed to all the Gdansk workers demands, the strikers recognized the importance of unity and formed Solidarity.
Beginning as an inter-factory strike committee with a broad coalition of interests, Solidarity has now grown into a massive trade union with a membership figure of over a million. Gradually economic and political demands have been made such as higher pay and the abolition of censorship. Lech Walesa, an unemployed electrician has been chosen to lead Solidarity and become the apparent voice of the Polish working people.
It seems clear that a major confrontation with the Polish state is imminent; the concessions won by the strikes several months ago appear to be a beginning and not an end.
”Power vacuums, especially in the world's most strategic area, are always dangerous.” - Prince Muhammad bin Fahd of Saudi Arabia, 1979.
1979 would later be described as perhaps the watershed in modern Middle Eastern history. On New Year's Day 1979 the shah of Iran went into exile. Iran, along with Saudi Arabia, had constituted one of the two pillars of stability in the Middle East that had been relied on to support the security of Western interests in the region. One month later, Ayatollah Khomeini swept into the country from his exile in Paris, determined to use the mantle of Islam to validate his position and define a new Iranian foreign and domestic policy--one decidedly separate from Western interests. This revolution would result in the hostage-taking of American embassy workers, a crisis that would last over a year. Iran then began working to spread its revolution outside its borders, further threatning western security interests in the region. Between 1979 and 1981, instability in the region caused a tripling of oil prices, largely due to reduced Iranian production.