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Cold war


Disciplines > Warfare > Strategies > Cold war

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A cold war is one where there is no direct fighting but where overt or covert conflict is carried out by other means.

One way to fight (of sorts) is to work on the principle that my enemy's enemy is my friend -- or at least could be a puppet I can manipulate. I can give them weapons and advice, winding them up to attack our common foe. Further, both sides can get involved in some foreign war, each supporting one side in a 'war by proxy'. In this way Capitalism vs. Communism was played out across the world with the backing of America and Russia on opposite sides.

Outright war may appear come close as threats and counter-threats fly across the table in managed sword-rattling exercises.

Arms races are a typical form of escalation as each side spends many fortunes on weapons which will most likely never be used.

The other characteristic of Cold War is the number of direct, but covert, operations that go on. Spies and surveillance are used to gather valuable intelligence and special operations may engage in unattributable sabotage and other mischief.
Thus you get bugging of embassies, agents and double agents, mysterious illnesses and the rest of the show.


All wars can be assessed by a temperature metaphor. A hot war is characterized by intense and frequent fighting. At the other end of the scale there is no obvious fighting, yet there is much conflict.

So why do the antagonists just 'duke it out'? Why not do battle and sort out a victor?

There can be many good reasons not to fight. In the famous American-Russian cold war that occupied the latter half of the 20th century, the symmetry of a nuclear stand-off and the threat of the aptly-named Mutually Assured Destruction kept the two sides from going the full distance.

To fight you also need lots of money and other resources, as well as a political mandate from your country. If both sides lack the will or the wherewithal, then a cold war by other means may ensue.

An arms race is good for the arms manufactures but it is crippling for the governments who must pay. Despite the sword-rattling that it permits, the simple economics of escalation is also good reason to quit. (This, arguably, was a key reason why the Soviet communist system collapsed: by the very money-generating nature of capitalism, it allowed the West to out-spend the Russians.)

The spying of the US- and Russian-led cold war led to a whole genre of stories such as James Bond. In practice, spying is mostly very boring and although fantasy weapons such as guns in pens have been produced they are seldom used.


War by proxy: The Americans supported the Afghans against the Russians and Saddam Hussein against Iran (which illustrates well the longer-term risk in this strategy).

Making threats: Kruschev famously banged the table with his shoe, making the Americans think he was insane. The Defcon system of escalating 'levels' is also a system for sending threatening signals without actually pushing the big red button.


Rather than argue, find subtle means of getting at the other person, perhaps seducing their friends or finding secrets by which you might blackmail them.

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