How did the cold war affect US foreign policy?

Since the start of the cold war, the epic battle against communism has had a tremendous impact on U.S. foreign policy. The resulting arms race and nuclear proliferation had made a direct confrontation between the United States and the FSU (former Soviet Union) or Russian Republics a catastrophe. However, the enmity between the East and West was vented in another way that became a hallmark of the Cold War: vicarious combat.

A fixture of cold war politics was the situation in which the superpowers would square off using third-world proxies, rather than direct confrontation. An excellent example is the (first) Afghanistan war, in which the Soviets fought fiercely against the Afghanis, who were supplied and trained by the United States. Another example is the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Khrushchev used Cuba to harass the United States by deploying Russian ballistic missiles to the island nation. The U.S. support for the Contrarevolucionistas (Contras) was also staged to square off in a chess match against the Soviets, using third-world pawns. The recurring theme throughout the classical Cold War period was one of suspicion and divisiveness on the part of both superpowers; the ultimate end of this maneuvering was to draw more nations into their own respective orbits.

This chess game resulted in many persistent features of our modern world, which continue to affect U.S. foreign policy today, and cause persistent diplomatic headaches. Examples include the creation of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) as a collective security organization united against the Russian bloc, Warsaw Pact nations, as well as the spread of global communism. Despite Russia and China's evolution beyond the pure Communist ideology of their past, today Cuba's Fidel Castro and Bolivia's Hugo Chavez offer perpetual challenges to be managed. Further, many modern foreign policy snarls can be traced back to their roots during the cold war, when the United States was more concerned about keeping smaller nations out of Moscow's orbit than of nurturing lasting, moral, functioning governments. Thus, by having sown the seeds of despotism, America continues today to find new dilemmas in coping with governments which it hand a hand in creating. Manuel Noriega was a prime example of an American-minted problem dictator.

Ultimately, the result of the Cold War, from embargoed Cuba to Russia's iron curtain, to the Berlin Wall, was a foreign policy that seemed something of a throw-back to earlier strategies of American isolationism. Today, citing China's Most Favored trading partner status, and the good relations between the U.S. and Russia, the strategy of a winner-take-all battle against the East seems to have been abandoned. Instead, modern America seems to acknowledge that shutting out the enemy only spurns and motivates him; Rather, the way to an enemy's heart is through his wallet. Globalization is the key to bringing rivals to the bargaining table.

It's a case of the carrot working better than the stick.