British historian Andrew Roberts did future generations a great service with his 5 minute PragerU history of the Cold War. But the accompanying quiz made a small error, which provides an opportunity to look more closely at how the Soviets waged their decades-long war on the West.
Question 4 asks "Because Stalin knew that his Soviet armed forces could not take on the might of the free West, he decided to wage this fight through the use of ___________."
The multiple choice answers are:
a. space technology
b. undercover agents
d. nuclear missiles
The answer that the test taker is supposed to choose is "c. proxies". But the truth is that answer "b. undercover agents" is just as important.
The damage a few well-placed agents can do should never be underestimated. The Cold War would have been very different had it not been for Stalin's successful atomic spy rings. A US/UK monopoly on nuclear weapons would have significantly increased the free world's ability to contain Soviet aggression and Soviet meddling.
Additionally, many of the Soviet Union's proxy wars were precipitated by successful undercover agents. Consider:
The Korean War: Kim Il Sung and Mao begged Stalin to green light the invasion of South Korea. Stalin refused, until he acquired the ability to build atomic weapons, courtesy of the GRU's atomic spy rings.
Angolan Civil War: In 1975, a pro-communist Portuguese colonial official named Rosa Coutinho, then Portugal's viceroy in Angola, secretly plotted with Fidel Castro to bring thousands of Cuban military personnel and tons of equipment to the Angolan capital of Luanda. With this assistance, the Communist MPLA seized control. Rosa Coutinho then canceled the election Angola's three independence armies had agreed to — sparking a civil war that left a million Angolans dead and drew the neighboring countries and the superpowers into the conflict.
Egypt-Israeli Conflict: Based on the testimony of Vladimir Nikolaevich Sakharov, a former KGB official who defected to the United States, reporter John Barron wrote that “KGB cultivation" of Egyptian official Sami Sharaf "began in 1955, when he visited Moscow with one of the first Egyptian military missions seeking Soviet aid. Shortly thereafter, the pro-communist Ali Sabry, who then headed the Egyptian cabinet, appointed Sharaf his assistant. Whether he did so at Soviet prodding is unknown. Sharaf soon reorganized Sabry's office, in the process gathering more power into his own hands and gaining direct access to Nasser.” By playing on Nasser's paranoia and megalomania, the KGB was able to manipulate Nasser to such an extent that he would trigger the Six Day War based on false Soviet intelligence reports of Israel massing troops on Syria's border. (Evgeny Pyrlin, the Soviet diplomate who headed the Egypt Department in the Soviet Foreign Ministry in 1967, would later reveal that "We [the Soviets] believed a war could give us political gains. Even a stalemate could bring us benefits. Egypt had our backing, both political and militarily. We thought their forces would demonstrate the benefits of Soviet support. So we were confident that the balance of power in the Middle East would be altered by a localized war.")
There were many other such cases, in places ranging from Spain to China to South Africa.
As Professor Roberts said, the Cold War was a battle of Good vs Evil. Today we are often told that Soviet spies and Communist infiltration were figments of the Right's imagination, but nobody warned of communist lies and trickery louder than ex-communists. They, more than anyone, knew that deception can make a man an unwitting proxy of evil.
Options b and c would both have been appropriate answers to question 4.
In case you missed it, here's Roberts' fine video for PragerU: