After World War II, the United States and the
Soviet Union were the world’s strongest nations. They were called superpowers.
They had different ideas about economics and government. They fought a war of ideas called the Cold War.
A cold war is a state of
conflict between nations that does not involve direct military action but is
pursued primarily through economic and political actions, propaganda, acts of
espionage or proxy wars waged
by surrogates. This term is most commonly used to refer to the Soviet-American Cold War.
The term “cold” is
used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides,
but they each supported major regional wars known as proxy wars.
The Cold War was a state of
geopolitical tension after World war 2between powers in the Eastern
Bloc (the Soviet Unionand
its satellite states) and powers in the Western Bloc (the United States,
its NATO allies
and others). Historians do not fully agree on the dates, but a common timeframe
is the period between 1947, the year the Truman Doctrine,
a U.S. foreign policy pledging to aid nations threatened by
Soviet expansionism, was announced, and either 1989, when communism fell in Eastern Europe, or 1991, when the Soviet Union
collapsed. The term “cold” is used because there was no
large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported
major regional wars known as proxy wars.
War split the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany,
leaving the Soviet Union and the United States as two superpowers with
profound economic and political differences. The USSR was a Marxist–Leninist state led by its Communist Party of the
Soviet Union, which in
turn was dominated by a leader with different titles over time, and
a small committee called the Politburo. The
Party controlled the press, the military, the economy and many organizations.
It also controlled the other states in the Eastern Bloc, and funded Communist
parties around the world, sometimes in competition with Communist China,
particularly following the Sino-Soviet split of
the 1960s. In opposition stood the capitalist West, led by the United States,
a federal republic with a two-party presidential system. The First World nations
of the Western Bloc were generally liberal democratic with
a free press and independent organizations, but were economically and
politically entwined with a network of banana republics
and other authoritarian regimes throughout
the Third World, most of which were the Western
Bloc’s former colonies.12Some major Cold
War frontlines such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Congo were still Western
colonies in 1947.
neutral bloc arose with the Non-Aligned Movement; it sought good
relations with both sides. The two superpowers never engaged directly in
full-scale armed combat, but they were heavily armed in preparation for a
possible all-out nuclear world war.
Each side had a nuclear strategy that
discouraged an attack by the other side, on the basis that such an attack would
lead to the total destruction of the attacker—the doctrine of mutually
assured destruction(MAD). Aside from the development of the two
sides’ nuclear arsenal, and their deployment of conventional military
forces, the struggle for dominance was expressed via proxy wars around the
globe, psychological warfare, massive propaganda campaigns
and espionage, rivalry at sports events, and technological
competitions such as the Space Race.
The first phase of the Cold War began in the first two years after the
end of the Second World War in 1945. The USSR consolidated its control over the
states of the Eastern Bloc, while the United States began a strategy of
global containment to challenge Soviet power, extending
military and financial aid to the countries of Western Europe (for example,
supporting the anti-communist side in the Greek Civil War) and creating
the NATO alliance. The Berlin Blockade (1948–49) was the first major
crisis of the Cold War. With the victory of the communist side in the Chinese
Civil War and the outbreak of the Korean War (1950–53), the
conflict expanded. The USSR and USA competed for influence in Latin
America and the decolonizing states of Africa and Asia.
Meanwhile, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was stopped by the
Soviets. The expansion and escalation sparked more crises, such as the Suez
Crisis (1956), the Berlin Crisis of 1961, and the Cuban Missile
Crisis of 1962. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, a new phase began that
saw the Sino-Soviet split complicate relations within the communist
sphere, while US allies, particularly France, demonstrated greater
independence of action. The USSR crushed the 1968 Prague Spring liberalization
program in Czechoslovakia, and the Vietnam War (1955–75) ended
with the defeat of the US-backed Republic of Vietnam, prompting further
By the 1970s, both sides had become interested in making allowances in
order to create a more stable and predictable international system, ushering in
a period of détente that saw Strategic Arms Limitation Talksand the
US opening relations with the People’s Republic of China as a
strategic counterweight to the Soviet Union. Détente collapsed at the end of
the decade with the beginning of the Soviet–Afghan War in 1979.
The early 1980s were another period of elevated tension, with the Soviet
downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007(1983), and the “Able
Archer” NATO military exercises(1983). The United States increased diplomatic,
military, and economic pressures on the Soviet Union, at a time when the
communist state was already suffering from economic stagnation. In
the mid-1980s, the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the
liberalizing reforms of perestroika(“reorganization”,
1987) and glasnost (“openness”,
c. 1985) and ended Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. Pressures for national
independence grew stronger in Eastern Europe, especially Poland.
Gorbachev meanwhile refused to use Soviet troops to bolster the faltering
Warsaw Pact regimes as had occurred in the past. The result in 1989 was a
wave of revolutions that peacefully (with the exception of the Romanian
Revolution) overthrew all of the communist regimes of Central and Eastern
Europe. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union itself lost control and was
banned following an abortive coup attempt in August 1991. This in turn led
to the formal dissolution of the USSR in December 1991 and the
collapse of communist regimes in other countries such as Mongolia, Cambodia and South
Yemen. The United States remained as the world’s only superpower.
The Cold War (1947–1953) is
the period within the Cold War from the Truman Doctrine in
1947 to the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953. The Cold War
emerged in Europe a few years after the successful US-USSR-UK coalition
won World War II in Europe, and extended to 1989-91.
Some conflicts between the West and the USSR appeared earlier. In
1945-46 the US and UK strongly protested Soviet political takeover efforts in
Eastern Europe, while the hunt for Soviet spies made the tensions more visible.
However historians emphasize the decisive break between the US-UK and the USSR
came in 1947-48 over such issues as the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall
Plan and the Berlin Blockade, followed by the formation of NATO in
1949.The Cold War took place worldwide, but it had a partially different timing
The Cold War (1953–1962)
It discusses the period
within the Cold Warfrom the
death of Sovietleader Joseph Stalin in
1953 to the Cuban Missile
Crisisin 1962. Following the death
of Stalin unrest occurred in the Eastern Bloc, while
there was a calming of international tensions, the evidence of which can be
seen in the signing of the Austrian State Treaty reuniting Austria, and the Geneva Accords ending fighting in Indochina. However,
this “thaw” was only partial with an expensive arms racecontinuing
during the period.
The Cold War (1962–1979)
It refers to the phase within the Cold Warthat spanned
the period between the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisisin late
October 1962, through the détenteperiod beginning in 1969, to the end of
détente in the late 1970s.
The United States maintained its Cold War engagement with the Soviet
Union during the period, despite internal preoccupations with the assassination
of John F. Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement and the opposition
to United States involvement in the Vietnam War.
In 1968, Eastern Bloc member Czechoslovakia attempted the
reforms of the Prague Spring and was subsequently invaded by the
Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact members, who reinstated the Soviet model. By
1973, the US had withdrawn from the Vietnam War.
While communists gained power in some South East Asian countries,
they were divided by the Sino-Soviet Split , with China moving
closer to the Western camp, following US President Richar Nixon’s
visit to China. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Third World was
increasingly divided between governments backed by the Soviets (such
as Libya, Iraq and Syria), governments backed by NATO (such
as Saudi Arabia), and a growing camp of non-aligned nations.
The Soviet and other Eastern Bloc economies continued to
stagnate. Worldwide inflation occurred following the 1973 oil crisis.
The Cold War (1979–1985)
It refers to the phase of a deterioration in relations
between the Soviet Union and the West arising from the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. With the election of British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979, and United States President Ronald
Reagan in 1980, a corresponding change in Western foreign policy
approach towards the Soviet Union was marked with the abandonment of détente in
favor of the Reagan Doctrine policy of rollback, with the
stated goal of dissolving Soviet influence in Soviet Bloc countries. During
this time the threat of nuclear war had reached new heights not seen
since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan following the Saur
Revolution in that country, ultimately leading to the deaths of around one
million civilians.Mujahideen fighters succeeded in forcing a Soviet
military withdrawal in 1989. In response, US President Jimmy Carter announced
a US-led boycott of the Moscow 1980 Summer Olympics. In 1984 the
Soviets responded with their own boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los
Angeles, California. Tensions increased when the US announced they would
deploy Pershing II missiles in West Germany, followed by Reagan’s
announcement of the US Strategic Defense Initiative, and were further
exacerbated in 1983 when Reagan branded the Soviet Union an “evil empire”.
In April 1983 the United States Navy conducted FleetEx
’83-1, the largest fleet exercise held to date in the North Pacific. The
conglomeration of approximately forty ships with 23,000 crewmembers and 300
aircraft, was arguably the most powerful naval armada ever assembled. U.S.
aircraft and ships attempted to provoke the Soviets into reacting,
allowing U.S. Naval Intelligence to study Soviet radar
characteristics, aircraft capabilities, and tactical maneuvers. On April 4 at
least six U.S. Navy aircraft flew over one of the Kurile Islands, Zeleny
Island, the largest of a set of islets called the Habomai Islands. The
Soviets were outraged, and ordered a retaliatory overflight of the Aleutian
Islands. The Soviet Union also issued a formal diplomatic note of protest,
which accused the United States of repeated penetrations of Soviet airspace. The
following September, the civilian airliner Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was
downed by Soviet fighter jets over nearby Moneron Island.
In November 1983, NATO conducted a military exercise known as
“Able Archer 83”. The realistic simulation of a nuclear attack by NATO
forces caused considerable alarm in the USSR, and is regarded by many
historians to be the closest the world came to nuclear war since the Cuban
missile crisis in 1962.
This period of the Cold War would continue through US President Reagan’s
first term (1981–1985), through the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev
in 1982, the brief interim period of Soviet leadership consisting of Yuri
Andropov (1982–1984), and Konstantin Chernenko (1984–1985). This phase in
the Cold War concluded with the ascension of reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev in 1985, who brought a commitment to reduce tensions between the East
and West, and bring about major reforms in Soviet society.
Cold War (1985–1991)
It began with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachav as leader of the Soviet Union Gorbachev was a
revolutionary leader for the USSR, as he was the first to promote
liberalization of the political landscape (Glasnost) and capitalist elements into the economy (Perestroilka); prior to this, the USSR had been strictly
prohibiting liberal reform and maintained an inefficient centralized economy.
The USSR, despite facing massive economic difficulties, was involved in a
costly arms race with the United
States under President Ronald
Reagon Regardless, the USSR began to crumble as
liberal reforms proved difficult to handle and capitalist changes to the
centralized economy were badly transitioned and caused major problems. After a
series of revolutions in Soviet bloc states,
and a failed coup by
conservative elements opposed to the ongoing reforms, on New Year’s Eve 1991
the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War came to an end.
In international relations, a frozen conflict is a situation in which active armed conflict
has been brought to an end, but no peace treaty or other political framework
resolves the conflict to the satisfaction of the combatants. Therefore, legally
the conflict can start again at any moment, creating an environment of
insecurity and instability.
The term has been commonly used for post-Soviet conflicts,, but it
has also often been applied to other perennial territorial disputes.