The Cold War (1946 - 1991) was the tenserelationship between the United States (and its allies), and the Soviet Union (the USSR and its allies) between the end of World War II and the demise of the Soviet Union.
Conflicting countries[change | change source]
Most of the countries on one side were allied in NATO whose most powerful country was the United States. NATO countries usually had governments that were capitalist and together were known simply as 'the West'. Most of the countries on the other side were allied in the Warsaw Pact whose most powerful country was the Soviet Union. Warsaw Pact countries usually had governments that were communist and together were often called 'the East' or the Eastern Bloc.
The Western-Capitalist group of countries includes Western Europe, the Americas, Turkey, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Iran (1945-1979), Pakistan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
The Eastern-Socialist group includes Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, Angola, Ethiopia, Cuba (1959-1991), Mongolia, North Korea, China and Vietnam.
Background[change | change source]
The start of the Cold War in 1947 was due to a belief that all governments would become either communist or capitalist. The Western allies feared that the Soviet Union would use force to expand its influence in Europe, and was especially concerned that Soviet agents had obtained information on making the Atom Bomb after the war.
Both groups of nations had opposed Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union had sporadically co-operated with Germany and shared in the division of Poland in 1939, but Germany turned against the Soviet Union in June 1941 with Operation Barbarossa.
After World War II[change | change source]
After WWII, Germany was left in ruins. The victorious Allies that occupied it split it into four parts. One part was given to the United Kingdom, one part to France, one part to the United States, and the eastern part was occupied by the USSR. The city of Berlin was also partitioned among the four parties even though the USSR had conquered it.
The Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland or BRD) was recognized by the Western allies in June 1949. From April 1948 to May 1949, the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, which led to the Berlin Airlift. The USSR named their section of Germany the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR) later in 1949.
The western parts of Berlin were called West Berlin, inside the DDR. The Berlin wall built in 1961 divided the two parts of Berlin and was part of the iron curtain that divided Europe.
The 1950s[change | change source]
Espionage, "spying" has been around for a very long time, and was very important during the Cold War. After its successful nuclear espionage in the Manhattan Project the USSR built up its spy organs, especially the KGB. The Central Intelligence Agency led US efforts abroad, while the FBI did counterespionage. Catching foreign spies was among KGB functions, as well as fighting domestic subversion.
In the USSR, the dictator Joseph Stalin died and Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev (1953) took his place. Khrushchev later took sole control of the USSR. Khrushchev's Secret Speech marked a period of de-Stalinization and Khrushchev tried to undo many of the things Stalin did (such as the Gulag prison camps and cult of personality).
In the United States, there was a "Red Scare", and when the USSR detonated its own atom bomb, there was a great deal of political fallout. Famous people, in many fields who had been Communist sympathizers in the past lost their positions. Many actors were 'blacklisted' and were not hired to act in movies, ruining their careers. Senator Joseph McCarthy accused some important Americans of being communists, including some high government officials.
The 1950s were the beginning of the space race between the United States and USSR. It began with the USSR putting the Sputnik satellite into orbit around the Earth, making the Soviet Union the first country in space. The United States responded by starting NASA, and soon sent up its own satellites. The Soviet Union also sent the first man (Yuri Gagarin) into Earth orbit, claiming that this proved communism was the better ideology.
In the 1950s, the United States (under president Dwight Eisenhower) created a policy called "New Look," cutting defense spending and increasing the number of nuclear weapons as a deterrent in order to prevent the Soviet Union from attacking the USA. The USSR also increased their nuclear force, resulting in mutual assured destruction.
In the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Cold War alliances were broken for the first time with the Soviet Union and United States favouring one side, and Britain and France the other. Later that year, the Western allies did not interfere when Soviet troops suppressed an anti-communist revolution in Hungary.
United States Vice-President Richard Nixon engaged in several talks with Nikita Khrushchev during the 1950s. One of these was the 1959 "Kitchen Debate" in a model kitchen in Moscow. These debates highlighted the political and economic differences between the USA and the USSR. The following year, the United States U-2 spy plane crashed in the Soviet Union. Tensions between the two countries increased.
Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)[change | change source]
Main article: Cuban Missile Crisis
After the United States tried to invade Cuba and failed (Bay of Pigs), the Soviet Union attempted to supply Cuba with nuclear missiles. These missiles in Cuba would have allowed the Soviet Union to effectively target almost the entire United States. In response the United States sent a large number of ships to blockade Cuba thus preventing the Soviet Union from delivering these weapons. The United States and Soviet Union came to agreement that the Soviet Union would no longer give nuclear weapons to Cuba as long as the United States does not invade Cuba again. This was the highest period of tension during the Cold War and it was the closest the world came to a nuclear war, with possible global conflict to follow.
Détente (1962–1981)[change | change source]
After the agreement that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis, relations between the two sides eased up. Several treaties, designed to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, were signed. During this period of Détente, the United States began building a good relationship with China, a previous ally of Russia.
The end of the Cold War (1981–1991)[change | change source]
The policy of détente ended in 1981, when the U.S. president Ronald Reagan ordered a massive military massing to challenge the Soviet Union's influence around the world. The United States began to support anti-communists all over the world with money and weapons. The idea was to help them overthrow their communist governments.
The Soviet Union had a slow economy during this decade because military spending was at an all-time high. They tried to keep up with the United States in military spending, but could not. In the Soviet war in Afghanistan starting in 1979, the Soviet Union had a difficult time fighting resistance groups, some of them armed and trained by the United States. The Soviet Union's failed invasion of Afghanistan is often compared to the United States' failure during the Vietnam War.
In the late 1980s the new Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev made an effort to make an ally of the United States to fix world problems caused by the war, with the ultimate aim of eliminating nuclear weapons completely. However, this did not take place because the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, insisted on having a nuclear missile defense system. The people of the Soviet Union were divided on their feelings about this. Some wanted President Gorbachev to fight harder to eliminate nuclear weapons, while others did not want him to be talking to the United States at all. These mixed feelings created an atmosphere of political in-fighting, and the people were no longer united behind one goal. Because of this, the main bad guys the Soviet Union started to fight against each other, the Communist Party started to crumble and the Soviet Union was destroyed!
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and without Communist rule holding together the countries that comprised the Soviet Union, the USSR broke into smaller countries, like Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Georgia. The nations of Eastern Europe returned to capitalism, and the period of the Cold War was over. The Soviet Union ended in December 1991.
Not all historians agree on when the Cold War ended. Some think it ended when the Berlin Wall fell. Others think it ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
References[change | change source]
Other websites[change | change source]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cold War.|
How the Cold War Shaped America as a Global Superpower
The Cold War was a time in history when there was a great political and military turmoil between the United States and the Soviet Union. These two powers were on the opposite ends of the economic and political spectrum – the United States being the capitalist state, while the Soviet Union the Marxist-Lenin socialist state. Though there was no direct large-scale war between the two states, there was always the threat that could have triggered a full-blown world war. The Cold War lasted about 45 years and it changed the global political and economic landscape. This essay looks into some of the key lessons of the Cold War and discusses how the war established America into a global superpower.
The effects of the Cold War continue to be felt decades after it had ended. Though the war is largely a clash of ideology, the effects encompass economic, cultural, political, and social aspects of the American society. (Brzezinski, 1992). Perhaps one of the enduring lessons of the Cold War is the emphasis on the importance of allies (Edwards, 2014). The great alliance that the United States led proved to be too strong for the Soviet Union and its own alliance in the Eastern bloc. The United States brought together a real alliance consisting of countries that share a common goal, whereas the Soviet Union commanded a group united only by the fact that they are captive nationalities unified by the Red Army (Edwards, 2014).
The long years of tension tested the resolve of leaders from both sides. The success of the United States in the Cold War era can be attributed to the brilliant minds and leadership skills of Presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. The strategies they used were relevant to the different periods of the Cold War. Containment worked at the start, wherein the United States and its allies prevented further expansion of the Soviet Union’s power in Europe (Foner, 2009). The United States recognized the weakened economic condition in the Soviet Union towards the end of the Cold War and took advantage of it. It was at this time that the United States demonstrated how its superior economic power can be used as a tool to bring down the Soviet Union, who was then experiencing economic instability.
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The massive economic growth in the 1980s, as a result of President Reagan’s tax cuts and deregulation, enabled a huge military funding that extended to the United States’ allies. This pressured the Soviet Union to funnel funding to its own army, but it eventually succumbed to bankruptcy. As a last ditch effort to save a crumbling empire, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reforms and openness (also known as perestroika and glasnost). Although the new reforms spread throughout the Eastern bloc, it was a case of “too little too late”, and within six years, the Soviet empire collapsed. Soon after, the Cold War ended and the United States and its allies emerged as victors.
Evidently, the world changed considerably after the Cold War ended in 1945, but the lessons of the war continue to be relevant in the current political and economic landscape. The Cold War set the stage for the United States to exercise its power to lead nations through strategic alliances. It rose up to the challenge of the era and devised exceptional economic, political, and military strategies to take down the Soviet Union.
The country’s actions during that period became the foundation of the United States’ future foreign and domestic policy decisions. Clearly, it can be concluded that the events of the Cold War catapulted the United States to superpower status with global influence like no other.