History of the Cold War

History of the Cold War

a key to global education: Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

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The history of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States lasted to the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is known as “cold war” because there was no actual fighting between the two antagonists. Instead, they each supported allies who waged proxy wars on their behalf in Korea and Vietnam. The conflict was a struggle for global influence by the two superpowers in the postwar world. It played out in nuclear arsenal development and massive military build-ups. It manifested in psychological warfare, propaganda campaigns, and espionage, and embargoes. It even led to the Space Race.

The Western Bloc was led by the United States as well as the other First World nations of the Western Bloc. These nations were generally liberal democratic but tied to a network of the authoritarian states. Most of these were their former colonies. The Eastern Bloc was led by the Soviet Union and its Communist Party. This had an influence across the Second World and was also tied to a network of authoritarian states. The American government supported right-wing governments and uprisings across the world, while the Soviet government funded left-wing parties and revolutions around the world. As nearly all the colonial states achieved independence in the period 1945–1960, they became Third World battlefields in the Cold War.

The Cold War began shortly after the end of the Second World War in 1945. The United States and its allies created the NATO military alliance in 1949 in the apprehension of a Soviet attack. They termed their global policy against Soviet influence “containment”. In response to NATO, the Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955 . Major crises erupted throughout the Cold War. These included the Berlin Blockade (1948–49), the Chinese Civil War (1927–1949, and the Korean War (1950–1953). It also included the Hungarian Revolution (1956), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Berlin Crisis (1961), and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The United States and the Soviet Union competed for influence in Latin America, the Middle East, and the decolonizing states of Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

In 1989, the fall of the Iron Curtain and a peaceful wave of revolutions (with the exception of Romania and Afghanistan) overthrew almost all communist governments of the Eastern Bloc. Indeed, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union itself lost control in the Soviet Union 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. Soon after this came independence of its constituent republics, and the collapse of communist governments across much of Africa and Asia. The United States was left as the world’s sole superpower.

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Cold War Index | Prelude: Yalta ConferencePostwar Problems Marshall PanIntensifying Differences | Emergence of the Cold WarConfrontationCausesDivision of Europe: Division of Germany | Venues: Eastern EuropeKoreaVietnam

Cold War

Cold War

history of the Cold War | prelude


\Yalta Conference

Prelude: Yalta Conference

history of the Cold War | prelude | postwar problems

Prelude: Postwar Problems

Marshall Plan

Prelude: Marshall Plan

history of the Cold War | prelude | intensifying differences

Prelude: Intensifying Differences

Up to Index

history of the Cold War | prelude | emergence of the Cold War

Prelude: Emergence of the Cold War

history of the Cold War | confrontation


history of the Cold War | confrontation | causes

Confrontation: Causes

history of the Cold War | confrontation | division of Europe

Confrontation: Division of Europe

history of the Cold War | confrontation | division of Europe | Germany

Division of Europe: Germany

history of the Cold War | escalation


Up to Index

history of the Cold War | venues


Cold War | Eastern Europe

Venues: Eastern Europe

Korean War

Venues: Korean War

Vietnam War

Venues: Vietnam War

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