Cold War


What was the cold war?

The Cold War was a Global ideological conflict driven by new/emerging technology which escalated tension between rival power blocs fuelled by insecurities magnified by economics inequalities. 

1 of 26

Key Figures in the Cold War

Chairman Mao

Harry Truman


Lyndon Johnson


Fidel Castro

Ronald Reagan


Ho Chi Minh

2 of 26

Key Events during the Cold War

Berlin Airlift

Truman Doctrine

Cuban Missile Crisis

Korean War

Vietnam War

Space race

Arms race

Star Wars

Fall of the Berlin Wall

3 of 26

Emerging Themes in the Cold War









Spheres of Influence



4 of 26

Main Phases of the Cold War

  • Cooperating in WW2 (1945)
  • First cold war up until 1955 (Berlin Blockade etc.)
  • Start of Vietnam War
  • Cuban Missile Crisis (Sphere of Influence)
  • Détente Period (Cambodia becomes communist)
  • Second cold war (ends in 1985)
  • USSR collapses in 1991
5 of 26

Nature of the Cold War

  • Intense arm race between two states
  • Conventional and nuclear weapons build up arms race and intense propaganda
  • East to West conflict
  • No common ground or successful negotiations
6 of 26

Cold War Theories- the reasons for the Cold War

Russian Menace-  Many have seen the Cold war as essentially a series of crises and conflicts resulting from Russian expansionism and Soviet communism

 US Imperialism- The idea that the threat came from Washington, which was attempting to spread the evil of expansionist and predatory monopoly capitalism.

 West-West conflict theory- much more complex conflict, suggesting that it was essentially a smokescreen for the US while the country attempted to secure domination of the Western world.

 Intra-state theory- suggests that the cold war was essentially the playing out on an international stage of developments in the internal domestic economic and social formations of the most important individual states.

 Class-conflict theory- much more clearly based on Marxist analysis and the centrality awarded to national and international class struggle. The cold war and tensions between the superpowers should be seen as a result of the historic conflict between capitalism and communism.

 Superpower Theory- sees the essential nature of the cold war as the attempt by two superpowers not to vanquish each other, but to carve up the world between themselves.

 Arms Race- have seen it as essentially driven by a new factor that emerged only in 1945- nuclear weapons. They take the view that the cold war was dominated by attempts by both superpowers to stop and even reverse the arms race as an issue of paramount importance to the survival of the human race.

 North-South Divide- history of the period after 1945 was mainly a series of conflicts between powerful states such as the USA and USSR over the control of weaker countries, which were of economic or strategic importance to them- or as a way of weakening their superpower rival.

7 of 26

What was the Cold War really all about?

In My opinion, the cold war was a conflict between the two clashing ideologies of capitalism and communism, in which both tried to impose their ideology upon the other country.  There are lots of theories that are used to argue who really was to blame on the cold war. The theory, in my opinion, which is the most accurate, is the class conflict theory which states that the cold war and tensions between the superpowers should be seen as a result of the historic conflict between capitalism and communism.  But I believe that the dominating country was Russia, as they tried to impose their ideology upon other countries which in effect turned all the countries to communist. However the USA used the Truman doctrine to try and stop USSR from becoming a global dominant superpower, but it wasn't successful as the USSR became aware of what the USA were trying to do and tried to get countries to refuse anything that was offered to them by the Western powers. I think it was both countries to blame for the Cold War, because they both wanted to be seen as a powerful country and were hoping that if one of them collapsed that they would look like a global superpower, and that they would dominate the world. We know that eventually in 1991, USSR collapses.

8 of 26

Key Terms and Definitions

Hegemony- power struggle between two rivals

Détente- This is a French word which means a lessening of tensions and an increase in co-operation. It is normally applied to the period of 1969-79, although there were several other attempts between 1945 and 1991 to improve relations between East and West

Thaw- refers to a lessening of tensions in Cold War relations, compared to a previous period of hostility. It is particularly associated with the years 1953-55, following Stalin's death

Iron Curtain- describes the boundary between capitalist Western Europe and communist Eastern Europe. As the cold war intensified, the frontiers- especially in Germany- became physical and visible to both sides

NATO- The military alliance organised by the west in response to the perceived threat from the Soviet Union, following its takeover of Eastern Europe and the Berlin Crisis of 1948-49.

Warsaw pact- a defensive military alliance formed six years after the formation of NATO.

Third world- a term that was first used to describe those countries in the Americas, Asia and Africa that were economically advanced capitalist states in the West. Term has recently been replaced using 'Developing world' 

9 of 26

Key Terms and Definitions

Communism- A social and economic system which according to Marx and Engels, should be based on the ownership, control and self-management of all major parts of an economy by the whole of society, not just the wealthy capitalist classes.

Capitalism- A social and economic system based on the private ownership of all major parts of an economy by a dominant or ruling minority class of individuals, families, companies, and/ or wealthy shareholders, who make all the important decisions concerning investment, production and employment.

Industrial complex- refers to the top US military leaders and large US armaments companies.

Direct Democracy - the right of voters to recall, between elections, any elected official who is felt have broken their promises

First War- industrialized capitalist countries of Western Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand

Proxy Wars- fighting through other countries

Egalitarian- all people deserve equal rights

Nationalism-  advocacy of or support for the political independence of a particular nation or people.

Patriotism- devotion to country 

10 of 26

Origins of the Cold War

The Tehran Conference (28Nov – 1 Dec 1943) 

The ‘Big Three’ – American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian leader Joseph Stalin – met to hold a conference. They needed to decide how to rebuild Europe as soon as the Second World War ended. They agreed that the USSR should have a ‘sphere of influence’ in Eastern Europe in which communism was respected. They also agreed that the UK and the USA should have a ‘sphere of influence’ in Western Europe in which capitalism would be dominant. However they could not agree on what to do with Germany. Stalin argued that Germany should be forced to pay reparations (a fine for starting the war) whilst Roosevelt and Churchill argued that Germany should be rebuilt.

The Yalta Conference (4-11 Feb 1945) 

The ‘Big Three’ – American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian leader Joseph Stalin – met to hold a second conference about how to rebuild Europe after the Second World War. Amongst other decisions they made they all agreed to work towards establishing democracy in Europe. However, this meant very different things to Stalin (communist) and Roosevelt (capitalist). Stalin believed only communist governments could be democratic as only the communists truly represented the working people. Roosevelt believed that democracy could only by achieved when several political parties competed to win the people’s support in free elections.

11 of 26

Origins of the Cold War

Death of Roosevelt (12 April 1945) (p 51)

The American President Franklin D. Roosevelt died suddenly just before the end of the Second World War.  The success of previous conferences between the allies was largely down to the fact that Stalin and Roosevelt had gotten along fairly well. Roosevelt was replaced by Harry Truman who detested communism and was less willing to compromise with Stalin.

 The Potsdam Conference (16 July – 2 Aug 1945) (p 79-80)

The ‘Big Three’ – the new American President Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian leader Joseph Stalin – met to hold a final conference about the government of Europe following Hitler’s surrender. With regards to Germany, they all agreed to ban the Nazi party and to prosecute surviving Nazis as war criminals. They also agreed to reduce the size of Germany and then temporarily divide it into four zones allocated to France, Britain, the USA and the USSR. However Stalin had previously promised to set up a government in Poland including both capitalists and communists but had broken his word. Furthermore, America had just tested the first atomic bomb, so Harry Truman was acting rather arrogantly and trying to order Stalin around. Little did he know, the USSR had been developing their own nuclear weapons at the same time. The three leaders made a show of unity, but cracks were appearing between the allies

Secret Telegrams (1946) / the Long Telegram - Both Truman and Stalin were concerned that the other might launch an attack, so they asked for secret reports from their embassies to help understand what their opponent was thinking. The American ambassador in Russia, George Kennan, reported that Stalin had given a speech calling for the destruction of capitalism and that the USSR was building up its military power. The Russian ambassador in America reported that Truman desired to dominate the world and that the American public were being prepared for war with the USSR.

12 of 26

Origins of the Cold War

The Truman Doctrine (1947) 

Truman believed that Stalin was going to encourage communist revolutions across Europe. To address this threat Truman set out a new policy which became known as the ‘Truman Doctrine’. The doctrine stated that the world had a choice between communist tyranny and democratic freedom, and that America would send troops and economic resources to help governments that were threatened by communists. Although America would not invade the USSR Truman aimed to ‘contain’ communism with military force.

The Marshall Plan (1947) 

  The US Congress instituted the Marshall Plan to help the economies of Western Europe after the horrors of WWII. They believed that a revived European economy would be beneficial to American interests and exports. The plan was theoretically open to the USSR and its satellite states, and the USSR was initially involved in the discussions. The major Soviet objection was related to the idea of ‘dollar imperialism’ – the idea that the US was using money to establish its influence within Europe, and attempting to counter Soviet influence. 

 Satellite States (From 1947) (p 77 ‘The Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe)

Between 1947 and 1949 the USSR turned many countries around it into satellite states. A satellite state is a country that is officially independent but is, in reality, actually controlled by another country. Stalin extended control over Eastern Europe turning countries such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland into satellite states.

13 of 26

Historians Perspective

Mike Sewell:

  • Russian anxiety about West
  • Emergence of Revolutionary Communism 1917
  • Polarization political thinking
  • Workers hold the means of production 'worldwide Revolution'
  • USSR a global threat
14 of 26

Short/ long term reasons for cold war

Short term causes:

  • Tehran Conference
  • Yalta Conference
  • Potsdam Conference

Long term reasons about the origins of the cold war:

  • Russian anxiety about West
  • Emergence of Revolutionary Communism 1917
  • Polarization political thinking
  • Workers hold the means of production 'worldwide Revolution'
  • USSR a global threat
15 of 26

Salami Tactics 1948

Salami Tactics:

  • By 1948 the Soviet Union had ensured, one by one, that Communist Governments had been installed in almost all Eastern European countries
  • How did they do this?
  1. They supervised the “setting up” of anti-fascist new governments which were often multi party (in line with Yalta)
  2. They then used fear, intimidation and murder to get rid of any non Communists and often installed some Moscow trained people too.
16 of 26

What USA/ USSR wanted

America and Britain…

…want Eastern Europe to be strong and independent to limit Soviet influence

…want to spread democracy and capitalism

…do not trust the USSR

The Soviet Union (USSR)…

…wants a ‘buffer zone’ between Russia and the West in case of attack

…is suspected of wanting to spread Soviet-style Communism

…does not trust Britain and America

17 of 26

Stalin's Control of countries after 1945


Tactics Stalin is using to control this Country


  • Imprisons opposition
  • Forces opposition
  • Using existing support


  • Fear/ intimidation
  • Restructuring government
  • Unifying socialist parties


  • Using Strong Man Tito to control country
  • Already Strongly communist
18 of 26

Stalin's Control of countries after 1945


  • Coup (takeover)
  • Premier exiled (Nagi)
  • Appoints communist sympathisers


  • Peasant party leader executed
  • Dimitriov appointed leader (pro-communist)
19 of 26

USA reaction to the USSR's control of E.Europe

Truman Doctrine

It is a policy to contain and stop communism from spreading. "One way of life is based upon the will of the majority"

Marshall Plan

A plan to give money to the countries of western Europe

It was started in 1947 to help Greek Royalists defeat the communists in the Greek Civil War after the British could no longer afford to support them.

It provided 16 European countries with $17 billion aid between 1948 and 1952

Punch cartoon

Being relied on to help others (bribery)

If the aid collapsed it would have negative consequences on Western Europe.


Trade between USA and European Countries

"If Europe could not buy American goods, America could go into recession"


"U.S officials felt embattled in the spring of 1947 and feared that the deteriorating economic situation in Western Europe could lead to communists coming to power in such countries as France and Italy"

  • Marshall Plan made Stalin more aggressive towards it.


"Such attempts are now being made by certain powers, but they are doomed to failure and will only undermine the international authority of those powers"

20 of 26

USA reaction to the USSR's control of E.Europe

America may have been perceived to be generous, but the main underlying reason why they reacted to USSR, was because of self-interest. They only wanted to look like a dominating ideological power, by reacting this way they wanted to provoke the USSR, as they knew that it would lead to violence. They possibly felt a pressure because the USSR were almost taking over the world and the USA wanted to prevent this from happening. At first America reacted by introducing a Truman Doctrine, which aimed to stop communism from spreading to other countries. This would of increased tensions between the USA and USSR, as they wanted to both look like strong and powerful forces and they didn't want the other country to make it look like they were backing down and were going to give up. America then introduced the Marshall Plan upset the Russians because America provided aid to all of the countries to help them and America even offered Russia aid but Russia refused because they didn't want to be under the influence of America and didn't want capitalism to dominate the world.

21 of 26

American Policy vs USSR Policy

USA Policy

USSR Policy

Contain and Confront

Military presence in Europe

Soft power

Intimidation tactics (Salami)/ coercion

Targeting weaker opponents



Not direct military confrontation

Comecon (Economics) / Cominform (Politics)

22 of 26

Berlin Crisis of 1948-1949

1949: British, French and American zones combined to form West Germany- the German Federal Republic

Soviet Zone becomes East Germany: the German Democratic Republic 

The Berlin Blockade (June 1948- May 1949) was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of Post WW2 Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. The soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutsche mark from West Berlin.

In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift (26 June 1948 – 30 September 1949) to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin. They flew over 200,000 flights in one year, providing to the West Berliners up to 8,893 tons of necessities each day, such as fuel and food. The Soviets did not disrupt the airlift for fear this might lead to open conflict.

By the spring of 1949, the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. On 12 May 1949, the USSR lifted the blockade of West Berlin. The Berlin Blockade served to highlight the competing ideological and economic visions for postwar Europe.

23 of 26

Who was to Blame for Berlin Crisis?


  • Introduced new currency in west Germany (didn't tell Stalin)
  • Marshall Aid was provoking to USSR
  • Feared USSR wanted to take Berlin (and expand elsewhere) 


  • Stalin felt Embattled
  • Wanted to de-industrialize (East) Germany
  • Russia concerned about Berlin as a base for Spring
  • Russia claimed it was a 'self-blockade'/ a propaganda move
  • Russia claimed it would/ could feed all Berliners
24 of 26

What was the Korean War?

The Korean War, which broke out in June 1950, was the first real example of the Cold War spreading outside of Europe. It was also the first example of the Cold War turning into a 'hot war'. Although, in the end, the USA and USSR were able to avoid any direct confrontation, the armed forces of two great powers- the US and China- did clash on the battefield. 

25 of 26

Causes of the Korean War

  • Increasing tensions
    • N+S Korea
  • Opened up approach to communism
    • More proactive
    • Confrontation
  • Soviets developed the A Bomb
  • Mao's victory in 1949
    • Communist
    • Geographical - next to North Korea
  • Fear of communism
    • Domino Effect
    • Red Scare
  • Kim 2nd Jung, unite Korea
  • North Koreans had taken over the whole of South Korea (apart from the S.E corner)
  • Suggestion of Japan being built into a strong power to counteract Soviet Russia
  • No USSR in the UN 
26 of 26


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Cold War resources »