Cold War Overview


Cold War Overview

1940s - End of WWII co-operation and beginnings of Cold War

1950s - Countries more concerned with own recovery after WWII

1960s - CRISIS

1970s - Detente - improved relations until 1979

1980s - Starts with heightened tension - improved relations under Reagan and Gorbachev - beginnings of collapse of USSR

1990s - Collapse of USSR and end of Cold War

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Causes of Cold War

  • US was Capitalist and feared the spread of Communism
  • By end of WWII, USSR forces occupied lots of territory in E. Europe and set up Communist satellite states that were controlled by USSR
  • US President (Truman) did not trust USSR
  • Atomic bombs - beginnings of arms race
  • USA only told USSR they had an atomic bomb 11 days before it was dropped
  • Disagreements over how to deal with Germany after the war - West wanted peace and democracy, USSR wanted to punish Germany and did not want to allow free elections
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US policies towards Communism

Truman Doctrine of Containment

In a speech in 1947, the USA made it clear that they would take action to stop Communism spreading

Marshall Plan (1947)

One way of stopping Communism from spreading was money - Truman believed that Communism would be most likely to spread in poor countries. Money was given to countries in Europe to help them recover from the war - By 1953 this was $17 billion

Domino Theory

The idea that if one country falls to communism, the surrounding countries will too. This idea was one of the reasons for US involvement in Vietnam

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Berlin Blockade and Airlift 1948-9

  • After WWII Germany was divided into 4 zones - each one was controlled by eith USSR, USA, Britain, France
  • Berlin (capital city) was also divided into 4
  • Berlin was in the USSR's zone in East Germany
  • By 1948, the British, American and French zones had announced plans to join together and introduce a new currency
  • This worried the USSR - they didn't want a capitalist base (W. Berlin) in their eastern zone as it would make communism look bad
  • On 24 June 1948, the USSR cut off all road, rail and canal acccess to West Berlin from West Germany. They hoped the West would give up control of this zone
  • The western allies organised air lifts to drop supplies into W Berlin (4000 tonnes each day)
  • In May 1949, Stalin backed down and re-opened all routes to West Berlin

IMPACT - USA had won. This made them think that containment worked and they would use it again in other cases. The USSR had backed down, but were determined not to do this again

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NATO and Warsaw Pact (1949-1955)

The USA joined 11 other western powers in a defensive alliance called NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). Its main aim was to stop the spread of Communism

By 1955, the USSR had set up its own rival organisation  - Warsaw Pact

IMPACT - there were now 2 rival blocs of superpowers

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Berlin Crisis and Berlin Wall 1961

  • By 1959 over 200,000 East Germans were leaving to go to West Germany every year. They were going through West Berlin to do this
  • This made the USSR look bad - they needed to do something to stop this
  • August 1961 Khrushchev (leader of USSR) ordered the building of a 45km concrete wall to separate east and west Berlin
  • In October 1961 there was a standoff between American and Soviet tanks where building of the wall started
  • After 18 hours the US backed down

IMPACT - USSR had won. This made them confident to keep standing up to the USSR. The USA had backed down, but were determined not to do this again

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Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 - CAUSES

  • In 1959 there had been a left-wing revolution in Cuba led by Fidel Castro
  • Castro threw all US businesses out of Cuba
  • The USA responded by refusing to buy Cuban sugar (this was their biggest export)
  • The USSR offered to buy Cuban sugar instead which strengthened the relationship between Cuba and the USSR
  • This worried America - They did not want a communist country only 90 miles away
  • In April 1961, President Kennedy supported an invasion of Cuba by exiles (trained by the CIA) at the Bay of Pigs. The plan was to try and overthrow Castro, but it failed and was embarrassing for Kennedy and the USA
  • The leader of the USSR (Khrushchev) was worried about US missile sites in Turkey and Italy because of how close they were to the USSR. He asked Castro if he could put bases in Cuba and Castro agreed
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Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 - WHAT HAPPENED?

  • A US spy plane saw USSR missile sites being built on Cuba
  • Kennedy put a naval blockade around Cuba to prevent the USSR from bringing the missiles to the island
  • Khrushchev tells Kennedy that his ships will force their way through the blockade and would use nuclear weapons if there was a war
  • Kennedy wrote to Khrushchev asking him to remove missiles from Cuba
  • Khrushchev responded saying that he would do this if Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba and withdrew the missiles from Turkey
  • The USA agreed to this - as long as their missiles being removed from Turkey was kept secret
  • The crisis lasted 13 days
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Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 - IMPACT

  • Looked like a victory for the USA as Khrshchev backed down
  • Both sides were worried - they had come very close to nuclear war.
  • America realised that it was too dangerous to try and turn back communism. This would affect some of their later foreign policy decisions
  • The crisis led to a period of improved communication between the USA and the USSR - a telephone hotline was installed between the White House and the Kremlin
  • In 1963, a Test Ban Treaty was signed between USA and USSR - this banned the  testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, sea or in space
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Vietnam - Why did the USA get involved?

  • Vietnam had been a French colony, but the French forces left in 1954 after they had been defeated at Dien Bien Phu
  • Vietnam had been divided along the 17th parallel - the North had fallen under communist control of Ho Chi Minh and the south was led by non-Communist leader Diem
  • In 1963, Diem was overthrown and the USA worried that communists would take over in the south
  • They had been sending military advisers to help against the communist fighters (Viet Cong)
  • DOMINO THEORY - America worried that if they let Vietnam fall to communism, then the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia would also fall
  • Gulf of Tonkin Incident - In August 1964 a US ship was fired on by North Vietnamese boats. This was used by the US President (Johnson) as an excuse to send troops to help in South Vietnam
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Tactics in Vietnam

USA - 540,000 Troops in Vietnam by 1968

  • Operation Rolling Thunder - intense bombing of North Vietnam from 1965-68 with the aim of destroying VC supply routes
  • Search and Destroy - US used helicopters to drop troops near villages suspected of helping the VC. Villages were searched and sometimes set on fire (Zippo Raids). This made the US forces unpopular
  • Chemical Warfare - defoliants (such as Agent Orange) were used to destroy the jungle that the VC used for cover. 82 million litres of Agent Orange were used. They also destroyed food supplies of the S. Vietnamese people which made them unpopular
  • Napalm
  • Hi-tech war - B52 bombers, helicopters, rocket launchers


  • Guerrilla war - avoiding battles, small scale attacks and ambushes of US patrols
  • Tunnels - complex underground networks used to hide from air raids and move troops and weapons. They were often booby trapped
  • Booby traps - Punji sticks - Bouncing Betty bomb
  • Ho Chi Minh Trail - Supply route from N.Vietnam. Impossible for the US to find and destroy
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Reasons for US defeat in Vietnam

  • VC tactics more suited to jungle environment
  • The VC were fighting for a cause and so their soldiers were more committed
  • VC were supplied by weapons from USSR and China
  • The South Vietnamese people preferred the VC to the USA. They would help hide them
  • VC were difficult to spot - didn't wear a uniform - impossible to tell them apart from a civilian
  • US troops were young an inexperienced - they didn't know how to cope with this kind of war
  • Televised pictures of the horrors of war made people at home in America turn against the war
  • My Lai Massacre - 347 men, women and children were murdered by US troops in 1968. This turned public opinion against the war evenmore
  • Tet Offensive 1968 - VC launched an attack on 100's of cities in South Vietnam. Up until this point it had looked like the US were winning, but this attack made people at home question whether the war was worth it
  • By 1969 more than 36,000 US military men had been killed

President Nixon announced his plan to withdraw from Vietnam - Vietnamisation- which involved training S. Vietnamese soldiers to take the place of the US troops - didn't really work.

1973 a ceasefire was signed in Paris

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Consequences of Vietnam War

By 1975 Communist forces had taken over South Vietnam (which was what the US had been trying to avoid from the beginning!)

Cambodia and Laos also fell to Communism

USA spent around $30 billion each year on the war

US policy of containment had failed

Propaganda disaster for the USA

Influenced America's decisions in the 1970s to develop closer relations with USSR and China

Vietnam war was the 1st that the USA had lost and they were unwilling to become involved in any further conflicts

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1970s - Detente

Between 1971 and 1979 there was a period of improved relations between East and West:

  • SALT I (1972) and SALT II - Strategic Arms Limitations Talks - between USA and USSR - started in 1969. Limited the number of intercontinental missiles on both sides and both agreed not to test submarine - launched missiles
  • Helsinki Agreements 1975 - USA and USSR (along with 33 other countries) agreed comon goals about international issues such as security, human rights and co-operation
  • Apollo-Soyuz Space Mission 1975 - Demonstrates co-operation between USA and USSR - docking of spacecrafts

Detente with China 1972 -USA's relationship with China also improved

  • Relations between USSR and China were strained and Nixon hoped to exploit this
  • Ping-pong diplomacy (1971)
  • February 1972, Nixon became first US President to visit China - led to improved trade links
  • China was allowed to take its seat at the in UN in 1971
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Ending of Detente - 1979

Societ Invasion of Afghanistan

  • 50,000 Soviet troops sent to Afghanistan to protect Peopls' Democratic Party of Afghanistan from the Muslim guerrilla group known as the mujahideen
  • US took a hard stance towards the USSR's actions
  • They delayed passing the SALT II treaty
  • USA cancelled all shipments of grain to the USSR
  • US companies were forbidden from selling high-tech goods in USSR
  • US team boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympic games (61 other countries also did the same)

This marked the end of the first period of Detente and the beginning of the Second Cold War

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Second Cold War (1979-1985)

  • Reagan became president in 1981 - he took an aggressive anti-Soviet policy to start with
  • He called the USSR 'an evil empire' in a speech in 1982
  • 1983 - US scientists began working on SDI (Strategic Defence Initiative) - also known as 'Star Wars' - this developed satellites with lasers that would destroy Soviet missiles in space before they could hit the USA
  • This was a turning point in the Cold War. Up until this point the superpowers had been evenly matched. Now the USSR could not keep up. They did not have enough money to match the defense spending of the USA
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Improving relations (1985 onwards)

  • Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of USSR in 1985
  • He introduced changes which reformed the Communist government in the USSR (Glasnost and Perestroika), ended the arms race with the USA and stopped Soviet interference in satellite states
  • In November 1985 Reagan and Gorbachev met in Geneva and agreed to speed up arms reductions talks
  • In December 1987 they both signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) - both leaders agreed to destroy all medium and short-range weapons in Europe within 3 years
  • In 1989 the new US President (George Bush Snr) and Gorbachev met in Malta and announced an end to the Cold War
  • 1991 - START 1 - treaty signed to reduce nuclear arms over the next 7 years
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End of the Cold War

  • Gorbachev's policies of reforming the USSR meant that he didn't have such tight control and this allowed states to gain their independence
  • In 1989 he announced that Soviet troops would be removed from satellite states and that members of Warsaw Pact countries could make changes to their countries without outside intereference
  • Once reform started in these countries, the USSR was unable to stop it and they gained independence throughout late 1980s and early 1990s. (e..g. Poland, E. Germany, Hungary, Estonia)
  • These countries gaining independence weakened the USSR.
  • In 1991 Gorbachev resigned and the USSR split into several independent states (e.g. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus)
  • Europe was no longer divided between Communism and capitalism - the Cold War was over
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