History Cold War

The Cold War

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  • Created on: 05-04-11 17:24

Ideological differences

During the war, the communist superpower, the USSR, had united with the capitalist superpower, the USA, to defeat fascism. However, communism and capitalism were very different ideologies and economic systems, strongly opposed to one another. With Germany and Japan defeated, the reason for co-operation was gone. Differences of opinion began to emerge.

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What were the main political and economic features of the USA?

·       It had a democratic system of government; the president and congress of the USA were chosen in free democratic election.

·       It had a capitalist economy. Business and property were privately owned. Individuals could make profits in business f they wished. However, they might also go bankrupt or lose their jobs.

·       The USA was the world's wealthiest country, but under capitalism there were always great contrasts - some people were very rich, others were very poor.

·       Americans believed firmly in the freedom of the individual and in government by consent.

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The USSR was a communist state.

·       People would vote in elections for the Supreme Soviet, but they could only vote for members of the communist party and the supreme soviet had no real power. In the communist system, people's lives were controlled closely.

·       The rights of individuals were seen as less important to the good of society as a whole.

·       The USSR had a planned economy. The government owned all industry and planned what every factory should produce.

·       Unlike the USA, the USSR had been attacked many times in the past. Germany had invaded Russia in 1914 and again in 1941, an attack that had been particularly vicious. Stalin was determined that this would never happen again. In his view, the USSR could only be safe if communist governments controlled the countries on its borders. He believed that if he did not set up communist governments, the USA would encourage hostile countries on the USSR's borders.

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Yalta & Potsdam

By early 1945, it was clear that Germany would be defeated. The minds of the allied leaders turned to the problems that peace would bring. They held conferences at Yalta and Potsdam to discuss the challenges. These were: 

·       What to do with Germany and its leaders after surrender

·       What was to happen to the occupied countries after they had been liberated, especially the countries of eastern Europe

·       How to bring the war with Japan to a speedy end

·       How to create and maintain a peace that would last.

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At the Yalta conference, the allied leaders (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) got on well together. The following points were agreed.

·       Germany would be divided into 4 zones. The USA, France, Britain and the USSR would run these.

·       Germany’s capital city, Berlin (which was in the soviet zone, would also be divided into 4 zones.

·       The countries of Eastern Europe would be allowed to hold free elections to decide how they would be governed.

·       The USSR would join in the war against Japan in return for territory in Manchuria and Sakhalin island.

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In April 1945, president Roosevelt died, so at the Potsdam conference, a new president represented the USA, Harry Truman. During the conference, clement Attlee as British prime minister replaced Churchill. The new leaders did not get on as well with Stalin as Roosevelt and Churchill had done. 

The discussions from the Yalta conference were continued at Potsdam. There was agreement on some points.

·       The Nazi party was to be banned and its leaders would be tried as war criminals.

·       The Oder Neisse (two rivers) line was to form part of the border between Poland and Germany.

However, there were disagreements on other issues. There were clear signs that Stalin did not trust the USA and Britain and that they did not trust him.

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Potsdam (part 2)

1. Britain and the USA denied Stalin a naval base in the Mediterranean.

·       They saw no need for Stalin to have such a base.

·       Stalin saw this as evidence that his allies mistrusted him.

2. Stalin wanted more reparations form Germany than Britain and the USA did.

·       The USA and Britain did not wish to cripple Germany; they had seen the results of harsh reparations after the First World War.

·       Stalin was suspicious about why his allies seemed to want to protect Germany and even help it recover.

3. Stalin had set up a communist government in Lublin, then the capital of Poland. Britain preferred the non-communist polish government, which had lived in exile in Britain throughout the war. Truman and Attlee were very suspicious of Stalin’s motives in setting up a communist government. 

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Atom bomb

The battle of midway in May 1942 gave the USA control of the war in the pacific. However, although the Japanese were pushed back by US forces in 1943 and 1944 the American losses were huge due to the Japanese troops' refusal to surrender. Consequently, the USA decided to use atom bombs to end the war against Japan. On 6 august, the first bomb was used on Hiroshima and at least 75,000 people died instantly. Tens of thousands more died from radiation poisoning in the following years. The second was dropped on Nagasaki three days later, with 60,000 casualties.

Stalin had been told about the atom bomb by Truman at the start of the Potsdam conference and was furious that it had been kept a secret. The use of the atom bomb increased rivalry between the superpowers:

·       Stalin was convinced that the USA used the bomb as a warning to the USSR.

·       An arms race emerged with the USSR determined to develop its own atom bomb. 

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Iron Curtain

In the years after 1945, Europe became divided into east and west. The countries of Eastern Europe became soviet satellite states.

Churchill said:

"From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of central and Eastern Europe... and all are subject to a very high measure of control form Moscow.

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Soviet expansion

The soviet red army advanced through large areas of Eastern Europe whilst driving back the Germans. One year after the war, many soviet troops were still stationed in much of Eastern Europe.

Elections were held in each eastern European country, as promised at Yalta in 1945, but the evidence suggests they were rigged to allow the USSR-backed communist parties to take control. In Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Romania and Hungary, opponents of the communists were beaten, murdered or frightened into submission. By 1948, all eastern European states had communist governments. 

Europe was now divided - east and west. In 1946, Churchill called this division the 'iron curtain'.

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Czechoslovakia, 1948

Czechoslovakia was not fully part of Stalin’s 'eastern bloc' of countries - communists were not fully in control. In the spring of 1948, elections were due and it seemed likely that the communists would do badly, while the opposition would do well.

Communists organised marches and protests. Non-communist ministers resigned and foreign minister Jan Masaryk was killed - probably murdered. In may 1948, elections took place but only communists were allowed to stand. Czechoslovakia was ow gully part of the communist eastern bloc.

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Truman doctrine

In 1947, the USA committed itself to a policy of containment of communism in Europe.

Events in Greece and turkey convinced Truman that unless he acted, communism would continue to spread. He therefore explained his policy to the world. This became known as the Truman doctrine. Truman said:

"I believe it must be the policy of the USA to support all free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure.

·       The USA would not return to isolationism - it would play a leading role in the world.

·       The aim was o contain (stop the spread of) communism but not to push it back. This became the policy of containment.

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Greece appeared to be net in line in the spread of communism. Greek resistance against the Germans had been divided into 2 movements - the royalists (who wanted the return of the king) and the communists. After the war, the royalists resorted the king with the help of British troops. However, they came under attack from communist forces and British troops withdrew. Greece asked the USA for help in early 1947.

Truman was already very worried about the spread of communism. Under a foreign policy initiative that became known as the Truman doctrine, the USA provided Greece with arms, supplies and money. The communists were defeated in 1949 after a civil war.

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At the end of the Second World War, Stalin demanded partial control of the Dardanelles, a strategic passage between the black sea and the Mediterranean, which belonged to turkey. As with Greece, British assistance to turkey ended in 1947 and the USA dispatched military aid, including the aircraft carrier Franklin d Roosevelt, to ensure that turkey would retain chief control of the passage.

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Marshall plan

The USA also became committed to the economic recovery of Western Europe in order to prevent the spread of communism.

Truman believed that poverty and hardship provided a breeding ground for communism, so he wanted to make Europe prosperous again. It was also important for American businesses to have trading partners in the future, yet Europe's economies were still in ruins after the war.

The American secretary of state, George Marshall, therefore visited Europe and came up with a European recovery programme - usually known as the Marshall plan or Marshall aid. This had 2 main aims:

·       To stop the spread of communism (although Truman did not admit this at the time)

·       To help the economies of Europe to recover (this would eventually provide a market for American exports).

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Marshall plan (part 2)

Between 12 and 13 billion dollars poured into Europe n the years 1947-51, providing vital help for Europe's economic recovery. However, Marshall aid also caused tensions:

·       Only 16 European countries accepted it - and these were all western European states

·       Stalin refused Marshall aid for the USSR and banned eastern European countries from accepting it. Instead, he created his own organisations known as Cominform and Comecon.

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In 1947, Stalin set up Cominform - an alliance of communist countries - probably as a response to the Marshall plan. Its aim was to spread communist ideas, but it also helped Stalin tighten his hold on his communist allies because it restricted their contact with the west.

Only one communist leader, Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia, was not prepared to accept Stalin’s total leadership. He split with Moscow. However, Yugoslavia remained communist.

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Set up by Stalin to co-ordinate the production and trade of the eastern European countries, it was like an early communist version of the European community. However, Comecon favoured the USSR more than any of its other members.

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Berlin blockade and airlift

This was the first major crisis of the cold war.


At the end of the Second World War, the allies divided German and Berlin into zones. Germany’s economy and government had been shattered by the war and the allies were faced with a serious question: should they continue to occupy Germany or should they try to rebuild it?

·       Britain and the USA wanted Germany to recover - they could not afford to keep feeding its people and they felt that punishing Germany would not help future peace.

·       The French were unsure about whether to get Germany back on its feet or to 'ram home its defeat'.

·       The USSR did not want to rebuild Germany and Stalin was suspicious about why the USA and Britain did.

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Berlin blockade and airlift (part 2)

In 1948, the French, American and British zones merged to become one zone, 'trizonia' ((in august 1949 this area became know as west Germany). with the help of Marshall aid, west Germany began to recover and prosper. it was a very different story in the east Germany. in this area, controlled by the USSR, there was poverty and hunger. many east Germans were leaving because west Germany seemed a much more attractive place to live.

In Stalin’s eyes, it seemed that the allies were building up West Germany in order to attack him. When in 1948 they introduced a new West German currency (the deutsche mark), it was the last straw.



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Berlin blockade and airlift (part 3)


Stalin tried to blockade Berlin, the former capital of Germany, which was in East Germany. In a month he closed all road and rail connections from Berlin to West Germany, hoping he could force the western allies out of the city. For many people at the time, it seemed there was a real risk of war. The USA and Britain faced a choice.

·       They could withdraw from Berlin - but this would be humiliating and it might encourage Stalin to think he could invade West Germany.

·       They could lift supplies into West Berlin by air - they had the planes but it would be risky as they might be shot down.

The allies decided to airlift supplies. The airlift lasted until the following spring of 1949 and reached its peak on 16-17 April when 1398 flights landed nearly 13000 tonnes of supplies in 24 hours. During the airlift West Berliners were supplied with everything from food to clothing to oil and building supplies.

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Berlin blockade and airlift (part 4)


By May 1949, the USSR lifted the blockade. It was a victory for the west, but relations with the USSR hit rock bottom. Co-operation in Germany in the future was very unlikely and the country would remain divided. The zones controlled by the USA, Britain and France became the federal republic of Germany (west Germany) in august 1949. In October 1949, the soviet zone became the German democratic republic (east Germany).

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NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)

This military alliance contained most of the states in Western Europe as well as the USA and Canada. Its main purpose was to defend each of its members. If one member were attacked, all the others would help to defend it. When the USSR developed its own atomic bomb in 1949, NATO seemed even more important to the defence of Western Europe, since at the time no western European country had atomic weapons.

·       The USA was now formally committed to the defence of Western Europe.

·       Stalin did not see it as a defensive alliance but as a direct threat to the USSR.

·       The USA was able to build air bases in Western Europe where planes armed with nuclear weapons could be stationed ready for use against the USSR.

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Nuclear arms race

·       During 1945-49, the USA was the only country to possess atomic weapons.

·       In 1949, the USSR successfully tested an atomic bomb.

·       In 1952, the USSR detonated its first hydrogen bomb.

·       In 1953, the USSR tested its own hydrogen bomb.

By 1953, the USSR appeared to be catching up with the USA in the developing arms race. The balance titled even more in the direction of the USSR when china became communist in October 1949. In 1950, Stalin and the new Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong, signed a 30-year treaty of friendship.

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Korean war

the outbreak of the korean war meant that the cold war had spread to asia.

reasons for US and UN involvement 

europe was not the only part of the world where the USSR came into conflict with the USA. stalin was supporting communists in asia - the new communist government in china s well as communist groups in other asian countries. the americans thought that they were seeing the eastern europeean story being repeated in asia and were determined to prevent the further spread of communism in the region.

the crisis came in korea. at the end of the second world war, the USSR had taken control of north korea and set up a communist state. in the south, the americans set up a government that was supposed to be a democracy, although it relied heavily on military backing. the south korean president (syngman rhee) and the north korean president (kin il sung) each claimed to be president of all korea. relations were tense. in june 1950, north korea invaded south korea.

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Korean war (part 2)


  • the north korean forces pushed back the south korean forces into a small area in south-east korea around Pusan. president truman asked the united nations to help and the security council's permanent members agreed to do so.
  • UN forces from many countries (but mainly america) drove the communists back almost as far as the Yalu river on the border with china.
  • this worries china who did not want a non-communist neighbour supported by US troops. china joined the war.
  • the UN forces were driven back and the UN commander, general MacArthur, called for the use of the atomic bomb. president truman sacked MacArthur.
  • once again, UN troops began to push back the communists. by june 1951, the fighting seemed to be settling roughly around the 38th parallel.
  • in 1953, a truce was agreed at Panmunjom (on the 38th parallel).
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Korean war (part 3)


when china became a communist country in 1949, the USA was extremely worried.chinese- american relations were strained for many years. president truman worried that the domino effect would work in asia as it had in europe. 

so the USA was pleased with the result in korea. the americans saw the korean war as an example of successful containment. however, it had been achieved at a price. there was a massive damage to korea itself. in addition, many observers thought that the USA had used the UN for its own purposes. to this day, there are 2 states in korea and relations are very strained.

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'The Thaw'

in the mid-1950s, there was some improvement in relations between the USA and the USSR.


stalin died in 1953.  there was a subsequent power struggle to succeed him as leader of the USSR and the victor was Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev seemed to be a less aggressive leader than stalin and talked of 'peaceful co-existence' (living in peace) with the west. in 1956, in a closed session of the 20th congress of the communist party, he attacked stalin for have being a dictator.

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'The Thaw' (part 2)

Peaceful co-existence

the west began to see hopeful signs from the new soviet leader.

  • Khrushchev seemed to be encouraging greater freedom within the USSR.
  • on a visit to Warsaw in 1956, he indicted that the polish people should be allowed more freedom.

up to 1956, the signs seemed very positive in terms of improving relations between the east and west. Khrushchev appeared much less hostile to the west than stalin had been. he also seemed to be willing to relax the USSR's grip on eastern europe.

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'The Thaw' (part 3)


in 1955, the soviets agreed to sign the austrian state treaty, ending the occupation of austria that had continued since 1945. Austria had been divided into 4 zones at the end of the second world war and the soviets had taken may food supplies in reparations from their zone. this now came to an end: austria became independent and her 1937 frontiers were restored.

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Warsaw Pact

although khrushchev believed in peaceful co-existence, he was determined to strengthen eastern europ in the face of NATO. he was espicially annoyed by the decision to interegate the federal republic of germany (west germany) into NATO in 1955.

after west germany joined NATO, the soviet response was to set up the warsaw pact - a communist version of NATO. the soviets had not forgotten the damage that germany had inflicted on the USSR in the second world war.

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Hungarian uprising

an attempted uprising was brutally crushed by the USSR.


hungary had been treated as a defeated country by the soviets after the second world war. with the support of the USSR, a communist government had been established under rakosi, who closely followed stalin's rules. the hungarians hated rakosi and his secret police (the AVH) because of the brutality they had shown, executing or imprisoning thousands of opponents. there were protests against the falling standard of living and increased poverty, which hungarians blamed on soviet policies.

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Hungarian uprising (part 2)


the protests got worse and stalin's statue was pulled down and dragged through the streets of budapest. rakosi was forced to resign and soviet tanks moved in. nagy became prime minister and soviet troops withdrew. nagy was determined on reform. he wanted free elections, the end of the secret police, and the removal of the soviet army of occupation.

however, khrushchev became alarmed when nagy demanded the right for hungary to withdraw from the warsaw pact and follow a neutral role in the cold war. this was too much for the USSR. free elections could mean the end of communism in hungary. if hungary withdrew from the warsaw pact, there would be a gap in the iron curtain; the soviet buffer zone with the west would be broken.

soviet troops and 1000 tanks moved into hungary to crush the uprising. Nagy appealed to the west for help but none came. two weeks of street fighting followed but the hungarians were no match for the soviet forces.

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Hungarian uprising (part 3)


  • between 2500 and 30000 hungarians, mostly civilians, were killed along with 700 soviet troops. over 200000 refugees fled hungary and settled in the west.
  • the uprising highlighted the limitations of Khrushchev's policy of peaceful co-existence.
  • there was no active support for the rising in the west. thiss was because britain, france and the USA were preoccupied with the suez crisis.
  • a new pro-soviet  governtmnt was set up under janos kadar. kadar re-established communist control of hungary and negotiated the withdrawal of soviet troops once the crisis was over.
  • other satellite states in eastern europe did not dare to challenge soviet authority after the events in hungary.
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Space race

the two superpowers used the space race to try to demonstrate the superiority of either capitalism or communism. at first, the USSR took the lead. in the later 1950s, it launched  the first satellite, known as sputnik I, and put the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. this alarmed the USA, who seemed to be lagging behind in space technology. subsequently, however, it was the USA who took the lead in the space race with the apollo missions that eventually landed the first man on the moon, neil Armstrong, in 1969.

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Arms race

the space race, in turn, intensified the arms race. the launch of sputnik I in 1957 showed that the soviets had developed rockets that could carry nuclear warheads capable of reaching the USA. in retaliation, the USA developed its own inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in 1957, and, by 1959, these could be stored underground and be ready for use in 30 seconds. moreover, th firing of a polaris missile from a nuclear submarine by the USA in 1960 demonstrated that a missile could be fired from the sea close to the USSR and therefore would be more accurate.

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U-2 crisis, 1960

on 1 may 1960, another incident occured that developed into a crisis. the soviets shot down an american U-2 spy plane over the USSR and captured the pilot, gary powers. according to the soviets, he admitted he was on a spying mission.

the U-2 had been developed by the US central intelligence agency (CIA). it was able to fly at high altitudes and was equipped with powerful cameras and radia recievers enabling it to detect soviet long-range bomber bases and missile sites.

the american government denied tthat spying slights took place over soviet territory and claimed that gary powers had accidently strayed into soviet airspace whilst on a flight to study weather conditoins. the soviets were keen to show the world that the american government was lying so they developed the film taken by powers on his mission, which showed he had clearly been spying. this severely embarressed the amwrican governemnt.

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U-2 crisis, 1960 (part 2)

Khrushchev demanded that the americans:

  • apologise for the U-2 affair
  • stop future spying flights
  • punish those responsible.

president eisenhower agreed to stop spying flights but refused to apologise. khrushchev then walked out of the paris summit conference that took place in may 1960 between the leaders of the USA, the USSR, France anfd Britain. this conference was supposed to achieve improved relations between east and west by discussing arms limitation and the possible renification of germany.

gary powers was sentenced to ten years in prison in the USSR, but was exchanged in 1962 for a soviet agent.

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U-2 crisis, 1960 (part 3)

the incident was especially damaging for president eisenhower.

  • not only had an american plane been shot down spying over soviet territory but the americans had lied about it for the world to see.
  • the soviets had scored a propaganda victory.

the U-2 affair showed how quickly conflict between the superpowers could develop from a single incident. the results in terms of cold war relations were extremely serious.

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Berlin wall

in 1961, the cold war reached another turning point with the construction of the berlin wall.

berlin had always been a source of conflict for the soviets and western allies. capitalist west berlin, surrounded by the communist state of east germany, continued to be a problem for east germany and the USSR.

  • the high standard of living enjoyed by the people of west berlin contrasted sharply with that of the communist half of the city - east berlin. it was a continual reminder to the people in east germany of their poor living conditions.
  • it was estimated that 3 million people had crossed from east to west berlin between 1946 and 1960. many of these people were skilled workers and it seemed that the economic survival of east germany was in doubt if this escape route remained open.
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Berlin wall (part 2)

in 1961, Khrushchev and the east german leadership decided to act. without warning, on 13 august 1961, the east germans began to build a wall surrounding west berlin.

  • at first, the structure was little more than a barbed wire fence, but by 17 august it was replace with a stone wall.
  • all movement between east and west was stopped.
  • for several days, soviet and american tanks faced each other across divided berlin streets.

the building of the berlin wall had some immediate effects.

  • the flow of refugees was reduced to a trickle.
  • western nations won a propaganda victory since it appeared that communist states needed to build walls to prevent their citizens from leaving
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Berlin wall (part 3)

Kennedy's response

from the 1960s until the 1980s, the berlin wall became a symbol of the division between the capitalist west and the communist east.american president john F. kennedy made a historic visit to west berlin and declared that the city was a symbol of the struggle between forces of freedom and the communist world. for the USSR and east germany, however, the wall was simply an economic and political necessity. the loss of so many refugees from east germany had been threatening the very existence of the state.

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Cuban missile crisis

the cuban missile crisis highlighted the possibility of nuclear conflict. by the end of the 1960s, the superpowers had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world. however this, in itself, acted as a nuclear deterrent and became known as mutually assured destruction (MAD).. no side would dare strike first when it knew the attack would inevitably lead to its own destruction.

the cuban missile crisis was the most serious conflict between the USSR and the USA in the history of the cold war. cuba was a communist country just 144 kilometres off the coast of the USA. in october 1962, american spy planes identified nuclear missile sites being built on cuba.

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Cuban missile crisis (part 2)

cuba had beocme communist after a takeover by fidel castro in 1958. he was popular in cuba, in part becaus e he gave land seized from wealthy americans to the cuban people.

the USA had retaliated by cutting off aid to cuba, and refusedto buy castro's cotton and tobacco. in return, castro secured help from the USSR. khrushchev was keen to gain influence in cuba, close to the USA's south-eastern coastline.

in spring 1961, the USA has a new president, john F. kennedy. he was alarmed at what he saw as a communist threat on the USA's doorstep. he gave american support to an invasion of cuba by rebels opposed to Castro's government. the landing took place at the bay of pigs, and was a disaster. there was no popular support for it in cuba.

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Cuban missile crisis (part 3)


16 october - kennedy was told that khrushchev intended to build missile sites iin cub.

18-19 october - kennedy held talks with his closest advisers. the 'hawks' wanted an aggressive policy whilst the 'doves' favoured a peaceful solution. 

20 october - kennedy decided to impose a naval blockade around ccuba to prevent soviet missiles reaching cuba. the americans searched any ship suspected of carrying arms or missiles.

21 october - kennedy made a broadcast to the american people. informing them of the potential threat and what he intended to do.

23 october - Khrushchev sent a letter to kennedy insisting that soviet ships would force their way through the blockade.

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Cuban missile crisis (part 4)

24 october - Khrushchev issued a statemaent insisting that the USSR would use nuclear weapons in the event of a war.

25 october - kennedy wrote to khrushchev asking him to withdraw missiles from cuba.

26 october - khrushchev replied to kennedy's letter. he said he would withdraw the missiles if the USA promised not to invade cuba and withdrew its missiles from turkey.

27 october - a US spy plane was shot down over cuba. attorney general robert kennedy (brother of the president) agreed a deal with the USSR. the USA would withdraw missiles from turkey as long as it was kept secret.

28 october - khrushchev accepted the deal.

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Cuban missile crisis (part 5)


the cuban crisis had a major effect on East-West relations.

  • leaders of both the USSR and the USA realised that nuclear war had been a real possibility and it was vital that a similar crisis should not happen again.
  • the americans and soviets decided to set up a telephone link (or 'hot line') so that direct communication could take place in future between washington and moscow. nuclear arms talks also began and, in 1963, a test ban treaty was signed between the USA, the USSR and britain.

president kennedy became an instant hero in the west for his apparent tough handling of the soviets.

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Czechoslovakia, 1968

in 1968, the ussr once again showed its unwillingness to allow greater freedom in the easter bloc.

in 1967, alexander dubcek became communist party secretary in Czechoslovakia. in the spring of 1968, dubcek began to reform the communist system.

  • censorship of the press was ended.
  • other political parties apart from the communist party were allowed.
  • some political prisoners were released and czech citizens were given greater freedom to travel abroad.

the reforms in czechoslovakia became known as s'socialism with a human face'. they seemed to represent the general easing of tension between east and west that had taken place after the cuban crisis.

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Czechoslovakia, 1968 (part 2)

the reaction of the USSR

however, Dubcek's reforms were seen as a major threat by the new leader of the USSR, Brezhnev. as in hungary twelve years earlier, action was taken to prevent the reforms from sweeping the communists out of power in czechoslovakia and spreading to the rest of eastern europe.

  • in august 1968, 400,000 warsaw pact troops entered Czechoslovakia, arrested leading reformers and seized key towns and cities.
  • Dubcek and the czech president Svovoda were flown to moscow where they talked with Breznev for four days.
  • on 27 august, the czech leaders returned and announced that many of their reforms were to be stopped and censorship re-introduced. in 1969, Dubcek resigned and was replaced by a loyal communist, Husak.

as with hungary in 1956, the western powers did little to assist those in conflict with the soviet leadership. both china and the west condemned soviet action in czechoslovakia, but did nothing to support Dubcek and his government.

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Czechoslovakia, 1968 (part 3)

the brezhnev doctine

after the failure of the czechs to gain more freedom from soviet control, the new czech leader, husak, set about returning to the old ways. the reforms of the prague spring were reversed, and the USSR was once more firmly in control on czech policy.

Brezhnev then set out what became known as the Brezhnev doctrine. he argued that a threat to one socialist (that is, communist) country was a threat to them all. (this doctrine clearly echoed the truman doctrine of 1947 and the american fear of the domino effect.) however, he went on to say that force would be used whenever necessary to keep soviet satellites firmly under soviet influence.

this doctrine and the soviet actions in czechoslovakia in 1968 did nothing to improve relations between the USSR and the USA. yet, in spite of it, there was a thaw in relations very quickly in what has become known as the process of Detente.

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The collapse of Detente in the 70s and 80s

from the end of the 1960s and through much of the 1970s, there was a general easing of tension between the USA and the USSR as both sides realised the dangers of nuclear war and sought to reduce defence spending. this process became known as detente and led to a series of agreements including SALT I in 1972, the helsinki agreement of 1975, and SALT II in 1979. detente finally ended with the soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

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in december 1979,the USSR invaded afghanistan. the soviets insisten that they had been invited into afghanistan to restore order, but western nations protested that it was a straightforward invasion that could not be justified. despite worldwide protest, the invasion and occupation of afghanistan continued.


the soviets invaded afghanistan for several reasons:

  • they were concerned about the muslim revolution in neighbouring iran, which could have spread to afghanistan and muslim areas inside the USSR.
  • the political situation in afghanistan was very unstable at the end of the 1970s and the soviets wanted to maintain their influence in the area.
  • afghanistan was close to the middle east oil reserves of the western powers and the ports off the indian ocean. the soviets wanted to develop their interests in this area.
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Afghanistan (part 2)


within weeks of the invasion, soviet troops were being killed by Mujahadin rebels, who used very effective guerrilla tactics. the USA secretly began to send very large shipments of money, arms and equipment to pakistan and from there to the Mujahadin. the campaign became a night mare for the USSR; unwinnable and a severe drain on their finances. the soviet leader, Gorbachev, eventually withdrew troops in 1988 due to excessive cost of the conflict.

president carter was furious with the soviet invasion and took action. he pulled the USA out of he 1980 moscow olympic games. (the USSR retaliated in 1984 by pulling out of the los angeles games.) Carter told the senate not to ratify (agree to) the SALT II treaty that was ready to sign and would have further limited the number of nuclear weapons. he also cut trade between the USA and the USSR - for example, he prevented food and technological goods, such as computers, being sold to the USSR. 

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the period following the soviet invasion of afghanistan is often described as the second cold war.

'Evil empire'

ronald reagan succeeded carter as president of the USA. he believed that detente had been a disaster and rejected the idea of peaceful co-existence with the USSR. instead he was determined to get tough and, in a speech in 1983, referred to the USSR as 'that evil empire'.

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Reagan (part 2)

'Star Wars'

reagan was convinced that the USA could win the cold war. he believed that the USSR should be forced to disarm by his new initiative - SDI or the strategic defence initiative, which was nicknamed 'star wars'. it was intended to be a satellite anti-missile system that would orbit the earth to protect the USA from any soviet missiles. satellites equipped with powerful lasers would act as a 'nuclear umbrella' against soviet nuclear weapons.

this was a turning point in the arms race. during detente the two superpowers had been evenly matched. now the balance was very much in favour of the USA. the USSR could not compete with SDI.

  • the soviet economy could not produce enough wealth to finance the development of new space-based weapons.
  • the USSR was well behind the USA in the development of computers, essential for the 'Star Wars' programme.
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in the early 1980s, the USSR had problems of its own in eastern europe. in 1980, protest movements in poland highlighted the high prices and the  fuel and food shortages that polish people faced. shipyard workers at gdansk went on strike, led by Lech Walesa, an electrician, who founded solidarity, the first free trade union within communist eastern europe. pope john paul II (himself a pole) lent his support to the movement.

nationwide strikes threatened to bring the country to a halt, and many poles feared a soviet invasion (as in hungary in 1956 and czechoslovakia in 1968). ominously, the soviet army began carrying out 'training manoeuvres' near the polish border. meanwhile, the polish communist leader, general Jaruzelski, decided to impose rule by the army. political opponents were arrested, including Walesa, and solidarity was declared illegal. the situation in poland was still tense when Brezhnev died in 1982.

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Solidarity (part 2)

the situation in the USSR drifted. Brezhnev was followed by yuri andropov and then Constantin chernenko. both men suffered ill-health and died without achieving much.

the next president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, had a huge impact on the USSR, eastern europe and the world. in poland, solidarity re-emerged, and by the late 1980s the communist government commanded little respect. Gorbachev was encouraging greater freedoms, both in the USSR and in the satellite states.

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Afghanistan (part 3)


the soviet involvement in afghanistan had worsened the economic and political problems of the USSR:

  • the USSR was locked in a costly and unwinnable war.
  • the economy was weak with too much spending on the arms eace and the war.
  • there had been almost no new thinking about how to run the soviet economy since the days of stalin. each leader had followed the same policies and had ignored the warning signs that things were going wrong.
  • Brezhnev had reverted to stalin's policy of repression. there was little ort no constructive reform.
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in march 1985, mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the USSR and immediately set about reforming the old soviet system. he started to improve relations with the USA, developing very good relations with president Reagan.

International policy

  • Gorbachev realised that the USSR could not afford an arms race with the USA.
  • he accepted president reagan's invitation to meet with him in geneva in november 1985.
  • in 1987, after several meetings, Gorbachev and reagan signed the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, which removed all medium-range nuclear weapons from europe.
  • SALT had developed into START (strategic arms reduction talks) and, on an official visit to washington in december 1988, Gorbachev also proposed deep cuts in conventional (non-nuclear) american and soviet forces.
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Gorbachev (part 2)

Perestroika and glasnost

Gorbachev was the decisive figure in this period. he firmly believed that the USSR could not continue to compete with the USA and that the soviet union need to be reformed. the twin themes of his policies were:

  • perestroika - changing some economic policies to allow more competition and more incentives to produce goods. Gorbachev wanted to change the government-controlled economy in place since the time of stalin
  • glasnost - openness in government. Gorbachev thought people should be allowed, within reason, to say what they believed with more open debate.
  • some Communists criticised Gorbachev for allowing these freedoms. in some respects, their criticisms were valid. once Gorbachev allowed freedom of speech, he could not control what was said or ritten in the media. whereas Gorbachev wanted reforms within communism, some wanted to get rid of communism altogether. this sentiment was even stronger in the countries of eastern europe. 
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End of soviet control

during 1989, Gorbachev was at the height of his international popularity. he met the new american president, george bush, and together they announced the end of the cold war. in 1990, gorbachev was awarded the nobel peace prize. yet in 1989, soviet control of eastern europe was collapsing rapidly.

the communist countries of eastern europe had become increasingly discontented during the 1980s. it gradually became clear that the soviet union had neither the will nor the power to put down demonstrations or prevent changes in these nations' systems of government. even so, the speed of the collapse of soviet control amazed everyone.

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End of soviet control (part 2)

  • poland: free elections were held in june 1989. Lech Walesa became the first non-communist leader in easter europe since 1945.
  • wast germany: the unpopular east german leader, eric Honecker, tried to prevent change, but his troops refused to fire om the demonstrators. in november 1989 the berlin wall was pulled down.
  • czechoslovakia: in november 1989 there were huge anti-communist demonstrations. Vaclav Havel, a popular playwright, became the new leader of the country, with free elections in 1990.
  • romania: in a short and bloody revolution in december 1989, the unpopular communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and his wife elena were shot.
  • Bulgaria:  the communist leader resigned in november 1989and free elections were held in 1990.
  • the baltic states: in 1990, lithuania, latvia and estonia declared themselves independent of the soviet union.
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The fall of the Berlin Wall

the fall of the berlin wall has come to symbolise the end of the Cold War. on 9 november 1989, the east german government announced much greater freedom of travel for east german citizens, including crossing the border into west germany. thousands of east berliners flocked to the checkpoints in the berlin wall and the border guards let them pass. soon, the east berliners were chipping away at and dismantling the wall.

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Collapse of the USSR

Gorbachev was seen as weak by many within the USSR. his promised reforms had not brought about improved living standards and he appeared to have simply accepted the collapse of soviet influence in eastern europe. some in the USSR itself did not want the mere reform of communism, but its abolition. 

in february 1990, there was a huge demonstration in moscow against the communist system. the various republics within the USSR increasingly demanded their freedom from the grip of the union. the new president of the russian republic, boris yeltsin, encouraged this process fo breaking up the soviet union. he also disbanded the communist party. Gorbachev resigned as soviet president, as there was no longer a soviet state for him to control.

there were, of course, huge implications for world affairs. in 1991, east and west berlin were reunited, and east and west germany became a single country. in other ex-communist countries, there were less happy ending. for example, in yugoslavia the serbs refused to accept a croat leader, and slovenia and croatia declared independence in 1991, leading to a bloody civil war. 

the era of communism in eastern europe was over.

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Dale McNerlin

very helpful :P cheers

marcus joyce

very useful :) thanks alot

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