The cold war


Idealogical differences

The USSR and USA were at different idealogical extremes:

  • The USSR was communist and the USA was capitalist.
  • The USSR was a one party state with a dictator, wereas the USA is a democracy, holds free elections and is led by a president.
  • The USSR was led by Stalin who hated capitalism, the USA was led by Truman who hated communism.

The alliance between the two countries during the second world war was not because of friendship, but was a necessity.


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The Yalta conference

February 1945- Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin.

They decided:

  • Germany and Berlin would be divided into 4 zones under the USA, USSR, France and Britain.
  • The soviet union would join the war against Japan.
  • Countries in Eastern Europe would hold freeand fair election.
  • The new United Nations would replace the League of Nations.

They did not really agree on how the Soviet Union would treat Eastern Europe. Stalin demanded land in Poland and the expectation of free and fair elections was unlikely to be met because Stalin wanted Eatern Europe to be a 'soviet sphere of influence'.


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The Potsdam conference

July-August 1945- Truman, Atlee and Stain

After the war

  • Stains armies were occupying most of Eastern Europe and had set up a communist government in Poland, ignoring the wishes of most Poles.
  • Truman was more anti-communist than Roosevelt, he saw soviet actions in Eastern Europe as a preperation for war.
  • Stalin wanted to punish and weaken Germany, whilst extracting huge reperations. Truman did not want to repeat the mistakes of the treaty of versailles.
  • Truman told Stalin they had tested a new weapon but did not reveal the details, making Stalin suspicious.
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The iron curtain

Stalin wanted a 'buffer zone' of friendly states around Russia to prevent It from being invaded again.

Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe- By 1949 all of the Eastern European countries except for Yugoslavia were hardline Stalinist regimes. e.g. Hungary and Bulgaria.

The USSR used rigged elections to force a communist government on these Eastern European countries.

'From stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent'- Winston Churchill.

Europe was divided in half by soviet policy. In the West there were free democratic states, in the South there were countries under the domination of communist parties subject to the soviet union.

Yugoslavia- Marshal Tito (president) resented Stalin tactics, so refused to follow orders. He was expelled from the cominform and economic sanctions were applied by other communist countries. Tito took aid from the West.

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The cominform

Communist information bureau- set up in October 1947

To co-ordinate the Eastern European communist parties.

Stalin regularly brought leaders together to be briefed and removed those he thought were too independant.

By 1948 there was a mutual distrust between the USA and the USSR:

  • Leaders were talking in public about the threat of war.
  • The two sides increased the stock of weapons.
  • Arms expenditures were increasing rather than decreasing after the second world war.
  • A propaganda war was developing, which people were calling a 'cold war'.
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US reaction to soviet expansionism

By 1947 Britain was no longer rich enough, stong enough, or big enough to exercise international leadership. They had become involved in a civil war between the monarchists and communists in Greece, which they could not afford so decided to withdraw their troops.

President Truman paid for British troops to stay in Greece, where royalists were soon in control.

Truman also promised to send money, equipment and advice to any country threatened by communist takeover. The Truman Docterine made it clear that all nations could look for support from the US to maintain freedom and showed that the USA would take a world role in oppisition to the soviet union.

Truman accepted Eastern Europe was now communist . His aim was to stop communism spreading (known as containment).


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The Marshall Plan


In 1947 Turman sent secretary of state General George Marshall to assess the economic state of Europe.  He found ruined economies suffering from extreme shortages and continued rationing. In Britain 1947 electricity was turned off for a period each day through lack of coal. European countries owed $11.5 billion to the USA.  Marshall suggested about $17.5 billion would be needed to rebuild Europes prosperity.

'Poverty breeds communism'.

At first the Marshall plan was regected by congress, until March 1948 when ant-soviet leaders were purged in czechoslovakia.

The Marshall plan created markets for American goods and prevented a world slump.

Stalin viewed this with suspicion and refused to allow any Eastern European state to benefit from it.

By 1952 industrial output was 35% higher than it had been before the war.

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The Berlin blockade

1946- Britain, France and the USA combined their zones in Germany and in 1948 they reformed the currency (the Deutschmark), so West Germany could rebuild its industries and recover.

Stalin thought that the USA was using capitalism to undermine soviet policies of keeping Germany weak. He could do nothing about West Germany, but he could control Berlin, whichwas linked to West Germany by roads, railways and canals that he could cut.

In July 1948 Stalin blockaded 2 million people in West Berlin, hoping to force Western allies out making Berlin dependant on the USSR.

Truman wanted to keep West Berlin as a 'beacon of freedom deep in the soviet zone'.

June 1948- The allies decided to ailift supplies to West Berlin.  For 10 months West Berlin was supplied by air. Everything from food and fuel to building materials was ferried from three airports in West Germany, to three airports in West Berlin.

May 1949- Stalin reopened the roads and railways.

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During the Berlin blockade the Western powers decided to meet in Washington, agreeing to set up NATO (North Atlantic Treaty organisation), In April 1949.

Collective security

Germany remained divided into the Federal Republic (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) for the next 41 years.


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USA to blame

  • Churchill and Roosevelt had bribed Stalin with vague promises of a 'sphere of influence'.
  • Trumans suspicion of communism was important. He thought that the soviet union wanted to takeover Western Europe.
  • The USA had kept knowledge of the atomic bomb from the Russians. The atomic bomb was a threat to Russian security.
  • Truman had opposed Soviet expansionism with the Truman docterine, the Marshall plan, the defence of Berlin and the formation NATO, all of which the Soviet union interpreted as aggressive acts.
  • Economic policies in Western Germany threatened the communist East through the return of prosperity.


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USSR to blame

  • Stalins suspicion of capitalism.
  • Russia had been invaded by Western powers 3 times allready in the 20th century: Stalin was determined to create a real security by controlling Eastern Europe.
  • Stalin had broken his promise of 'free and fair' elections in Eastern Europe.
  • Stalin had caused the Berlin crisis by cutting off suplies.
  • The large number of Soviet troops that remained in Eastern Europe seemed to threaten the West.


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The Cuban Revolution

1959- Communist leader Fidel Castro overthrew the dictator Batista. Batista had allowed American businesses to make huge profits in Cuba and had leased the site of the American site at Guantanamo bay to the USA. Ordinary Cubans lived in great poverty under Batistas repressive rule, so communism became popular.

  • Cubans fled to Miami where they plotted the downfall of Castro.
  • Castro nationalised alot of land.
  • The USA refused to sell arms to Cuba.
  • 1960- The USSR began to buy Cuban sugar, which the USA would no longer buy.
  • President Eisenhower started to train Cuban exhiles for the invasion of Cuba.
  • Cuba began to buy armsfrom the soviet union.
  • The USA tried to stop other countries selling oil toCuba.
  • August 1960-Castro nationalised hundreds of US companies in Cuba.
  • October 1960-The USA stopped trading with Cuba.
  • January 1961-The USA broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba.
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The Bay of pigs invasion

April 1961

1,400 Cuban refugees, with the help of the CIA, invaded cuba.

Kennedy had not been able to abort the plans and the invasion was a disaster.

The invaders lacked the support of the Cuban people and were easily defeated.

This pushed Castro further into the hands of the Soviet Union.


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The Cuban missile crisis

  • The USSR was threatened by US nuclear missiles in Turkey and Europe, so quickly responded to Castros request for support.
  • Conventional arms shipments were tolerated by the USA, while Kennedys advisers were of the opinion that nuclear arms would not follow.
  • On the 11th of September Kennedy warned the Soviet Union that he would prevent 'by whatever means necessary' Cuba being used as an offencive base to threaten the USA. He recieved assurances it would not be necessary.
  • On the 14th October 1962 a U-2 spy plane took photographs of Soviet missiles being installed on Cuba. Some sites would be ready in about 7 days, while 20 Soviet ships were on their way to Cuba. The missiles would be capable of reaching most big cities in the USA before they were detected.


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The Cuban missile crisis

Krushchev wanted to:

  • Defend Cuba against the USA
  • Counter the threat of US missiles in Turkey and Europe and of the ICBMs from the USA which could all target the USSR.
  • Use Cuba as a bargaining chip: to demand US withdrawal of missiles from Turkey.
  • Test president Kennedy, whom he had met at Vienna and though would be weak.


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Kennedys reaction

Kennedys options:

  • Do nothing: The USA would seem weak and constantly open to threat of nuclear missiles.
  • Attack by air: The USSR would likely retaliate, especially as it would be difficult to destroy all of the missiles.
  • Invade Cuba: Which would probably remove Cuba and the missiles, but would likely provoke war.
  • Blockade Cuba: Stop more missiles arriving without using force he could show that the USA would not tolerate the missiles and give the USSR a way out of the crisis.

Kennedy decided on a blockade and announced on 22nd October that:

  • There would be a naval blockade: Soviet ships would be stopped and searched, preventing more missiles getting to Cuba.
  • All missiles in Cuba must be removed.

Krushchev agreed to remove the missiles on the condidtion that the US promised not to attack Cuba and that the blockade was lifted. Kennedy also secretly promised to withdraw US missiles from Turkey.

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Who won?


  • Soviet missiles were withdrawn from Cuba under UN supervision.
  • Kennedys reputation was strengthened: he had shown both that he could stand up to Krushchev and that he was wise enough to avoid provocation.


  • Cuban independence was guaranteed.
  • US missiles were eventually withdraw from Turkey.
  • Krushchevs reputation was harmed: he had provoked the crisis, then he had backed down. In 1964 he was replaced.


  • Upset by deal, but needed support of USSR.
  • Stayed communist and highly armed.
  • Kept control of American companies.
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Long term results

The crisis proved the importance of communication between the two sides. The teletype machine was replaced by the telephone hotline. This meant the leaders could communicate personally and build their relationship. This was important if a disagreement might have nuclear consequences.

In 1963 both sides signed a nuclear test ban treaty. This was the first step in controlling the growth of nuclear weapons.

Critics of containment had wanted to attack Cuba, but the Cuban crisis had highlighted the unacceptable risks involved: while a communist Cuba was an inconvenience, a nuclear war would be the end of civilisation.

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