Post-Stalin Thaw and Peaceful Co-existence


De-Stalinisation & Khrushchev's Secret Speech

  • Collective leadership under Malenkov, Molotov, Bulganin and Khrushchev to prevent one-man rule

Aimed at:

  • ending 'personality cult' policies
  • reforming the Secret Police (KGB)
  • arresting and executing Beria (1953)
  • follwing a 'new course' in economic policy - placed greater emphasis on production of consumer goods


  • at the Twentieth Party Congress (1956) Khrushchev denounced Stalin's reign of terror
  • criticised for promoting a cult of personality, using purges and persecution and reducing the Communist Party to a compliant body
  • created an expectation of reform amongst European Soviet satellite states
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USSR and Peaceful Co-existence

  • peaceful co-existence was a Soviet doctrine that was put forward in the 50s, which argued that peaceful relations between socialist and capitalist nations were possible

Why did the Soviet Union pursue peaceful co-existence?

  • believed that sooner or later communism would triumph over capitalism without any damaging conflicts
  • believed that the USSR's economic input would soon overtake the West
  • by the 1940s both sides had consolidated their spheres of influence in Europe, left a greater sense of security
  • the economic and military implications of the nuclear arms race

Moves towards peaceful co-existence

  • bringing an end to the Korean War (1953)
  • making cuts in the Red Army (mid 50s)
  • the Austrian State Treaty (1955) - accepted a neutral Austria rather than divided between the WW2 allies
  • withdrawal from Finland (1956)
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Internal Threats: Berlin Rising & Poland

Berlin Rising (June 1953)

  • Hard-line Stalinist East German leader Ulbricht continued to develop a strict command economy rather than consumer goods
  • Ulbricht raised workers production quotas without increasing pay, provoking demonstrations
  • 400,000 workers demonstrated, calling for free elections, a general strike and the lifting of quotas, and the government arrested and executed protest leaders
  • demonstrated the unpopularity of traditional communist policies

Poland (1956)

  • following the death of Stalinist leader Beriut, people called for liberalisation in Poland
  • large demonstratons in the industrial city of Poznan turned into anti-government protests, and calls for Polish nationalist and moderate communist Gomulka to be given power
  • Khrushchev tried to force Gomulka into backing down but after realising discontent he relented
  • he decided that Gomulka became party leader to stem the unrest
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Internal Threats: Hungary

Hungary (1956)

  • July 1956, anti-Stalinist communist, Nagy, became Hungarian premier
  • Nagy's moderate policies failed to halt demands for reform, and by October protestors were calling for a multi-party democracy, a free press and a withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact
  • Nagy agreed to the demands and declared Hungary a neutral country, but the USSR viewed this an act of open revolt
  • Red Army tanks entered Budapest to reassert Soviet control by force on 4th November, and by 11th November the uprising had been crushed and 'nationalist' Kadar had replaced Nagy
  • Kadar's government reinstated one-party control, arrested 35,000 protestors and executing 300 leaders
  • it exposed the problems with Khrushchev's approach to the Eastern Bloc
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Eisenhower, Dulles and relations with the USSR


  • ex-soldier, appointed as 1st Supreme Commander of NATO (1950)
  • served as Republican President of the USA (1953-1961)
  • stressed 'New Look' policy of hard-line Cold War diplomacy to strengthen the USA's position in negotiations


  • an international lawyer and Republican
  • became Eisenhower's Secretary of State (1953)
  • staunch Presbyterian and anti-communist

Eisenhower and the search for improvements in relations with the USSR

  • stressed 'New Look' policy in public but was prepared to act pragmatically to improve relations
  • he knew that nuclear conflict could 'destroy civilisation'
  • he was concerned that military spending was too high
  • U-2 spy planes showed the USSR was considerably behind in the arms race
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Key Features of Eisenhower's 'New Look' Policy

Massive retaliation

  • the USA would make greater use of nuclear threats and place less reliance on conventional weapons
  • circumstances under which 'massive retaliation' would happen were kept vague to put opponents at a disadvantage


  • 'getting to the verge of war without getting into war'

Increased use of covert operations

  • regular use of the CIA and development of U-2 spy planes to aid intelligence gathering

Domino Theory (1954)

Eisenhower Doctrine  (1957)

  • designed to stop potential communist control of middle Eastern oil supplies
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'Geneva spirit'

Geneva Conference (April-July 1954)

  • USA, USSR, UK and France met at Geneva to discuss Korea and Indochina
  • no progress made on Korean War but a settlement made on Indochinese War:
    • ceasefire declared and French troops withdrawn
    • Laos and Cambodia established independent states
    • Vietnam temporarily divided into communish north under Ho Chi Minh and westernised south under Bao Dai
    • Vietnam to be reunited through free elections by 1956
  • Dai's replacement, Ngo Din Diem cancelled the elctions in fear of Minh winning, leading to the beginning of the Vietnam war from Vietcong vs. South Vietnam campaign

Geneva Summit (July 1955)

  • USA and USSR couldn't agree on a neutral Germany
  • USSR wanted a new collective security system to replace NATO but USA rejected the idea
  • USA wanted 'open skies' initiative so both countries could take aerial photographs over eachothers airspace, but USSR rejected the idea
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Conference Diplomacy

Khrushchev's US visit and Camp David Summit (September 1959)

  • the first summit involving only the USA and USSR, and took place following the death of Dulles
  • built on the relationship established at Geneva, and agreed to hold a full summit in 1960
  • still unable to reach agreement in matters such as Germany and disarmament

Paris Summit (May 1960)

  • less succesful due to Khrushchev and Eisenhower adopting a harder line
  • US under pressure from French and West German governments in fear of giving ground on issues such as Germany
  • USSR under pressure from China in regards to apparent 'soft' policies towards the West
  • Following U-2 spy plane incident (May 1960) the summit rapidly collapsed

Vienna Summit (June 1961)

  • Khrushchev took a more agressive stance due to the new and apparently inexperienced Kennedy as new US President
  • Only agreement made was to ensure an independent and neutral Laos
  • Khrushchev misjudged Kennedy as weak
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End of the Thaw: The U-2 Incident

The U-2 Incident (1960)

  • 1st May, US U-2 spy plane was shot down over Russia by a Soviet missile, and the pilot captured
  • initially, the US denied that any filghts over Russia had ever taken place and that it was merely a weather research plane that had strayed off course
  • Khrushchev exposed the cover story by displaying the plane's espionage equipment
  • Khrushchev demanded a US apology, and by the 11th of May, Eisenhower admitted about the plane and that flights would end, but refused to apologise
  • the Paris Summit convened on the 14th of May
  • 1962 the US pilot was exchanged for a captured Soviet spy
  • the incident boosted Khrushchev's standing and made him more determined
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End of the Thaw: Impact of the Berlin Crisis (1)

Second Berlin Crisis (1958-1959)

  • Khrushchev wanted West Berlin to become a demilitarised 'free city', East-West talks on a German peace treaty and access routes to Berlin to be handed to East Germany within 6 months
  • USA, UK and France rejected his demands and Dulles stated NATO would retaliate if Western access to Berlin was denied, and so Khrushchev backed down

Third Berlin Crisis - Berlin Wall (August 1961)

  • Khrushchev insisted the West recognise East Germany and the US should withdraw from Berlin by the end of 1961
  • Kennedy rejected the demands, but Khrushchev couldn't allow the exodus of East Germans to continue so built the Berlin Wall to prevent free movement
  • Kennedy considered a limited nuclear first strike against the USSR, but dropped it after realising there was no threat to West Berlin
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End of the Thaw: Impact of the Berlin Crisis (2)

Fourth Berlin Crisis (October 1961)

  • following the building of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy sent General Lucius Clay to Berlin as his representative
  • Clay's aim was to resist Soviet and East German pressure
  • after a US diplomat couldn't enter East Berlin after not showing his passport (even though this was allowed), Clay provided a US military patrol to escort the diplomat into East Berlin
  • Armed US soldiers began to accompany US citizens, and US tanks were stationed at Checkpoint Charlie, the chief crossing point between East and West Berlin
  • 27th October, 33 Soviet tanks entered East Berlin with 23 positioned at the Brandenburg Gate and 10 at Checkpoint Charlie, facing US tanks
  • The stand off ensured the US garrison in Berlin, NATO and SAC (Strategic Air Command) were put on alert
  • Khrushchev authorised the Soviet commander in Berlin toreturn fire if attacked
  • Kennedy directly contacted Khrushchev and proposed a joint staged removal of the forces, and after 16 hours facing each other, the tanks withdrew one by one on both sides
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