Cold War

Credits to Ian for the contribution!

On the Cold War: 1950s to 1991

  • The Cold War was a period of tensions between USA and the Soviet Union.

  • The USA adopted democratic politics along with a capitalist economy, while the USSR adopted the communist ideology and had a state-controlled economy. In terms of politics and economy, both had very contrasting ideals.

  • When World War II ended in 1945 it spelled the end of the cooperation between both powers against the Axis Powers – who were defeated – and the start of the Cold War rivalry.

  • As British war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill termed it, it was very much a metaphorical Iron Curtain, marking a separated Europe.

  • The satellite states in Eastern Europe leaned towards communism, while the others in Western Europe favoured democracy.

  • Then came the Potsdam Conference and Yalta Conference (the Yalta first, then Potsdam held in then-defeated Germany). These series of conference showed that there was uneasiness over nuclear weapons, disagreements on how to deal with post-war Germany and how politics are to be settled in post-war Europe.

  • The Berlin Wall that stood strong isolating East Berlin, led to the Berlin Airlift which was a loss for Stalin.

  • The Korean War then manifested in 1950.

  • The Korean War was primarily between the US-backed South Korea against the USSR-backed North Korea.

  • It was fought in a bid to unify the Korean peninsula; as from the Koreans’ point of view; a bid to contain communism; as George Kennan would term containment policy with the Kennan Telegram from the US perspective, to spread communism as part of Soviet ideological plans.

  • The war also involved the communist China and the United Nations, who were to back the different sides respectively.

  • The war lasted for three years, before entering into a military stalemate and an armistice was signed to stop the fighting.

  • The Korean War has not ended and tensions are still running high.

  • The Cuban Missile Crisis is similar to the Korean War; but it is significantly remembered by many as a close shave to the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

  • This means that with US policy of Brinkmanship by using Nuclear Missiles to catch up against USSR in the arms race, both powers may have to resort to a nuclear war.

  • It was crucial in 1962 because nuclear missiles were discovered in Cuba after USSR asked to place missiles there.

  • The reasons are to protect Cuba and also to achieve nuclear parity with the USA.

  • This is in response to the Turkey Missiles that USA placed to threaten the security of the USSR.

  • The Land Reforms, buying Cuban sugar by USSR and also the alliance between Cuba and USSR were the main points that escalated the tensions.

  • There were also attempts to sabotage Cuba, as seen in Bays of Pigs Invasion and Operation Mongoose, which terribly failed.

  • The discovery of missiles in Cuba led to a naval blockade by USA restricting ships entering to Cuba, then resulted in the two letters Khrushchev sent to Kennedy appealing for a stop in this crisis by removing missiles in Turkey.

  • Both sides reached a mutual agreement and missiles in Cuba were removed in exchange for Soviet Missiles in Cuba removed too.

End of the Cold War: Was the end of the Cold War inevitable?

Detente: A period of reduced tensions between the USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics a.k.a Soviet Union]

A time of cooperation:

Military: SALT Strategic Arms Limitation Talks in May 1972, during that time was when Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev and American President Richard Nixon signed various treaties. During SALT I, both USSR and USA aimed at first limiting the number of nuclear arms, then reducing these nuclear arms/weapons. Both countries even signed an anti-ballistic missile treaty in 1972 which reduced the anti-ballistic missile sites to two for each superpower.

Strategic: USA employed the help of USSR to convince communist North Vietnam during the Vietnam War to negotiate a peace treaty with the USA.

Economic: USSR agreed to repay World War II loans/ debts to USA. In return, USA granted USSR the most favoured nation status, allowing the latter to purchase large supplies of grain from USA. However, in 1974, due to Soviet Union's ongoing support to the Arab nations, which was the enemy of USA's ally, Israel, the status was revoked by USA.

US Policy of Brinkmanship and massive retaliation: Secretary of state John Dulles proposed that the threat of nuclear weapon, American firmness and commitment to wage nuclear war would deter Soviet Union. Redford Plan was a defence policy based on commitment to use nuclear weapons and develop a policy of massive retaliation. Any aggression was to be checked with instant and massive retaliation and all wars treated as nuclear wars.

American superiority:

Economic: During the 1970s, USA was facing oil crisis and was heavily involved in the Vietnam War. This caused an economic downturn, but later due to Reagan's economic policies, USA experience economic liberalization, whereby individual enterprise was encouraged and government expenditure was reduced. This ultimately led to a period of economic prosperity, along with allies such as West Germany and Japan who supported USA. However, for the Soviets, they faced economic stagnation as there was poor morale among its workers due to poor standards of living and other conditions. Thus the Soviet economy also faced a downturn. In terms of Gross National Product, USA had an economic leverage over the USSR with a wide margin.

Military: Due to its economic prosperity, Reagan actually revived the arms race against USSR. However, due to the poor Soviet economy, it was difficult to catch up with the USA in the arms race. One of these examples is the Able Archer '83 in 1983. It happened when NATO, led by USA, decided to place Pershing II nuclear missiles in West Germany, threatening the Western part of the Soviet Union. As a result, the USSR put its military force [air force units] on alert in Poland and East Germany. This was the closest to which both the USA and the USSR faced a possibility of a nuclear war. The whole Able Archer '83 exercise led Reagan to rethink about his foreign policy towards the Soviet Union. He realised that the fearful reaction from the Soviets also meant that they too wanted to achieve peace instead of conflict.

Command Economy [weaknesses]:

  • Workers cannot elect their own managers.

  • The state controls all aspects of production, setting production quotas that are fixed and also wage controls.

  • Lack of innovation and creativity.

  • Entrepreneurs cannot own private businesses.

  • Rampant corruption, whereby statistics for production quotas were falsified.

  • Economic stagnation

  • Focus on quantitative indicators rather than qualitative indicators led to poor quality of consumer goods. This resulted in low standards of living, furthermore due to Stalin's 5 year plans, the economy focused on mainly industrial goods.

External Economic Burdens of USSR:

  • Support to the Eastern European satellite states and Warsaw Pact allies, subsidies for oil prices amounted to about $3 billion dollars paid by the Soviet Union.

  • USSR's involvement in the Afghan-Soviet War in 197 9 until 1989 also resulted in economic strain.

Increased resistance within the communist bloc:

  • Hungarian Revolution in 1956 The communist leader of Hungary then was Rakosi, who had a very repressive government. The people at tempted to topple the communist government and succeeded. The new leader, Imre Nagy, was made leader of Hungary, and tried to withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. T he Soviet Union reacted by invading Hungary and overthrew Nagy's government.

  • Prague Spring in 1968 The leader of Czechoslovakia, Dubcek, started initiating liberal reforms in the government. He believed that the authoritarian political control and centralised economic planning was not working. He introduced democratic and human rights control. Czechoslovakia was invaded by the rest of Warsaw Pact countries and Dubcek was replaced with a more compliant leader.


  • Short Term Developments contributing to end of Cold War Ascension of Gorbachev:

  • Gorbachev was made leader of the USSR in May 1985. He was part of the new generation of Soviet leaders who felt that the USSR needed reforms in order to stay on par competitively against the USA. He replaced former foreign minister Gromyko with Eduard Shevardnadze. He did not want to see the end of communism in USSR, but wanted USSR to end military competition with USA and stay economically strong through reforms. He was determined to break down the military industrial complex in the USSR, and replace the old supporters with his own supporters.

Implementation of Gorbachev's policies:

  • Glasnost openness Allowing of foreign radio stations to broadcast in the USSR, where the Russians could finally access to information which was not available before Glasnost. Western propaganda, often of criticism towards the communist USSR, influenced people that capitalism could lead to a higher standard of living. Political dissents were freed and this led to mounting criticism of the government, fuelling even mo re resentment against the government.

  • Perestroika restructuring Political: Congress of People's Deputies was established, elections for local party positions were not only open to Communist Party members This paved the way for more political parties such as the liberals and the nationalists to rise up against the Communist Party. Mounting criticism of Gorbachev and the government because the people felt that the reforms were not widespread enough. In Summer of 1989, the Inter-regional group of People's Deputies was being established by popular reformist Boris Yeltsin. Economic: Workers can now elect their own factory managers Wage controls were relaxed Private businesses in certain sectors were allowed Prices of goods and services were being set by enterprises State control over the banks were being decentralised leading to creation of five specialised banks. Perestroika was still however a failure. Trucks and tractors were still owned by the government. In order to purchase certain equipment, there was rampant corruption and this led to many people thinking that it is difficult to set up a private business in the USSR.

  • New Thinking foreign policy & Deideologisation of Soviet foreign policy USSR to cultivate friendly relations with the USA USSR to not interfere in the internal affairs of t he Eastern European satellite states, these states can choose their own political and economic system. USSR to respect human rights, by amending its criminal code. USSR to demobilise 500,000 troops and withdraw 50, 000 troops from the Eastern European states. End of the Soviet-Afghan War which lasted from 1979 to 1989 [10 years] Gorbachev's 1988 UN Speech repeated these points t hat ending the ideologically-driven foreign policies which brought conflict against the USA. Abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine led to fall o f communist governments in Eastern European states .

  • Nuclear Disarmament Talks with Reagan 1985 during the Geneva Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, Gorbachev met Reagan for the first time and established relations. 1986 They met again in Reykjavik [Iceland] to discuss on nuclear disarmament issues. Both sides were surprised by how much each party was willing to sacrifice for nuclear disarmament. 1987, December: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty signed to remove the mobile intermediate-range nuclear missiles that were deployed as a result of Able Archer '83.

Fall Of Berlin Wall:

The most enduring symbol of Cold-War bi-polarity, symbolising the end of the Soviet Union and the 'Iron Curtain' Physical wall was being dismantled by East Germans, then the unified German army.

Increased cooperation between both superpowers:

  • Reduced emphasis on ideological confrontation.

  • Greater commitment to arms reduction.

  • USA and USSR no longer fierce enemies.

Disintegration of the USSR:

Gorbachev was elected for the newly created post of President of Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin elected for President of Russia. Due to lack of faith in Gorbachev to lead the USSR , hardliners within the communist party launched a coup against Gorbachev. The coup however failed when Yeltsin stopped the coup, as he felt that these hardliners were a great er threat than Gorbachev. Yeltsin suspended the Communist Party, and signed the Belavezha Accords among the leaders of the three largest states in the USSR: Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. This marked the end of Soviet Union when a few day s after the Belavezha Accords were signed, Gorbachev resigned as the President of the Soviet Union, officially dissolving the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War .